Notes for ThisWeekinStartup Ep.609: “Scott Croyle on vision for Nextbit & Robin; Kitchen of the Future; Matt Galligan’s Circa Lessons” from LAUNCH Mobile Wearables IoT 2015

From the stage of Launch Mobile Wearables IoT 2015, Jason Calacanis and Peter Rojas chat with:

  • Scott Croyle from Nextbit presenting Robin, a new premium Android with a cloud-first approach
  • Breille Pettinelli from RooT, a set-and-forget hydroponics system to grow your own in-house garden
  • Matt Gilligan from the defunct Circa, sharing the hard lessons learnt on the 4 years ride he had as CEO of the first mobile-first news app that showed how news are meant to be consumed on smaller screens.

Here comes the most interesting facts and insights shared by the speakers, neatly organized and quickly skimmable so you won’t have to spend an hour and 13 minutes you don’t have listening to a great post you should find the time for.

Full episode here on YouTube here

Offered by Dan Peron, italian marketer

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Robin — Scott Croyle (Chief Product and Design Officer)

  • Robin is a lightweight, beautiful, premium Android phone.
  • It’s a cloud first phone: from the moment you login to Robin, it starts synchronizing your app to the cloud and start backing up pictures and photos and videos to the cloud (only if it’s plugged in, on wifi so no power drain or data consumption)
  • Jason’s problems with phones: the storage, never enough for all the photos and the videos. Complaint about Icloud: thinking what’s on the device, what’s not and managing it. Now it requires work: manually deleting apps, manually deleting photos/videos.

How Robin solves the empty local storage problem

  • when it starts to run out of space, it starts removing apps that haven’t been used in a while and photos that haven’t been looked at for a while, leaving grey icons on the phone.
  • Peter on the impact cloud: more gigas available for people to use, but has to manage what’s on the phone and what not and remember what’s where all the time (that’s what he doesn’t like about Icloud)

Robin’s proposition

  • Keep using the phone like you’ve always do and Robin will handle the storage management.
  • Example: Scott is a Pandora guy and hasn’t used Spotify in a while. The icon is grey. If he clicks on the icon, while on wife and connected by default it pulls the app down from the cloud and sync its credentials and data back and it’s like it’s never been removed (the data won’t be there for most of the apps, the cache gets cleared).
  • It’s ideal for apps you installed and use rarely (i.e. different Disneyland apps) or games you played way back but you still want to be able to play from where you left
  • Also, when buying a new phone you won’t have to install back all the apps and sync login and passwords.
  • Robin is shipped with 32 gb local storage (“offline storage”) and 100 gb as online storage in the cloud.
  • Robin’s price at launch 399$ (January 2016)

How it came to be

  • Project first launched on kickstarter: 10 and half hours to meet their goal, sold about 4000 phones to 3300+ backers worth of 1.4 million in total
  • Then raised 18 millions 2 years ago from Google Ventures and Accel Partners

Founding team backgrounds

  • Scott Croyle, former head of Design and User Experience at HTC. Other 2 founders from Google Android 1.0 team. They know the industry and the trends driving it.

Trends in the smartphone industry

  • Disruption going on in the mobile industry, Android-side: Samsung, HTC struggling to maintain high prices. Shaomi, OnePlus, Nextbit exposed the fact that you can get awesome phones for 400 bucks (Robin has 5.2 inches ips 1080p screen, latest SnapDragon, all bells and whistles of high end phones but at a cheaper price)
  • Apples sells the Apple 6 128 gb for north of $900 with a margin of 500$
  • Google, HTC, Samsung also struggling cause they sell to carriers and they take a margin as well, so they have to keep their prices up (but stuck with them cause they are the #1 channels for selling those phones)
  • In the US, people are buying more and more unlocked devices.
  • Other reason manufacturers are struggling: you can go from a brand to another as long as they have Android. No lock-in.
  • Nextbit will lock in their customers with their cloud service: if you want your apps and stuff, you’ll have to keep using a Nextbit phone.

