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Kyle: I would say if you identified that you're arrogant, you're stubborn, or you're

2019-03-14

Lazy, those are three things that are going to be very detrimental in the creative process and building a company with a team. I've seen a lot of teams fail. I've failed. There's, you will, like, deal with those things earlier on before going down that route and it will make the process a whole lot easier. It's okay if you are that way if you're willing to acknowledge and work through it and just be conscious of it. If you're not, if you're completely oblivious to it or you just don't care you're not going to get very far. Interviewer: Hi, Kyle. Kyle: Hi. Interviewer: How are you today Kyle: I am fantastic. Interviewer: Thanks for being here at Surf, doing this Nexcast. Appreciate it. Can you introduce yourself and give a background Kyle: My name is Kyle Kesterson. I have a small company called Freak'n Genius. It's a startup here in Seattle. We went through the Kinect Accelerator this past summer. We've made it so that active animation is fun and it's widely accessible to everybody. It's been a wild ride. I've been a startup community junkie, I guess, through the past two and a half years or so. I was introduced to it through Startup Weekend. Quickly got sucked into TechStars. Wild process being a part of the startup community for the past few years and then started Freak'n Genius. Now we're on the wild ride. Well, I mean, it was definitely helpful with us trying to build a business in and around with Kinect and understanding what is possible and what we should and shouldn't be doing. Super helpful. Got to meet a lot of really smart people in and around Microsoft that I wouldn't have met otherwise. Different than a normal TechStars class in that the gear and focus, it's more focused and less broad with what technology can come into the program. You get a lot of like-minded people. People that can, like, help you solve each others' problems pretty quickly. Interviewer: Yeah, that's great. Do you have any relationships from going through that program Kyle: Sure, yeah. I mean, we keep up to date with teams from within Microsoft. We have mentors that signed up to be actual, like, advisors that are on our board of advisory from that. Yeah, I think overall it was, the first part is always learning what you're trying to do and then how to pair yourself with the right kind of people that can be valuable and raw and kind of, like, insightful into what you're doing and not just fluff you because they want to be a part of this, like, mentorship thing. Interviewer: Oh, yeah. Kyle: Like a lot of, there's a lot of like fad and culture around accelerators nowadays that people will just want to, like, get in on. The quicker you can weed through that the better. Interviewer: What is the biggest lesson you learned from going through the program Kyle: Well, I kind of cheated. I went through the program TechStars in 2010. I had a little bit of a head start. This time I think it was not, I wouldn't define my success on how many meetings I was able to lock down like I was before. I mean, we easily took over 200 meetings. That's a lot of time wasted and burned, especially when you're not paired with the right people. Identifying the right kinds of people as early as you can to get in front of is going to just save an enormous amount of time and mental energy. Learning how to deal with mentor whiplash, getting a really smart person who's background is impressive mixed with just their overall insight sounding very logical. Hearing their inside perspective and then jumping into another meeting hearing the same stature, same level of, quality of input completely conflicting and then not knowing where to go. Learning how to develop a process around digesting that information, aligning with your team, and then just kind of searching within your gut what you think is the best decision to be heading towards. The better you can lock that down the more fluid the process is going to be. Interviewer: Okay. Are you tired of people saying or calling you a freaking genius, right, for doing this Kyle: Well, first I have to correct them and say well, I'm actually the freak of Freak'n Genius. The genie are over there coding. Freak'n Genius was actually named as a response that a user had early on in the technology that we put in front of them. They started moving around and the first thing that came out of their mouth was "this is freaking genius." We sat there like this is freaking genius. Like, this is cool, this is awesome. They said freaking genius. We kind of parsed it up into being Freak and Genius as more of a split personality. I don't mind. It's fun. It's really catchy. I've heard some pretty interesting stories about how it just can't get out of people's heads. Win. Interviewer: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the dynamics on the team and how you guys complement each other Kyle: Totally. I'm completely non-technical. Definitely come swimming from the creative juice pool. I have Dwayne Mercredi, he's a serial entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneur and complete full staff developer. I've been around a lot of really smart developers in the last two and a half years and I've never seen a guy write code like this. We'll be sitting having a conversation and he'll start to peel back and drift a little bit. I'm like oh, stay with me buddy. What he's doing, you know, like, he'll grab his little rubix cube and start going like this as he's working through this mental maze. By the time he finishes and it clicks he can just sit down and just code