Here's our transcript of Pitchwerks #100 with Nadyli Nuñez of the Forbes Funds, talking about the UpPrize competitions for social innovation.
UpPrize is accessible to anyone. If you have a good idea - when it's just an idea, we started a great ideas competition this year. Or you are you working on something, just come to us! You might not have a CMU education, you might not come from a high income class family... Come and we will help you in whatever way.
Hey everybody it's Scot, it's Wednesday and all that makes this the Pitchwerks podcast, thanks for tuning in. This week. I've got Nadyli Nunez, she's a director over at UpPrize which is it's a really cool program designed to make the world a little bit better every single year with a pitch competition and all these types of supports for people that have great ideas. If you think you're among those, you should definitely listen to the show.
I'm gonna ask you to rate and review because, Hey, it's been a week since I did it. So it seems like it's probably time... You know what that means. Go in to iTunes, give us a star rating, then type up an answer as far as why that star rating felt like the right one. All that information helps other listeners find this podcast and basically figure out whether or not it's right for them.
Let's talk to Nadyli, this is, this is truly an impressive program. I think you're gonna like what you hear.
Finally, in the Pitchwerks Epicast studios Really Nadyli, she's giggling already folks, Nadyli Nunez, director over at UpPrize. How are you?
I'm great, you enjoy that too much.
I do, it's great. And I think only just because when I met you, and Tomer from Blastpoint is the one that introduced us and he says, "Look you're gonna have this urge to say Natalie when you see her name written out and that's not it. He's like, "It's Nadyli... And I said, "Okay fine, that's not the most uncommon, again I'm MacTaggart for God's sake.
You gotta have a sense of relativism, here.
And then I started following you on Twitter pretty much right after that, and I caught your handle, was @ReallyNadyli and I went... Oh God, that's - from a brander and marketers perspective, that's brilliant.
Well thank you...
I can't compliment you enough because you have to have problems with people pronouncing your name correctly...
Absolutely, I mean, I get Natalie, Na-die-lee... I will admit, when I went to elementary school for three years, I wanted to fit in 'cause everyone knew each other so I did let them call me Natalie for three years.
Make sense these... Well, think for my name right, yeah, yeah.
So what is UpPrize for the people who weren't already familiar?
Sure, UpPrize, the BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge, looks for ideas and solutions that can improve the operations of non-profits or improve the lives of marginalized populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
That's really... Well, this is not an accusation, but that sounds well-rehearsed.
I write it so much when we have to write press releases or we have to explain it to someone. This is a sentence, I write all the time to the point where whenever there's a word that has two PS I capitalize the second P in it.
That's how you spell UpPrize.
So UpPrize helps to improve the operation of non-profits. Let's start with that part. Because in my experience, non-profits, a lot of times are underfunded. Is that a fair statement?
And the people that are there, I can liken them a lot of times to start-ups that have people who know the product, but maybe don't understand the legal or the accounting or whatever like they're really good at the thing that they focus on and they're trying to grow and expand and serve more people but the capacity is not there. So here comes UpPrize, to say, like here's a way to optimize your operation is that it?
that's exactly right. Non-profits are facing dwindling budgets but increasing demand for their services, and so they are in a really tough position, and oftentimes non-profits are some of the last adopters of technology, and they don't have the money to test out an app or software or build one. So, UpPrize fills in or create-serves as more of a bridge.
You're really the evaluation arm in a way, right?
So a lot of times... So, people come with a claim, but you can't evaluate is so you're doing the evaluation step that a big company would do...
Exactly and measure the risk, and really test out does this...
Don't bet the future. Let us evaluate this first.
Exactly. And a lot of times, also, some of these companies wanna help non-profits which is wonderful, but they might not necessarily have the background of what it means to work for a non-profit. And so through the UpPrize process, we do advise a... Well, maybe you wanna pivot this in a different way or have the business model a bit different way so that it better serves the non-profits.
That honestly, as a value statement I think is easy for people who don't live with non-profits, day-to-day.
Because there's someone... And let's just pick generic Fortune 1000 type company, they have maybe a division of their purchasing department or maybe a division of their R-D: Group or, or their business process analysis folks who take proposals and they say, If we spend 10 thousand will we get that 10,000 back? Or will we lose money by doing this or will we blow that number out of the water and it's a no-brainer for us to adopt it. They have the bandwidth to devote to that. But again, when you're back to a non-profit that maybe is just trying to, for example, bring literacy to places where for whatever reason, it hasn't taken as deep of a root. They don't have a group of Skunk Works R&D people, to evaluate a new distribution model, or a new way to communicate with their embedded base. So, that's an interesting angle. It's sort of a way for them to test instead of trust.
Now tell me about the prize angle.
The prize. Oh, there's so many prizes it's my favorite part of UpPrize!
I think it's actually really good because it makes people want to know more about it, where no disrespect to other people, a lot of these programs tend to have a more, they're not as approachable because they feel like they are outside of my universe, they are somewhat academic in nature. I will never understand what's going on.
So, you introduce the prize and all of a sudden. It's like, "Oh you are trying to reach me." But let's tell people about what the prizes actually look like. Like what, when I enter what am I trying to win?
Sure before I do answer that...
There's been a lot of work and time and resources put into having people feel that UpPrize is accessible to anyone, but if you have a good idea where it's just an idea, we started a great ideas. Competition this year. Or you are working on something just come to us. You might not have a CMU education, you might not come from a high income class family, - come and we will help you in whatever way. And that took the form of us going to a lot of communities and having a lot of community meetings, going to Carnegie libraries of Bloomfield Garfield and holding different info sessions and letting people know, do you have questions, do you not know what a pitch is? But you have a good idea, we'll talk.
Right. Yeah, I mean, and I not to be crass about it, but what you just described takes a lot of funding, takes a lot of time, takes a lot of resources. So where does that come from? Where is UpPrize get the resources in order to provide that extra level of support for the people who might have a winning idea, but can't necessarily convert.
We've been very fortunate to have funding from BNY Mellon. They fund the whole thing.
Do they really? !
Yes, they do. And The Forbes Funds provides the operational support to actually execute the project. So I work for the Forbes Funds which is an amazing non-profit that focuses on capacity building for nonprofits, so it fits really well for UpPrize to be there.
So they fund it and they give us a budget, and we figure out, Well, how do we divvy it up so that we have the events but including the prizes, but how much does it cost to really go into the community and connect with people, it also takes a lot of time and if you want--
Basically everything that's scarce is what you need.
Exactly! Which is really fun to manage, but we've been incredibly lucky to have such great support from the community and the entrepreneurship community just the community in general, the non-profit community who give a space, time, who share the information.
I've definitely noticed that start-ups are behind you for sure.
Yes yes it's great, but there's still so many people who don't know about UpPrize and when they hear and we'll get to the prizes... They're like, "This is too good to be true.
Well, and I mean honestly that was sort of where my question comes from in terms of the resources and what not. This is a very complicated set of things to balance. There need to be people, there need to be programs, there needs to be money, there needs to be space for all of these things to occupy. There's a lot of moving parts and you know I don't have any relationship with BNY Mellon but I'm pretty impressed by the fact that they're footing the bill for everything and the Forbes Funds being capacity building. That's an interesting aspect that I didn't see. Capacity building is a term I've heard, right? When we had PACE in here, we talked about capacity building that was maybe my first understanding of that as a necessary part of the non-profit universe, right? And I would encourage people to start digging into those, non-profits that do focus on capacity building because that's interesting. It's like a multiplier for good ideas. And now you start to see how hard this is to put together little to keep running and like I said, on top of all that you're handing out prizes which is definitely increasing people's interest level. So okay, I've got a really good idea I am going to, I don't have an idea I'm I'm lying to you.
You really let me down here. You worked your way up and...
That's gonna happen, but all seriousness, the muse strikes. I've got this great idea and I'm just your average person. I don't have a start-up, I don't have funding, but I'm sitting on something that maybe... Let's go to PACE for example, 'cause those are friends of ours. And we say This is something that we saw pace could use... And I'm sure other non-profits could also use it. So what's the first step?
That's a great start, actually, for our Great Ideas competition, which is different from the previous UpPrize iterations that people have seen. So for the Great Ideas, you really just have to have this kind of concept and of course you have to have a little bit more thought into it. Ideally maybe spoken to PACE for example.
Probably back it up somehow... This is how I know it's true...
We just wanna make sure you're not thinking of an idea in a vacuum, and we see that so much. So you have an idea and you apply for the Great Ideas competition and the prize for that is 5000, just to get you started.
Right. And now by applying and getting that 5000 I am now in charge of this idea, yes?
You are now in charge of it.
I can't just go here's an idea, I'm outie.
No there's a contract that you need to sign and we check in with you make sure that you're using it...
