Will wearables still be their own product category in 5 years?

There was quite a bit of buzz around the TandemLaunch office this morning following some big acquisition news over the last 24 hours: Intel acquired the smartwatch maker Basis for ~$100M, while Oculus VR made headlines (and made a few people angry) with their $2B pickup from Facebook. It was a big day for wearable computing, that’s for sure- with important implications for TandemLaunch companies like Mirametrix and Backtrack. But it got me thinking again about why wearables are currently thought of as their own product category, and how long that will last.

Basis-Watch-review-bottom-angleAsk anyone who reads TechCrunch about the latest trends in startups and technology, and you’ll hear an awful lot about wearable computing. It seems that wearable products are showing up with potential to change the way we do all sorts of everyday things: Google Glass, fitness trackers, the various smartwatches, personal health monitors, and many more are expanding the scope of what ‘wearables’ can accomplish, and making people think hard about what the wearable landscape will look like in 5 to 10 years. My prediction? I bet that in 5 years no one will be talking about wearables as a product category anymore. Why? For the simple reason that we won’t be so fixated on the ‘wearable’ label, and more concerned with what products actually do again.

I imagine that in 5 years, we’ll think of wearable devices in the same way we currently think about touch screens. Unless you work in the display technology or haptics fields, I’m willing to bet you don’t think about touch screens very much. But you probably use one hundreds of times a day, every time you pick up your phone. Even so, I don’t think of my phone as a ‘touch screen phone’, and I doubt you do anymore either. (1) To me, the screen itself is just one of many enabling feature of my phone that doesn’t command my attention very often.

There are other places, however, where you do notice touch screens- on products where touch screens don’t really make sense, or are difficult to use for some reason. Greg Kumparak’s piece in TC the other week about touch screens in cars is a great illustrative example- it’s much easier and safer to turn a physical radio dial than it is to fumble around with a laggy touch screen when you’re driving. Just because it works in other products doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used here. I wrote the other week about this phenomenon creeping into wearable tech: sometimes, taking an existing product that already solves a customer need and making it wearable doesn’t actually add any value, just an extra unnecessary feature.

So why do I think wearables in 5 years will be analogous to the touch screens of today? I’d bet that over the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll see an explosion of startups making wearable products that will be classifiable into two types. The first category will be ‘wearables for their own sake’- products that, although exciting and cool, don’t actually address any significant customer needs in a meaningful way. The second category will be those products whose wearable nature is simply an enabling mechanism for solving a real problem.  In hindsight, we’ll think of products in the first category the way we think about touchscreen car radios, and products in the second category will have become as ubiquitous as smartphones. We just won’t think of them as wearables- we’ll think of them in terms of the jobs that they do for us.

When that day comes, and I don’t think it’s too far off, ‘wearable’ won’t be a product category- it’ll just be one of many design features that innovators will consider when building a new product. That’s when wearable technology will truly have gone mainstream, and here at TandemLaunch we can’t wait.

 

1. It wasn’t always that way, though- remember the bruising physical keyboard versus touch screen typing arguments back when the first iPhone came out? This discussion made sense at the time, because we used our phones differently back then and there was a legitimate case to be made that physical keys were superior to touch screen typing for text messaging and composing email. You don’t hear so many people making that argument these days, though. Phones have evolved, and touch screens simply melted into the background.

CES, TandemLaunch, and Cool Toys

To all our readers, Happy New Year, and I hope many of you enjoyed CES 2014! Exhibitions like CES are a great way to see sneak previews of what new, up-and-coming technology might be ‘the next big thing’. So it’s worth reminding ourselves that identifying the mega-wave of tomorrow isn’t necessarily finding the fanciest, flashiest, most feature-laden products being launched today. In my opinion, one of the most insightful and fascinating mantras for anticipating new markets and trends came from Chris Dixon a few years ago, when he wrote:

The next big thing will start out looking like a toy.

This insight, which he posted on his excellent blog is rooted in Clay Christensen’s theory of disruptive technology introduced in The Innovator’s Dilemma. The theory, if you’re not familiar, goes something as follows:
1. At the top end of a market, products tend to improve (i.e. accumulate features) more quickly than the average customer can use these new features.
2. Market leaders usually ignore disruptive technologies because they appear ‘underpowered’, and not particularly impressive compared to their own high-end products. The market leaders then surrender the low-end, low-margin slice of what they perceive their market to be, and focus on the top where their real profits are generated.
3. Meanwhile, the ‘toys’ at the bottom of the market begin to poach customers away from the market leaders, by offering a product that is cheaper, simpler, and solves a user need more basically and effectively than the top-heavy, feature-laden behemoths found upmarket.
4. In doing so, these toys have created a whole new market, and may even be solving completely new and different problems than in the old market. (Think of Snapchat and Vine as examples of the new kinds of jobs that cameras are performing, which could’ve never happened with the previous generation of feature-laden, pre-cellphone digital cameras.) The old high-end products are now isolated to a niche of power users.

