If you are confused about the Internet of Things, watch this episode. Seriously.
Rafi Haladjian has been doing this whole IoT thing for many many years and his views on it are some of the most unique and prescient that I’ve come across. He is the founder and CEO of a company called Sense, inventors of Mother – a combination of devices, the cloud and dashboards to collect and make sense of the resulting data. The outcome of all of this will be a legion of smart services and apps as a result.
The current thinking around the Internet of Things (IoT) is to load up every single thing we wear, carry, drive, eat, watch and stand on with sensors. Those sensors feed back up into the cloud where data is collected and made big. This is a simple, rudimentary, bloated and wasteful process. That’s where Sense comes in. The idea that we need sensors everywhere and in everything is not the guiding principle for this company or their founders. Instead, the platform of sensors they are building will become transient – use them for a while, move them when you are done while building an ecosystem of smart apps for each purpose.
A lot of thought has gone into the creation of this platform over the last 11 years and Rafi’s approach has had the most profound impact on my thinking about this world we are entering.
Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
Rob: Hello everybody. Welcome to untether.tv. I’m your host and founder, Rob Woodbridge. There is a craze going on right now. I think it’s more than a craze, it is an epidemic. It is something that I am looking forward to and have been looking forward to for a couple of years now is this epidemic of beacons, nodes, sensors, and things that attach to things that give you readings, analytics, and data. Maybe a month or so ago, we covered a great little company called Sense on ‘This Week in Location-Based Marketing’. I tracked down Rafi, who is the founder and CEO of Sense. They’re the makers of Mother, which is a very, very, very cool set of products, and suite of analytics and dashboards that we’re going to get into.
Rafi is located in Paris. He says he’s spending a lot of time traveling between Paris and China, where he’s having his product manufactured. He’s been doing this for 4 years or longer. We’re going to find out what it is, why it’s so important, why him, why his company, some of the lessons that he’s learned, maybe some of the tools that he’s used. Certainly a little bit of forward thinking about what he’s going to be doing with this company. I’m going to bring in Rafi right now. Rafi, thank you. I’m glad we could connect, finally. This is great.
Rafi: Thanks for having me.
Rob: It’s my pleasure. Certainly, I’m a huge fan of this world that we are entering, obviously you are as well. We’re entering it as consumers, but you’ve been involved in this for so long. Why don’t you talk about what Sense is? We’ll talk a little bit about Mother, and then I want to get a sense of how you got here.
Rafi: Actually, I’m involved in what we call ‘the internet of things’ for 10 years now. I previously founded a company called Violet in 2003, with this idea that everything should be connected to the internet. Back then, we started by … we wanted to show that, really, everything could be connected. We started by connecting rabbits. The first thing we done back then was this thing called …
Rob: Real rabbits?
Rafi: [inaudible: 02:18] the first internet connector. The idea was if you can connect rabbits, then you really can connect everything. It was a statement as much as an actual product. It was cute and it was a cool way to introduce people to what life after PCs could be.
Sense is the following season of this quest to the internet of things. Things have matured a lot. When we were talking about connecting everyday objects to the internet back in 2003-2006, everybody thought that we were crazy. This was even before the iPhone, so it was really … people thought, ‘We have PCs, why do we need more than a PC?’ Since then, the thing seems more obvious. Lots of people are convinced that this is going to happen. Lots of products are coming out and things are accelerating. What we have done with Sense is to jump to the second level of that because we were there for IOT … what was for us it was IOT 1.1.
The idea behind Sense is ‘How does it scale? How do we make that possible on a large scale?’ It’s easy to make one device, and connect it to the web and then do another and then another, but this doesn’t change the world. If this thing called ‘the internet of things’ is going to be the next big thing, the third wave after we had the web in the 90s and then we had the mobile internet in 2000s or 2010s; if the internet of things is going to be the third big, big wave of the internet, it’s not a matter of having just 3 or 4 more gadgets in your life, because this doesn’t really make a change. It’s good for the few startups that are doing activity trackers, but this is not the game- changer. It means that people are going to have lots and lots of connected stuff, and lots of applications and users if these things. How do you get there? How do you make that possible? What are the key elements for letting that happen?
