“Sometimes your spidey sense is like, ‘I don’t know if either one of these are right,’ but you have to go somewhere. Spinning your wheels, being in neutral? That’s bad.”
When you hear Founders out in the media talking about their product, most of what you hear them talk about is all the things that went right: the hypotheses that were confirmed, the “ahah” moments where all the pieces fell into place.
What you don’t hear most Founders talking about: all the things they didn’t know – the times a big bet didn’t pay off, the times when what you thought was true turned out not to be the case, the times when the market turned on a dime and suddenly everything you’d been working to build was no longer relevant.
But the fact is that those dead ends and miscalculations – they’re every bit as much a part of the story as the successes. And here’s the really fun part: you almost never see those speed bumps coming. The thing about what you don’t know is that you don’t know what you don’t know. But when you’re a Founder, you can’t let that stop you from making a decision.
“That clock is running fast, and you have limited data, and you have to be able to make the call to go in a direction,” is how Mike Sarow, CEO and Co-Founder of Kapture, puts it. “Sometimes your spidey sense is like. ‘I don’t know if either one of these are right,’ but you have to go somewhere. Spinning your wheels, being in neutral? That’s bad.”
Just as important as picking a direction, Mike says: being willing to admit when the direction you pick is wrong.
“You have to pay attention, and if something goes wrong, you have to be ready to say, ‘Whoops that didn’t work, so we’re going to go the other way,’ or if new information comes in and changes your course – you’ve got to be ready to change with it.”
Mike Sarow and his co-Founder Matthew Dooley know a thing or two about how new information can radically alter the course your company takes – particularly in the early stages.
Their company Kapture has had its share of forks and turns in the road in the last couple of years. Some of those forks have been good, some bad. Some have been complete curveballs that no one could have seen coming.
We all know the cliche that every company starts with a problem – but Mike puts it just a little more strongly than that.
“I think for any Founder, there have to be things in the world that drive you nuts,” he says.
For Mike and Matthew, that nuts-driving thing was the tendency the saw in the world for people to disengage from those around them, paying more attention to their smartphones than what was happening around them in the here and now.
Out of that frustration was born the idea for Kapture: a wearable device that gives wearers the ability retroactively save the last 60 seconds of audio they just heard – whether it’s a snippet of melody, an important direction from the boss, or a drop-dead hilarious quote from their toddler – simply by tapping a button on their wrist.
The 60 second time limit is partially a constraint of engineering – more audio means more memory, which means more drain on battery, and so on and so on in a ripple effect that touches pretty much everything about how the product is designed.
“If we had picked 5 minutes we could have delivered 5 minutes,” Mike explains. “But it’s harder and it probably would have been a really shitty consumer experience.”
More than an engineering constraint, the 60-second limit is a direct outgrowth of what Mike and Matthew want their product to be, and how they wanted it to fit into users’ lives.
You have to make some of those choices for [your users] and then be smart enough to alter if need be.
They wanted Kapture a be tool to help augment human interaction, rather than making it easier for people to not pay attention. In a meeting, for example, 60 seconds is enough time to capture the key action items your team agreed on as they’re laid out – but not enough time that you can zone out and know that, if you need it, Kapture is there to save your ass.
In a way, Mike says, the 60-second limit it’s a bit like Twitter with their 140 characters: “That character limit actually had some reason behind originally,” he points out. They could have changed it over time, but they haven’t and it became like it’s own language.”
Making those kinds of choices for your user is part of the design process, Mike says. You have to show users how to interact with your product because they don’t know what’s possible – especially if it’s a concept that’s so far outside the realm of what they’ve seen before.
“So you have to make some of those choices for them,” Mike says, “and then be smart enough to alter if need be.”
Another thing about building a product that’s so far out there from what people have seen and interacted with before? You kind of have to show people – investors, partners – that people are actually going to want it.
In Kapture’s case, it wasn’t just the idea of retroactively capturing audio that was new, either: at the time Mike and Matthew were getting started with Kapture 4 years ago, wearables were “just starting to be a thing.” So before they could introduce their new hardware to the market, they needed proof that customers would actually want a product like that.
For that, they adopted a strategy that had worked out for another young wearables startup called Pebble earlier that year. They launched a Kickstarter campaign.