Even the smartest and most innovative Silicon Valley tech companies can get ambushed like this. As a (now infamous) example, in 2009 Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, called Twitter a “poor man’s email system” that has “aspects of an email system, but doesn’t have a full offering”. I can’t think of a better example of yesterday’s toy becoming today’s biggest thing than Twitter, which didn’t replace email at all, but instead completely revolutionized the way we discover and communicate about things happening in the world. XKCD, as usual, illustrates this very nicely:

Now, this doesn’t mean that every toy being played with today will turn into tomorrow’s IPO- in Chris’s words:

To distinguish toys that are disruptive from toys that will remain just toys, you need to look at products as processes. Obviously, products get better inasmuch as the designer adds features, but this is a relatively weak force. Much more powerful are external forces: microchips getting cheaper, bandwidth becoming ubiquitous, mobile devices getting smarter, etc. For a product to be disruptive it needs to be designed to ride these changes up the utility curve.

In essence, the most profoundly disruptive products look the most like toys because they address the user’s needs in a creative and fundamentally innovative way, even if it appears silly or amateur-ish to the incumbents. The disruptive products that succeed, therefore, are the ones whose creativity is rooted not just in product features, but rather in its core value proposition.

So what does this mean for TandemLaunch? On one level, we need to be thinking about the new technologies that we scout, develop and commercialize through this lens- how are they disruptive, who are they disrupting, and why. But on a more fundamental level, we could ask this same question of TandemLaunch itself. Does it make any sense to ask whether TandemLaunch itself is acting like a toy?

I believe that for an early stage startup incubator to be described as a toy would be a very high compliment indeed. Consider one of the great success stories in the field: Y Combinator. Back in 2005, YC’s customers- startup cofounders- were being overserved at the top end of their market by investors, while most startups just needed a simple, streamlined and creative solution to get them off the ground. As Paul Graham, the YC cofounder and leader, wrote in this 2007 essay:

Startups are undergoing the same transformation that technology does when it becomes cheaper. It’s a pattern we see over and over in technology. Initially there’s some device that’s very expensive and made in small quantities. Then someone discovers how to make them cheaply; many more get built; and as a result they can be used in new ways.

By offering a cheap, fun, high-throughput but fundamentally creative and effective way to launch startups, YC has gone from an interesting experiment to a massive success story with graduates like Airbnb and Dropbox, yet is still described in the popular press as “sleep-away camp for startup companies”.

So what about TandemLaunch? One of TandemLaunch’s main insights is that outside of a few select places in the world (Silicon Valley, essentially) the odds of a successful founding team finding each other ‘by accident’ is very small. Hence, one of the core TandemLaunch value propositions could be thought of as ‘providing the setting for technologies, cofounders, and industry partners to find each other in a deliberate, and not accidental manner’. Or phrased another way, ‘providing the setting for creative people to get together and play with cool stuff, and see if they can make a company with it’. Maybe the smart move for TandemLaunch is to embrace this idea of being a cool toy. After all, it’s not the fancy features that make the difference for a disruptive product or company- it’s the creative, novel value propositions that address customer needs in innovative ways.

For TandemLaunch to climb up the utility curve, maybe instead of asking ourselves “What additional features could we add to our model to launch companies more effectively”, maybe we should be asking, “How can we be more like a cool toy?” After all, Backtrack (the wearable health project I’m currently co-leading along with Alex Daskalov) didn’t come together as a TandemLaunch company because of all of Tandem’s fancy features- it came together because Tandem gave us a way to meet up and play around with the idea. Time will tell whether we’re successful or not, but we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without that initial ‘playtime’ to hash out our ideas.

So I hope all of you have a great start to 2014, and go out and find the next big thing- or go make it yourself. And remember, you’re not looking for fancy products with bigger and louder bells and whistles- you’re looking for something that seems overly simplistic at first glance, but for some reason is used fanatically by your 15 year old cousin and all her friends. It might be worth your while to pay attention. In a world of fancy features versus cool toys, I’d invest in the toys.

As usual, you can check out what else I’m thinking about at www.alexdanco.com, or follow me @alex_danco.

How success is the best brand builder of all

As an accelerator that focuses on working with university inventors to build great products, and who invests heavily in young talent, the role of a university education is a constant source of internal conversation.  As a result, I’ve taken quite an interest in the Thiel Fellowship; Peter Thiel’s idea was to offer $100k to high profile students if they would drop out of school and start a company. As a recent article notes, three years later none of it went anywhere and a lot of them are back in school.

This hit on one of the central elements of a recent lunch time discussion at TandemLaunch: As “uncool” as it is, getting a degree is a good idea (See my post on 10 reasons entrepreneurs should stay in school). Yes, there are guys like Mark Zuckerberg who can drop out of school and build a giant venture right on their first try. But to conclude from that that degrees and gradual brand building isn’t the right strategy, is like saying that safety belts aren’t necessary because once in a while somebody survives a crash without wearing a belt – supported by anecdotes but statistically rubbish (looking at you there, Peter Thiel – holder of a Stanford Law degree by the way…).

All that said, there is no reason why a good education should compete with entrepreneurial activities. Why not do both? One of our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence brought up the very interesting point that “exits” have been a major part of my personal brand development. That’s very true. The interesting thing, in my opinion, is that the initial brand value doesn’t really seem related to be the magnitude of the exit but just the event itself. For example, my first venture, Sunnybrook Technologies, was far from a big success but enough to demonstrate to investors that we could “handle” a bigger amount of funding for BrightSide Technologies which, in turn, had a much bigger impact. Mark Suster has a great blog post about Learning vs. Earning in a startup, with the central recommendation being to focus on Learning in your first venture, and then leveraging this into Earning. I would add “brand building” to the “learning” category of this approach. Let me explain.