We didn’t want to take one random object and connect it; to have that one added to the catalog of connected objects. We really tried to think in depth about two things: First, how does it look from the user’s standpoint to live with plenty of connected stuff? What changes and what makes that possible? From the ecosystems standpoint, how do we make sure that there will be lots and lots of people creating new stuff related to objects which are not actual objects, but might be services or applications, you call it whatever you like, connected to objects? Lots of people, whatever their industry is, even of you sell hats, jeans, mineral water, or pet food have done websites, have done mobile apps. How are they going to play in this new area of connected devices? Are they going to turn into electronic companies? Is everybody going to be an electronic company?
If you business is in making jeans, what you want is selling more jeans, making your products better, or make your customers more happy. It’s not about making electronic devices that sit on the side of the devices … of your actual product. How do you imagine that this could be possible and you could have everybody, whatever business is, playing the game and benefiting from this revolution? Otherwise it’s not going to be a revolution. You will have 10, 20, 100 players that are doing new gadgets. Maybe this is going to save Best Buy, but it’s not going to change the world.
Rob: I don’t think anything can save Best Buy at this point, but you’re right. There is a … it seems like right now, this industry, the internet of things; it’s so broad and encompassing, and everybody throws everything into this pile called ‘the internet of things’. It is, it seems so diverse, but everybody seems to be chasing a wrist, your glasses, a necklace, your neck, or your shoe. This is obviously in the first stage. You’ve been doing this for 10 years, working with the connected devices. How far along are we in our thinking around the internet of things? Do we really understand what it is and what it should be or are we still in the commercial viability trying to figure out what it is?
Rafi: I think you have both. You have some part of naive thinking and other people who are taking this as an opportunity. If you are opportunistic, there are probably lots of devices you can make and sell them today, and don’t care about what ‘internet of things’ is going to be, since people are wanting to buy activity trackers and cool gadgets that just do a few tricks. Sure, it’s more ‘the internet of Christmas presents’ that ‘the internet of things.’
Rob: It’s true. I’m going to use that. That’s going to be the title, ‘The Internet of Christmas Presents’. When you think about it, what differentiates what you guys are doing from the folks that are putting things on wrists?
Rafi: First, because we don’t believe that you need to have one device for one function, and this thing doesn’t scale. If you … we take back the process, the thinking process we went through to get it to what we are doing. The idea was ‘What changes if we want people to have 50 or 100 devices at home?’ The first thing was ‘Do we believe that people are going to buy 50 to 100 devices at $100 and $200 a pop for every need they have: One for their dog, one for every window, one for everything? Are there as many needs in our daily lives that are worth a dedicated object?’ We thought that, no. The model that suited best, this paradigm that suited best this things was the mobile app paradigm where you download an application and you use it for a couple of hours, a couple of minutes or a lifetime and it serves a need. It might be very short or it might be just a ridiculous need. Nobody cares because it cost a few nickels. You have it and you’re not supposed to have it. If you apply that to hardware, there are very few needs and pieces of hardware that deserve that.
Then on a practical standpoint, if you have 50 or 100 devices you will get the problem of the big, big bottleneck which is the motivation of users. When people had … the number of devices [inaudible: 10:33], you have a PC and an iPhone, and … I don’t know.
Rob: A tablet, a television.
Rafi: A game console or whatever and a tablet; devices are [inaudible: 10:43] so you are motivated to charge batteries everyday, which is something you cannot do if you have 50 or 100 devices. You cannot think of pushing a button on your device to synchronize data with the Cloud and you cannot do that 100 times. [inaudible: 11:05] even think of learning how devices work because you can do that with when you have a few devices with which you interact on a very regular basis. The more devices you have, the less you’re going to interact directly with the devices and you don’t have … you cannot even want to learn how they work. Even easy-to-use is not easy enough. You just need to ignore that completely and the human machine interface completely disappears, because the machine disappears because you just have normal behavior.
