An electrical engineer, industrial designer and product manager have created a wireless controller they believe will revolutionise the way design professionals, video editors, musicians and engineers work. Flow, the first product from user interface startup Senic, is a sleek and circular device that can be controlled using a ring, capacitive touch sensors and hand gestures. The team envisions creatives using it to develop a freer, more intuitive method of working, and everyone else using it to control their connected home appliances.
“It makes the workflow of creative professionals fast and pixel precise,” explains cofounder Tobias Eichenwald. “For smart homeowners, it’s the fastest, most non-intrusive and fun way to control your connected devices like Sonos or Philips Hue.” Flow is compatible with 30 programs, including Photoshop and Spotify, and the product was extremely well received on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo when it launched a campaign in November 2014, raising $200,000 (£132,000) more than its $50,000 (£33,000) goal.
Founders: Philip Michaelides, Tobias Eichenwald and Felix Christmann
Staff: Four plus freelancers
Funding: Y Combinator funding in 2013 followed by an Indiegogo campaign. A seed round is ongoing
What problem do you solve?
In creative work, you need to be fast and you need to be good at what you’re doing. That’s not what the current workflow is like. Browsing through menus for options and dragging fake sliders does not give you the speed and precision that you need. You need a tool that disappears into the background so you can focus on the task at hand.
Equally, smart homeowners stop using their smart devices because of the smartphone. Nobody wants to wait in the hallway for ten seconds to browse through apps just to turn on a light. At home, you need a non-intrusive, fast and natural control. Flow solves that problem.
How do you plan to make money?
We sell the hardware, and (expect) API calls in the future.
Who do you view as your competitors?
We have two main competitors — Griffin Powermate, which is limited in its functionality and precision (the ring only has 24 precision points) and Leap Motion, which is overkill. It uses similar technology but we don’t need full finger recognition. We just need simple controls like “next” or “previous”. Also, Leap is tiring since your hand has to constantly be present over it.
Where did you get the idea for the business?
It grew out of our own frustration with using digital tools and controlling our smart devices. Felix, our industrial designer, was part of a scholarship program where his job was to build new kinds of user interfaces that bridge the gap between the digital and physical world.
How would you sum up your company ethos?
Our goal is to blend technology into the background so people can focus on the task at hand or the people in front of them. We do that by focusing on high tech, human-centric design; quality products; our customers; and by creating a strong team bond.
What’s the biggest misconception about your business?
A lot of people think we’re a controller or button company. We’re a smart surface company. Philip, our CTO is one of the experts in nanotechnology and has worked on quantum computing on an atomic level. We integrate smart surface technology in objects like Flow and surfaces like walls and tables.
What pushed you to stop talking about launching a startup to actually doing it?
We all worked for large companies like Audi and Merck before. We all had good job offers but were frustrated by the limitations in the hierarchies. All of our families are entrepreneurs and we saw problems that we could not not solve.
What has been the most challenging time for the company?
We focused on a different product before and had to make a pivot for a number of reasons. Making such a step is very challenging. In hindsight, we’re very happy about the decision and can’t wait for the next few months to come.
How did you overcome that?
We focused on what we believe in and what we’re good at. We have a very strong bond within our team and have learned what it takes to make something people want. We experimented with many different variations of Flow until we decided on the current version.
Do you have any advice for dealing with potential investors?
Yes, the best way to get investors is to build a product that solves a problem. Show that there is a need for your product, be it through an industry expert, early customers or a crowd funding campaign.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
YC’s motto is “Make something people want”. This simple sentence holds a magnitude of deeper truths. I’ve been working on ingraining this motto into our DNA.
Which business person do you most admire and why?
Hosain Rahman, CEO of Jawbone. He has fought through an incredible amount of hardships and never gave up. He believed in himself and what he was trying to achieve and succeeded.
What is your biggest barrier to future success?
We need to break 50 years of underlying assumptions of what a user interface is. We need to show people that there is a brave new world out there on how to interact with technology.
Where do you see your company in ten years?
We see our products integrated in most buildings in the world, in a way that you don’t see or notice them. We want to build a company that leads by example when it comes to design and new forms of manufacturing. We want to have the feeling that we at least partially changed the way people interact with technology.
What are your predictions for the future of this technology in that timeframe?
If you look at some of the breakthroughs in fields like batteries or nanotechnology and how fast these changes are happening I’m confident that we will be able to ship products within 10 years that we couldn’t possibly think of today.
What sectors will your tech disrupt?
We’re starting with tools for creative people, will move over to smart homes and want to become a technology provider for smart surfaces in your home but also public and commercial spaces.
What are your predictions for this year in tech?
This year is the year of the internet of things. Everyone is ready for it. Media, customers, manufacturers, technology. We will build the interface for it.
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