Startups require three P’s: People, Product and Pesos (money). Miss one of those three and you don’t have a company, but rather a hobby. Pesos generally come once you have good People and good Product so those two are the first hurdle. Unfortunately, in a lot of ventures, like Sunnybrook, you need Pesos to build Product which creates a chicken-and-egg problem. My mentor, a very seasoned serial entrepreneur, had a very elegant solution: bring in a co-founder with money. My first instinct was to object – why should we give a co-founder equity stake to some guy who hadn’t been there for the preceding two years of research and wasn’t going to work on the project just because he had a bit of cash? I will eternally be grateful for my mentor’s simple answer: “Because he is willing to give you that bit of cash!” (said in a tone that ended the discussion right there).

Don, the guy with the money, became an equal co-founder and dropped in $300k (making him the largest individual shareholder of Sunnybrook after that money converted to equity). Add in the university equity and I was down to 12% of Sunnybrook before we even started fund raising (and so was my mentor). Neither of the two gained much from Sunnybrook, (though in good faith we gave all Sunnybrook contributors some equity in BrightSide so everybody had a very nice economic return a few years later – good faith relationships are a topic for yet another post).

I had a similarly weak economic outcome, but unlike them, I had a hugely positive overall return: brand value. You see, the Pesos allowed us to build the Product and attract high quality People. And that in turn gave me the opportunity to overcome the stigma associated with every young first-time entrepreneur everywhere: cockiness, naiveté, unreasonableness in business engagements, inability to listen to “sage advice”, fickleness, lack of personal management skills (managing up, sideways or down), etc. Every seasoned entrepreneur and investor in the world, including me today, will ascribe those attributes to every young first time entrepreneur – mostly in the form of involuntary bias. Of course that’s not always true, but given the statistics, it is a very good assumption.

Sunnybrook gave me the opportunity to demonstrate, and codify via the end outcome, that I was able to work in a team, was able to make reasonable deals, was reliable, etc. The creation of BrightSide, and my role in it, was a direct consequence of that shift in branding. Suddenly, Pesos and world-class People were available without needing the same large equity grants. Moreover, I was in a position to truly be a peer to the other senior leaders in the company despite the 20+ year experience gap. I doubt that I got that much smarter from 2003 to 2004 (Sunnybrook vs BrightSide), so much of this is just the result of a shift in brand.

This article about the first 21 employees of Google also has an interesting perspective on the career-accelerating power of initial success: http://www.businessinsider.com/googles-first-employees-2013-9?op=1

And of course the brand leverage didn’t stop there: Raising the first $300k of Sunnybrook took the lion’s share of the company and acceptance of a role in a very broad leadership group (being a peer with 50% of the company). Raising the first $600k of BrightSide took less than 20% of the company and a role in the top 10% senior leadership of the company. Raising the first $1.5M at TandemLaunch took zero equity and the top role in the company. At a rate of one startup every 3 years, I still have a dozen or so ahead of me, so who knows where this trend is heading. And as silly as it sounds, Don probably has more to do with it than I ever gave him credit for.

Is grad school useful for young entrepreneurs?

TL logo grad capHi TechEntrepreneurship readers! I’m Alex Danco, currently leading the BackTrack project at TandemLaunch along with my cofounder Alex Daskalov (Yes, I know). I’ll be posting on TechEntrepreneurship from time to time, and in between entries you can read some of my other thoughts at alexdanco.com.

This post is all about a choice many people face when finishing up an undergraduate degree: should you go to grad school? I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the similarities and differences between grad school and startups – and whether grad school might be useful if you’re a budding innovator.

First off, a bit of my background: I received my undergraduate degree from McGill in 2011, majoring in human physiology. I then did what every good life science student who doesn’t go to into medicine is supposed to do- applied to grad school. In my case, this was a relatively easy decision- I was interested in research and already working as an undergrad in Dr. Laura Stone’s laboratory, which studies (among other things) low back pain. So I started as a Master’s student in Neuroscience, and spent two very enjoyable and relatively productive years in Laura’s lab. I was fortunate to have had such a great experience and such good mentorship while I was there- students in other labs are not always so lucky. After finishing my Master’s (and opting out of transferring to a PhD program- more on that later), I connected with TandemLaunch through the Entrepreneur-In-Residence program, and am now working on BackTrack to try and fix the way we treat back pain.

Now for the big question: as a young future innovator coming out of undergrad, is another degree at all worthwhile? Some might say, absolutely- an undergraduate degree isn’t enough anymore; you have to specialize in something, and grad school is a good way to do that. Others might say, absolutely not- you learn things by actually doing them in the real world, not in some silly academic echo chamber. I can tell you that I’m confident of two things: 1) there is no ‘right answer’ to this question; and 2) your personal strengths, weaknesses, field of study, and passionate interests matter a whole lot more than anything I can say on the subject. Nonetheless, I will do my best to articulate a few points, based on my experience and observations.

I’ll start out with some of the drawbacks of going to grad school. (The ‘minuses’ column.)