Things like programming devices cannot scale if you want if you need more things. When people program their garden-watering installation, we’ll say, “You need water the garden between 4:00 and 5:00.” You do it once and then your forget how you do it, and you never do it again. Imagine doing that with a lot of devices. These are our habits, this is what we want; you’re not … you’re never going to do that, or you’re going to do that once, and it’s going to change. Life, habits, and routines are going to change, and one day, it’s not going to be accurate, and you will let it go because you’re not motivated enough to change. Motivation is a very, very important key issue.
If you look at all the devices that are out there on the market, most of them rely on the fact that you are motivated enough to first charge the batteries every couple of weeks, if not less; that you are going to push a button or do something to synchronize it with your Bluetooth phone, that you are going to launch the app on your iPhone and do lots of things. They create new routines into your life just because you have the device. Introducing new routines in people’s lives is the hardest thing to do. You cannot … this is the real bottleneck. We can solve a lot of technical problems in life, by changing people’s routines on a long period of time is something you will not be able to do.
Finally from a marketing standpoint and if you want to measure things in people’s life, you don’t want to have the device standing in the way and altering what you are measuring. Are you measuring the routine the device had created or are you sure you’re just getting the full picture that is unaltered by what you are taking? There’s a difference between making a selfie and having a camera taking a picture of you whenever you’re not …
Rob: Expecting it.
Rafi: … you’re not expecting it. If you want to have accurate data, that data must be measured in long periods of time with significant and non- significant moments in your life so that you can know what is normal and what is not normal. You don’t need to have peaks and lows, and nothing in the middle. All these are the facts we thought about by making what we are doing. I don’t know if we have solved all the problems, but we got as close as we could.
Rob: One of the sentences that struck me when I went through your website, obviously, was this ‘Blend into user’s lives without requiring any attention’, and I think that’s what you’ve just described, which is … I love the way that you’ve done that, which is you take the good and the bad. You don’t only just showcase the good or the … when you strap on something on your wrist, 666you have the … does your behavior change? I think that’s a fascinating approach to this. I don’t look very good when I wake up in the morning; I don’t take selfies in the morning. It’s the same concept, but you got to balance it out.
How long did it take? You guys have been doing this for 4 years, in production for this suite of services and products. How much has this evolved over those 4 years as you’ve watched this industry flourish and go down a path that might not be the ultimate path but is a step toward something called ‘the internet of thing’? How have things changed?
Rafi: We have made lots of changes because the product had matured a lot since the beginning, and then we had lots of technical problems getting to where we wanted to get. We saw all the other products coming, and it showed also … some of them really reinforced us in what we were thinking. When you see a connected fork, you see ‘Why do you need a connected fork?’ This is my [inaudible: 16:16] connected fork. Not that it is useless; having a fork that teaches you to eat more slowly. It makes sense, but you need to buy a fork at … I don’t know what the actual price is. Is this something you need probably for a week or a couple of weeks, just to get used to eating more slowly? Maybe you will do the exercise a couple of times a year, but you don’t need to buy the hardware for that. It doesn’t go into a washing machine and you need to connect it by USB to your computer, and all things. Who is going to do that more than 2 times?
The more … when we started, there were really quite a few devices, nut now, there are, really, plenty of them. The more things went on, the more we were convinced that making versatile sensors that could adapt and where you don’t take for granted that people are going to need that is … this is what happened.