through it. Incredibly impressive. Something that I can't, I mean he tries to tell me about the technical hurdles that he's getting over and I just, like, I know what I see and I can feel and I can touch and experience. That in and of itself is enough. We also have Clayton Weller, he's a comedian but he's also, he was marketing for Theater and he does a lot of stuff in and around the comedy scene here in Seattle with Sketch Fest. Probably one of the funniest people I've ever met. To have somebody around with that kind of energy and fire and passion to sit and make cartoons every single day, you can't help but stop and just be present in that moment. It's a fun dynamic, as I've said. Interviewer: That's awesome. How did you get into technology What was that path like Kyle: At the time I was a toy developer. Creating beautiful plastic into the world. It was a lot of fun, it was really creative. When was this, March of 2010 the day I had left my job as a toy developer I got a call from a really good friend of mine saying hey, there's this thing called Startup Weekend coming to town. I think it's going to be awesome. It's all about building iPhone apps and using creativity and technology. At the time it sounded really geeky and it didn't sound like anything I would be interested in doing or collaborating with. I think I was, I was definitely in a different place. I gave every single reason and excuse as to why that wasn't going to work for me and why I wasn't going to go. I didn't go, I missed the first Friday night. Until I got a call from my friend and he's really excited. He basically just sold me on it. He would not allow me to say no. The next day he dragged me to Startup Weekend first thing in the morning. When I got to walk around the room as a creative person and hear all of these really bizarre ideas. Actually that's where I met for the first time. He was working on an iPad app like a week or two before the iPad came out. Then there was another developer that had pitched an idea called Raising Uncle Jessie. It was this quirky little John Stamos Tamagotchi and I was like that is the weirdest thing I've ever heard and I think I can caricature John Stamos as a baby. I saw a fit for where creativity worked with technology. I stopped intellectualizing what technology was and what geekiness was and working with technical developers was. And just kind of got into the flow of sharing thoughts and ideas. Then watching what would normally be just a static illustration that could be enjoyed and then moved on from became interactive and it was more relevant and there was a relationship that could form with my illustration and design. That only happened through working with a developer. From that incident I was totally hooked. From then it's been a mix of, like, how can I pull on the enormous amount of creative juice and weirdness that I know that I bring to the table, throw it out on the table and what can we do with it to give it life I think that's what the process has been like. Interviewer: What has been the biggest obstacle so far in building Freak'n Genius How'd you overcome it and what can we learn from it Kyle: Well, we're doing stuff with the Kinect. Kinect is a little bleeding edge at the moment in terms of taking away from it being a gaming device. We're faced with challenges of having, being part of an early market. It's definitely bleeding edge technology and it's something that when you really start to wrap your head around it can see, like, this is the future. Depth sensing information and the way that information is, like, mapped and articulated and put into application, it's going to be endless in terms of how and where we see these things embedded. For us, we're sitting in the driver's seat with only the future to look into. It's a little bit scary in that you're driving this massive ship, putting all your chips into this box not really knowing where it's going to go. But just having faith that you can be around long enough to, when it makes its way into the rest of society and becomes a ubiquitous piece of technology. When it is and if we're there, like, helping bring the technology to life I think it's going to be a really exciting time. The biggest challenge is knowing what steps to take in this massive void. It's getting enough people to see that vision that you see. To really wrap their heads around it. To then believe in it, want to support it, help open doors for it. But once that starts to happen and the momentum starts building and then there's excitement and there's energy. Then it starts to manifest itself and then other people start to see and touch and feel the experience because it's being developed. I think it's just a grass roots way of bringing technology to the everyday. Interviewer: Thinking about what you guys are doing with Kinect and just how interesting it is, do you think this was part of Microsoft's road map when they purchased Kinect Or do you think this is just kind of a response, or a pivot so to speak from hackers Kyle: I'm going to have to go with the latter. I'm going to have to say that just based on what I've seen, they picked up an interesting piece of technology and had a very narrow way of thinking about it originally. And very quickly saw that there, it wasn't as natural of a device as they were hoping that it would be. There's still a lot of control in and around touch and fine motor control that you're just not going to get with a low resolution camera. But they still started the conversation and they still put the device out there. It was enough to have other people that come from a completely different perspective say oh, well what else can you