Feb. 27, Waterloo, ON – Mike Kirkup, Director at VeloCity interviews Stephen Lake, CEO & Founder of Thalmic Labs
Where did the idea for Thalmic Labs come from in the first place?
It came from myself and the two other co-founders, we spent some time working on wearable computing during our undergrad at the University of Waterloo and realized this was a super-exciting area and its going to be a lot of growth in the next couple of years. The typical, sitting in a pub nearby, talking about some technologies we’ve worked on in different areas and we realized that we could combine a few different things that we’ve worked on and one of them being this electrical muscle work that’s been done and actually recognizing all of the movements that you’re making with your hand based on the muscle activity in your arm, so we spent some time testing and making prototypes realized that we could actually do it and it’s been uphill from there.
When did you guys feel like it was tangible, that it was legit?
I’d say right in the first month that we started working on it, we built a really, really crude prototype and it was literally wires hanging off of our arms, with things taped on and us going to a circuit board built off it and all that, but it let us recognize really basic movements of forwards and backwards and by two months in we could run a power point presentation by doing that (Stephen swipes his hand) still with all the wires and that and we were like, wow this is really cool it actually works and we’ve gone from there.
So last year you won VeloCity Venture Fund and you won a $25,000 grant what did that enable you guys to be able to do next?
That was big for us, we spent the first six months or so, eight months as a company funded out of pocket with a credit card debt and just the three of us borrowing money from our parents and stuff like that, so having some internal funding for us early on was a big help. It let us purchase some equipment that we needed and built some prototypes and really speeded up that process.
What led to your decision to call the product the MYO?
MYO comes from the Greek word “mys,” which means muscle, and “Myo-” a prefix used in biology to denote muscle, so electromyography or EMG’s what they use in kinesiology labs for what they look at for muscle activation patterns on athletes and things like that. So MYO is a play off of that as it’s about muscle activity so we thought it was fitting.
When you went through the process what made you decide to launch now and go the pre-order route instead of the traditional route of spending months and months actually building and then trying to sell?
We wanted to engage developers early on in the process and so we had the prototypes working out nicely and we decided that timing was right and so we decided to unleash it and it’s been awesome and we’ve had literally this morning probably 500 people with different cool and crazy idea’s of how they want to use the MYO to reach out and that’s really going to help us to shape the final product that we ship later this year based on that feedback from the developers and what software to build into and what they do with it also.
So the feedback now that the pre-order page is up has been really positive?
The feedback now that the pre-order page is up people can see what the device can do, they all new idea’s of things we haven’t even thought of, how they might use the product. It’s really cool to talk to people and make sure that we’re building the product with the right software tools and that we’re enabling developers to build the kind of things that they want to do.
Are you guys talking about what you’ve done in sales so far?
I’m sure you guys have seen it on twitter, there’s been lots of posts of on the #getMYO, I’m next in line so we’re doing very well, we’re around 10,000 separate orders for the MYO in the first couple of days. That translates to about $1,500,000 in sales.
You guys are down at YCombinator right now, how’s that affecting your trajectory and the kind of things you’ve learned through that experience?
The YCombinator’s been great, and they help to put a lot of pressure on us to move quickly and it’s given us a network of really experienced, smart people in the Valley that have built massive, massive companies and I think that exposure to people that have built the Google’s and the Apple’s of the world that’s been something that’s really shaped our vision from this as a company to become something much bigger than a product and I think we can really change the world here.
So there’s a lot of pressure when you’re down in the valley to stay, are you guys planning on coming back or are you staying there?
We have an offer on a new building down the road here from the VeloCity Garage in Kitchener, Ontario, so we’ll be here.
So we sit inside the Communitech Hub and Communitech is known as a great organization here in town. How have they helped you guys in this process as well?
VeloCity and Communitech have both been great for us. We have EIR’s (Entrepreneurs in Residence) that are at Communitech that helped us early on and shaped the direction that we were going and had great resources and of course Communitech has a lot of sway as well in the broader environment of starting a business in Ontario, whether it’s helping with government issues, technical or people or resources and stuff like that. So between VeloCity and Communitech it’s been a huge help to us as a company.