1. The Fairness Principle. When I say fairness, in this case, I mean something specific- the general notion of ‘if you work hard, you will be rewarded’. This is something we’re all taught growing up, and that’s a good thing- incentives are important. However, there’s a critical difference between A: ‘I won’t be rewarded unless I work hard’ versus B: ‘If I work hard, then I will be rewarded’. Working in a startup requires a complete embrace of A and complete rejection of B. If you strongly believe in the type of ‘fairness’ described by B, you probably shouldn’t be working in a startup. Go to law school. 

Grad school brings out the ‘Fairness Principle’ in everyone. Generally speaking, your degree (the end goal) is a bright shining target that ought to get predictably closer, inch by inch, for every month of effort and diligence you put in. If you work hard and write a good thesis, you will eventually graduate. If you’re pursuing a PhD this may take many years and is never exactly guaranteed, but there’s still a high degree of implicit fairness involved. The longer you toil, the more people will think of you as a hard worker who has earned their diploma. However, that’s not quite how life works, especially not in startups. Hard work is essential, but doesn’t guarantee anything. After grad school this can be a difficult mindset to break out of.

2. Aversion to risk. This one applies a bit more to grad school in science, where you’re doing experiments with uncertain outcomes. You see, the way science is supposed to work is, you generate a hypothesis, perform experiments to test that hypothesis, and then share your work so that the world can know what you found.  Now here’s how it actually works these days: the first two steps are the same, but if you get negative results on your experiment (which should happen a large percentage of the time, if you’re doing good science) you keep your mouth shut and don’t tell anybody outside of your lab. This is a much bigger problem in science than I have room to talk about here, and others have researched and written on this subject extensively. What I’ll say here is that there is subtle but powerful pressure on you as a scientist to do experiments that don’t fail. The consequence is a strong aversion to risk-taking that can stay with you for a while.
 
With startups, on the other hand, the need to constantly experiment is the same- but ‘failure’ is treated very differently. You don’t do an experiment (say, an A/B test) because you’re trying to publish the results of this test and get recognized for your hard work, you do it because you genuinely need to know whether A or B works better, and you could not care less if anyone recognizes your hard work. Anyone who’s read The Lean Startup knows that it’s Build-Measure-Learn, not Build-Measure-Publish. Avoiding the risk inherent in designing and carrying out experiments will get you nowhere fast. Plus, on the broader level, if you’re a very risk-averse person then what are you doing at a startup in the first place?

3. Sunk cost. This is the big one. I believe a lot of people go into grad school for precisely this reason, which you’ve probably heard before: ‘I’ve just spent four whole years on a degree studying [anything]; I don’t want that to go to waste. I guess I’ll get a Master’s degree in it too so I’ll have better luck finding employment in my field.’ Once you start grad school, it gets stronger. One year in, you’ve developed a few good skills and are actually getting some research done. Then your supervisor (or a mentor, or your labmates, or anyone) says, ‘You know, you’ve put lots of time and effort into this, it’d be a shame not to get a PhD out of it. I bet you it’d take a year or two more, at most!’ This is a death trap.

Yet you agree, transfer to PhD, and then 6 months later your project starts to struggle right on schedule. Your sunk costs begin to accumulate, not just in an additive manner but with compound interest. If you leave now, all that time on your Master’s was wasted, which means your undergrad was wasted, which means your decision to pursue a Master’s was wrong, which means… AAAH! So you stay, bang your head against the wall for the next five years, and cultivate a long list of enemies.
As an added bonus, Sunk Cost interacts with the Fairness Principle in a particularly insidious manner: the more sunk cost you accumulate, the more you feel like you need that degree ‘out of fairness’. Death trap.

From http://www.phdcomics.com, a good source of life lessons.

Still with me? Okay good, because it’s not all bad news.

Pluses:

1. Focus. If your undergrad was anything like mine, it involved a lot of classes, a lot of exams, and not much continuity. Sure, hopefully you’re learning things that build on each other, one year at a time. But the semester-based system more or less ensures that you never work on any one thing for longer than a few months. Grad school is different. Your thesis work will become your infant child: it’s all you’re able to think about, the only thing you have time for, and often the cause of a big mess. At first, it’s hard focusing on only one project so intently- but it’s a valuable skill. You learn how to manage your own project, and take the long view in doing so. You’ll learn how to delegate, schedule, and prioritize far more effectively than you could before. If you’re good, you might even start enjoying this process.

2. Pitching. One fantastic part of being a grad student is you will be constantly bombarded with opportunities to present your work. Take advantage of every single one. Before long, you’ll develop a Swiss army knife of presentation skills- how to frame arguments, how to be convincing, how to be concise- even how to bluff on occasion. Scientists are incredibly tough audiences- the question period after seminars sometimes feels like a blood sport. But if you can learn how to hold your own, then you’ll thrive in other environments where presentation skills are key.

Speaking of pitching, another great part about grad school is going to conferences. Conferences are where you’ll develop skills like ‘how to skip most of the scientific talks and then work the cocktail hour afterwards like a boss’ and ‘how to be energetic despite seven-hour jetlag and getting three hours of sleep last night’. They’re where your pitching skills will be honed to perfection- partially at the poster sessions during the day, but mostly over wine in the evening. Conferences help you develop your charisma, fluidity, and confidence while you pitch- and that’s worth a lot.