So you better make sure you actually wanna be in this.
Yeah, you... We also check in to see, "is there anything we can help 'cause we have a network, we have so many resources and we are so open to sharing that with anyone who applies really the people who apply and don't move forward and they reach out and they ask why... And I move forward and we help them. We provide feedback and say... But if you wanna talk to someone, we try to connect them to someone that can, if we can't help them, or they haven't moved in our process, we can connect them to someone else.
The idea and the payoff are really still the mission. So yeah, if somebody throws you a great idea, it's not like it's wasted, it's just they can't... The 5000 prize for this particular contest is to help you build what you imagined and if you reach the semi-finalist level, we do provide a mentor for you connected with mentors and leverage our network for that and we offer pitch training which sometimes the hardest part is how do you talk about your idea in a way that it makes sense to someone else, maybe not even in that industry.
Yeah, I know a guy who does a show like that.
You've got jokes! Work on them.
OOOOOOHHHHHHH... Anyway. Judges? Yes, In fact she IS allowed to make fun of me at my own table. That's alright.
But with the Great Ideas, the only requirements that it has to be technology-based. So that is one of the requirements for UpPrize and we understand that innovation takes multiple forms, but just for this competition, it has to be technology based... And you can't have a prototype. It needs to be a conceptual thing.
That's an interesting...
But when you get to the Great Solutions Competition...
AAAAAHHHHH 'cause it's a different competition.
So I was waiting for that. Yeah, it's a different competition, the Great Solutions, now, that's the more traditional UpPrize that people who are familiar with it have seen. You need to have at least some kind of MVP or prototype or you might already be in market and you can still apply.
That's interesting, that's what I'm more used to is someone... Because I think a lot of times, the initial due diligence you were talking about, you have to talk to the non-profit, you have to make sure that this is actually something that would solve something... A lot of that is done by a prototype for more complex ideas, at least, it's like, Okay, let's make sure this thing actually does what you think it does. And do they actually want that interface do they actually want another computer, do they actually wanna have a little black box running somewhere? These are hard things to figure out.
Can I tell you about the prizes for the Great Solutions?
I don't know you, you have a dollar?
I'm sorry, I'm sorry I read the wrong line of the script. What I meant to say was, yes, please tell us about the prizes for the great solutions.
So the Great Solutions, the benefits start from the applicant level. And I would say that, even for the Great Ideas, we use a platform called F6S which is being used more often for the application and when people even create an account there, they already have access to a bunch of other startups that are... Starting up? They have access to investors, discounts for different things.
Invest in her uses this platform too...
Yes, yes! AlphaLab Gear - sorry The Hardware Cup - uses...
That's true too. Yeah, I've seen it there.
That's where I learned... I got the idea from them, so I...
And it's the letter F, 6, and then an S.
and I learned why it's called that and we'll probably cut this part out, but-
I don't care lets go nuts, let's be boring.
But I'm curious, and I thought, "Oh it's like F... And then 'success' you know, a weird thing 'cause they're from London, maybe they're just strange like that. Okay, and I asked and they said, It's actually founders. And for whatever reason, there's an abbreviation of terminology where there are six letters between F and S when you spell founders and that's why it's called F6S, which is not as compelling as I would have wished it would be, But.
That is, potentially, the dumbest shit ever...
HAHAHAHAHA I'll pass on the feedback! Other than the interesting name, they've been incredibly helpful. They're super responsive.
I'm sorry I did that to you.
You didn't do anything to me!
I kind of did. I still feel guilty.
No need. You need honest people in your life.
So I appreciate it a... So we use that platform so they have access to all these other things. So that's one, but once you're selected, as a semi-finalist I mentioned they also get mentors, we do a pitch training and we also connect them to a pitch coach provided by BNY Mellon specifically an executive at BNY Mellon to do a one-on-one coaching. Yeah, and pitch training. We have someone in the field who can provide just a general training for everyone because the semi-finalists do you have to deliver a pitch?
So what are they doing? General structure? Like beginning... Present your problem, present your proof that that's a problem that sort of structure kind of a thing?
Sure... So if anyone who's given pitches before they understand that the pitch changes, depending on who the audience right? Yeah, so what we can... What do you want them to do exactly, so what... And we understand that, so we tell them what is a successful pitch in UpPrize. @hat do we wanna hear? Because the whole concept about talking about social innovation and helping people is sometimes mind-boggling to people, and they focus more on how much money are we gonna make or what's the profit and we really wanna know what's the social impact of your idea of your solution. Now, we do want a company or whatever the idea to be sustainable.
You can't keep shoveling money into it, over and over again.
Exactly! And don't get me wrong. I believe the number is non-profits, and Allegheny county bring about 4.4 billion dollars in annual revenue to the County, so... That's a market that people aren't thinking about. And one of the things that we teach all the time is How can we get existing companies who've already done all the work who have already developed and worked out the kinks of their technology and see how can they maybe change it a little bit, or just offer it at a more reasonable price for non-profits.
Yeah, I get that. You guys do events. You have, I wanna say what was it March? I was at an event over at Nova Place...
Yes, it was February. But that was the launch event.
Yeah... How often do you do those types of events? 'cause that seemed like that was a huge smashing success.
That was just a way to get everyone together and say, "Oh UpPrize is starting"
But who's everyone, right? I mean that was a good group of people who I find put their money where their mouth is fairly influential people who would actually do what they can to make waves for you, make the program successful. Is that, is that gonna be like a regular thing because it seems like it went off really well. With people that will actually lead block for UpPrize and make things happen for you.
We don't do as many events like that. Because it kind of happens on its own in the background and there's so many get-togethers already-I go to a lot of entrepreneurship events and I see a lot of the same people, but...
But you wanna stand apart from a... You are trying to stand apart because you're not looking necessarily for entrepreneurs, you're looking for problem solvers.
We're looking for problem solvers, yes, and that's what innovation and social innovation is all about is how can we-it might not be what's a novel way to solve the social problems and the novel way might not be a new thing apps exist, they already exist, can we create an app that serves a non-profit, so that's the difference It makes it also really easy when you... We don't know of any Social Innovation Competition that gives this amount of money, at least for the Great Solutions.
I was gonna ask about that, yeah.
So when you are selected as a finalist, we pick five finalists, and each finalist, just for being finalists, get $10,000 grants.
That's amazing, yeah. And there were a lot of people that wanted you to come on the show because they back your work, right? So like I mentioned Tomer. Tomer's one of them, right? And Tomer is actually a past winner if I'm not mistaken, right?
Yes! They won last year.
Grand prize winner of $150,000!
It's a great product. I actually use it in my consulting firm. We use Blastpoint.
And sit people down and go like This is how your market's really gonna unfold and they can't believe how useful that is, but we're not on the non-profit plan that they created were on the for-profit, "ou wanna do market research" plan. But a lot of people wanted you to be here and I... I kept hearing one comment several times, and it was like... I think they're the only one that does exactly what they do, like I think they're the only ones in the country that works like this and... And I figured I would just throw it at you - are you that unique, are you like a one of a kind, organization for the US?
Wow, that's a big statement.
But everybody felt like they could get right up to the edge, and then go. I might be wrong, right?
Well, I will say, and I love Pittsburgh, but I do think Pittsburgh sometimes lives in its own bubble?
There's no question.
Oh okay, no there's affirmation here... But listen, as far as we can tell, we do research on... Social innovation, what's happening around the country and they are people doing work in this area but in terms of this pitch competition and the format that it holds, and the amount of money that we're giving... We don't see anything like that.
So you're distinctive... You may not necessarily be one of a kind, but you stand out on key metrics like how much money you're giving away...
How much impact you have. I mean I know you can measure that somehow, and it's hard, I mean, it's hard for people outside of that to understand that.
It's incredibly hard and... And now, keeping in mind that this is related to social innovation that helps communities not necessarily world hunger. So the XPRIZE gives I dunno... I don't know how much money, but it's so much money.
Well, if I understand the XPRIZE correctly, it's actually... Each prize is sponsored by a different group that wants to solve, so there's the Google XPRIZE to solve this problem or whatever... Interesting though and being able to say that you give away a lot of prizes and you give away a large total sum has to make you feel good, in terms of like where you work and what you do and your own personal involvement.
Absolutely. I mean, first prize 150000, we still have a second prize, which is 100000, and then we still have a third prize. That's 50000. It's a lot of money, on top of the 10000 that the finalists get...
And by contrast, I've seen a lot of startups go to Boston to try to win 10 grand in pitch competitions. Like they bought tickets, they flown? They've gotten a hotel room, they've basically cancelled the meetings, and sales that they were trying to make during that period to get a 10 000 investment in a for-profit enterprise. I mean, this is no joke.