do with this And take the time and energy to hack it together. From that brute force of we're going to do what we want with this device you're either going to miss out on the opportunity to help enable us to then promote and build and help spread and share your technology. I think they've done a great job in accepting it, embracing it. The Kinect Accelerator, the APIs, like some of the things that are coming up on the horizon are a very good indicator that they believe that the vision of this technology expands far beyond the teams that they have at Microsoft thinking about it. Interviewer: It's kind of interesting that they've done that, right I mean, if it was, let's say Apple, and someone figured out a cool new way to do something with the iPhone hacked it would be shut down. I think, I mean, I have different feelings towards Microsoft in general. I'm a big Apple guy. Kyle: Me too. Interviewer: But just props to Microsoft for identifying this and saying hey, what can we do to make the world a better place with this product Kyle: Well and I think, like, I had my preconceived notions of what it was to work with people within Microsoft before doing the accelerator. One thing that I learned really quickly was the individuals, the people that make up the organization are incredibly smart. Incredibly keen, are really passionate and want to do things that are relevant and awesome. The downfall that I think they're all trying to break out of is they're all given these little bubbles. The bubbles in which they can move around and be as awesome as they want within it. But the second that they start stepping outside of it and having to think on behalf of the organization, that's when we kind of get this slow, you know, very, the thick red tape, the bureaucracy that lives within a large organization. There are some people who are doing a very good job that have formed enough leverage to make their bubbles a little bit bigger and have those bubbles connect to other people's bubbles. There are organizations within the organization that are helping, like, whip people around a little bit. And say look, you're going to miss out on this if you don't do it. If you don't do it then I don't want to be a part of it and I'm going to leave. But they have such an immense sense of value in what they can provide so I think you're seeing changes within the organization. I think most of the changes you're seeing are still largely inside. Of course, it's going to be a rippling effect before, like, everybody else starts to see it and then their perception changes of Microsoft. Interviewer: After everything you've gone through in, let's say, this year what do you think are the three key ingredients that an early stage tech company needs to succeed Kyle: I've gotten to see a lot of startups. It's been very revealing. I think it's important to know their motivations for starting a startup. You know, I want to understand before I impart on anything. I want to understand are people getting into starting a startup because it's sexy to be an entrepreneur Because it's cool Because the culture that's being built in and around startups is enough to where people just want that ego piece That's an important thing to know. Or are they starting a startup because the world in which they live in, they've identified these problems that they've come up with solutions for and now they can't sleep until they manifest it That's another reason. Or are they doing a startup because they cannot function in the normal world and so they have to create their own world There's going to be overlap between all of that. There are the weirdoes that exist that should be entrepreneurs because the status quo and the nine to five and all that stuff just does not fit for that kind of individual. Each one of those pathways are going to mean a completely different thing in how you form your team and what kind of product you're going to build and how you're going to do business. That's an important thing to think about. Then the three things that I think that I would try to impart to somebody. Having the right support system. There are things, it's not just about you, that are going to be able to go into starting this company and this business. You need to know, like, A) do you have the right kind of team that's going to be able to stick together to ride the crazy ride that's about to happen The good and the bad. Having that kind of support with the team. With mentors, with people that believe in either you, your team, or your vision that will put in the time and the energy to really give you a raw sense of perspective to also help you through those dark times. And then a support system at home. You're going to have your friends, your family, your significant other, your dog. Which goes into the third piece which is expectations. Or the other piece, which is you need to set the right expectations ahead of time with what is going to happen you beginning this road down being an entrepreneur. If you are in this your body may be present but your mind is going to be spread across the universe trying to find the steps that you need to be taking, the decisions that need to be made, facing all the uncertainties. Like, it's all consuming. If you don't understand that ahead of time and then the people around you don't understand that ahead of time it's going to cause a lot of friction. Maslow's pyramid of self-actualization, like you can't get to the creativity and the problem solving and where you need to be unless you have all of the other pieces in place. Those base physiological needs have to be understood and met before, or that's what's going to hold you down you know