3. Identify solvable problems. Remember back when I mentioned that grad school was a good way to specialize in something? Here’s why that’s a good thing: it lets you learn a whole lot about something very specific, which is key for identifying solvable problems. Without a deep, thorough understanding of a topic (which can be hard to develop in an undergraduate program), you might still be able to identify the big problems in a field but not the specific and creative ways those problems could be addressed and solved. You’ll learn all the different angles of looking at a particular topic- and the critical differences between those perspectives. You won’t just gain knowledge- you’ll gain insight. As a future innovator these insights will be absolutely critical, not just as inspiration for new inventions or companies, but as guiding principles to ensure you’re solving people’s problems, not just making stuff.

So is grad school a good idea? I can’t answer that question for you- but hopefully this post gives you some food for thought if you’re on the fence. For me, the decision was a no-brainer, both at the time and in retrospect- I learned a tremendous amount during my Master’s, had a great time, and developed some critical skills that I’ll use my entire life. It was the right move for me- but everyone’s different. What’s important is that whatever option you choose, you commit to it completely and embrace the opportunity to its full potential.

And that’s all for this post! Thanks for staying with me, and good luck with those life decisions after undergrad. Like most things in life, grad school is what you make of it.

Gaze as Context: a foray into intuitive interaction

As we here at Mirametrix have officially detached from the mother ship that is Tandemlaunch (though we’re still stuck in their office – shhhh ), it seemed like a perfectly appropriate time to talk about our views on human-computer interaction and how we see it evolving. While outwardly a standard eye tracking research company, we’re committed to aiding the push towards a future where device interaction is both more intuitive and simple.

Minority Report’s Futuristic Human-Computer Interface

Now, if one were to base this ideal future on recent Sci-fi films, body-pose based gesture interaction would be the name of the game. Although the interface demonstrated in Minority Report certainly had the strongest effect on our general perceptions of futuristic interfaces ([1] is a great read on the subject), these types of interfaces have appeared for decades now in literature and film. And with good reason: for a large number of applications, gestures can directly mimic how we would interact with things in the physical world. They look darn cool, to boot. However, there are some things gesture is inherently unsuited to handle: Abstract interactions, which lack direct physical counterparts, are particularly difficult to model via gesture. The state of current gesture interfaces brings to light another major hurdle: while fairly good at understanding the user pose and gesture used, these devices have difficulty determining what the user is attempting to interact with in the virtual realm. This is most apparent via the interaction schemes for menus or dashboards, such as the one shown below:

XBox One Dashboard Interface

The intuitive method of interacting with such an interface would be to point at or grab the item you wish to select. However, this is not feasible due to the constraints of gesture technology. The most common interaction scheme mimics the standard pointer, where you perform a gesture to initialize a mouse, move it to the correct object, and perform a second gesture to select. This is a step away from the direct interaction people are trying to achieve. By adding this layer of abstraction, we in many cases remove the “naturalness” of the interaction, reminding us that we’re still dealing with a mouse-click style user interface.

Similarly, despite major strides, current voice systems are for many use cases over-developed. The grand majority of these systems expect any phrase as input, which introduces some problems: first, it forces added complexity to the necessary language processing, as the system must be able to reliably and efficiently extract the syntax of the given phrase, understand the meaning behind the potential command, and determine if it applies to the system it’s functioning on. Keep in mind, this assumes the system has been able to accurately convert a given audio feed to words, a difficult problem in and of itself due to the vastly different accents existing in a given language. Secondly, such voice recognition systems must by their very nature fix the user’s interaction to purely objective commands, removing the deictic phrases we tend to use in normal conversation. Even with the voice component of the new Kinect, which has smartly been trained on a set command list[2] (reducing the scope of the problem, and increasing it’s accuracy), this lack of deictic commands is non-ideal. In the sea of available items on the dashboard, sometimes the most natural command we want understood is “Select that”.

Now, this problem of context is not exclusive to voice, but inherent in the grand majority of these new interaction devices we’re seeing on the market. From Kinect to Siri to Leap Motion, great products are being released, but they’re being held back by the isolationist nature of their ecosystems. And the solution to this problem is by no means new: since the advent of these new modalities, there has been interest in roping them together into multi-modal systems. Think about the last interaction you had with a friend; how often did you refer to contextual things (this, that), point at objects, or indicate what you were talking about by looking at it? We interact innately via multiple modalities (talking, looking, pointing, gesturing all at once), so it only seems natural to want our computers be able to decipher these multifaceted commands.

To slide back to how Mirametrix fits in here: we’re in the gaze tracking business because we think it’s an underlying key to gluing these modalities together. When referring to things in visual space, we naturally fixate on what we are referring to. This simple key, context, can immensely simplify the recognition problem in a number of scenarios. In the case of gesture mentioned earlier, this context can simplify the gesture tracking problem from one of perfect 3D pose tracking to a simple set of different gestures. Similarly, the voice recognition problem becomes one of differentiating between sets of synonyms in the case described above. This idea of context as a unifying/simplifying component is quite powerful: it not only determines what we’re referring to during interaction (connecting separate modality actions), but also allows the connected modalities to be simpler and more lightweight, by virtue of this contextual association. It is via this simple tenet that we hope to make interchanges between us and computers truly natural.

