Interview with CleanRobotics – the makers of TrashBot

Four men and one woman standing around TrashBot

Once upon a time a two friends stood in front of an overly complex trash can at a WholeFoods. They found that deciding what to do with their garbage was far more complex than it needed to be. Which bin does the paper plate go into? And is this a compostable fork, a recyclable fork, or a fork destined for landfill? Rather than simply dump their trash and walk away, they came up with an idea. A short time later CleanRobotics and their first product, TrashBot, were born.

They first launched TrashBot in the Pittsburgh City Council building in 2017. Since then, CleanRobotics has been named one of the top Pittsburgh companies to watch in 2018, has advanced to the second round of the IBM AI Xprize, and been recently featured in GeekWire.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Tanner Cook and Grant Halleran from CleanRobotics to discuss the world of trash processing and the design of TrashBot. Throughout the interview we discuss how it is especially challenging for a robotics company to balance the demands of engineering and product iteration with sales and market penetration. We also discuss how dealing with trash is a complex, yet fascinating, societal and environmental problem. Continue reading “Interview with CleanRobotics – the makers of TrashBot”

Interview with BlastPoint

Alison Alverez and Tomer Borenstein

Meet Alison Alvarez and Tomer Borenstein, the founders of BlastPoint.

Before starting BlastPoint, Alison had a career in building big data tools for large Fortune 1000 companies. Through her work, she came to realize two things:

  1. When it comes to big data systems, everyone asks for the same subset of features.
  2. Only really large companies can afford to hire data scientists.

She believed that by building technology that met the ~90% of data needs, she could make data science tools accessible and affordable to businesses of all types and sizes.  Alison pitched her idea at a CMU entrepreneurship event and met Tomer, an experienced software engineer and recent Computer Science Masters graduate. In 2016 they launched BlastPoint, with the mission to make big data accessible, usable, and affordable to all types of businesses. They have been making headlines ever since, and most recently won the 2017 UpPrize social venture competition.

Continue reading “Interview with BlastPoint”

Liked this post? Share it!

Criteria for success (Startup Challenge – Part 2)

Over the past several days, I’ve generated 60+ startup ideas by following my idea generating process I blogged about last week. When I look over my list of ideas I have a lot of “gut feelings” about them. Some of the ideas seem too simple, some seem too complex, some seem dumb, and some seem beyond my skill set. While I think it is important to, at times, trust your gut. I also think it’s important to not throw away an idea before you at least consider its merits.

In today’s post I’ll go over my personal criteria to evaluate each startup idea. Similar to my idea generating process, I created this list of criteria for myself. I designed this list to help me think critically about each of the ideas I generated. I recommend that you take what I’ve written here as a starting point, do some more reading and research, and create your own idea evaluation process tailored to what’s important to you.

Continue reading “Criteria for success (Startup Challenge – Part 2)”

Liked this post? Share it!

3 ways to validate your startup idea without building a damn thing

picture of yellow measuring tape, with the words "validate first, build later" written overtop

Last week, I shared my ideas about MVE’s: Minimum Viable Experiments. To recap, an MVE is a type of experiment that should…

  • require minimal set-up,
  • require minimal cost and materials, and
  • ultimately help you determine whether you’ve got a startup idea worth pursuing, or not.

MVEs are great because they take the focus away from building and shift it towards validating. In fact, I think that the longer you can pursue your startup idea without building anything, the more open you’ll be to new ideas, and the more successful you’ll be when it comes time to execute.

So to help you embrace the validate first, build later mantra, I’ve created a list of three ways to test your startup idea without building a damn thing:

Continue reading “3 ways to validate your startup idea without building a damn thing”

Liked this post? Share it!

The MVE: Minimum Viable Experiment

picture of beakers and experimental jars with the words "the minimum viable experiment" written over top

You have all been dutifully instructed to “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” A lot of ink (virtual or otherwise) has been spent making sure you do your customer research. But as much as the start-up crowd seems to value research,  it still seems like you can’t call yourself a “real entrepreneur” until you build something.

For example, if you spend your time investigating better ways to help senior citizens get to where they want to go, you’re just a do-gooder. But if you tell everyone you are making the “Uber for Seniors,” you are suddenly an entrepreneur.

Even the Lean movement, which espouses an experimental approach, puts a lot of focus on building something. (That “something” being the “minimum viable product.” Emphasis on product.)

I think that would-be entrepreneurs would find a lot more freedom to explore and grow their ideas if there was less pressure to come up with a “thing” to build. Instead, it may be better to focus on conducting worthwhile experiments. So in this post I’d like to introduce the MVE: minimum viable experiment.

Continue reading “The MVE: Minimum Viable Experiment”

Liked this post? Share it!

The Startup Pitch

set of clear elevators with the words "perfect your startup pitch" written overtop

In graduate school, whenever we were getting ready to attend a conference, we would all get together to practice our elevator pitches. In theory, the reason we practiced our pitch was that if by some miracle we found ourselves on an elevator with a philanthropically inclined Bill Gates we’d be ready to win him over with a 30 second spiel on our research. In practice, this never happened. We did use our elevator pitches to introduce ourselves to like-minded researchers and build our professional networks, which is almost as good.

The general formula we followed was:

Pitch = problem to solve + method to solve it

My pitch went something like this… Continue reading “The Startup Pitch”

Liked this post? Share it!

Review of “Emotional Design” by Don Norman

The book "Emotional Design" by Don Norman, sitting next to coasters depicting a llama and a brown coffee mug.

(Originally published on the UX Bookclub)

Usable design is good. Emotional design is better.

I first read Emotional Design in graduate school. I considered it light reading, compared to all of the thick, indecipherable academic texts I was consuming at the time. I remember loving it. But over-time, I started to forget the details. The message didn’t stick with me.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I saw Emotional Design as part of a library display of design books. I decided, on a whim, to take it home with me and read it for a second time. I’m glad I did.

Continue reading “Review of “Emotional Design” by Don Norman”

Liked this post? Share it!

In an MVP, do looks matter?

Set of makeup brushes, with the words "In my MVP...do looks matter?" written over-top.

The value of building an MVP is getting your concept out in front of the world as quickly as possible so you can start gathering feedback. The keyword in Minimum Viable Product, of course, is “minimum”. An MVP should have minimum features and should require minimum work. A real MVP should just cross the the threshold from useless to functioning.

One question I get a lot is,

When it comes to building your MVP, do looks matter?

The TL;DR answer is : It depends. Probably not too much. But you should definitely come back to worrying about aesthetics as soon as you are ready to move on from MVP to a full product experience.

Continue reading “In an MVP, do looks matter?”

Liked this post? Share it!