Mike and Matthew set their Kickstarter goal high – some people might say dangerously high. The decision was very much intentional. “We didn’t want to dive off the deep end into something if we couldn’t get that level of support at proof of concept,” Mike explains.
If they could convince $150,000 worth of Kickstarter backers to buy the product before it even existed, they figured, that would be substantial enough proof that they were onto something, that they should keep going.
All of a sudden, you’ve just accelerated a lot of things… It puts you on an accelerated timeline, where you have to deliver this product – and we did deliver it.
Since Kapture did it four years ago, the idea of “crowdfunding campaign as validation” has become something of an undisputed truth of the startup world – and a required pitstop on the path to market, especially for hardware startups.
But, like so many aspects of the startup journey, validating your product through crowdfunding is complicated – a fact that the Kapture team discovered firsthand once they had $163,000 worth of pre-orders from over 1,200 backers – now customers of Kapture.
“All of a sudden, you’ve just accelerated a lot of things,” Mike explains. “That’s a lot of orders for your hardware – hardware that was still in prototype, software that was still in prototype on the app side. And you’ve got these backers, they’re customers, and they’re expecting to see this product they’ve bought in, like, a couple of months.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on your company – at a time when pressure is not necessarily what’s best for your product.
“It puts you on this accelerated timeline, where you have to deliver this product – and we did deliver it,” Mike remembers. “But while we were doing that, the whole world changed.”
How did the world change, exactly? While Mike and Matthew were heads down getting the first units of Kapture into the hands of their Kickstarter backers, a new product hit the market and promptly turned every assumption about the wearable tech space completely upside-down.
A little product you might have heard of called the Apple Watch.
When Mike and Matthew started developing Kapture, the idea that you could wear a device on your wrist that would allow you to capture and record audio without putting too much strain on your smartphone was pretty new. Pebble had just Kickstarted, Fitbit was starting to be a thing, but barely. The idea of wearables was sort of in the air, but there was no 900-pound gorilla in the space – no single wearable product that everyone everywhere was adopting.
Apple jumped everybody in terms of the ability to make something amazing that can be mainstream.
But when Apple Watch hit the scene, Mike says, it changed everything – and not just for Kapture. “Apple jumped everybody in terms of the ability to make something amazing that can be mainstream,” Mike explains.
Once again, Mike and Matthew found themselves on an expedited timeline with regard to how they were developing their product. “We altered the timing and the plans of how we execute success of the platform vs. success of the physical wearable product that’s associated with it,” Mike explains.
In light of Apple Watch, he says, the decision just made sense. When the single biggest hardware company in the world moves into your neighborhood and buys up all the real estate to build a strip mall, it’s maybe not the best idea to commit to a 30-year mortgage on your concept. “Do you spend your time thinking about version 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 of the physical hardware? No. You don’t think about that; you stop at some point where you think it makes sense to not continue to invest in hardware.”
The good news is that all of this was, in a weird way, part of Kapture’s plan. “Hardware was never a long-term focus for us – it was a means to an end,” Mike says. “It was always going to evolve, and now it’s just evolving faster.”
Today, Mike and Matthew are still hard at work on Kapture, doubling down on the core value proposition that they believe makes Kapture special.
“With 4 years under our belts, we know the innovation path – now we are starting a rapid stage of implementation,” says Mike.
Phase 1 of that double-down: getting the Kapture app into the hands of as many users as possible. The free Kapture app is available for iOS and Android now, giving users the ability to buffer 60 seconds of audio directly on their phones.
It was always going to evolve, and now it’s just evolving faster.
Through all of the twists and turns that Kapture has taken as a product and as a company, the core of the mission has always remained the same: the ability to capture and save those tiny moments of audio that are truly worth remembering.
As for where users capture it? Who knows? It could be on their phone, their computer, even, yes, their Apple Watch. Or, Mike points out, it could be something else – something the market has barely even begun to think about.
“There’s a lot of other applications that we’re going after so that the long term like – crazy, like Musk-going-to-Mars” kind of visionary things, where it could be implanted in everyone’s ears so as you’re hearing it you don’t have to have anything else special – you’re just able to save it.”
Whenever that visionary technology hits the scene, Mike and Matthew will be ready for it. That’s what being a Founder is all about – taking the new information that comes your way and being ready to run with it.
Word nerd, idea enthusiast, and startup storyteller able to leap tall word counts in a single bound. Brought to you by coffee.