No, now, and Tomer will back me up, Blastpoint will back me up. Money is great, money makes moves right? But it does end at some point. And one of the values that a lot of our companies express is beyond the money is the exposure that they get. And like you said, we are back to by a lot of people in the entrepreneurship community and the academic community, the non-profit community...
Community leaders, academics...
Yeah, so I... When we have semi-finals, we post them on our website. All of them, even at the semi-finalist level before they win anything.
How many would that be?
Ten, okay so you've got 10 different projects you profile.
Exactly, and then when we get to finals, we showcase those. But the exposure and connections that they received - Blastpoint, received their first client or met their first client rather and one of the UpPrize networking receptions, and that is longer lasting than the money so we give a lot of money but we also give exposure, mentorship and.
It's hard to buy that.
It's very hard.
A lot of times when you hire marketing companies, PR companies, what not, that's what you're trying to buy. You're trying to buy a a positive story, in the right timing, concurrent with maybe a news story that illustrates it, like, it's really hard to get it right and and it's really easy to burn through your whole budget just trying to get exposure to the right buyer or at least someone that can introduce you to that buyer.
And I have to give credit to Kate Dewey. And Kenya Boswell from BNY Mellon. Kate Dewey from the Forbes Funds now at Cohen and Grigsby, who are the one I just got here? So I don't have that network. They have the network, they've built, they've made so much great impact here in the city and beyond, and they're saying, "Listen I've got all these connections let's turn this around and help use those to help others.
It's hard to maintain those over a longer period.
The relationship maybe withers, people move away. People haven't seen you for a while, and that's assuming you don't do anything, right? Because as soon as you start doing things, it starts like 2ell, it is Nadyli doing this to compete with our organization. Do we have to protect ourselves? Like a good network is hard to keep... Let alone to start. I think it's harder to keep your network than it is to build one. You and I could just go find a networking event right now, somewhere at like a meeting room, at the casino, we could go around we could collect a million business cards, we could try to put on the most charming mask possible we could tell everybody what they wanna hear, we could compliment them on their shoes.
In a month, they won't remember who we are. It doesn't matter how charming you were, it doesn't matter how nice or useful or whatever exploitable you are... It takes a lot of water to keep that tree growing, right?
Kate and Kenya if you if you ever met them.
I've met Kate, I haven't met Kenya...
There's just magnets of people just want to be around them because they are some of the most authentic people you'll meet yeah, and they don't need to speak if they don't have anything to say, and they're always willing to help.
Which probably goes a long way in terms of keeping relationship, I'm just saying...
So it almost seems effortless, but I know there's just really great people. And if you ever have an opportunity to meet either of them, whoever is listening please do. Changed my life.
Yeah, yeah, it seems like... What were you doing before this?
Not social innovation. I was working for a health insurance company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Well, I was on the providers, I was provider innovation. The whole health care industry is moving to incentivizing providers to keep people out away from the emergency room and doing less fee for service, and more preventative care, and incentivizing them financially to do that, which is really fascinating and amazing but the corporate world is very different.
Well you kinda said that corporate folks don't understand the non-profit, the same is also true like the flip is also true.
Totally different mindset totally different motivation.
Obviously, one of the things, that's good for UpPrize is exposure. I would say another thing that would be good for UpPrize would be more people actually throwing their ideas into the mix. How would someone who is thinking this might suit them, how would they start the process and get involved?
What I would recommend -we are having - the allocation cycle has ended for this year. What I would recommend is that you subscribe to our newsletter or rather email distribution list, you could go to upprize dot org and that's two P's. Up Prize dot org and then you scroll down and you sign up and you'll be the first to know.
When the next cycle is starting up...
Exactly and we hold info sessions, and people come and ask questions 'cause it is a semi-long application, and even if you feel like you're not ready, just come and talk to us or, we're not... I get a lot of this. I'm not sure if I fit or, or I'm not thinking about serving non-profits, but it is something that would be interested in like... Yes, Let's to do it, yeah let's talk. And even just feeling that the application is an important exercise.
Now do you market? Do you do advertising, marketing, PR, stuff to actually attract people to apply? Is there a strategy for that?
Strategy is a strong word.
There are tactics then perhaps?
There are tactics. We have a large distribution list. People who subscribe so that makes it easy, we also have a great advisory team that represents the entrepreneurship community and their large networks as well, as the academic, a non-profit. So through them, I also developed this 293-row promotional matrix where I add to it - of non-profits that serve communities who would benefit. Who can better-who better would have an idea than the person who can benefit from it?
So even if they're not on the email list, they're on my Excel sheet and I reach out to them. And there's so many competitions as well that happened where I look at who are the companies being featured, who won or whatever and whether they're directly serving a marginalized population, non-profit or can I envision their product helping them? And then I talk to him and say, "Have you thought about this? And I add them to my list, and I send them information about it, and so that's really how it's gone.
So I'm gonna do that to you now - a "have you thought about this." We know that there is an age group that is predisposed towards social impact. It's basically, you're 30 and unders, right? We also know and actually this article was kind of... Let's just say, "Not shouted from the rooftop by a lot of corporate content consumers out there. That millennials are legitimately the worst paid generation on record, right? And then you've got a whole glut of people who have these skills, these higher technology skills, who because of say like the market crash or 10 years ago or whatever, can't get into the workplace because the people at the top of the workplace aren't exiting the people at the other end of the age spectrum are not exciting is early 'cause their retirement is not yet whole, right? I think it would be really cool if UpPrize did outreach to universities encouraging them to talk to the career development folks and say, Look you know, it's not a career, so much. It's an opportunity for you to perhaps work on a project while you're still trying to sort out what you're gonna do with this next thing. I know 26-year-olds that are still working in... I mean look, it's hard work. I'm not trying to take anything away from the job, but it's not the job they went to school for... They're making loan payments that are ridiculous, and they're not able to cover them. I would love to see the career and ongoing outreach of those universities tell former students that are not currently employed. Hey, you know how to code, you know how to engineer you know how to develop things you should at least be aware of this, maybe put a team together, and see if you can't build a prototype for this $50000, see if you can't throw a great idea for this $5000 and just see what happens.
I think that's a great idea to tap into the alumni network. We do hold information sessions at the different universities and connect with their accelerators like Project Olympus or the Innovation Institute at Pitt.
Right, but once you graduate you're kind of not on the radar.
Let's give them the URL one more time, it's up prize dot org make sure you throw both P's in there, upprize dot org, and that will take you there. And yeah, it sounds like it sounds like you could actually get the inside track if you sign up for the email.
And follow us on Twitter @UpPrize.
Nadyli Nunez, director over there at UpPrize, doing great things out there. Make sure you check them out.
Thanks for coming in, thank you for having me!
Here's our transcript of Pitchwerks #100 with Kenny Chen. We spend this episode talking about the Thrival Festival.
Within only a year and a half to two years of actively dabbling, and learning in this space, I've already been elevated to the world stage on AI policy and the way that these things are happening. I didn't think I'd be here for another decade.
Hey everybody, it's Scot, It's Wednesday and it's the Pitchwerks podcast, thanks for tuning in, so it's our 100th episode but we haven't told our guest yet, and he hasn't walked in yet, so it's gonna be a little bit of a surprise. We've got a little bit of bubbly, here on the table, thanks for tuning in with us a hundred times over the last couple of years. Hopefully, the content is still good enough that you wanna subscribe to this fine program, and then rate and review. I got you! Please do those things if you haven't already. I would appreciate it tremendously. This week we got Kenny Chen - you remember Kenny from roughly about 50-60 episodes ago? It's Thrival time once again. Thrival is a big festival that I'm a big fan of because of the just very useful purpose it serves to society at large, it's a really great way to crash ideas into each other and just figure out what sticks and figure out what we should be thinking about going forward.
Let's talk to Kenny. Let surprise them with... Well, there won't be balloons falling from the ceiling, but let's surprise him anyway.
So Kenny Chen! You've got a glass of champagne in front of you. And this is definitely not gonna be the main thing we talk about today, but we do have to take a moment and just point out, that you are our guest for Pitchwerks 100.
That is frickin amazing! Hey congrats!
Man I'm glad you enjoyed it... We sat and wrestled with it for a minute and we're like, "What should we do with 100?" Buzzy had a ton of ideas. He's done a bunch of different 100th episode kinds of things and every one of them felt like stress and I said, "You know what, it's gonna be a bottle of champagne and somebody I enjoy talking to and here we are. So I did have to work you a little bit to get you in here, at the timeline that I wanted you in to make sure I turned out okay, I was like, "Yeah you better get in here quick... But now you know what the subterfuge was all about.
That's fantastic, I love you Scot MacTaggart.
