Austin Malm: From Mechanical Engineer to Startup CTO

This podcast episode features a conversation with Austin Malm, the CTO of HID SIPS (currently rebranding as SYPS). They manufacturer products that help quench the nighttime hydration needs of those who need it the most.
Manufacturers Mindset Podcast Austin Malm

From Mechanical Engineer to Startup CTO: The Journey of Austin Malm

Austin introduces himself, sharing that he is a mechanical engineer by trade with over 12 years of experience, including about 9 years working in the startup world across 7 different startups. He currently resides in San Diego after moving from Phoenix. 

Austin explains that his interest in mechanical engineering started at a young age when he received a Kinect set as a child and enjoyed building and overcoming the challenges of assembling the device. This sparked his interest in creating and designing mechanisms. During college, he pursued an internship at an automation line manufacturer, which he found to be a perfect fit and his “favorite job” so far, as it allowed him to work on custom assembly line equipment for mass production companies.

When discussing his transition into the startup world, Austin shares that around 2015, he felt there was something more he wanted to do beyond a traditional 9-to-5 job. He was driven by a desire to find solutions to real-world problems and gain direct satisfaction from his work. Austin has been a founder or co-founder in all the startups he has been involved with.

Building Innovative Products: A Conversation with CTO Austin Malm

The conversation then shifts to how Austin and his team at Sips come up with new product ideas. Austin explains that about 25-30% of their decisions are based on “happenstance” – utilizing existing components and materials they have on hand to create new products that address identified needs, such as the water filtration system for the backpacking/outdoor market. The remaining 70% involves more strategic business decisions, aiming to target larger industries and higher volume sales.

Lessons Learned from 7 Startups: Insights from CTO Austin Malm

When asked about lessons learned from his startup experience, Austin shares two key insights:

1. Capturing “tribal knowledge” from experienced colleagues before they retire. He emphasizes the importance of proactively learning from seasoned employees and documenting their tacit knowledge, as it is often not written down.

2. Trusting the process and not making quick, emotional decisions. Austin shares an example of being moved from engineering to operations at one of his previous companies, which he initially saw as a demotion but later realized was part of a broader training plan to make him a better project manager.

The Power of Adaptability: Startup Success with CTO Austin Malm

Austin also discusses the importance of being adaptable and not being too rigidly tied to specific outcomes, as things rarely go exactly as planned. He tries to plan 90% of a process or procedure, but allows for 10% flexibility to adapt as needed.

Regarding challenges, Austin reflects on the early stages of his career, when he was trying to determine whether to pursue a path as a technical engineer or move into management. Startups ultimately provided the solution, allowing him to blend both technical and business skills.

Transformative Moments: CTO Austin Malm’s Proudest Accomplishments

When asked about his proudest accomplishment, Austin highlights two experiences: the traction and positive impact Sips is having on people’s lives, as well as the pivotal moment when he quit his full-time job to pursue a consulting/design service company, which was a transformative experience that made him realize he could never be a traditional W-2 employee.

Asking Questions and Seeking Help: Lessons from CTO Austin Malm

Austin emphasizes the importance of asking questions and not being afraid to seek help, as he believes people generally want to be “heroes” and assist others. He encourages listeners to be aware of how their actions and requests impact others, as this awareness can lead to more positive outcomes.

In closing, Austin invites listeners to connect with him on LinkedIn if they have any further questions or would like to discuss ideas.


Topics discussed:

1. From Mechanical Engineer to Startup CTO: The Journey of Austin Malm

2. Building Innovative Products: A Conversation with CTO Austin Malm

3. Lessons Learned from 7 Startups: Insights from CTO Austin Malm

4. The Power of Adaptability: Startup Success with CTO Austin Malm

5. Tribal Knowledge and Emotional Decisions: Startup Wisdom from CTO Austin Malm

6. Finding Your Path: The Career Evolution of CTO Austin Malm

7. Creating Impactful Products: The Story of Sips with CTO Austin Malm

8. Balancing Technical Skills and Business Acumen: CTO Austin Malm’s Approach

9. Transformative Moments: CTO Austin Malm’s Proudest Accomplishments

10. Asking Questions and Seeking Help: Lessons from CTO Austin Malm

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