In 2011, Marc Andreessen declared that “software is eating the world.” As a college senior hungry to feed technology to the people, I wholeheartedly bought into Marc’s decree. And I couldn’t help but ask what kind of hardware utensils would software need to go full-on Old Country Buffet?
During a brief stint at Microsoft China, I witnessed the enduring power of an enterprise OS platform coupled with an endless supply chain of device OEMs. Yet Microsoft was blatantly neglecting the growth in mobile and still living in 1990s Windows PC nostalgia. It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to survive in a big corporation built on legacy technology. After all, I was 22 years old and wanted to participate in creating the future, not reliving the past.
Naturally, I left for Detroit, the forgotten land of opportunity. I was humbled to receive an offer to join a new VC firm founded by Dan Gilbert with the mission to reinvent the Arsenal of Democracy into a modern epicenter of technology meets Americana. In 4.5 years, I saw the power of agile software development infused with the grit and the humility of the Midwest. Yet everywhere I looked, hardware was always an afterthought to the glamour of its celebrity software counterpart: “the cloud is the future of software distribution,” “there’s no ARR in hardware,” “becoming #1 in the App Store makes you king,” etc. Perhaps it was because we were punch drunk from our own personal smartphone love affair and we forgot about the unsexy enterprise infrastructure that keeps the world running. The overwhelming proliferation of consumer devices would overshadow the business needs of security, stability, and scalability. So bad in fact that a $1 billion medical device company would become married to tens of thousands of refurbished but outdated Samsung S3s, outfitted with a hacked up Android OS to power its lifesaving application.
That was the impetus to found Mason. The original concept was simple: we’d build custom Android devices using a mature China supply chain and target enterprises running mobile software on crap hardware. With a hardware PO from a heart monitor medical startup in hand, I was able to convince my multi-dimensional designer and a talented web developer to leave Michigan and join Mason as we got accepted to YCombinator in Winter 2016.
It’s been 2 years since we graduated YC and boy has it gone according to the master plan. Just kidding. No amount of planning would have taught me that shipping hardware is hard, enterprise sales doesn’t happen like Twista’s Overnight Celebrity, and startup life means attending the wake of your own funeral with an obituary that reads “Here lies a man who dreamt of a new world yet to be conceived by undeniable truth.” The trials and tribulations of starting a company can be saved for another day, so onto why we started Mason yesterday…
After a year of interviewing companies small and large, it became obvious that pencil & paper was public enemy number one. P&P was the OG of data input across verticals from clinical trials to bank filings to inventory management. P&P sucked the souls out of human life and sent countless careers down Hell’s Gate of form-filling purgatory. From our point of view, a low-cost Android device has all the qualifications to operate human-designated tasks of P&P; it can hear through its mic, it can talk through its speakerphone, it can store memories permanently or archive it in the heavenly cloud without killing a single tree, it can see through its AI-powered 12+5MP dual camera lens, and even recognize real humans through its biometric sensors.
What if then, our mission is to leverage hardware to automate human tasks with just a bit of software? Imagine completely eliminating pencil & paper as the primary data collection activity for all of pharmaceutical drugs going through clinical trials. By adapting smartphone technology specifically for this vertical market software, we can systematically identify ways to collect patient data securely in real-time and thus enable Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to iterate on drug development faster than ever. What is the economic value of shaving years off of bringing life-saving drugs to market that actually work?
Well, it means we can free time for people to solve the world’s hardest problems. As a team made primarily of stubborn Millennials, we see the world full of problems waiting for us to tackle; problems that can be solved with the right hardware-software combo like a Happy Meal waiting to be distributed en masse.
If we can wrap hardware around software like how an Iron Man suit fits over Tony Stark, then there can be a hero solution to any problem, ordinary or extraordinary. And that’s what we’ve done at Mason — build a Jarvis-like platform that can deploy mobile Infrastructure as a Service (much like Amazon’s servers as a service 15 years ago) so that a single developer can build an entire Android ecosystem in under two days.
We envision a new world where software can be concocted up as fast as a cocktail and deployed over-the-air faster than you can down a shot of whiskey. Take that for punch drunk love. We plan to make every smart piece of hardware a simple abstraction of what a bit of software needs to solve the real world problems we face in society’s vanity mirror: insufficient healthcare, under-utilized capital assets, retail over consumption, inefficient logistics, unadaptive education, non-sustainable food and housing and more.
And our plan is just getting started. We are a small tribe today with 8 people strong, but already have the top hospitals and pharmaceutical companies signed on with infinite possibilities ahead.
Want to join us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.