Adam Wilson is the Founder and CSA of Orbotix Inc., maker of Sphero, an app-controlled robotic ball with 20 apps, a full SDK and accessories.
At first Sphero was looked at as a simple “gadget” and the friction was relatively high. We worked hard to build more apps, hold more hackathons with our open API/SDK and really focus on analyzing the data we have about Sphero to produce apps that do what people wanted their Sphero to do.
We are highly involved with what we call “hack friday.” On Fridays we have a company meeting, our CEO updates everyone and we show off art and apps. We also use that day to work on anything we want, things people ask for and crazy stuff! Things like the Sphero Peacekeeper (a 3 foot wide giant Sphero), Sphero chariots and our augmented reality games came from hack days. We just let people explore with no limits.
In hardware, things happen…. a few thousand Spheros were produced with a slight issue that we only discovered just as they landed in our distribution warehouse. We solved it quickly for the rest of the production run but this one shipment required us to send a crew to the warehouse, drill a tiny hole in Sphero to vent it and fix it. The shipment was due in 24 hours and we pulled it off! Our team will always go way out of our way to make sure the first time you experience our product it is exactly what we designed.
You must be passionate and you have to actually believe what your saying. I really believe you have more success if you focus on the “why” instead of what you will actually do during a pitch.
In the hardware world our customers are still the brick and mortar shops, the retail stores, etc. Our first interaction with a retail purchaser was at CES in Las Vegas. It was expensive to get a booth, but well worth it for our line of business.
Sphero itself was a pretty “ballsy” move, but the fact that it is so unique and universal gave us something to start with. My vision is to change the way people interact with Robotics and to make that experience fun and unique.
It may take a lot of no to get to a person that will say yes. But, just because someone says yes does not mean you should work with everyone who is willing to fund you. The best investor is one that will go to bat with you and support you all the way; through the ups and the downs. Discuss that before you take any money.
I am sometimes a social bonehead, a typical founder glued to my company every waking moment. At Google I/O I was showing a bunch of people our new augmented reality app. One of those people happened to be Larry Page, you know, from Google? Anyway, I didn’t recognize him and after I pitched him the product I took the iPod out of his hand and handed it to a kid who had been begging to use it. That was a chance of a lifetime to have a conversation with Larry and I passed it up for an AR zombie game with a 10 year old.
Get into the after party and have your product ready. We got President Obama to drive a Sphero as the result of guerrilla marketing. Show up and disrupt with your product. If you can’t do that, you might need a new product.
Success is an extremely bumpy road and I feel like if we can learn one thing from our failure then it isn’t a failure at all. I have face-planted a few times and the trick is to get back up and reach out for help if you need it. The entrepreneurial community is full of mentors that want to pass on helpful advice.