Well for real, I do enjoy talking to you, and I do think you represent some of the best things about the scene. It's nice talking to you and you're always leaving money on the table, you're always making sure that other people are getting taken care of, and that's the kind of person I feel like I wanna celebrate the 100th episode with...
So like wise, and this is a fantastic milestone, I was just looking back over your guest list over the course of these. Well, it was up to 98 - Mark Bursic - and I was like, "Oh man, he's so close!"
We're so close! I wonder what he's gonna do!
Yeah, right, and then it's just sorry man, yeah, I wanted to pull the rug out from Montrose tiny bit to... Because here's the thing, if I had told you in advance that we... That this was gonna be happening, it would have become a little bit weird a little dominant. And I do legit when I have conversation with you 'cause there's interesting questions in the year but you take it as a compliment. It's intended to be... Thank you for being here, for our one hundredth.
I am honored, thank you for having me.
So let's dig in.
The sixth Thrival it's weird. Those are two words that are weird to put together. Sixth Thrival.
Yeah, I'm not gonna even try to say that 10 times fast...
Is coming up soon. And I have a bunch of questions. And last year, I think we were exposing people to the idea of what Thrival is, but this year, I wanna dig in a little bit, because there seemed to be some real material connections being made as a result now. I know just from, moderating one panel last year, right? I made some really interesting dots connect that never connected before and... And I kinda wanna dive in, so just for scientific purposes can we try...
I try to identify what humans X-tech is supposed to be pronounced as so that I don't offend you along the way.
Well, that's still something that we're figuring out on our end. I say humans and tech so I...
Another say, humans X-tech because that is what is it semantically or whatever.
It's like the right way to read it out or something in you, too. Well, okay, so the ex-there is meant to represent a lot of things. So it could be additive it could be multiplicative.
I took it as multiplicative just to look at it.
We could represent in the intersection of two different kind of veins of thought. And really, I mean so much of what we're trying to do with Thrival on this front is to bring together sometimes a strange, atypical combinations.
It's art, in a lot of ways, right? You're eliciting response, right? You're like... These two concepts never get crashed, together, but it seems like it might be useful.
And then you finish with a more literal sense in the fact that, on what is it, Friday night? It becomes Thrival concert as opposed to Thrival panel discussions and having luminaries speak on what it is that they know.
So I just wanted to know, 'cause I mean I've been calling it humans times tech and which sounds clunky to me, and I think I'm wrong.
Yeah, so, let's just go with humans and tech, that's what I say. And I think colloquially that... That's this defining relationship that we're trying to hone in on and what we believe is that we're humans and technology have already been in this dance over the past however many millennia but now it's really hit this kind of critical point where we're asking ourselves Are we going to be replaced by our own creations is this...
Are were gonna become inextricably from them.
Exactly. You were just meeting with Ryan O'Shea.
Who I was gonna bring up.
Yeah, yeah, and so this question of what even makes us human, when there's already so many things that we've implanted in our bodies we're inextricably linked to our smartphones in many ways. We have millions of cyborgs essentially among us with far augmented cognitive and sometimes physical capabilities, beyond what anyone 100 or even 30 years ago, might have ever imagined.
And the 30 is the one that makes me smile it, it's amazing the speed with which we are learning to adapt and... And I do think Thrival lends something very concrete to not just like the people that study these disciplines but actually the larger conversation that happens in living rooms and at kitchen tables right now, the things that people talk about at Thrival tend to be fairly concrete but still forward-leaning so that you can actually talk to your parents and say, like, "Oh you know what, I was at a panel where they were talking about how artificial intelligence might... And then you jump off and the talk's about maybe what your little cousin, might have to do for work, in 20, years, who knows? So humans in tech... See, that doesn't sound so clunky. We're gonna go with that.
Start on the 19th of September and tickets are on sale at Thrivalfestival dot com.
I wanna make sure you get a proper plug too.
I appreciate it, thank you.
It's a big deal, but I also get this feeling like you guys have learned from doing past Thrivals about what direction, and size, and tenor you want the next ones and the future ones to take right?
Oh man, yeah, built upon battle scars, upon battle scars...
Fill me in. What lessons have you taken away from the first five?
Well, and this is speaking as someone who was not in town for the first one, only had the broadest inkling of what Thrival was the second year, I think in 2014, went balls to the walls in 2015, went to everything--
And it went nuts!
Yeah, and then I've worked on 2016-2017-2018, and it's really moved organically. I mean, it's a space where any one who thinks that they can predict what's going to be top of mind and most pertinent next year would just be fooling themselves. And so each time around we start planning, I guess the week after a previous one ends and it's still not quite enough time, but... But I've seen the trajectory track from what was initially a neighborhood, local community-based thing, then grow to encompass a city and then a region and then like a broader... Semi-national space, then moved to national and now we've got our biggest international reach that we've ever had this year in 2018. And with that, with that scope we've really also come to terms with this unique kind of story and advantage that the city of Pittsburgh has more so than any other city that I know of in the world that had a central and pivotal role in each of the previous industrial revolutions, saw the fires of like post-industrial collapse being on the brink of extinction, and then re-discovering opportunities and things like robotics and advanced manufacturing automated systems. All this kind of stuff, but what's happening here is almost like a forecast, or the front lines, of what will become the roadmap of how hundreds of other cities around the world are going to deal with this fast-pace of automation and advanced technology.
I think, and mayor pour says these types of things a lot. Pittsburgh can teach the world a lot about not letting a defeat get you down forever.
Sure, absolutely, yeah. You look at the peak of things, where Pittsburgh was producing more steel out of this one city than the entire Axis powers combined during World War I...
Is that true?
And it played such a pivotal role in the shaping of all these different elements of not just the global economy and technology but the geo-political infrastructure of the world as we know it.
And the resilience story now, educates us as we talk about. Well, does AI mean I'm going to lose my job? Does the IoT present as much opportunity? Like... Are we as down on on the lows are we as high on the highs? You just have to keep an even keel. And we've learned that the hard way - paid for it - how many different ways I'll tell you something funny. My grandfather was born in Pittsburgh.
Then moved to Erie, where it was clean air, clean beaches, a nice place to live. And when my dad said, I'm moving my family down to Pittsburgh, and my grandfather went... What in the hell would you wanna do that for? 'cause he's got this picture in his head of what Pittsburgh was... And that obviously wasn't anything like what it is now. So one of the interesting things about your involvement with Thrival is the fact that you've got your fingers in a lot of pies, right?
For example, the XPRIZE. You play a role as an ambassador for the XPRIZE. Obviously everything that you do over at Ascender, which is helping people launch and grow and those kinds of things. So one of the things I wanna talk to you about is, as I pour more of that 100th episode champagne into this little glass over here... Which, let's be 100% honest. These are whiskey tasting glasses because it's me. So you're involved in all these different things and you get this exposure to let's... Let's isolate XPRIZE for a second, right? I tell people just by way of sort of illustrating this conversation, what it means for you to be an ambassador for XPRIZE.
And so, as background X PRIZE being a global non-profit that's been around for the last 23-24 years, leveraging multi-million dollar incentive competitions around what they call moonshotS, it's breakthrough technologies that have a tremendous social impact everything from ocean spill clean-ups to starting the commercial space industry, like in the mid-90s, so early 2000s and within the last few years, they've really built out more of a robust global community that's centered around, maybe about a dozen ambassadors or so split between Germany Japan.
That's a really small number...
So there might be 18 or...
Still a small nummber. Take the compliment. Kenny come on, man. I'm setting you up for it, you've got the same problem I have... You can't take a compliment.
The ambassadors are essentially people who care enough about facilitating that kind of global connectivity and take a resourceful approach to finding opportunities to form a partnerships to inspire people to throw their hat into the ring and make the next like moon shot break through thing and so really a lot of my role... That's a organically come about, only over the past year and a half, yeah, only for the past year and a half that I've been involved with XPRIZE, it's just been being passionate and excited about what X Prize has been doing.
Yeah, I and then being given the kind of permission and leeway to run with it, interpret that in a Pittsburgh and Midwest Rust Belt regional kind of context to recruit teams form partnerships and that's... So yeah, that's opened a lot of doors for me.
Yeah, well... But what's not to get excited about I mean we are talking about the future and introducing people or at least hosting a room full of people that are trying to get to that connected dot that is more useful. That advances us to the next phase. And it's a host of connected dots, honestly. So now you take that and you apply it is... Yeah, you're sort of liberally shaking a bunch of ingredients together at Thrival right? The same idea. I have to believe that there are stories rattling around inside your brain, where people met at Thrival, maybe they were on a panel together, or maybe someone was really into a subject and they raised their hand and came up and talked to the speaker after the fact where something cool came together because of this Thrival project, which again, seven years ago didn't exist. I mean, I don't know if you've got any examples on top of mind.
