Alumni Spotlight: Judson Kauffman

judson kauffman

Austin

Co-Founder, Terradepth

Co-Founder, Desert Door Distillery

TBHF Alum, Class of 2020

Bunker Labs, US Navy SEAL

You have co-founded multiple companies and sit on the board of several organizations. When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur? Was this a lifelong passion or something that you discovered later in life?

I discovered entrepreneurship later in life. As a teenager and young adult in my 20’s, I didn’t think too far ahead. I was inspired by a lot of different career fields. One day I wanted to be a veterinarian, the next day an actor, and the day after that something different.

When 9/11 happened, I was inspired to join the military. I had no plan post-military. So after eight years, when I decided it was time to move on from that experience, I ended up working for an entrepreneur at a startup. I got a glimpse of how it was done but didn’t think that was a path I’d go down. But eventually a problem arose that I felt needed to be solved and it inspired me to start my own company. All of a sudden, I was an entrepreneur.

And what was that first business you started?

It was an advisory firm. We helped companies with leadership and human capital problems by leveraging military special operations models for organization and leadership. We recruited military talent into mid-level leadership roles in corporations.

Looking back, it should have been more obvious to me that I was destined for entrepreneurship. Despite having a successful near decade-long career in the military, I had never done well with other people’s rules and authority. I value freedom and autonomy. So it made sense that I landed on entrepreneurship. It just took me a while to find it. 

Terradepth is creating a scalable autonomous deep-ocean data collection system. In layman’s terms, can you explain how the technology works and what its potential applications are?

Let’s say you have your own company and need a map or survey of the ocean in order to sell your product. Maybe you own a fishery. You need to know whether or not a certain area of the ocean is going to be a good spot for you to build. That survey is going to help you understand what that underwater environment looks like, what kind of organisms live there, what the atmospherics are, and so on. It costs a lot of money because the companies that provide surveys, rely on outdated technology that requires extensive human capital. 

From my experience in the navy, we had shockingly little amount of information of the underwater environment. I knew first-hand about this problem. One day around 2017, my  future Terradepth co-founder and I were talking about how this problem existed both on the military and commercial side. We thought that someone would have come up with a more cost-effective way to explore the option by this point in time. It didn’t take long for us to come up with a clever way to build drones for the option that could operate and collect data without human intervention.

We raised money off that idea and also began adding a software component to the business. Everybody in the industry had been using the equivalent of MapQuest. It was outdated and inefficient. Our goal was to build a more modern version of this technology. We like to think of it as the Google Maps of underwater exploration.

One of your other companies, Desert Door, is a distillery that manufactures Sotol. How did you first become interested in the industry and what sets your product apart from the competition?

Around 2012 or so, the idea to distill something came into my head. I had been doing research on my genealogy when I discovered my fourth great grandfather was a beer brewer. He had been fairly successful in the 1830’s and 1840’s in Cincinnati and Germany. There was a romantic component to taking something from the earth and turning it into a consumable product.

I was intimidated by how much money I would need to raise to start a brewery or distillery. So the idea was on the back burner for a while. When I moved back to Texas and was pursuing my MBA, I recalled a childhood memory where I learned about people moonshining a native Texas plant called Sotol. I was in my entrepreneurship class and shared the idea to do a commercial Texas Sotol with two of my friends in the class. They agreed it was a cool idea and so we started putting some energy into it.

Before we knew it, we were officially in business. It’s been a very successful venture so far; we are the fastest growing distillery in Texas.

One of TBHF’s core values is excellence. How do you define “excellence” in business? 

First, you have to define what it means to have a “good” business. A good business simply makes money for its stakeholders. That’s the basic responsibility of a business owner.

To be excellent, you have to be better than good. You have to do more than just make money. It starts internally with your employees. Are they excited to come to work? Does the company culture foster trust and vulnerability? Do the employees and leadership have a good rapport? If you create an environment where your employees are having a good time, that will trickle down to your consumers. A perfect example is Southwest Airlines. You can tell the employees love working for the airline. Anytime I fly Southwest, that rubs off on me as a consumer.

Entrepreneurship has its fair share of challenges. What trait or characteristic do you think has benefitted you the most in your entrepreneurial journey and helped you weather those storms? 

My ability to rely on others. You have to put your ego aside and ask for help. I rely on my co-founders, my advisors, and my employees every day. Recognizing your own limitations and seeking help you don’t know the answer is a skill every entrepreneur needs.

As a business founder and owner, how has being part of the Texas entrepreneurial eco-system benefitted you?

I have found that most people in the entrepreneurial ecosystem are extremely willing to help. There is an abundance of knowledge, experience, and advice available to you if you just ask. There are so many successful entrepreneurs and business owners in Texas, and I have found that they are almost all happy to share their time and lessons learned. For me, it has been critical in launching and running my businesses.


To learn more about Terradepth, please visit: https://www.terradepth.com/

To learn more about Desert Door, please visit: https://www.desertdoor.com/

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