SOMETHING I CANNOT DO WITHOUT: A good night’s sleep. SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME LAUGH: My Cavapoo puppy Ellie. SOMETHING I’M REALLY PROUD OF: While at Kateeva, transforming a crazy idea from a University lab into a key technology for manufacturing cell phones. Also, my Strawberry Cupcakes.
Imprinting the self into a global company
REINVENTING THE PROVERBIAL WHEEL. Conor Madigan, one of the co-founders of Kateeva, turned a stumbling block into a technology we now use every day. Back in 2008 the OLED technology used today in most smartphone displays had hit a wall in consumer adoption. This earlier version of OLED was sandwiched between glass plates, but the vision was to make flexible OLEDs that were paper thin and feather light, Conor said.
Conor and his two co-founders at MIT had been working on the OLED problem and hit upon the idea of using another existing technology to produce thin, light, and flexible OLED displays: inkjet printing. Both OLED and inkjet printing had existed for decades, but by pioneering the use of the latter to manufacture the former, Kateeva today supplies the equipment used to make approximately 80% of the OLED smartphone screens worldwide.
For a first company, Conor acknowledges that his start-up journey was unusual. Over the last 12 years, Kateeva has raised over $350 million. Since the company had to build its own machinery from the ground up, Kateeva required a lot of capital. “I’m not sure you could fund a company like Kateeva now. Investors were bolder about hardware companies back then,” Conor laughs. If he starts another company, he would like to do something that doesn’t take quite as much time and money to succeed, he adds.
DRIVING STRONG, ENDURING CULTURE. Conor grew up in Connecticut and was closeted all through his high school and undergraduate years. That experience strongly influenced his worldview and how he built Kateeva. He had neither positive nor negative representation of LGBT people—it was just absent. But once he got to MIT, where there was more representation, he felt comfortable enough to come out. “After I came out, I realized what I had been missing. Being closeted drained me of an energy I didn’t notice was being taken away,” he says.
But as Conor entered into the real world with Kateeva, he realized it was not like college. The tech world was more conservative than he realized, filled with straight white men. “Tim Cook hadn’t yet come out, and I couldn’t name a single LGBT CEO,” he says. That steeled Conor’s resolve to build a company informed by his experience of being closeted, that seeks to empower its employees to work freely.
Conor recalls discussing these shackles with his LGBT employees. There is a feeling of instability and a fear of losing one’s achievements with being outed. “All of these things distract you and take you away from your work,” he says. That’s why supporting LGBT causes will always be a priority for me, he adds.