Yeah, I do, yeah. We could spend... The rest of this episode talking about those things, I mean, even just talking about my connections that I made in 2015 and 2016 alone, meeting some of my best friends I met Ryan Gayman 2015 at the theater in South Side, because I asked a question and he found me afterwards, and we ended up being co-conspirators for the next 2 and a half years...
Ryan hasn't been on the show. So if you could introduce people to his idea, real quick...
Oh, absolutely he was running Citizen City as an impact consultancy organization doing a lot of great things and now he works for Roadbotics.
Which is tremendous. We gotta get them in here.
One of the fastest growing startups that's based out of Ascender and is essentially taking dashboard mounted any kind of camera turning it towards the street and then utilizing computer vision, essentially, AI to analyze street conditions and preemptively deal with potholes.
And fix it before it needs to be filled!
Exactly, 'cause it can cost 10 times more once it actually becomes a pothole as opposed to just like some cracks on the street that people might not even recognize. So every Thrival, I think has an MVP or two, the people who are just there at everything, and then clearly get the most out of it because they're just genuinely passionate about what's happening and they want to connect with the people whose ideas are being shared. So I guess I was the MVP in 2015, because I went to 29 out of their 32 programs and sent them 27 pages of notes afterwards...
That's pretty hardcore.
In 2016 it was probably a tie between Katelyn Lesk and Kelauni Cook 'cause they came to just about everything. Katelyn ended up sharing video, like vlogs afterwards, talking about her top insights. Kelauni just rocked it with questions.
Kelauni's another one, I'm eventually gonna get in here.
You gotta get Kelauni.
I keep trying! Roadbotics Kelauni, all these are the people who have standing invitations.
Alright, okay we're gonna get them on here.
Yeah, and let's just be clear. Kelauni is Blockchain Billionaire and Black Tech Nation at the same time.
Oh, absolutely, and she recently started another company or organization called Distributed 49.
I don't even know about this...
Yeah, I think she's working on it with Eugene Leventhal who's also like a major blockchain kind of lead in Pittsburgh. It is the two of them. But yeah, I mean, Kelauni came back as a speaker for us in 2017, 'cause we thought she was that awesome. Katelyn, we brought in on the back end, she was just an incredible asset for us in 2017 helping us with a bunch of different things... And we're actually meeting tomorrow to talk about how she's getting involved in this year. Aaron Watson, the same way he spoke in '2016 and '2017, Ansys we brought Tom Marnik from Ansys and had him speak on a panel that Aaron was hosting about Blockchain, when Ansys did not have a blockchain strategy and they went back, right afterwards.
Yeah, they were saying to us. Hey, thank you so much for throwing us there. We met with our executive team immediately after Thrival and basically popped the question of What are we doing with blockchain, or broader distributed technologies, we haven't really prioritized how we're integrating or at least receiving these kinds of risks, and or opportunities, so we end up finding that by bringing a even a lot of these corporate players who... So you would think, have the answers and what not, by putting them in an environment where they're being peppered with ideas and technologies and industries that are sometimes tangential sometimes completely separate from anything that they've ever thought about... That serving as a kind of crucible for new ideas is completely within the realm of what we're trying to finish.
This is why I think it's art, right? It's not the standard definition, but again, I'm a big believer and booster of artists because it's their job to make you think about things. And question things in ways that you wouldn't have... And one of the problems and Ansys is just one of the most sober responsible corporate citizens out there. I've never heard anybody say like, "Oh I worked there and it was terrible.
People love Ansys, but I as I get older, I can feel that my area of expertise has shifted, I'm no longer expected to be the person who necessarily understands the cutting edge idea or the new practice, the new practice is left to people who are studying specific disciplines, and people who are not to put too fine a point on it, not as occupied with best practice, right? So there's new practice, and then there's best practices.
And when you become an older member of the team, best practice becomes your job, and you have to intentionally inject yourself into an environment such as Thrival so that you can immerse yourself in new practice otherwise the power imbalance in your office makes it so that no one wants to make you uncomfortable and therefore you don't get those new ideas.
I couldn't agree more. Yeah, I, it's interesting, we used to call the different Thrival assets - what we currently call humans and tech - used to be Thrival innovation, and music and arts, that just used to be Thrival music. But that question of What do you even mean by innovation was a big one. And I've been asked this repeatedly countless times over the past couple of years, especially once my title changed to innovation director at Ascender. And let me just say one that word is that is one word that's used for at least a dozen if not 100 different concepts. And when put in practice it's incredible how the disconnect between what people even consider to be an innovation ends up keeping it from happening. So are you talking about incremental change or paradigm shifts? Are you talking about trying to maintain best practices or or find entirely left field spaces, is it depth or breadth?
So we had one of your principal sponsors Rasu Shrestha from UPMC Enterprises who has been sponsoring Thrival for a little bit now.
I came in and I asked him that pointed question. I said, "You know, tell me what innovation actually means." And I wasn't trying to be flippant. Someone has to ask this question and you're doing it maybe in a practical way, by actually just throwing everybody up on a stage and letting them figure it out, themselves!
And I, I, I just have this thought and it's a way of kind of connecting those two things. How does effective corporate innovation kind of end up looking like the people who make the best connections, during kind of an opportunity like Thrival? And you often hear people refer to serendipity, like... Oh my gosh, how would I have ever known that Katelyn Lesk and Aaron Watson would cross paths, at this one thing, or old XYZ company, realized that they had an unmet opportunity within this kind of vertical.
I'm fully of the belief that the majority of what we call serendipity. Is manufactured or at least there's a lot more control over it than we have, and it's based on kind of systemic continued behaviors that put an individual, or an entity into the path of opportunity compared to... Yeah, just kind of waiting for...
comfortable opportunity. Opportunity where they feel as though nothing is at risk for them to try something new.
Exactly, I mean, so for example, the... The only reason why I'm involved in X PRIZE and have since been invited, I now serve as the Pittsburgh Ambassador to the UN's AI for good initiatives, and I just got added to the inaugural AI commons. Oh yeah the website, just went live two days ago. It's an AI Commons network that is coordinating problem sol- problem owners and problem solvers literally around the world.
Thank you, I'm still kind of in disbelief that within only a year and a half to two years of actively dabbling, and learning in this space I've already been elevated to the world stage on AI policy and the way that these things are happening. I didn't think I'd be here for another decade.
So other than being on the Pitchwerks podcast, what you attribute that to?
It's back to that kind of manufactured serendipity kind of thing. And a big part of it, I think, also ties to a combo of I guess open-mindedness and generosity, so...
I think everybody expected you to say the first one, but maybe not the second.
Yeah, and I think I really wanna emphasize the second where generosity and the power of giving first and the power of empathy for other people, I mean, really, so much of what you do on this podcast for Pitchwerks is... Scot, you put yourself in the shoes of the person that's sitting across the table from you and you think of their business as if it was your own and you just give and give in terms of advice, thoughts around improvement, best practices, and of course the podcast itself as a means to propagate that message and give them more opportunities, from which serendipity might emerge. I think that is the probably... Yeah, probably the most powerful kind of catalyst for... So these kinds of connections and--
I subscribe to the art theory that we were talking about in terms of what used to be called Innovation and is now humans and tech. I subscribe to this. I truly believe that the sparks that fly, off of one thing can turn into a fire somewhere else, and if somebody is just there to make sure that they get that energy, cool things can come out of it, right? And honestly, one of the things that I'm kinda driving toward here is I think there's a lot of people that would benefit from attending the innovation sessions, the humans and tech sessions. Sorry, I'm old school and I'm from Pittsburgh, so I call things what they used to be called...I think there is a group of growing companies and also a group of mature, at-risk-of-fossilizing companies that need that full immersion. And honestly, like I... All of this was kind of by way of saying, "How do we put the right words into those people's mouths, so that they come out and actually expose themselves to why don't we have a blockchain strategy like Ansys did a couple years back which you know how hard it is for a company to admit that this is something they should have been looking at, but didn't. If I'm the person who is the Kenny Chen of ABC Corp, I'm the Innovation Manager, innovation planner, I'm the future product specialist. I think I probably need to be able to make a case to my superiors or my executive team that this is a... And it's not an expensive ticket, it's like 200, if you buy the VIP. And I love the VIP experience, but you don't have to do it.
Sure, yeah, yeah
So, it's not an expensive thing. And it's three days where the programming or two days with the programming for the humans and tech where you can actually be there while take UPMC Enterprises is there basically crashing ideas together for you? And I don't know everybody who's on the docket yet. But that's if I were you, that's the message I'd be trying to put out there on the street is look...we all know that there's rust forming on our company, but your subordinates are afraid of telling you that the future is in a completely different market or completely different product set or a different way of looking at the world. So just come to this thing and see what people say.