[1] http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2013/03/01/sci-fi-interaction-designers-gestural-interfaces/

[2] http://www.computerandvideogames.com/439423/xbox-one-voice-commands-list-posted/

Technologist in Residence Program/Programme de résidence en technologie

techdemoTechnologists-in-Residence work on a variety of early stage opportunities to explore their suitability for the TandemLaunch investment program. They will champion high value projects and, if appropriate, can transition into technical leadership roles of emerging portfolio companies.

TandemLaunch Business Model

TandemLaunch scouts, accelerates, and commercializes early-stage technologies from the world’s top universities in close partnership with major Consumer Electronic brands. In the third year of operation, this has resulted in over a dozen portfolio companies and technology projects.

TandemLaunch interacts with universities across the world to identify commercially attractive innovation in the fields of human-computer interaction, video and image processing and audio consumer technology. TandemLaunch’s engineering and business development staff subsequently work closely with university inventors to create proof-of-concept prototypes, core intellectual property and business frameworks. The resulting portfolio companies are funded by TandemLaunch and led by experienced entrepreneurs for growth into profitable businesses.

Requirements

TandemLaunch has a very open and dynamic culture. Entrepreneurial energy, an open minded attitude and high risk tolerance are key characteristics for all TandemLaunch staff. People are the foundation for success, so TandemLaunch uses a hiring process with multi-stage interviews, skill challenges and trial periods. Compensation includes a significant equity portion combined with salaries at startup market levels.

  • Ph.D. (or MS with thesis and strong industrial experience) in Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Optics or related fields.
  • Relevant industry work experience in a key area of interest to TandemLaunch (e.g. signal/image processing, computer vision, 3D displays, audio signal processing, computational imaging, human computer interaction).
  • Programming experience with MATLAB and/or C/C++
  • Excellent communication and technical presentation skills.

All members of the TandemLaunch community benefit from mentorship and training opportunities.

Inquiries

If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, please contact Emilie.Boutros@tandemlaunch.com.

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Version Française

TandemLaunch trouve, propulse et commercialise des technologies émergentes provenant des plus prestigieuses universités au monde, en partenariat étroit avec les grands noms du domaine des produits électroniques grand public. Après trois ans d’existence, l’organisation possède un portefeuille comptant plus d’une dizaine d’entreprises et de projets technologiques.

Modèle d’entreprise de TandemLaunch

TandemLaunch interagit avec les universités du monde entier dans le but de dénicher les innovations commercialement attrayantes dans les domaines de l’interaction homme-machine, du traitement vidéo et d’image, ainsi que de la technologie audio grand public. Le personnel des services d’ingénierie et de développement commercial de TandemLaunch travaille ensuite en étroite collaboration avec les inventeurs universitaires pour créer des prototypes de validation de principe, ainsi que des politiques de protection fondamentale de la propriété intellectuelle et d’encadrement des activités commerciales. Le portefeuille d’entreprises qui en résulte est financé par TandemLaunch et dirigé par des entrepreneurs chevronnés dont l’objectif est d’en assurer la rentabilité.

Rôle technologue en résidence

Les technologues en résidence travaillent sur diverses technologies en phase initiale afin d’explorer leur pertinence dans le cadre du programme d’investissement de TandemLaunch. Ils feront la promotion des projets de haute valeur et, le cas échéant, ils pourront évoluer vers des rôles de commandement technique au sein des entreprises émergentes de l’organisation.

Exigences

TandemLaunch possède une culture ouverte et dynamique. Le personnel se distingue principalement par un esprit entrepreneurial, une absence de parti pris et une grande tolérance à l’égard du risque. Les personnes constituent le fondement même de la réussite et, pour cette raison, TandemLaunch utilise un processus d’embauche qui comporte des entrevues à étapes multiples, des tests de compétence et des périodes probatoires. La rémunération comprend une importante participation aux bénéfices qui s’ajoute à un salaire initial en fonction du marché.

  • Ph.D. (ou M.Sc. avec thèse et solide expérience professionnelle) en génie électrique et informatique, en mathématiques, en optique ou en toute autre discipline connexe.
  • Expérience de travail pertinente dans un secteur d’activité privilégié par TandemLaunch (e.g. traitement de signal/d’image, vision artificielle, affichage tridimensionnel, traitement de signal audio, imagerie informatique, interaction homme-machine).
  • Expérience de la programmation avec MATLAB ou C/C++ ou les deux.
  • Excellentes aptitudes pour la communication et la présentation technique.

Demandes de reseignements

TandemLaunch et les entreprises faisant partie de son portefeuille sont constamment à la recherche de candidats compétents. Pour en apprendre davantage sur les possibilités offertes, veuillez communiquer avec Emilie.Boutros@tandemlaunch.com.

Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program/Entrepreneur en Résidence

Apply Now!Entrepreneurs-in-Residence work on a variety of early stage opportunities in collaboration with technologists, experts, and TandemLaunch staff to explore their suitability for the TandemLaunch investment program. Their objective is to champion and mature the business case and team for a high value project and, transition into an appropriate business leadership role of an emerging portfolio company.

