We (the tech industry) like to label everything. I attribute the source of this desire and need to Regis McKenna although he may have just been the genius that amplified it.
The labels I dealt with early in my professional career (the 1980s) included micro computers, mini-computers, artificial intelligence, expert systems, neural networks, middleware, super computers, parallel computing, and killer app. Oh – and groovy. And music by Boston, Journey, Rush, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC.
When we invested in Fitbit in 2010, the phrase we used to describe the product was human instrumentation. If you read the original post, you’ll be amused by the lack of marketing language for what, in a few years, would evolve through labels like quantified self and wearables. And yes, I still call it human instrumentation (as a subset of human computer interaction), since that’s the part that is interesting to me.
BodyHacking and BioHacking and trendy labels for this. They’ve long been a favorite troupe of the sci-fi that I enjoy and are now regularly showing up in sci-fi movies. One of the annual conferences, BDYHAX, even has a description that fits with the notion of transhumanism.
BDYHAX is 3-day celebration of human enhancement, transhumanism, and biohacking. With a special focus on DIY healthcare and other body hacks, BDYHAX brings together industry experts, curious newcomers, and everyone else in between.
Mom / Dad – do these words skeeve you out? I’m betting they do. Or, at the minimum, you feel detached from them. It is, in this way, that I think the tech industry, with their labels, are doing humanity a great injustice on this topic.
Here are some common bodyhacks that we’ve been doing for a long time.
You get the idea.
I think part of the problem might be gender. Go read the following post by Kate Preston McAndrew titled Vagina, vagina, vagina.* (the subtitle is “Redesigning the pelvic exam experience“). Kate starts the post strong.
“Gender disparity is real, and traditionally, medical equipment designers have tended to have penises. That is problematic on a general level, but specifically, it means that problems that are specific to vaginas are often ignored or overlooked.”
I hadn’t connected this issue to the labels we use until I read the post. The post is outstanding, especially in the use of language and the unfolding of the thought process around the product. While reading it, I felt like I was in an alternate universe from the typical conversation I have about products. It was awesome.
Tech (hardware and software) is being interwoven into everything we do as a human species. To make this accessible to everyone, maybe we should start working a little harder on the words. More meaning, and less either (a) tech or (b) marketing. Ponder that all your cryptowarriors out there. Or members of any particular technology company mafia. And those of you in ecosystems.
What are you really trying to say?
When we started TechStars in 2006, one of our premises was to help build a strong startup community in Boulder. Our experience with TechStars – starting in Boulder, but expanding to Boston, Seattle, and New York – helped us understand not just TechStars’ role and impact on a startup community, but what drives startup communities over the long term. We’ve seen this dramatically accelerator around the world through the Global Accelerator Network and when I wrote Startup Communities: Building a Startup Ecosystem in Your City, much of what I used as the basis for the Boulder Thesis came from my experiences here.
Several years ago David Cohen, Jason Mendelson, and I started talking about the idea that the same principles of an accelerator model could apply to specific vertical markets or companies. TechStars Cloud, which is about to start it’s second program, was our first experiment with this. The first year was a great success, we learned a lot from it, and applied much of our learning to our first “powered by TechStars” accelerator that we did with Microsoft.
Today, Nike announced their first Nike+ Accelerator program, powered by TechStars. Ten companies will participate in a three-month, mentorship-driven program. The technology focus will be about leveraging the success of the Nike+ FuelBand, Nike+ Running and NikeFuel to support digital innovation. Based in Portland, the program is just a short drive away from Nike World Headquarters. will begin in March of 2013 and conclude in June with two investor demo days; one in Portland and one in Silicon Valley.
I’m an avid marathoner and completely obsessed with the idea of instrumenting myself to track extensive data about my health and fitness. I also believe that the best way to accelerate core technologies like what Nike has worked on is to build significant startup communities around their core products and technologies. That’s what the goal of the Nike+ Accelerator program is.
I’m excited to join the likes of Nike’s Vice President of Digital Sport, Stefan Olander, Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare, and Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body and all around awesome entrepreneur, as a mentor in the program.
With over 15 successful programs under our belt and over 200 companies having gone through a TechStars program, TechStars is powering the accelerator for Nike and we’re already looking forward to the outcome of combining our own firsthand knowledge in the setting of an impressive organization. To apply, go to www.nikeaccelerator.com for details and applications. The application deadline is February 3rd, 2013. Accepted companies will be notified in late February.