Totally... And going back to your previous question about how we learned over the years and have continued evolving this Thrival used to wanna be everything to everyone. We used to have back-to-back panels that would jump from sports analytics to how to build a music ecosystem within a city to reducing food waste, and improving sustainability.
Back then, you probably thought that demonstrating a big tent strategy would bring people in at a time when you were afraid about numbers, but you're not afraid about numbers anymore.
This time around and last year as well, we broke things out into chunks that weren't so much defined by the industry vertical or the type of technology that's involved, but more based on how pertinent it is and accessible it is to people from different kinds of demographics.
Kenny Chen everybody. Make sure you turn out for Thrival Festival. It kicks off on the 19th.
Man, thank you.
Alright, that's the end of the show, thanks for tuning in. And again, I appreciate all 100 and everyone has been on the show, it's really been a lot of fun. We're gonna keep on trucking, but make sure you check out thrival festival dot com. And it's not that far away at this point.
Tickets still available. There's a couple days' worth programming, and then they finish it all up with a concert on Friday night, starting at 4PM, I hope to see you there. Hope to see you for the next 100 episodes.
This is a transcript of Pitchwerks #95 with Bob Fields and Jacob Kring of Hibersense.
When we first started, we thought, Okay, we're gonna go out, we're just gonna sell directly to people maybe we'll do a Kickstarter. We're kind of naive...
That wasn't Bob.
Bob did not come up with that strategy.
No Bob was not there yet.
So, that's a tough thing I mean, well, how would you know though?
And you don't... Until you kind of go out there and you fall on your face, and you figure it out.
Hey everybody! It's Scot, it's Wednesday and it's the Pitchwerks Podcast, and I'm very happy to tell you that Hibersense is in the building and I've been waiting to get them in here for a long, long time.
This is one of those things where just everybody wins, they're gonna save a lot of money, they're gonna make it comfortable, they're gonna save the world they're gonna build stuff in America, they're gonna high five. We're gonna drink beer to be awesome. So Jake and Bob are in here to tell you all about how those things are true. I assure you I will return you back to your regular scheduled objectivity next week but this week I'm really happy that these guys are here, before we start the interview, I'm gonna ask you to rate and review Pitchwerks because that's how other people find it and it's super important to me.
So just a one-star, five star, sort of a thing. You've done it before, you can do it again.
Let's talk to Bob and Jake and find out what's going on with Hibersense and why you wanna know this company.
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to introduce the now shipping members of Hibersense sitting directly across from me. I've got CEO Jacob Kring and sitting on the couch between the two of us, Bob Fields, chief revenue officer, who I gotta tell you, you're among friends, right now, you're on the Pitchwerks podcast where its sales marketing and startups you're in the right place.
The first place we have to start is to make sure that the folks that are listening to us know exactly what it is that you're working on and why I am such a an apologetic geek for it, so I'm gonna try something and then I want you to jump in. So Hibersense is, among other things, a control platform for the comfort systems in your house, is that a fair opening statement?
I think that's fairly accurate, yeah.
But it differentiates by actually giving you control in a way that hasn't been seen before. Also true?
Very true. We like to say we empower homeowners over with control of a system that they've never had control over before.
Yeah, I love the demo at Demo Day last year when you guys were showing video of vents opening and closing at the and things like that, but I wanted to make sure that people were seeing why I was excited because sometimes I think you guys are probably, I don't wanna say tired of it, but... Too close to it right where for me, I... This is the kind of stuff I by man, this is what I buy.
You should have seen Bob, earlier today when we're working with some designers and he was just explaining all of the different ways that the software we have built into the product can really kind of revolutionize how you control your space in your home, and understand how you use it when you use it, and the different things you can do with it. So...
Yeah, yeah, I'm right there with you.
Hey listen --
I don't you can't think you're lacking energy.
No, no, no, Hey, look, you can't be a chief revenue officer if you're not excited about the products and services that you offer your clients, right? Because yeah hey we're raising money and if anybody's out there investing in companies we'd love to talk to you. But at the end of the day, nobody makes money till you can sell a product or service over and over again. And what I love about Hibersense is that we solve a problem that nobody has yet to be able to do.
Hibersense is a connected climate control solution for homes with forced air heating and cooling, there's up to 100, million of those homes in the US today.
Yeah, and according to the Department of Energy, there's over 90% of them have one zone one thermostat, which means you're hot in one room your partner's cold in the other room and you go in the hallway and you fight over the thermostat and see who's gonna win.
You may not love the mention of that brand, but I'll tell you, I'll tell you who the perfect person is for you. It's the person who's already bought into, like somebody else blaze the trail. I'll give you another one.
Honeywell owns so many industries. They followed that same a trail that had been placed where people had all these stalls and objections that they put up against the Smart Home and then on any was like, "Oh yeah, we're a giant billion-dollar company. Let's just follow the trail. They got blazed.
On one hand, we really do like what the Nest is done. It's created a lot of awareness and what you can do from an intelligence perspective, and control and your heating and cooling yeah.
But now we get to come in and be that better solution. Another step forward in terms of controlling your comfort.
And I seriously do believe, if you could run the numbers, you'd find that the people that are gonna buy your product or the people that bought that, when it was new, and now they're waiting for their next hit.
Well, so we still get people who have three Nests in their building, and they're sitting there thinking, I'm still uncomfortable, I can't figure it out. I believe that. I'm one of them. And you guys wanna see... Yes, award behind this is... That's no small thing just by the way of educating people. That is the Consumer Electronics Show case, I think this consumer electronic show which the largest trade show in the US, 70 of our closest friends visit their each January and it's really the innovation capital of the globe. People travel a many, many of the attendees I think about a third or more or international attendees as well, so it's really an international showcase of technology. And so we were selected to exhibit in their innovation showcase, which is called Eureka Park.
Oh wow, so and... And so you have to go through a process to be selected to do that. And we also were awarded a it's called the tech hall mark of Excellence Award for energy efficiency Product of the Year.
Yeah, which we love that we got that, but we were in competition with companies like LG Electronics that had three products in the category and we beat them.
And what was interesting is.
That's a good feeling.
That award was given in a reception after in one of the evenings of the show and there was hundreds of people who are target audience that we wanna sell to. Yeah, in the room. And when they were getting ready to make the announcement, they listed all of the logos of the companies on the board and literally when they called out "Hibersense it was kind of the strangest thing, the crowd, it was deafeningly silent because they had no idea who Hibersense was and I had enough time to think, "Oh my gosh, are they gonna clap? And then all a sudden it was like, a rounding, y'know, applause. Because people are like, "Oh my gosh, Hibersense. Then we stayed there for like three hours talking to people after that because they now knew about us.
You've been at those things though where... You got that distinct sense of a pay-to-play or a quid pro quo somewhere in the air. So, I think probably a little bit of it was just a, a legit amazement that maybe the system works. I, I think you hit the nail right on the head there, because there is some play of that. So certainly I would think our friends that LG Electronics may have thought that they were gonna win an award since they had submitted so many into that same category.
Absolutely, that's a multi-billion dollar, multi-national, corporation. I remember them when they were Lucky Goldstar. Yeah, but we don't wanna... They get so mad when you bring that up now and I mean no disrespect to it it's just when people ask me if I know what L-G-is... And I go. I remember one, they were Lucky Goldstar. I literally had a lady berate me at a bus stop, one time and be like, It doesn't stand for that anymore... Like I don't care.
So all right, let's roll it back for a second... People need to understand, also though a... They may not have heard of Hibersense before today's show, but they need to truly appreciate the gravity of that accomplishment, right?
This is not an old company. When did you guys actually decide to become a corporation, and get into this business?
So a little over two years ago now, I think we founded the company we were literally still students at the University of Pittsburgh, we were a week from graduation, and we were still dealing with fine as we were actually driving across the state a competing in a Department of Energy Competition, trying to win that trying to get some funding and we were like, "Oh well, crap. We need to actually be a company for this to work. So we found-
It sounds like a good plan.
Yeah, so when Jake says we, he doesn't mean me.
No. So the original founding team was myself, one of my classmates at University of Pittsburgh Brendan Quay and Daniel Mosse one of the, he's a former Chair of Computer Science at the University of Pittsburgh, he actually stepped down at the time of the founding of the company to take a bigger role in it...
Wow, So that's quite a credential isn't it...
Yeah, yeah, so he leverages the experience in the technology and we come with the youth and the excitement.
Don't let him hear you say that he thinks he brings, at least some youth. I assure you.
He definitely brings excitement.
There it is... You gotta cut the guy a little bit of slack, that's a little harsh there, for a second.
He is Brazilian. He is passionate.