TandemLaunch Business Model

TandemLaunch scouts, accelerates, and commercializes early-stage technologies from the world’s top universities in close partnership with major Consumer Electronic brands. In the third year of operation, this has resulted in over a dozen portfolio companies and technology projects.

TandemLaunch interacts with universities across the world to identify commercially attractive innovation in the fields of human-computer interaction, video and image processing and audio consumer technology. TandemLaunch’s engineering and business development staff subsequently work closely with university inventors to create proof-of-concept prototypes, core intellectual property and business frameworks. The resulting portfolio companies are funded by TandemLaunch and led by experienced entrepreneurs for growth into profitable businesses.

Requirements

TandemLaunch has a very open and dynamic culture. Entrepreneurial energy, an open minded attitude and high risk tolerance are key characteristics for all TandemLaunch staff. People are the foundation for success, so TandemLaunch uses a hiring process with multi-stage interviews, skill challenges and trial periods. Compensation includes a significant equity portion combined with salaries at startup market levels. Entrepreneurs-in-Residence generally possess:

Demonstrated competence bringing startups or non-profit initiatives to fruition.

  • An interest in the consumer electronics market, and ability to understand technologies at a conceptual level and related business aspects (entrepreneurial experience in a tech company an asset).
  • An understanding of venture and equity investment.
  • Excellent communication, interpersonal leadership and technical presentation skills.

All members of the TandemLaunch community benefit from mentorship and training opportunities.

Inquiries

If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, please contact Emilie.Boutros@tandemlaunch.com

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Version Française

TandemLaunch trouve, propulse et commercialise des technologies émergentes provenant des plus prestigieuses universités au monde, en partenariat étroit avec les grands noms du domaine des produits électroniques grand public. Après trois ans d’existence, l’organisation possède un portefeuille comptant plus d’une dizaine d’entreprises et de projets technologiques.

Modèle d’entreprise de TandemLaunch

TandemLaunch interagit avec les universités du monde entier dans le but de dénicher les innovations commercialement attrayantes dans les domaines de l’interaction homme-machine, du traitement vidéo et d’image, ainsi que de la technologie audio grand public. Le personnel des services d’ingénierie et de développement commercial de TandemLaunch travaille ensuite en étroite collaboration avec les inventeurs universitaires pour créer des prototypes de validation de principe, ainsi que des politiques de protection fondamentale de la propriété intellectuelle et d’encadrement des activités commerciales. Le portefeuille d’entreprises qui en résulte est financé par TandemLaunch et dirigé par des entrepreneurs chevronnés dont l’objectif est d’en assurer la rentabilité.

Rôle de l’entrepreneur en résidence

Les entrepreneurs en résidence travaillent sur divers projets émergents, en collaboration avec des technologues, des experts et des employés de TandemLaunch, dans le but d’explorer l’admissibilité des projets en question au programme d’investissement de TandemLaunch. Leur objectif consiste, d’une part, à promouvoir et à faire avancer le dossier d’analyse et l’équipe de travail en vue de réaliser un projet d’une grande valeur et, d’autre part, à évoluer vers un rôle de commandement au sein d’une entreprise émergente financée par capital-risque.

Exigences

TandemLaunch possède une culture ouverte et dynamique. Le personnel se distingue principalement par un esprit entrepreneurial, une absence de parti pris et une grande tolérance à l’égard du risque. Les personnes constituent le fondement même de la réussite et, pour cette raison, TandemLaunch utilise un processus d’embauche qui comporte des entrevues à étapes multiples, des tests de compétence et des périodes probatoires. La rémunération comprend une importante participation aux bénéfices qui s’ajoute à un salaire initial en fonction du marché. Les entrepreneurs en résidence possèdent généralement les qualités suivantes :

  • Compétence démontrée dans le plein aboutissement d’activités de lancement ou d’initiatives sans but lucratif.
  • Intérêt pour le marché de l’électronique grand public et capacité de comprendre les technologies au stade conceptuel et les aspects commerciaux afférents (l’expérience entrepreneuriale au sein d’une entreprise spécialisée dans la technologie constitue un atout).
  • Une connaissance de l’investissement de capital-risque et de capital-actions.
  • Excellentes aptitudes pour la communication, leadership interpersonnel et savoir-faire en matière de présentation technique.

Les membres du groupe TandemLaunch bénéficient de possibilités de mentorat et de formation.

Demandes de reseignements

TandemLaunch et les entreprises faisant partie de son portefeuille sont constamment à la recherche de candidats compétents. Pour en apprendre davantage sur les possibilités offertes, veuillez communiquer avec Emilie.Boutros@tandemlaunch.com.

Tech Entrepreneurship Update

The blog has been pretty quiet for the last few months, so I thought a quick update on what has had us so distracted was in order.  TandemLaunch has gone through a period of significant growth, graduating two of our portfolio companies (MixGenius and Mirametrix), and closing a new fund.  Needless to say, we’re recruiting, and you’ll be hearing about it.

We’ve also given the blog a make-over, and added a TandemLaunch News category for posts related to the TandemLaunch model and our graduating companies.  All things university tech entrepreneurship will continue to dominate.  Enjoy, and feel free to contact us with your questions and topic suggestions.

