Throwback Thursday: MOTI's Just Getting Started
Because #TBT: let's check in with a Highway1 alumnus who's been busy lately
This week’s edition finds us sitting down with MOTI’s Kayla Matheus to discuss life since Highway1, the success of their ongoing Kickstarter, and what’s next.
HWY1: What’ve you been up to since graduating a year ago?
KM: The biggest thing was adding a co-founder, Laura Day. We met at a Women in Hardware meetup very shortly after Highway1 and started working together in January of 2016. Her background is originally in electrical engineering; she built robots for the military for a little while before going to Harvard Business School and studying business and innovation theory with Clayton Christensen as it applies to the consumer robotics market. We’re both people with technical-first degrees who pivoted into design and business, respectively, so we make a power duo when it comes to building a social robot.
(Image c/o Fictiv)
After adding a few other key team members and early funding in the door, the next step was to launch the product; our Kickstarter went up two weeks ago, and we got through our $50k goal within five days. Our goal has been to ensure that the market actually exists, since we’re defining a new one essentially from scratch. The great thing is that since the hardware is relatively set now, we can focus on the software challenge of making MOTI smarter and better at learning from the user. Highway1 really helped us get the hardware hurdles out of the way first.
Speaking of which, what were your main lessons learned while you were at Highway1?
I studied mechanical engineering in school, but that didn’t mean that I knew how to manufacture anything. I loved to calculate equations and build prototypes and I know my way around a machine shop, but there was never a class at Yale that taught things like “Here’s what injection molding is like” or “Here’s why manufacturing takes such a long time.” Some of the biggest takeaways from Highway1 were understanding all the gates that you go through (EVT, DVT, PVT) and the little bits of DFM that have to go into them: bits that are for tooling or internal cabling or PCBA. I learned a lot about materials and understanding the things that end up being the cost drivers in your BOM and COGS — for instance, I still have a vivid image in my mind of a specific slide from a talk depicting the high margins that retailers would take in the future.
There were also the connections: we had mentors from business development and manufacturing and retail. For us especially, as a company that started in New York and came to San Francisco, Highway1 is such a great landing pad when you haven’t experienced Silicon Valley yet. I could easily see a company coming here and having to spend a lot of time playing the networking game starting from scratch without Highway1.
What’s your advice to an entrepreneur looking to get into hardware?
My first question is: what’s the hardware component of it and what are the skillsets involved? Because there’s a really big difference between “I’m making an iPhone case” and “I’m making a super smart connected IoT device.” Let’s look at all the people who have to be involved to make our product happen:
- You need mechanical engineering and design — luckily I’m both at the same time
- You also need a mechanical engineer from the manufacturing side who can do the nitty-gritty details, and that’s not me
- You need an electrical engineer for your boards
- Then you need firmware for programming said boards
- You also need web development, because MOTI’s connected to the web; for that, you need backend and frontend, and that’s often two different people
- You also need a mobile developer for the app
- If you have analytics, which we do, you need to have a data scientist on board
So that’s at least eight people who could be a mix of fulltime and contractors.
There’s also a really wide range of mechanical possibilities. MOTI is relatively simple on the hardware side: there’s one actuation and no crazy motors. So you want to look at how mechanically complex your product is, and what type of technology or sensors are on it; that gives you a better idea of how complicated this thing actually will actually be to make.
From a business side, I would definitely ask whether they’re trying to see a passion project through or if they’re looking to build full-fledged company. Those are two different paths that need two different sets of advice. Someone in the latter set will need to think more about exponential growth projections and an expanding product line from day one rather than just achieving sustainability.
Then there are always the small decisions points that make a big effect on startup: Do I add this person to the team or not? Do we go B2B or B2C? Who’s our first target market? Do we launch or collect more data? Every single time you have that fork, you could’ve gone off in a different direction. A startup is a series of forked decisions.
What’s next for MOTI?
Right now our main goal and focus is the Kickstarter; it’s going well, but we’d like it to go even better. We want to get enough people out there with MOTIs to enable us to hit a higher order of magnitude with our studies, so our evidence and data become even more significant. We’re also looking to raise additional funds and set up our manufacturing, because we have a lot of interest in terms of potential partners in areas like employee health and wellness, therapists, and coaches. We want to have the inventory ready to go for pilot programs in addition to our direct-to-consumer channel.