Cyanogen

  • It’s a fork off Android (so basically Android at the core). It’s business model: offering competing services to Google suite. They partner with local companies (say, indian companies in India) for proving locals with non-Google apps for email, maps, search etc
  • Google can’t get their apps in those growing emerging marketing (no Play Store in China)
  • Robin Android is CTS complaint with all Google Services (Google Maps, Google Email, Google Now) and pure vanilla Android with no factory or carrier customization.
  • Other reason traditional manufactures are struggling: carriers want to offer their own services (not pure experience for customers)

Robin Demographics

  • It’s for developers and hackers, Android enthusiasts who want a cool phone to show off for once.
  • Robin target users don’t want preloaded apps, they are highly educated people that want to customize their Androids by themselves (their direct-to-consumer approach to market allow for that).
  • There is not a cool Android: key Kickstarters demographics 25–35 years old. But it’s 15–25 the most interested and enthusiast about it because not tied to an app ecosystem, they don’t want to buy an Iphone 16 gb that becomes a feature phone 6 months later, they are looking for something fresh and cool
  • It comes with an unlocked bootloader so you can root your phone (offered also by competitors).
  • Unique to Robin: warranty is still valid if you unlock it (nobody else offering it, at the time of the chat). So hack away!

Design trends for smartphones

  • At HTC Scott and the Design/UX team designed the first all-metal unibody phone. Then everybody copied it (Apple and Iphone as well). The overall quality of smartphones have gone up and everybody can get Chinese manufactures to build phones that look and feel exactly like the Iphone. Everything has come to look the same, harder to stand out. Even Apple’s stuck, nothing fresh is coming out. The Apple Watch was well executed but it doesn’t feel special.

Robin Design

  • Nextbit founders wanted something original, fresh, more original and provokative, that stands out.
  • Its premium comes from the simplicity (vs Apple and the others products whose premium comes from metal and ergonomics).
  • It has a conceptual design: the screen is square hence the phone is square; it has depressions over the speaker grill and the repeated circle motive to make It more approachable and have more character.
  • It comes in 2 colors developed internally and one driven by the backers at Kickstarter:
  • Mint, the original concept pitch, it feels fresh, contemporary not overtly male or female
  • Midnight, very deep blue cause they didn’t want to make it black
  • Expect to refresh the design annually

Long term vision

  • With cloud, I should be able to authenticate on any device (wearables, destops, home devices connected to the IoT, mine, yours) and have my stuff and experience there. Like what Gmail did for emails, making possible to access your emails on any browser without the need of Outlook)
  • We are not yet ready for true cloud, coverage not good enough. We are ready for an hybrid approach though: running native apps on the operating system, offloading stuff most likely not used.

Dan’s comment: Scott is great. Google should come up with a premium smartphone that offers exactly what Robin promises (or acquire it, which is most likely exit strategy given the founders’ pedigrees) A unified experience, cloud-storage with paid upgrades, lock-in users to Android even more (from just login and app sync to whole file storage). Brandwise, such product would fit great as a Dropbox phone (“your files, everywhere” taken to the next level).

Sereneti Kitchen — Timothy Chen (CEO)

  • It’s named after Jerry Seinfield’s “Serenity now” and not Serenity, the spaceship in Joss Whedon’s tv show Firefly.
  • It’s going to be the Ipod and the Itunes of the food world. The robotic machine is the Ipod cooking autonomously food, the app controlling it is the Itunes with lists of recipes from cooks and chefs around the world instead of songs.

How it works

  • You pick the recipe you want to prepare, you insert the ingredients in cartridges of fresh food prepared for you by grocery stores (or people that deliver groceries) (in the example, eggs, spinach) and then press cook.
  • Cartridges in the future could be in the fridge at the office or in a fridge inside the machine. Eventually there will be a fridge in the machine.
  • It uses a cheap $50 robotic arm — typically they have a joints and every joint has an electrical motor, running electricity to it. Can’t be the case when the arm is in a heated pan cooking your meal.
  • How it tells when it’s ready: temperature and time, coded in the recipe, in the future recognition wil adjust them depending on the various ingredients.
  • It spins on its own axis (thanks to the angle the two pieces that make it are cut) — patent pending. It’s meant to emulate the way people cook food — that’s why the robotic arm is made and works that way.
  • Computer vision will be able to tell how good the food is, different pieces of food in it, different temperatures
  • Then only thing to clean afterwards at the moment, the pan. Eventually, self-cleaning and simpler to use.