Yeah, yeah, there I mean yeah, 'cause I met him a demo day.
Oh yeah, and that is an intense dude.
You did not forget him.
No, I'm here to tell you, I... So you started right and you've got a... You've got a winner, it just from the pure this is gonna save a ton of energy and therefore it has value, but then it had to occur to you that there's this whole like supply chain between where you're standing and where the consumer is, right? Yeah, how do you go to market? What did you come up with in those two years?
So... And this is one of the reasons we've had Bob join the team when we first started, we thought, Okay, we're gonna go out, we're just gonna sell directly to people maybe we'll do a kickstarter. We're kind of naivnaïve.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That wasn't Bob.
Bob did not come up with that strategy.
Bob was not there yet.
So that's a tough thing. I mean, how would you know though?
And you don't... Until you kind of go out there and you fall on your face, and you figure it out.
There it is.
We knew that selling direct to the consumer, it was a challenge, and we had so many different moving pieces as a part of our kind of whole solution that while we were designing it to be nice and easy, it still required some know how to get the job done.
Yeah, just based on the sheer volume of copper connections that people are making. That's pretty pedestrian compared to what you're doing and that there is an obstacle.
So when we met Bob and he was like, Look I could help you set up this installation network can help you work with the right people that are already going into homes.
The people that we try to work with now, are HVAC contractors, Smart Home integrators. And when you're uncomfortable, at your home, you have this expensive piece of equipment, it's probably the most expensive piece of equipment you have in your home sitting in the basement and it's not working the way you want it to.
Yeah, you're not gonna go down there and try to back around and figure out what-
You're gonna call the guy you think is an expert, which is the HVAC contractor absolutely. So what we wanna do is leverage their experience and work with them to actually deliver our product in a way that makes sense and then it works well for them right off the bat.
So how did you two get connected?
So at a time, we were at the time we were a part of the AlphaLab Gear program.
And Ilana Diamond, the managing director, introduced us-
through business. She's been great for us just introducing us. And helping guide us where we need to go and just kind of point out the things that we might need to do in the future.
So you knew Ilana already, Bob?
So you talk about sales, and marketing and PR here. The network is the key. And I would say to anybody listening and beyond it, it doesn't matter what your role is in a company, you build your network, you meet people, you'd be nice to them and you figure out how to help them because that comes back around to you at some point in time. So I hadn't spoken to Ilana in many, many years, but I knew Ilana Diamond through our work at the Consumer Technology Association.
And those are the folks who run the Consumer Electronic Show, and we were both in a leadership member of leadership roles there. And I knew her when she ran her own consumer electronics company, and so as she was watching these guys develop the prototypes, seeing people like wanting to give them money to put these prototypes into their homes, yyou know, so as the director of this program, helping start-ups grow, and become viable companies. She obviously recognized that a couple of really smart guys. They need some business help, right? So she opens up the role back and says, Who can help them. And thankfully, Bob Fields was in that Rolodex, with specific experience that could really help take Hibersense to that next level and help these guys. So Ilana introduced us basically by phone in about February of 20... 17. It feels like a long time now. February 2017, we did a whole bunch of Skype calls back and forth. What's going on, listening to all their hopes and dreams? We definitely grilled him 'cause we were, at that point, looking to change our strategy in terms of going to the market, so...
Oh yeah, this was either a great thing or an existential threat, this hire.
We were pushing him really hard in one direction and he can tell the story...
And even before we get there. So we had these great conversations and again, we're in a market place where everybody understands the need. If you have a forced air heating-cooling system, you have hot rooms and cold rooms, you only get it and you're calling to be comfortable. And so I went down and spent a couple of intense days, with the guys 'cause I'm from Boston. If you can't tell...
I didn't hear it at all!
And to back up a minute. I've been working with start-ups for almost 10 years now.
And I originally come from the automotive electronics after-market, those are of us of a certain age. Grew up with car stereo, what better industry to be involved with cars, music, so... So being part of the association, and I totally recommend people join associations as part of their business but don't join just to be a joiner, join to get involved, to understand what's happening in your industry. And I knew just from my own work that the automotive electronics after-market was a declining market. And I've been trying to get in a long before we talked about the Internet of Things and even had a name for that we knew about sensorization and smart homes and big data and so I've been searching for an opportunity like that. Now I can get really excited about technology. And so I started working and helping some other companies through the network that I had developed, and what I discovered was entrepreneurs don't lie on purpose.
They believe everything that they say because they're passionate about what it is just as I am, when I get involved, so...
But then new data often introduces itself into the situation and then what happens?
You they're, they're in their own virtual reality and it's just not real. So I came to Pittsburgh for a couple of intense days, and as Jake said, we had some very intense conversations about ideas about going to market, and how we developed this and products and all of that and everything was really going quite swimming-ly until about almost 45 minutes before I should have been leaving already. When we were talking about go-to-market strategies and how things would be, and they were really drilling me on people telling us we should do this and I finally said, "Hey look, if you wanna do that, I can help you with your business, I'm a business guy. But you're not gonna be able to be advantage of my network and the opportunities that we have. But that was really a part of the genesis of our working relationship. I love working with these guys, because one, they're super smart, you know, that...
That's really obvious.
Two they're really delivering on their promise of what they can do. But three, they're open-minded. So when I work with start-up I wanna know three things. One is their technology all that... Yeah, in Hibersense is all that. Two, how close to commercialization are they? Because nobody makes money, unless you sell something over and over again. As a start-up out there, trying to raise money, don't be judged on how much money you raise, you're gonna get your product out there and sell it over and over again.
The King of all vanity metrics!
And number three is are they open-minded right? Are they willing to listen? And one of the things that's been really interesting I've worked with a lot of people that just kinda listen to what I have to say because I get a lot of gray hair and I've done a lot of things, but these guys push back and make me answer why they wanna know why I...
Well, let me tell you what I like about what I see when you guys are sitting here at this table together, right? And yes, this includes snap judgments, and it's just gonna have to be okay, right?
I see you Bob as the guy that protects the thinkers and basically gives them the space because you're trusted, I see that trust that Jake has it in turning that stuff over to you. And that's critical, like that is sort of like the seed that becomes a larger version of this little microcosm you're living in right now? Where Bob goes out there and he's your bar room brawler, he goes out there and he's like...
No, your assumptions are wrong. And let me tell you why, and this is why you should love it, right? And that gives you that opportunity to breathe and think. And what's 2.0-3.0-4.0 -gonna yield? What do customers tell me on the back side after they've made the purchase and those kinds of things, it's really nice to be able to delegate something. So mission-critical to someone that you can trust. Does that feel right?
Yeah, yeah, I totally agree with that. I think one of the things that was a challenge for us early on, was just kind of that aspect of it, we had a really good technical team, and we could make things work, right, yeah, I... But having somebody out there pushing around and seeing what is out there and what isn't out there and what we need to know, it's helpful for us, for sure.
Well, I'll tell you this, a lot of times the mistake and it's not a mistake so much, it's the talent that's available to a lot of people that are at the age that Hibersense is at right now is good theoretical good academic talent, but there is... And I'm speaking just from experience in my opinion, not everyone has to agree.
Do you need someone who gets up on their back legs, and fights? You need someone who I understand the mission is not to stay clean in the - Clean as in ethical... Of course, they have to stay clean - Clean as in you're gonna go out there and not everything's gonna be perfect, right? And sometimes you need to completely re-frame a conversation and sometimes you need to reject the premise of a conversation that somebody throws at you, in order to advance your cause.
So how... How do you build out this network? Is this a thing where you are calling people that are doing HVAC stuff or are they starting to come to you?
It's a little bit of both, and... And then also going out and taking part in trade shows, like CES and yeah, there's HVAC focused shows that make sense for us and shows where now people that are there, they do smart home integration, so they're installing those nice custom home theaters, and the nice panels and things like they work with, and so you get out there and you talk to the right people and you sell them that this is something that could really make a big impact for their customers.
There's probably some element of this too, where having the same sort of technological backbone could be useful if it's Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or Zigbee or Z-Wave. I don't know what all technologies you guys are connected to, but I have to believe that's at least part of it, yes?
Yeah. So most of our sensors, our devices are all powered by Bluetooth and they communicate with our central hub, which from there is actually going out to the cloud, giving you the chance to use a mobile app to interact with it. Tell us whether you're hot, you're cold, set your preferences, and then all that stuff that we're aggregating from those Bluetooth devices. It's helping you learn what rooms you use the most. That I had. Room is always too warm, so you go to bed at some time. And we start to learn those patterns. So you can say I want the good night scene so 30 minutes before that comes up, we start to cool it down so that when you walk in, 'cause it's not like a motion light switch when you walk into a room with emotion light switch boom, the light goes on and you have light. If you walk into a hot room, and you kick the AC on it's still hot.
