Meet the Team

7 Questions: Kaethe Henning

We thought it was high time you all got to know a little about the people who work here at Highway1, the staff without whom this program would literally not be possible.

This week, let’s talk to program manager Kaethe Henning (while she did answer all seven questions, one turned out to be about a Highway1 company currently in stealth mode, so we had to cut it, in case you’re wondering why there are only six).

Tell us a little about yourself: who are you and what are you doing here?

I help to organize things. As someone who is very process-oriented person, I see the benefits in thinking through all the steps involved in getting from point A to point Z, which isn’t always a linear process.

Areas in which I’ve been instrumental in are things like revamping how we onboard teams, between when they sign papers to actually setting foot in the building. What do they have to know? How do we get them there? From day one, I’ve stressed the need to set people’s expectations ahead of time to avoid headaches in the future. I’m very much in favor of overcommunication in the beginning, because it makes everyone’s lives easier later.

I also run our application process. There’s a series of distinct checkpoints or gates that any applicants have to pass before we get down to the eventual pool of finalists. They have to be vetted on a variety of factors to make sure we end up with a strong, diverse class with exceptional potential and abilities, and who’ll also work together as a cohesive cohort. Our whole team participates in class selection, and having a streamlined process helps us manage our time.

I’ve also been helping teams in the current cohort with strategic business development planning, along with Marcus Gosling and Brady Forrest. “Business development” can mean different things to different companies depending on their industry and target market. We combine Brady’s extensive knowledge of investors and VC funding processes with Marcus’ expertise in user research and UX, and work with teams to identify the weaknesses in their business arguments.

It’s my job to connect them with the right resources – mentors or other staff – to help them do things craft go-to-market strategies, financial modeling, and various timelines. A lot of business development is common sense; working in this track has been a phenomenal learning experience, to have exposure to so many companies and industries and learn their thought processes.

What excites you about what you do here?

The biggest thing is being around so much passion for innovation; a lot of our teams’ products do things that better people’s lives, making things easier or cleaner or healthier. And yes, they can get bogged down in doing CAD and thinking about the packaging the product is going to go in, but these folks have such passion for the bigger picture; getting to feed off that positive energy every day is eye-opening.

The other thing I truly respect is that the Highway1 environment itself is always seeking to improve, never being satisfied with the status quo. Our role as faculty is to learn from each previous cohort, making improvements to things like guest speakers and lectures, or to the China trip for future classes so they benefit from what we’ve learned.

What do you tend to get asked about the most?

Our teams have such a limited time here, and their most valuable resource is focus; however, that focus is tested (whether accidentally or on purpose) because our curriculum is so demanding. Not only must teams develop their product and work with our engineering staff, but we also want teams to work with us on building a business, including PR and social media strategies, crowd funding plans, and strategic marketing.

The breadth of all the things the program has to offer can get overwhelming, especially for teams that are on the smaller side, so a question I get asked a lot is “Which sessions are essential for me to go to, and which might not be right for me or my company, or for us at this point in time?” It’s an intriguing thought exercise for me to put on their shoes and prioritize by thinking through what makes sense for each team, strategically.

What’s something you wish people would ask you?

A lot of people may not know I have a marketing background as well as a voice performance degree. I’m also a yoga teacher! My master’s degree is in performance: not just singing, but also how to be still, to command presence and to demand attention from your audience. Those skills can directly transfer to startups who pitch or present on a regular basis; I actually helped a couple CEOs with vocal warmups before the last Demo Day.

Name one thing you wish all hardware teams knew right off the bat?

You’re going to make mistakes and that’s OK. Highway1 doesn’t work with teams who are overly cocky or arrogant, or unwilling to take some coaching; we’re going to work with these teams for 16 weeks, and we don’t need anyone who’s going to act like a jerk.

Something else I wish all startups knew: you’re not going to know what you don’t know. The teams I worry about the most are the ones who apply and say “We know what we don’t know, so we only need help in those particular areas.” You don’t — really. Let us teach you.

What’s the most interesting team that’s passed through these doors and why?

Transformair is solving a real world problem that affects a huge number of people across the globe, both asthma and allergy sufferers. My mom has suffered from chronic asthma and allergies her whole life, and even when it’s managed it’s still a huge pain point every day.

I think I like what they’re doing because the problem they’re solving is widespread and also close to home. And I believe in the team: they’re a family with a really great family dynamic that works well together. I would describe them as quietly competent, one step ahead of the game; I have every confidence they’re going to make a great product.

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Highway1, a division of PCH, is the premier hardware startup accelerator, located in San Francisco. We look for great hardware startups, with an exciting business idea and a compelling prototype. We help you design products that deliver real value to customers, that are delightful to use and that can be manufactured at scale.
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