Rob: It’s interesting because I wear one of these; I’m a fit guy. I do … I subscribe very much to a very fit lifestyle: Good food, exercise, that stuff. This is not a stretch for me; to be able to wear it and commit to something like that. It’s interesting. I wonder now, because maybe I could only wear this for a week to draw attention to the fact that I should be doing more physical activity; more walking, change of behavior. I park further from the office and I walk further. I go up stairs instead of elevators. Maybe that does take a week to get into my head, and then I don’t need that anymore. That’s the fundamental theory behind what you guys are building, is that ‘When this is done and I don’t need it anymore; I’ve just spent $200, or whatever it cost, and I put it on a shelf never to be worn again. Maybe in another 6 months I put it on for another week for an adjustment.’ It’s useless while it sits there.
What Sense does is you take those sensors and you move it under the next thing that needs to be changed and the next things that need to be monitored. The example is you want to find out … I’ve seen this on your website. You want to find out how often your kids, and for how long your kids brush their teeth. You don’t need to know that every day of their entire life; you need to be able to make sure they’re doing it properly.
Rafi: The way we handled the teeth problem … we also didn’t want something where you’re pushing your children too hard. The idea was that you organize toothbrushing championships, so you turn that into a game. You play the game for a couple of weeks and everybody gets excited. Everybody in the family plays the toothbrushing game and it’s fun for a couple of weeks, and then you get to something else. Somebody else writes a new app for toothbrushes and it makes toothbrushing exciting again in a couple of weeks, and you play that game too. It doesn’t need to be one toothbrush with one program and one way of … and a model of education and a model of how you need to handle your children. You need to have one toothbrush and lots of people who offer lots of applications for toothbrushes, and you play with … the same way as you deal with your iPhone. You upload a game and you are completely addicted for 6 months, and then you move to something else. Other games are not as addictive; you play for a couple of days or hours.
It’s the surest way that we can get to the [inaudible: 20:23] of applications, which is the killer app. There is no way someone, no matter how smart, can sit and say, “Let’s find the killer app today.” You’re not going to find it. The only way is to do it by trial and error. This is how the web works, and this is how everything works since the beginning of humanity. If we need to do that, we need to make an open platform to try all sorts of applications. Some of them would be great ideas and maybe one over of a million would be the killer app for toothbrushes. You cannot do that by making a hardware for every … you cannot make a million hardware and put them in containers, on boats, and realize after 3 years that it wasn’t such a great idea and start it all over again. The cycles for hardware and software are not the same.
Rob: It’s so fascinating the way that you’ve approached this. Was this always your approach, which was …
Rob: It has been? From the get-go, you decided this is what you decided that you wanted to do?
Rob: That is so unique in this industry because everybody is now vying for a limb. You’re saying we don’t need an internet-connected fridge, what we need is a sensor on the fridge for a few days or a few months before it serves its purpose, and then it moves on to the cupboard, or something to that extent, which is basically …
Rafi: Who’s going to decide that toothbrushes or coffee machines deserve a sensor or deserve to be connected? If there are a couple of hundred people who think that they need to connect your nail clipper, they have the right of having a connected nail clipper. If someone writes an application for that, that’s good enough. You are not going to judge that this is a crucial problem, there are millions of people suffering for that and this is a serious problem so it deserves to have a dedicated device. In some cases, the problem is done in the opposite way. Since we know that you cannot sell a device for less than $200 because of distribution costs, margins, and stuff like that, you start making things worse than they are.
I just bought a Bluetooth toothbrush, and the website said ‘If you don’t brush your teeth, you’re going to get cancer.’ Their problem is not to brush your teeth; everybody knows that you need to brush your teeth. Their problem is ‘How can I convince you to pay $200 for things?’ Unless you get cancer, you’re not going to have paid $200? Expect everything to give cancer now, because everybody wants to pay $200 for their device. The internet of things is probably going to cure cancer.
Rob: $200 at a time, exactly. We’ll be decked out in full sensors. How did you … when you went out with this idea very early on, how were you shaping this without … this is coming from your head. Are you doing user testing? Are you playing around with this? What’s the feedback that you’re receiving from your theories here?
Rafi: Since we ace started to … at the beginning or since we have announced the product?
Rob: Since you’ve announced the product.