Sereneti proposition

  • You’ll get the food you want, when you want it, made the way you want it. Example: coming home after work and having the food cooked and ready when you are back home or when you wake up at 6 and find your eggs ready.
  • It’s better than going to a Deli where you don’t know how your food is cooked, better than food delivered that was made an hour earlier

Trend in the food industry

  • Food is going from a vertical aligned industry where one guy does chicken, one does tomatoes and so on to a copacking industry orizontally aligned with 200ish companies delivering just the right ingredients to prepare meals so no food, no money is wasted

Sereniti maker ecosystem

  • Chiefs and cooks in the future will get to monetize their recipes, like artists today monetize their music tracks and songs on Itunes.
  • You’ll be able to make your own packets of food, it’s a maker ecosystem: you make something great, somebody else eats it, one of their partners deliver it and you get to monetize your recipe.

Profitability and growth potential

  • It takes 1–2 dollars of ingredients to make a meal: a 1 dollar omelette can be sold for 3 dollars with 50% or more profit margin after manufacture and bulk delivery.
  • It will be free for the company to put in as long as 5–10 meals are made every day
  • Expected revenue per unit 10k (selling 5–8 usd meals) across 3.5 millions offices in the States = 30 billions potential revenue with a 50% operating margin
  • Mass manufacture cost per unit: $150
  • They see themselves like the Iphone to the AT&T or Target or Whole Foods: they can give it away for $99 with a 1 year subscription of food that will be delivered or picked up at the store

Team and development

  • 3 people in the team, invested 100k at the time on Sereniti
  • At it for about a year (in October 2015), they are showing the 12th 3d printed iteration of the machine.

Launch

  • 1 year and half ready to be sold and shipped
  • Launching in biggest offices in San Francisco: RocketSpace, Founders Inn, Runway, 500 Startups already committed to put in there

Dan’s comment: Tim is brilliant. He’s a visionary and you can tell it by the way he has envisioned the path to market and distribution of Sereneti. He seems to have a clear long-term path and he’s executing it with confidence (what Chris Sacca looks for when investing in founders, the Kevin Systrom’s story he shared on a previous TWiS episode is emblematic). Only doubt: Timothy smiles too much to Jason when talking to Jason, he feels like he’s trying hard to impress and sell you his thing. Trait of potential weakness you don’t want in a founder. Still, I would invest in him. Most interesting person of the episode.

RooT — Brielle Pettinelli (Cofounder)

  • It’s a turnkit device that allows to grow a variety of plants quite seamlessly connecting to your smartphone
  • When you buy it, you get some small root pods, you pop them into RooT and then set it and forget it through the app (where you can monitor the status of the plants and if they need water)
  • It allows up to 12 plants per RooT(while competitors allow up to 3–4)
  • Done through hydrophonics, growing plants without soil, just using nutrient infused water. It allows to grow more plants in a reduced space and a 2 gallons container.
  • You can purchase empty pods and plant your own seeds or the whole seed pods
  • 3 varieties of plants: culinary vegetables, medicinal herbs, cannabis (where legal)
  • You can grow a year worth of medical cannabis and save money
  • According to the speaker, growing it yourself will be 50% cheaper than buying it (an ounce could cost 200–500 dollars depending on the State) for a saving of $2000
  • MSRP $299 for the full kit ( pods, seeds, light installed)

RooT proposition

  • People are afraid they can’t grow their garden, this makes it easy (when they see it growing they are happy and enjoy it). By growing your own food you are also reducing your own carbon foot print (for eco-conscious people) and getting access to a cheap supply of healthy food (eating healthier is another clear trend in the food industry)

Dan’s comment: Cool idea on paper, not sure there is a real need and market for it, once the novelty has faded. People into gardening don’t usually buy fancy gadgets. What’s the long term vision?

