Photos in this story credited to (cc) Kenneth Yeung – www.snapfoc.us
For GreenGoose the journey from Oregon to Providence, RI to Kendall Square in Cambridge and finally to the inaugural Launch Conference, held on 23-24 of February at the San Francisco Design Concourse, has been an intense and ultimately rewarding one. From Betaspring to mentoring from Bill Warner at the Cambridge Innovation Center to now back to Oregon and San Francisco, his is the classic entrepreneurial story of how hard work, frugality, determination to see your vision realized and confronting your fears all combine to produce a successful outcome. For a young entrepreneur like Brian, having the support of a group of mentors and advisors along the way gave him the courage and confidence to keep moving forward despite moments of self-doubt.
Founder Brian Krejcarek has been a self described tinkerer since his childhood in Orgeon. He has been building physical things for as long as he can remember, and until this week, his most noteworthy creation was a cabin that he built in the woods near his home. Based on the overwhelmingingly positive reaction that he engendered amongst some of the US’ most prestigious and prolific angel investors, founders and entrepreneurs this past week (both on the grand jury and in the audience at Jason Calcanis’ very successful reformulation of what had perviously been known as the Tech Crunch 50), this is no longer the case. As of Thursday night Pacific Time, it is absolutely clear that GreenGoose now easily qualifies as Brian’s most impressive achievement to date. Like every success story, this one was not without its challenges.
Brian decided to come to the Northeast to advance his idea, looking for a program to provide him with mentoring and capital. Ultimately, he was connected to Betaspring, a mentor driven accelerator program for technology and design engineers which is based in Providence, Rhode Island and is a member of the TechStars Network. Brian met with Owen Johnson and the leadership team of Betaspring, was accepted into the program, and had second thoughts at least twice before finally heading to New England to participate in the twelve week program. Brian was very hesitant to leave his home state and his beloved lifestyle. Ultimately, his desire to build a great company and to change the world won out.
Brian showed up in Providence with his trademark green crewneck sweater – the same one he wore on sage at Launch in the photo above – and a very rough design realization of his vision of making a fun game platform for doing things in the real world. The approach is to use very low cost wireless sensors embedded in stickers that can be placed on toys, water bottles, tooth brushes, dental floss, cereal boxes, skate boards and bicycles. Its both for young kids and families but also applies to “big kids” and can be played on the web as well as Facebook and Twitter or on your mobile device. Brian applied himself diligently during the Betaspring program, applying the lessons conveyed by his mentors and refining the system design.
Upon successful completion of the program, Brian moved to Cambridge and started working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center. It was there that he quickly caught the attention of Bill Warner, Founder of Avid Technology and Wildfire and more recently, a prolific angel investor and tireless supporter of entrepreneurs. Bill has been on a mission to mobilize the Boston angel community and was instrumental in bringing TechStars and the Open Angel Forum to Boston.
Bill is a system designer, and when he passed by Brian’s working area he was immediately captivated, as Brian was not staring into a laptop but an oscilloscope – an instrument that was far more common during the historic minicomputer era in New England than in today’s mobile app and web 3.0 world.
Bill sat down with Brian, and the young entrepreneur educated the master on the state of the art of low cost sensor and accelerometer design. Within an hour Bill was completely hooked and became Brian’s first investor. Of course, as many people know, along with Bill’s money comes his relentless support and encouragement. Given Bill’s increasing national visibility as an evangelist for angel investing, he was invited by Jason Calacanis as one of just two Boston area investors to join the Grand Jury at Launch.
Soon after, Bill immediately started encouraging Brian to begin to accelerate his product development so that he could be ready in time for the Launch event. Owen and the Betaspring team provided their own push. Brian was far from confident that he could pull it off. The push from Bill and Betaspring combined to convince Brian to go for it. By all accounts, Brian has spent the past several months literally working around the clock to make the deadline. According to Nick Tomarello, another Launch company stage presenter and Bill Warner protege, Brian is often at the CIC working until 5AM. As Brian shared with me at the event, he has barely slept in months.