Rafi: It’s huge. It even awful, the reactions we are having for this. There are the naysayers who say … and they are right. It is actually easier to sell a hammer than a Swiss Army knife. Of course, we have these problems with Mother. When you sell a connected bathroom scale, it’s much easier to sell because everybody knows what it is, plus it does an extra feature which is a useful feature. This is a cool product and it’s an easy sell. From the marketing and from the business perspective, for the company that makes it, it’s a very good idea.
We have done something that is harder than what other one-trick-pony devices do from [inaudible: 25:08]. We believe this is true. This is the right … we wanted to do something we believed in.
Rob: Who are you selling it to? Are you selling it to average people? Are you selling it to developers? Are you selling as a way into … to test products for developers, to understand maybe that you do need an internet-connected nail clipper?
Rafi: For now, we are selling it to a lot of people who are pre-ordering on our website, but we don’t know who these guys are. Some of them are companies. We can tell from their names that they are companies or people who are willing to develop applications on it. Plus, we are receiving lots of email from people who are waiting for the API, and become partners and developers. Plus, we are meeting lots of companies and brands who want to make connected devices. For now, we are mainly focusing on, first, making the device. We need to make them done and go on the market, and let everybody have one. Then we’re going to open the API to let more and more developers come in.
Our main problem being not that we don’t want developers to come in, which was the idea from Day 1. We have developed all the ideas and everything from Day 1, and we are using them as if we were a third- party to test that everything works okay. Our problem is that we are a small company and we want to have a look on the quality of products or apps that are available, at least in the first period. We are going to open up little by little to make sure that people who are using the API are doing good stuff, and then that we are getting quality apps for a device. Then the more and more you get, probably the ratio of good and bad gets a bit worst, but it takes a lot of resources to check for the quality of everything that is done.
Rob: What were some of the … I like that approach, which is to make sure that you’re using it yourselves and building with it so that you can learn the lessons that you need in order to be able to hand these off to the developers. I think that’s a very good approach. You’re building a platform, ultimately, of connected nodes. I love that idea, and I know that my listeners and viewers love that idea. What were some of the technical challenges that you’ve been having or that you’ve had over the years to be able to get this to market? You said that you went down a path that wouldn’t work. Was it a matter of the fact that you had to wait for the technology to arrive to you for what you wanted to do or did you just expect too much?
Rafi: The first thing was that you generally expect the existing technology is going to solve your problems, so you lose time trying everything that exists. One of the main things that were important for us was the battery issue. The basic non-negotiable feature of the device was it has to be as much as possible blended in people’s lives. We want a long battery life and we want it to be able to make guesswork about what the user is saying; so asking the user to push a button at certain periods to say, “Now I’m going to bed. Now I’m waking up. Now I’m doing this,” are not issues. The real thing was ‘How can I make a device that blends in people’s lives for long enough periods of time so that you are sure that you’re going to gather so much data in the first period that you’re going to have them interested’?
The problem is that when you have few data, it’s not really meaningful and people doesn’t have any incentive to keep on doing this. You need to lower the threshold of motivation so that you can have lots of data, and then people see the value of what you’re doing. Starting from there, we started to look at every available technology, mainly networking technologies from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, and [inaudible: 30:07]; these are all the things we have considered. None of them did the job. The first two were not energy-efficient, so this was an easy choice. Things like Zigbee and Z-Wave were made to really work on sensors who last for years and more, had the problem of not being chatty enough and of being, really, too tight. There’s nothing made for describing how somebody brushes his teeth. This is not described in the profiles in ZigBee.