ANOVA Culinary — Stephen Svajian (CEO and Co-Founder)

  • Anova Culinary is a consumer sous-vide cooking device.
  • Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking

In home cooking there is:

  • a new opportunity for science and tech devices open in the kitchen
  • a shift happening about how people think about food preparation: more precision in bringing food and cooking it at a certain temperature

Benefits of sous-vide cooking

  • A sous-vide steak or vegetable is cooked consistently throughout, its moist, tender, delicious.
  • It’s how chefs at high-end restaurants cook and the best way to cook any food

What makes it different

  • Connected experience is a differentiator:
  • veing better than Google telling time and temperature to be able to cook it perfectly — it’s important for the company to guide the user in the first experience and get a good result (so he’ll be enthusiast about the product)
  • put a frozen piece of meat in the water before going to work, you get notifications on the process, turn it on, timing perfectly for when you’ll be back, keeping the food safe

Other info

Launched in 2013, about the sell the 250,000th unit (at the time of the interview)

$179 bluetooth version

$199 wifi version

They are hiring engineers

Dan’s comment: lovely guy, he’s passionate about his product and you can tell he cares a lot about his customers. Left-handed.

Matt Galligan, sharing the lessons learnt as CEO at CIRCA for 4 years

(Jason was an investor in Circa, he praises Matt and will be a future investor in any of his new startups)

  • He is a former cofounder and CEO of Circa, news app built for mobile from the ground up to experience news better on a smaller screen (other apps didn’t get it right, too much on screen, the traditional news content didn’t seem to fit properly)

Circa solution to news on mobile devices

  • Bite-sized solutions so you can catch up quickly
  • Users loved it, companies like Apple praised it: 89% of 5 stars rating on thousands and thousands reviews on the App Store
  • New York Times in the internal innovation report stated “We could create a follow button to offer readers a variety of ways to curate and receive their own news feed” (i.e. they tried to copy the “Follow News” feature Circa had, the ability to follow news as they progress overtime)
  • They had great users retentions, great stats, yet they had to shut down. Why?

Lessons learnt

  • Plain jane, vanilla, hard-hitting important news presented in a factural way don’t resonate well with consumers (it makes them depressed: e.g. they were the first to break the news of Ebola hitting the States, allowing people to be kept up-to-date on the bad in the world)
  • Comparing themselves with mobile first, news apps: Buzzfeed, Vox, Vice, New York Times, not in the same class (Circa was a mobile app, not a news publication)
  • Hard to benchmark you own success in a industry where nobody gives their stats. Different metrics: others, pageviews while Circa didn’t have none. Harder to explain that to investors that they were providing a better experience
  • They had to look at the bigger picture, not just about them and their app
  • They had to show extreme growth for investors to be quiet, good is not enough if you are not making money
  • They didn’t have a board, not a single board meeting until the final one when they decided to wind down the company and that was a mistake
  • Have other people to talk to, be present, critical, it’s important
  • Raised 6 millions dollars: they were constantly raising money, they didn’t have a major institutional partner to keep them up running for the long run
  • So they had to collect lots of investors, had a pretty big cap table — difficult to manage (not recommended)
  • If you can’t raise a bunch from a few, don’t raise a few from a bunch
  • Think long term in advance: making ends meet is not a long term solution. What’s the long term strategy to be profitable?
  • The day before the acquisition, major media company plugged the plug so always be prepared for the unexpected
  • Teams: do your diligence; culture fit it’s important. Don’t be blind to them not fitting in just because you want them so much. Fire them ASAP and move on
  • Transparency: the more you keep from the team, the worst. Keep everybody in the loop as much as possible, even if it’s harder to do so
  • Revenue: the only money made was while selling the furniture after winding down
  • Should have built a sales team: if you can’t get ads cause they ruin the experience, at least get sponsorships
  • If you are not growing like crazy, you need to make money. Investors will want to know how you are going to be able to sustain. Angel\VC money won’t last forever
  • “Did I do the right thing?” It will hunt you.

Dan’s Comment: Matt is still digesting the failure. He’s showed me there is a need in the valley for effective ways to handle stress and failures without being affected too much from them i.e. proving methods to improve founders’ resilience. If taking a punch today is such a big deal, they will be afraid to throw themselves in the fight tomorrow. There is no real happiness with fear.

The world needs more fearless people.

Startup idea of the day:

Fantasy Angel and VC investing: invest fantasy money in real startups.


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