Stephen Lake is founder of Thalmic Labs, which makes the MYO wristband that allows gesture control of other devices.
Credit: Stephen Lake | Thalmic Labs
If you haven’t already heard about wearable technology, it won't be long before you do. Devices like Google Glass and Jawbone are already nearly household names, but soon, a new gesture control armband, called MYO, will be in the ranks of recognizable wearable tech brands.
Stephen Lake founded Thalmic Labs, the maker of MYO, in 2012 along with University of Waterloo (Canada) classmates Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant. The company's MYO wristband is seeking to change the way wearable technology affects daily life by allowing users to control other digital technologies using gestures. The company has already sold 30,000 MYO armbands despite the fact that the product is not scheduled to be released until the fall or early 2014.
"The real motivation behind starting Thalmic Labs was applying what we learned in the mechatronics engineering program to something that could change the face of computing," said Lake, who was named one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20 and one of The Next 36 entrepreneurial leaders of Canada in 2011. "All three of us love tackling challenges problems with big impacts, and this was a chance to do it."
Lake talked with BusinessNewsDaily about the challenges of building a completely new technology and a business around that technology.
BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Stephen Lake: I've been building things from a very young age and knew I would go into engineering. My kindergarten report card said I was a budding engineer in the comments section. I think it was because I would take apart and rebuild toys, and possibly parts of the classroom. It went from LEGO when I was a kid, to building go-carts in my parents' garage, to building robots from old electronics. I love to get my hands dirty and dig in on a project. MYO is the latest addition to years and years of building cool things.
BND: What did your parents do for a living?
SL: My mom has been a self-employed photographer for over 20 years. Not surprisingly, I have quite a few pictures of myself from when I was growing up. My dad sells photographic equipment, and recently also started his own business.
BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start?
SL: Thalmic Labs was established after two classmates, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant, and I came up with the idea behind MYO. We all believe that we are moving towards a new era of computers, where the lines between man and machine are becoming more blurred. Building on work in the area of wearable technology that Matthew and I had done previously, the idea for MYO was born out of a fundamental question: How do we connect the real and the digital worlds as we move towards wearable and ubiquitous computing?
BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?
SL: For me, the ability to create the vision for the company and make decisions that lead to the fulfillment of that vision are the best parts of starting my own company. Together with Matthew and Aaron, the three of us are leading the Thalmic Labs team to change the future of wearable technology. We also get to wake up every day and work on some of the coolest technology we can imagine, alongside an amazing team of people. There really isn't anything else we'd rather be doing.
BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?
SL: In a past venture, one of the biggest lessons for me was the importance of getting the right team in place before trying to go anywhere. Jim Collins hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "Start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats." Something that we've been very fortunate for at Thalmic is that we've been able to recruit amazing people to join our team.
BND: What was your main motivation in starting this business?
SL: With the advances that we're constantly seeing in the technology field, we know it's only a matter of time before the products that we're using today become obsolete. We want to connect the real and digital worlds in an effortless and natural way.
BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?
SL: Between the three founders, our collective experience in hardware, mechanical design, machine intelligence, pattern recognition, and software and firmware have helped us get to this point on the technology side. On the business and leadership side, we've had wide varieties of experiences working on and leading teams in areas from engineering to athletics. I think it's this wide spectrum of experience that helps now — we know enough about each area to at least know the right questions to ask and where to ask for help from those who know more.
BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it?
SL: We faced — and continue to face — all the same challenges entrepreneurs in technology companies face every day: developing the technology, funding development, finding a market fit, recruiting talent, and so on. Since we're a hardware company, there are a few extra challenges we have to deal with on both the engineering and business levels — supply chain, quality control, distribution, and financing all this. One big challenge we faced was a technical one— existing sensor technology that picks up muscle activity signals wasn't suitable for our application, so we spent over a year developing our own brand new sensor. The work has paid off: now we have a sensor that works in our demanding application, and we've generated valuable intellectual property and patents along the way.
BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?
SL: Go out and tackle a challenge that you're especially passionate about, and/or that you have some competitive advantage in solving. When the days and nights get long and things get tough, you'll need this passion to pull you through. Building a company in an area that solely seems "hot" or financially attractive, but one in which you have no specific experience or interest, is often a losing endeavor.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.