The second thing; these protocols are made for devices that do very little talking. They send just binary information saying door open or not, “It’s 75 degrees,” and very limited devices. Whereas when someone takes his medicine, you need to send lots of data to make sure that the shape of the movement can be analyzed and to tell that it is actually someone taking medicine and not just moving the pillbox on the kitchen counter. We were much more verbose than what the protocols were made for. Then we went for [inaudible: 31:44] found that IPv6 was cool. We worked 2 years; we actually made the first version of all the devices, in [inaudible: 31:56], and then we realized that the devices made in [inaudible: 31:59] just cost us three 3 the price of the … if you do something in another way. How can you justify people to say, “I’m measuring the temperature in your kitchen, but it costs just 3 times more than somebody else because it’s made in IPv6.” We decided what is absolutely non-kosher, that, “Let’s make our own protocol that will tell exactly what we wanted, when we want it, that is energy- efficient, that is chatty enough, and that does exactly what we want to do.” This is what we have done.
Rob: I got to ask … that process is amazing. I think that that’s what … that’s a sequence that many entrepreneurs go through, and then they stop short of deciding that they’re going to do their own thing. This could never have … you could’ve … I’m sure you could have constructed a product that would’ve done 60% of what you had hoped it would do in an efficient way, maybe a cost-effective, a battery- efficient, or a data-efficient way. I think, maybe I’m speculating here; do you think that there’s a challenge here where there’s a whole set of entrepreneurs that are out there that are building minimum viable products to that extent, where it’s, like, “We’re 60% there and that’s good enough,” as opposed to what you guys did? You got to 60% there, and then you said, “That’s not good enough.” Is that the difference between creating a revolutionary platform or creating one that is just going to satisfy a user for a little while and die off? You explained that game that you play for a couple of days and it gets boring.
Rafi: It depends what’s there in the remaining 40%. If in that 40% there is your key belief, which is, ‘We don’t want to change people’s routines. We don’t want to have people change their routine to work with Bluetooth, but we want Bluetooth to work for people’s routines,’ and this was the main belief, and maybe you have done 80% of the work but you have not sold this one, then you’re not there yet.
Rob: Is there where you started with that belief, and then you worked backwards from there?
Rafi: Yeah. The idea was we don’t want to connect objects, we want to connect people’s lives. This is not about connecting objects, objects need to disappear. We want people just brushing teeth, putting pajamas, and going to bed, walking the streets, and doing the normal thing. What we wanted to … we don’t believe in ‘Minority Report’- like things where the future is seen as people doing all sorts of new tricks to keep on talking to machines. The real sense of history is that at some point we stop talking to machines. There was a time where talking to machines was very complicated, so people … only a few people were able to talk to machines; this was the first days of computing. Then we found the common ground with GUIs and stuff, where they got metaphors. We were on common ground and we started talking. Now we needed to move forward and let them understand us, and we don’t need to talk to machines.
Rob: Is that why you called it Mother? Is that because it’s all-seeing, all-knowing; it knows what you’re up to before you even know that it knows what you’re up to?
Rafi: There are plenty of reasons why we called it Mother. One of the reasons was that the first thing we had made 10 years ago was called Nabaztag, which means ‘rabbit’ in Armenian. Everybody was asking, “Why a name in Armenian? Who speaks Armenian anyway?” I do, that’s my mother tongue, so I do.
Rob: Enough said, right?
Rafi: I decided this is going to be a word in English and a word everybody knows, and I think everybody has one. Everybody has a mother, or have had a mother. It needed to be very obvious. Then we had this problem I was talking about earlier, which is the Swiss knife and marketing problem. The problem when you make a device that does several things is that it is hard to explain. When you do a bathroom scale, it’s called a bathroom scale. If you make a thermostat, it’s called a thermostat. How do you call the thing that does lots of things? You need a metaphor to describe all sorts of things, some unifying metaphor.
The mother metaphor was very well-suited for two things: It was the mother of all things, and the figure of the actual mom that is a non- specialized person. She’s not the security guard of your home, she’s not your nurse, she’s not your gardener, but she’s all of these at the same time. You are in the middle. In this idealized mother, I don’t know if people really have these kinds of mothers. In the idealized figure of mother, she takes care of everything in your life because you are the center of her world. Anything you need, she will do. If your needs change, she will adapt to that. This was the better metaphor to explain what we wanted to do, which is something … things that you care about that can change from one day to the other. It’s not because you care for your house that you don’t care for your health. Never believe this desegmentation you have in devices where you have home automation stuff on one side, and you have fitness; like people who care about their fitness don’t have a home, and people who have a home don’t care about their fitness. You are in the center. We put the user in the middle, and every marketing firm says that. Really, you have needs very mundane or critical, and you choose what it is. This is the role of a mom to take care of that.
