Lessons from Electric Objects

I spent an incredible four years of my life working on Electric Objects. It was an exercise of passion, a product that needed to exist, and it brought together an extremely talented group of people that I was lucky to call my teammates.

The company didn’t begin at a white board but at an empty wall and a need to fill it. It began in 2013 in a small room in the house on the Cape where I grew up. I was spending a lot of time on the Cape then — my mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer. My days were spent with my family, and my nights were spent tinkering with a Raspberry Pi, a broken dell monitor, and some programming tutorials.

EO2, launched in 2016

The internet is full of art in all its flavors: still, video, digital, photography, animated, illustrated. I wanted a way to bring that art into my home, and onto my wall, and to do it in a way that served — instead of demanded — what our software has come to fully dominate: our attention. The idea was to build a computer that you couldn’t use, and that couldn’t use you.

The successes and failures of Electric Objects are manifold. As an art project, it was a resounding success — we commissioned 198 artists to produce 1,134 new and original works of digital art, that have been displayed for a cumulative 76 million hours in thousands of homes all over the world (and counting), on screens now powered and sustained by the incredible team at GIPHY.

We designed, manufactured and distributed two generations of hardware product to thousands of customers all over the world. We built beautifully designed client apps for iOS and Android, and a custom Android operating system. Time Magazine included Electric Objects in their list of the 25 Best Inventions of 2014.

But as a venture-backed startup, the success was fleeting. As investors and shareholders, we didn’t see the financial outcome we were hoping for, and we failed to build a business that sustained the production of new art and new hardware, despite evident demand from a passionate community of early adopters.

In the past few months, I’ve spent time with friends, family, teammates, mentors, advisors, and investors discussing what went wrong, and what went right with Electric Objects, and what lessons I plan to take into my next project.

On the verge of jumping into my next thing, I wanted to take a moment to document what I’ve learned, for myself, and perhaps for those just beginning their own entrepreneurial journey. I’ve broken it up into a handful of essays, which I’ll publish over the coming weeks, starting today.

Part 1: The Costs of Growth

Part 2: Startup Dogma

Part 3: The Gods of Belief

Part 4: The Hardware Fundraising Trap

Part 5: Doing the Job

Conclusion: Product/Market Balance

Follow me on Medium to find out when the next essay is published.