The student/entrepreneur cheat sheet: Balancing school and entrepreneurship

I’ve written in the past about the challenges of being an academic and an entrepreneur (here, here, here and here), and it’s one of the more common topics I get asked about. Many students come to me with questions on balance – how do they get their entrepreneur career started while still in school?

Here are three key insights my mentor gave me early on that really helped me as a student-entrepreneur:

1.    Synergy is king

Try to find work/study activities that “count twice”. For example, my research also happened to be the core technology work for my startup. Many of the marketing white papers for my startup were later turned into publications. And so forth. This requires a bit of forethought, but the impact can be tremendous. This usually also means that you need to cut activities that are not synergistic (e.g. I was the CTI of my first startup because fundraising and other business activities had no synergy effect with my academic work).

2.    Find a supervisor that embraces synergy

When working with a supervisor, you need to find one who gets that your principal goal is *your* career development, not cranking out papers for them. This is important because the synergy aspect above needs to work both ways, and a “needy” supervisor can mess everything up. Ironically, the most successful supervisors are often the ones who get this idea. They’ve had successful careers themselves and know that you will generate a lot more value for them doing “your thing” at 10x efficiency than slaving away at “their thing” at 0.5x efficiency.

3.    Focus on goals to optimize your schedule

The big risk with doing two things at the same time is that you get scattered. 50% of two goals is usually worth nothing. So you need to be very disciplined with schedules and goals. I used to write down quarterly and annual goals for myself – sort of a self-enforced performance review. To make this “stick” a bit more, I went out of my way to publicly declare these goals to create social pressure that would keep me focused (e.g. declare them to supervisor, co-workers, co-founders, put things on a whiteboard in a public space, etc.).

In terms of “hacking” the system, there are really only two parts to a graduate degree:

Papers: You want to generate lots of these, at high quality journals if possible. The best way to do this is to force yourself to write at least one paper per quarter. Even if only half get accepted, that’s still a lot more than most grad students achieve (typically one or two during a 4 year degree). Focus on tactical objectives rather than trying to create one giant master piece at the end.

Courses: Look for courses that are light on regular homework (weekly small stuff) and heavy on end-of-year papers, then use those for your startup objectives (synergy!). The other thing is to find courses that are compact (e.g. 3 hours in one session once per week) as this greatly reduces the “overhead” of course work (travel to campus, etc.). If you are doing a business on the side, you’ll really appreciate the blocks of uninterrupted time this will afford you.

If you do the above right, you also get one of the most valuable insurance policies available to technology entrepreneurs: academic credentials. We all read about the drop-outs who go on to create giant companies but that’s just survivor bias. Most startups fail. A good foundation of education, publications and credentials ensures that you get significant value out of your student-entrepreneur years even if your venture doesn’t become the next Facebook.

Balancing two full-time endeavours is never easy, but by optimizing your time and aligning your goals & interests, you’ll have a much greater chance of succeeding as both a student AND an entrepreneur.

3 simple steps for pitching your technology

One of the pitfalls of many tech entrepreneurs is pitching their solution simply and clearly. What is it? What does it do? Is it actually useful? Often, we’ll get stuck either trying to explain it all at once or getting too technical for our audience.

We recently had an open house to celebrate TandemLaunch‘s anniversary, and I had to pitch a handful of technologies to guests, including potential investors. I needed to know what my pitch was, and how to deliver it quickly and simply. Throughout the room’s bustle, the constantly-running slideshows, the questions and the waves of people coming in, I stuck to a few basic principles:

1. Focus on a real-life problem

Talking about “motion-path” and “deconvolution” might push listeners away. Rather, focus on a problem they’re likely to encounter. For example, with a photo deblurring technology, I spoke of taking pictures with family at a restaurant, or at night in low light conditions, and how these pics often come out blurry. This is a problem everyone understands and relates to.

2. Show the “after” right away

This step is crucial. You’re selling a solution, not a product. Read that sentence again. Often, after outlining the problem, we have a tendency to explain how the tech works, and THEN show the result. Flip these two steps. By showing your result right away, you’ll benefit from a straight before/after comparison and a “wow” factor that you might not get otherwise.

Showing the BEFORE and AFTER of your technology is a great way to grab someone’s attention.

Showing the BEFORE and AFTER of your technology is a great way to grab someone’s attention.


3. Briefly explain your solution

Whatever you’re pitching, this is the meat in the hamburger – the substance. You need to explain in 15 seconds how your technology works and, if you have slides, explain it in 2 slides or less. Field questions simply and offer to follow-up in person or on the phone at a later time for more technical answers. At this stage of the game there are likely aspects of the technology that are still confidential, and the people you’re pitching to will understand that.  This also gives you an additional touch point with potential partners!

Practice makes perfect

Admittedly, some of us might not be so comfortable pitching or speaking in public. It’s a skill to be worked on, and it can greatly improve with a bit of time and effort. In my case, I found it very helpful to join a public-speaking group like Toastmasters, and even to get up on stage for karaoke every now and then!

Additional questions might arise sometimes (for example, who you are and where your expertise lies, or how your technology differentiates itself from alternative solutions), but work on the three steps outlined above and you’ll be pitching your solution quickly, simply and clearly in no time.

Have some more tips and resources for pitching? Share them in the comments below!