Rob: Rafi, that sounds exactly like my mom was, and I’m sure it sounds like everybody’s mother out there. It absolutely … it is that perception. The name resonated with me obviously. I think it’s a very interesting approach to what you’re doing with the product. How do you see this … I don’t even know how to ask this because it’s so broad. How does Mother evolve? What is success for you guys? Is it a million sensors? Is it really close, invisible human-to-computer interactions? What does the future look for you guys? What do you hope happens?
Rafi: I can tell you about our roadmap, which is making Mother and more sensors that adapt in all areas, that need all to be versatile, and to have an ecosystem of people developing things in people’s lives. We want there to be lots and lots of apps. We are in the hardware business, but this is meant to let people have lots of apps because this is going to change people’s lives. This is what is going to make your daily life more fun because you have a new app when you do your new daily task, and things are easier, more nicer, more serene, or everything. This is all a matter of getting more apps, then you choose and you change them. At some stage, we hope we’ll do nothing more than do sensors. This is the idea.
Rob: How do you convince developers to choose your platform?
Rafi: We don’t have to convince developers. We have too many …
Rob: You do?
Rafi: … requests everywhere from developers, so we don’t need to convince anybody. Since we’ve announced the product at CS, we are actually overwhelmed by everything, by distributors, by developers, by everybody who wants to become our friend. We are completely overwhelmed by everything. This is why we have a priority list. The focus is make the product, get the product out, and then move to the next stages.
Rob: You’ve been validated?
Rob: Beyond what you expected, or did you expect this reaction from the community?
Rafi: Beyond my expectations. There were a few reactions I still didn’t understood, mainly from Americans.
Rob: I’m Canadian, just so you know. It’s OK to talk about Americans.
Rafi: We had a lot of people in certain blogs and stuff who found that the fact we made a Mother was creepy, who found the name or the form creepy, which nobody else in the world is finding.
Rob: It’s nurturing.
Rafi: Japanese like it and Germans like it. Not talking for Frenchman, because this is biased because we are in France. If you take Japanese and Germans, they don’t have a problem with the product being called Mother. We only have this problem with young, male Americans.
Rob: [inaudible: 42:33] I wonder why that is. That’s a whole other show, isn’t it, to decipher the Mother issues, the mama issues of American young males? What about … my last … I want to leave on a different question here. What books have you read or have you gone through that have influenced your thinking. Are there any titles or any things that you can pass on that encapsulate your approach to this?
Rafi: I cannot talk about one single book because the way I read is very special. I buy lots and lots of books. I have about 200 books that I’m reading right now. The way I read books is that I take books sequence. I read 30 minutes of every book. The idea is to mix the ideas all together and not to be trapped into one thing so you have all sorts of things. These are not novels, action heroes, non-fiction. We have been quite influenced by people like Karen Kelly very much for a long, long time; this guy has changed my life. Danielle [inaudible: 43:50], Stephen Pinker. They’re not directly related to technology.
Rob: I wouldn’t get the sense talking to you, Rafi, that this is a technology-led research project. This is much more, as you said. The reason I asked that question is fascinating to think what you’re approach is so different from what I see in the industry, in North America predominantly and bits and pieces of Europe. I’m just looking to try to find out where that comes from, and you’ve just described it. You’re taking samples from everything you possibly can, and bringing it in and formulating your own ideas based on what you’re intake. There’s heavily-influenced and then there’s also charting a path. I think that what you’re doing is charting a path.
Rafi: There’s this question everybody asks: What problem are you trying to solve? Generally, did they expect you to solve just one small problem? We’re trying to solve the problem of the internet of things.