When I met Brian at the event, I was struck by several things. First, his personality. He is quiet and unassuming and he has a very boyish enthusiasm. Brian is also maniacally focused on placing every discretionary dollar into the product. His green soft cover briefcase was badly scuffed and the handle was held together by duct tape. He told me that his grandmother gave him $50 so that he could buy a new briefcase. Of course, the cash was immediately spent on the business (sorry Grandma). His baggy green sweater – the same one he showed up with in Providence – now had dark elbow patches which were a recent addition. This guy is clearly not very concerned about fashion and it clearly did not matter.
Brian was initially not slated to present on stage – he was one of many companies relegated to the Launch Pad or what is affectionately called the Demo Pit. A little push from Bill Warner and other members of the jury ultimately won the day – and it gave Brian the opportunity to find his way onto the stage and to forever change the trajectory of his young company.
When he took the stage very late in the day the jury had already sat through over twenty presentations. It would have been understandable if they had lost some of their mental energy and focus. Then, something remarkable happened – as Brian described GreenGoose, he absolutely captivated the audience – and the jury – with his pitch and his demo.
Brian simulated the motion of brushing his teeth – where a tiny sensor with an abundance of battery power – translates the motion of the toothbrush into a message that is wirelessly transmitted to the base station and publishes a record of the completed activity online. He then proceeded to demo other activities, like taking vitamins and drinking water, with a similar result.
The implications of the demo were made clear – GreenGoose enables people to get lifestyle points for each activity they undertake in pursuit of a healthy goal. The company’s tagline is “Play Real Life Even Better”. We have all read about the Internet of Things for a while now – and IBM’s Smart Planet ubiquitous campaign has made the concept mainstream. GreenGoose is an elegantly simple and highly practical early realization of the idea. The audience got it and boisterously vocalized their support. The jury’s reaction was immediate.
It was a particularly compelling demo considering so many of the other companies were playing the execution game in the social / mobile / geo-location space. In this case, there was real technology under the hood. As several of the more technical members of the jury noted, what GreenGoose has delivered is by no means easy. They are pushing the boundaries of deploying low cost sensors and accelerometers (the sensors are approximately 45 cents per piece with the product now in pre-production in low cost China).
A humbled Calacanis was asked how he could have possibly missed this one.
Give Jason credit for admitting in front of the audience that he and his screening team had erred by not green lighting GreenGoose to the elite group of 50 presenting companies. Jason then quickly took the offensive to compensate for his rare miss (the Conference was extraordinary), and began exhorting the jury to commit on stage to investing in GreenGoose. He simultaneously pushed Brian to make his deal terms explicit. Within a very brief period, both Shervin Pishevar, Founder of WebOS and currently CEO of SGN and an angel investor in Plancast, Gowalla and Aardvark (acquired by Google) and Jay Levy had each committed to invest $50K in the company. This is simply something that you do not see happen in Boston. The audience went wild.
In a short period of time, VentureBeat picked up the story and erroneously reported that GreenGoose had raised $100 million dollars on stage. Despite the bubble in Silicon Valley, this was a three order of magnitude miss was particularly noteworthy. On day 2 of the Conference, Brian spent much of the day in back-to-back meetings with various investors at the conference. Bill Warner was at his side for many of these meetings. The GreenGoose demo station was visibly – but quite understandably vacant.
As the conference was wrapping up, the Grand Jury handed out a Series of Awards. GreenGoose won the well deserved award for Best Overall Company to Emerge from the Launchpad.
During the wrap-up, Bill announced that he expected GreenGoose to close on additional $400K in investment by end of day, Friday, bringing GreenGoose’s raise to a half million dollars. For Brian, it was an incredible validation of his venture and a huge push forward. Maybe now he can finally replace his beat up briefcase before his grandmother figures out what he did with the really money.