And one of the things that's interesting about that is everybody has kind of adapted. I've been in my house for, I don't know, like a dozen years right? Now you're telling people that their house can kind of be new to them again, right? There's a really interesting value there and you can be happier in the home, it can almost be new to you, once again. So as you talk to people, you already sort of suggested that what they really want is comfort. And then the second thing might be energy savings, but what else are they telling you that they like?
I think the vast amount of information that we gather, kind of helps us empower them and helps them make better decisions about how they're managing the heating and cooling, and it gives us opportunities to kind of help them manage the entirety of their home and how they use it and understand sort of themselves a little bit better.
But basically also we give him the tools to manage it, but at the end of the day we actually don't want them doing it, because we will actually manage it better than they will... By giving them that control to begin with, we build trust with them because now they're able to say... Oh, I did this, I did that. Oh, wait a minute, I'm here, I'm comfortable right now. The longer you actually use our system, the less you actually have to integrate with it, right?
The patterns start to form.
We have the capabilities to provide detailed scheduling and scenes as Jake mentions away and all of that. But at the end of the day, you actually don't even need to use it.
Right, that's the ideal.
Just tell us how comfortable you are on a room-by-room. Basis. So we learn when you come and go, we learn if you don't show up, so we'll have the room ready for you and then we don't keep doing it if you don't show up, and we shut it off when you leave it, so really... We maximize that comfort, so you don't even know it. So, the best thing is, you don't even know.
Again, why would you want to... There's an old design thinking question that you should ask when you're thinking about like what should a user interface be? Right, and it's what would this do if it were magic? And I've always loved that question as a way to sort of approach what a new thing or a new campaign or a new whatever... Website user-interface should be... And if it were a magic it would just be comfortable that the answer to that question, that's what you...
Right and one of our installations, today, this week, excuse me, was a light commercial property, and the manager I was talking to the manager later the supervisor had told the manager that they did not wanna give everybody control of the Hibersense system because we're coming out of a solution where they have the lock thermostat, right?
I love the locked thermostat.
How many of you work in a place where there's a locked thermostat and only the maintenance guy or the boss can come out and do it, right?
And so, the supervisors told the manager. Said hey, look, I don't want everybody to do it, I'll do it, I'll take care of it. And I just said to the manager, I go look, the problem is she's thinking about an old world solution to an old world problem. We're giving you a new world solution to that old world problem, because the other thing that we give is not just the people that the capability for individuals to control it, but... But we're gonna get that supervisor the ability to see what they did. So today, you can't do that in our world. You can see who did what, when and understand, and then if you balance the fact that she likes it three degrees, more than you do at the end of the month when you still save 33%, on your energy bill, who cares?
That's where I was going next. I was wondering whether or not the individual employees have the ability to report their relative comfort. That's a killer.
Yeah. We one of our pilot programs last year we did one floor of a downtown Pittsburgh office building and there was 14 offices, two common areas in the building, on this floor and it was all controlled by one thermostat in on HVAC system that was on one side of the building, so they ran, I think in that facility, four space heaters all year long, summer and winter because depending on - it would flip. So the person in the summer time, who was next to the HVAC was freezing because she was next to it and the people ran fans but then it flipped in the winter time, right? She needed to run a fan, right, and the other one needed to run a space theater.
It was this over at the URA? Because I saw you guys were over there too, and they loved it.
Yeah, we like the URA for sure. Here in Pittsburgh.
Well, I, it has, just because those were pretty big reviews and I can't believe that their space is like a brand new building.
Yeah, we're absolutely made to be retrofit friendly, right?
There's all these buildings exist with all of these problems and we can fix it.
So we were not only we got rid of the space heaters, we learned a lot of lessons to... We used to think we could control the temperature in every space, but you know that person who is next to the 25-year-old picture window, is still gonna have to run a space heater because that window leaks and is cold. And so, now they actually put that on their capital budget plan to replace that window because now they recognize that it's a problem because not only did they see that they got rid of these other space heaters, but we've also given them all the data, for all of the rooms that they can make those decisions on.
You had also is interesting about that is the fact that you've given them an easy entry point into analyzing energy use now, right? Like now, when you're talking about that window, it doesn't feel like you're polishing brass on the Titanic, it you're like, "Yeah of 'course we're leaking energy. Everything about this process is inefficient right.
Yeah, I like seriously. I mean, if you can easily map out exactly where the problems are, you can show them with raw data. Here's the room, here's the difference, you can see it with your own eyes.
That's cool, nice.
And we've also learned some pretty cool things too. We also learn that in two office spaces that the people in the middle are still slightly uncomfortable and we recommended that they just switch offices, because the temperatures would match what they would want them to be, unfortunately because they're using archaic other systems we... Yeah, they're not able to do it but... But because we have the data we're able to make those recommendations. We even found a roommate, that was physically incompatible, with her other roommates because every time she was called all three of her other roommates said that they were hot at first. We're trouble shooting our system to figure out what's wrong with our system. It's not working, and then we're on step back and look at the data says, "Oh oh, sorry. You are physically incompatible with your roommates, you may like them, but you're incompatible.
This sounds like data you wanna sell to Match dot com in just saying, but just be like... No, this one, here's cold-blooded, but this one over here loves it, toasty, one thing that pops up whenever you start getting the channel involved, it you've got this HVAC channel, out there is training like I've seen a bunch of great products do poorly because the representation is poor.
Like they didn't fully understand it, they didn't send enough people to training, they didn't, they thought it was one thing and then they started selling it and then they called you for an assist and you said Wait, you said what?
That's as much of a big a problem at retail though, right?
You have the solution, you put the market, you try and give them all the information. And first of all, what retailer actually has trained people to orange they're buying a slower one. Circuit City was the master of train salespeople and their long gondor. There's probably people listening that like... Oh, Circuit City, yeah right, so that's a problem no matter where you stand. And this is what happens with a lot of startups is they get first of all they wanna see how much money they can raise. It but then all of those investors and we face it, they're pushing them DII di direct to consumer, that's the way to go big market blah, blah, blah the...
I couldn't disagree more and so I... Well, we're all on the same page in this role, but if we're talking to investors that may not be the case. So what we're doing and what we're focused on right now is rolling out our product in a methodical way that ensures that that doesn't happen. So we're literally two and a half years old, right now and we're delivering a third generation product on a very small budget. I mean it's, it's a privilege for me to work it's a privilege for me to work with these super smart guys, who I wanna do it right. We've actually approached this, to build high percent in Pennsylvania, so our sensor which was designed from the ground up in and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania our circuit boards are made about 20 minutes now, at the hair and our injection molding will happen in are Pennsylvania, so on a the... Not only were we made in the US, but we're made in Pennsylvania.
I bet for that I... And also on our event package it'll be the same component. Try and same thing. So we definitely are on track for Made in America designation. There's no real certification, it's kind of self-reported.
Yeah, I we're making sure that... And especially in the construction world, which we're in and the trades people, it's really important and we think it's important.
We've got 25 plus percent tariff on products that are happening and we don't know when that's gonna stop right now, right at a... You're not a trained as a... No, you're uniquely positioned on that.
Well, and we actually use a thermostat today, as part of our solution which is subjected now to a 25% tariff that affects the price of how we're able to sell our system.
You may very well be the first person to ever sit on that couch, who's having their injection molding dune here.
And we're super excited about it and the fact that the matter is, is we we're an American company, we're based here where Pittsburgh born and bread and we're happy to be able to do this here for selfish and altruistic reasons, as well, we're bringing jobs to the area. A right, we've hired two people so far this year we're on track to hopefully you hire a three or four more within the next 12 months and as our plan goes, we're gonna do that right here in Pittsburgh.
I wish you guys nothing but the best of success.
Bob and Jake from Hibersense, thank for coming in, I think I got thanks for vines.
Alright, that's the end of the ride. Thanks for tuning in and thanks to Bob and Jake again, for coming in, and everybody over at Hibersense Hopefully you are subscribed to this fine program by now if not get onto your phone, and click that button, it will make it much easier for you to receive sales marketing and start-up stuff every single Wednesday morning, subscribers get it first and everybody else has to wait for the website to throw it up. It just doesn't seem like it's a good way to do it.
I hang on next week, Buzzy and I will have another one of these out to you in the mean time, take care of yourself.
The Pitchwerks podcast comes to you from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a production of the Epicast Network and MacTaggart, LLC. Engineering and production by Buzzy Torek and Nick Miller. For more information, feedback and ad sales visit Pitchwerks dot com, that's PITCHWERKS dot com on social media, find and follow the show on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, using that same brand name, PITCHWERKS.
Beginning in February 2019, transcripts are being added for selected episodes over time.
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