Rob: Just a small problem. I love it. You’ll notice I didn’t ask that, because I don’t think it fits in here. You’re solving a problem that isn’t a problem to be solved at this point. I think what you’re doing is you’re trying to … it’s why it’s fascinating. You’re trying to solve a thousand problems, but you’re trying to do it without intervention, without me having to do anything. You’re trying to solve problems that way by just putting sensors on things that you think are … that I think are necessary to put sensors on for a little bit of time, and then moving on, which I think is a fascinating approach.
Rafi: Thank you. Just a little bit of background that explains this approach. This is not my first company. Back in the 90s, I founded the very first internet company here in France and it was quite comparable to what we’re doing here. I was here at the very, very early days of the web when there were a handful of websites, and I saw how things emerged; how you have nothing and what makes it possible to have this huge development of everybody getting into the game and playing things. Things were not turning the same way in this internet of things thing. I tried also to recreate the same openness and capacity to multiply that we found on the web in the 90s that made the web what it was and what it became. This is it.
Rob: It’s a great approach. You’ve got me convinced. I can’t wait to get my hands on what it is that you’re building. Out of everybody that I’ve talked to, it seems like everybody’s in a silo, so everybody is in here; on your wrist, on your face, on your wrist, around your neck, as I said. What you’re trying to do is liberate that, and I think that it’s fascinating, very, very, very fascinating.
Rafi: It puts everybody in the same … I think that everybody is working on wearables, watches and glasses, are in a different category and they are really quite useful to what we are doing. What we’re doing is a world where lots of things are being sensed, and you have real-time knowledge or awareness of what the world you’re immersed in is … what’s going on in your work. The ways of having information right now on computers or screens that you look at from time to time is not adapted to a real-time acceleration of real-time data. You also need on the other side the output devices for these things. I see, really, glasses and watches or whatever [inaudible: 47:59] just enablers of the whole thing.
Rob: I cannot wait to see this. I knew it would be good. I’m so fascinated by what you guys are doing. Where should we send people for more information, to add to the line of developers?
Rafi: Everything is on SenseMother.com.
Rafi: All attached, SenseMother.com. If they want to have more information about the company, Sense is sen.se.
Rob: Perfect. SenseMother.com or sen.se. Rafi, thank you for doing this. I really appreciate your candor. I’m glad we can connect. I know it’s late in Paris. I appreciate you coming on do tether.tv and telling us a little more about what you guys are up to.
Rafi: Thank you very much for having me.
Rob: We’ve been speaking with Rafi, who’s the founder and CEO of a company called Sense. They are the creators of Mother. Go to sense, sen.se, for more information. Thank you guys who are still here listening, watching, whatever you are doing wherever you are. I know you found some value in this. If you did, please, please reach out to Rob at unether.tv. Let me know what you thought, as well. Of course, you can just hit up on tether.tv anytime for more episodes like this. Rafi, thank you for doing this. I appreciate your time.
Rafi: Thank you.
Life soon took a turn. While studying semiotics, rafi accidentally stumbled upon the world of telecom networks, devices connected to them and their potential uses, and he has never turned back. He was involved in the fascinating adventure of the Minitel (French precursor of the Web) from its inception in the 1980s. In 1994, he founded FranceNet, the very first French Internet company, which he sold to British Telecom in 2003 to start working on the post-‐web world. He created Ozone, a pervasive wireless network operator that covered 65% of Paris thanks to Wi-‐Fi antennas placed on roofs and based on a viral community model. He also founded Violet, a pioneer in the Internet of Things, which won global acclaim with its iconic product -‐ Nabaztag, the smart rabbit. All in all rafi has founded more than 15 companies.
rafi is the author of a short essay: “How Word, Excel and PowerPoint can Make you Handsome, Rich and Intelligent”. He is keen to point out that rafi is spelled with a lowercase r, because it is an Armenian name.