For Fun… and Profit
In September of 2003, Ronnie Zownir, a Princeton University freshman couldn’t afford cable television service in his dorm room and his roommates weren’t interested in splitting the bill. Undeterred, he devised a system to real-time capture-and-stream satellite television from an unused receiver back home. 400+ channels of DirecTV, including HBO and Showtime…glorious! The clever solution went no further than the 9th entryway of Holder Hall. The idea of relocating the consumption of media from the point of reception turned out to be a pretty darn valuable one.
Two years later, the Slingbox was released. The real-time capture-and-stream consumer electronic device was a big success. The term place shifting was coined to describe the technology. Two years following the product’s introduction, the company behind it, Sling Media, was purchased by EchoStar (owner of Dish Network and DirecTV’s primary competitor) for $380M!
This experience was a wake up call to recognize the commercial potential of great solutions to specific problems shared by others.
The place-shifting concept never quite faded from mind, but the media ship had sailed.
Experience the Problem for Yourself
With a degree in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Zownir went to work at a manufacturing company with a global presence. All sorts of problems within industry came into view and it appeared that high-tech entrepreneurs weren’t attempting to shake things up here. Or they all got overexcited about 3D printing.
One problem, for example, is the shift labor-quality gap. It is difficult enough to find good production labor on first shift. For second and third shift, it is much more so. How do you get high-quality operators around the clock? By place-shifting your workforce! If you can decouple labor from fixed capital with respect to location, an array of common manufacturing problems simply disappear. This might not be as sexy as TV-anywhere circa 2003, but the impact is greater.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Assemble a Band
There are a lot of great technologies out there right now and in development. We are not interested in duplicating the efforts of other bright people. That’s inefficient and unproductive. For instance, we are not going to build a better collaborative robot system than Universal Robots. (Heck, Fanuc can’t either.) We see our effort best spent on the joining and gluing of existing and upcoming technologies that will make the solution possible, practical, affordable, and available quickly.