April 17, 2013

A new adventure

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. - Helen Keller

Today was my last day at Nokia. I remember getting a call from Rich Green almost three years ago, asking me if I was interested in helping turn around one of the strongest worldwide brands. I was blissfully working on my startup, Lootworks, at the time, but the opportunity to work on a new hardware platform and MeeGo was appealing. Rich was one of the best bosses I'd ever worked for, so the opportunity to build a team with him was the tipping factor.

Nokia turned out to be a tumultuous ride. Not long after I joined saw the arrival of Stephen Elop and his famous "Burning Platform" memo. Stephen was right in that analysis, though the decisions it forced will be second guessed for many years. Working for Nokia's CTO afforded me a unique vantage point into this and many other Nokia decisions, and while I didn't agree with everything decided, I laud Stephen and the Nokia leadership team for facing the rapidly changing mobile landscape and making tough calls.

While Rich left after the Microsoft decision, I ended up staying almost three years. I was afforded the opportunity to build an amazing team in Advanced Engineering, and over time finally started to (partially?) understand the Finnish culture and its profound influence on Nokia. Henry Tirri, Nokia's current CTO and my boss, sheltered my team and me as we focused on rapidly prototyping differentiation for the coming mobile revolution. Henry, you are quite OK ;-)

A surfing analogy turns out to be the best way to explain why I had to move on from Nokia. Surfing for me is about patience, timing, and placement. You can feel and see the ocean start to swell when a big wave is coming. You patiently wait for the right swell, then have be at the right place at the right time to get up on the board and ride a big one all the way in. Your gut tells you when to start paddling, and my technology "gut" says a big wave is on the way…

I believe a profound change in technology is happening. A hardware revolution has started and its impact will be as profound as the Internet revolution that started in the mid 1990s. Hardware prototyping costs have plummeted. The cost and difficulty of moving from duct-tape prototype to mass production, while not insignificant, is now approachable by small teams of dedicated Makers. 3PL and 4PL (logistics) is so much easier, thanks in part to Amazon and FedEx, which translates into products getting from factory to customer in days, not weeks or months. Customer validation and acquisition is now much easier, facilitated by KickStarter, IndieGoGo, and a myriad of web tools. It no longer takes tens of millions of dollars to go from first idea to hardware product at Best Buy. Think an order of magnitude less cost.

What the Internet revolution did to bits, this Hardware revolution will do to atoms. As we embed intelligence in the billions of "mundane" objects in our world, it will have as much impact as other revolutionary hardware technologies that will simultaneously disrupt entire markets. Using the word "hardware" to describe this renaissance is a bit misleading, as the coming wave of innovation builds on the software and services created by the last innovation wave. We're finally able to economically add hardware into the mix, which in turn allows us to address efficiency plays rooted the physical world.

I could not miss the opportunity to ride this wave. And to ride this wave I needed to be in a startup environment. I started working on a few of my own ideas, focused on the connected toy space. While I was burning the midnight oil, I was introduced to a hardware incubator, Lemnos Labs, in San Francisco. Started by Jeremy Conrad and Helen Zelman, two kick-ass MIT alum, Lemnos Labs takes the best ideas from software incubators like TechStars and Y Combinator, but adapts and adds what is necessary for a hardware company to grow. I had never seen anything like it, and started hanging around "The Forge", as they call it.

You can imagine what happened. What started as an occasional visit turned into a weekly stop. Henry and Nokia graciously let me become the EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence) there, knowing Nokia and Lemnos Labs don't compete. I was the EIR for almost six months, and in that time knew that Lemnos Labs was in the sweet spot to catch the hardware wave. It will be an epicenter for the hardware revolution.

I remember when Stephen Elop asked the 200 senior leaders of Nokia if they were ready to profoundly change Nokia. He asked that they answer a simple question, "Are you all in?"

I'm all-in at Lemnos Labs. I really liked Nokia. I loved my hardware startup idea. But those pale in comparison to the potential and fun associated with Lemnos. I'm passionately, 110% fired up about what Lemnos Labs is doing. And I'm excited to say that Helen and Jeremy have accepted me into the Lemnos family as the third partner.

Lemnos itself is a startup, growing and learning each day. When people ask me what my role entails, I say "whatever it takes." I'll change the toilet paper as much sit (hah!) in engineering or business reviews with our partner startups. I'll primarily be focused on our startups and helping them transition from duct-tape prototype to a production ready company with the capital and "A" talent needed for the next step in their journey. My goal at some level is to help them avoid the common mistakes we all make in our first hardware endeavors so they can make new, exciting, and game changing discoveries and mistakes on their way to greatness.

It's always a bit sad and scary to leave behind your friends, hand-picked teams, and cushy salary and benefits to return to startup-land. But it feels so good to be hungry, passionate, and have nothing but blue skies in front of you. So I say goodbye to one, shorter adventure, and embark on a new, longer one.

Hang Ten, Baby!
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