If you are a startup around digital health, human instrumentation, and the quantified-self, apply now to be part of the program. I look forward to meeting you!
As the endless stream of emails, tweets, and news comes at me, I find myself going deeper on some things while trying to shed others. I’ve been noticing an increasing amount of what I consider to be noise in the system – lots of drama that has nothing to do with innovation, creating great companies, or doing things that matter. I expect this noise will increase for a while as it always does whenever enthusiasm for startups and entrepreneurship increases. When that happens, I’ve learned that I need to go even deeper into the things I care about.
My best way of categorizing this is to pay attention to what I’m currently obsessed about and use that to guide my thinking and exploration. This weekend, as I was finally catching up after the last two weeks, I found myself easily saying no to a wide variety of things that – while potentially interesting – didn’t appeal to me at all. I took a break, grabbed a piece of paper, and scribbled down a list of things I was obsessed about. I didn’t think – I just wrote. Here’s the list.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, I expect none of these are a surprise to you. When I reflect on the investments I’m most involved in, including Oblong, Fitbit, MakerBot, Cheezburger, Orbotix, MobileDay, Occipital, BigDoor, Yesware, Gnip, and a new investment that should close today, they all fit somewhere on the list. And when I think of TechStars, it touches on the first (startup communities) and the last (total disruption of norms).
I expect I’ll go much deeper on these over the balance of 2012. There are many other companies in the Foundry Group portfolio that fit along these lines, especially when I think about the last two. Ultimately, I’m fascinated about stuff that “glues things today” while “destroying the status quo.”
What are you obsessed about? And are you spending all of your time on it?
I love Fitbit. We had a board meeting yesterday and there is so much amazing stuff coming from this company in the next few quarters. James and Eric are product creation machines – they love what they do, love their products, obsess about every bit of them, and have a vision about human instrumentation and where it can go that dwarfs anything I’ve heard from anyone else. Oh – and they’ve built a killer team that shares this vision as well as the ability to execute on it.
The newest Fitbit (the Fitbit Ultra) is out – if you’ve been holding off buying one don’t wait any longer. And today they just released the iPhone app for the Fitbit. I’ve been using it for a few months and it’s a great companion to the Fitbit.
My belief that in a decade humans will be fully instrumented – and be able to have the instrumentation create realtime feedback loops – is one that causes some people to look at me funny. But, whenever someone who has a Fitbit hears this, and then asks me to explain more, I see their head start nodding up and down.
I’m really lucky I get to work with these guys.
I’m running the Kroll’s Diner Bismarck Marathon on Saturday. This will be Marathon #18 in my quest to run one in every state. I’ll be there for a couple of days so I’m open to any restaurant recommendations y’all might have.
I’ve decided to try something different on this marathon. While I always wear a watch, I’ve never tried to instrument myself “real-time” for the race. Until recently, I’ve been using a Garmin 305, but it broke this summer when I was in Europe and I switched to RunKeeper on my iPhone.
I’ve really enjoyed RunKeeper and even started listening to music on some of my runs again since I had my iPhone with me. I signed up for RunKeeper Live and have been broadcasting my runs publicly to anyone who cared, which is primarily Amy.
The marathon starts at 7:30am Central Time on Saturday. I’ll be broadcasting my progress on this link – you should be able to pick it up after I start the race. Since I’ve always been running, I’m not 100% sure how the UI works on the “watching someone” end of things, but would love to hear feedback from anyone who takes a look. Oh – and cheer me on!
I’ll be wearing my Fitbit also (which I love – and am an investor in). It’s fascinating to me the step variance on the different marathons I’ve done – my stride length clearly varies with the shape I’m in and the shape (or hilliness) of the course. I’ll also check and see which is more accurate over 26.2 miles – the Fitbit or RunKeeper.
I might wear my new Nike+ SportWatch GPS, but so far the Nike+ website has been basically unusable due to performance issues so I don’t want to count on it.
Bismarck – see you tomorrow.
Fred Wilson emailed me a link to Dennis Crowley’s post I’m running the NYC Marathon tomorrow! Fred knows my obsession with human instrumentation, marathons, and social media. And if you recognize Dennis’ name, that’s because he’s the founder / CEO of Foursquare.
As I write this from my house in Eldorado Springs, Colorado, I can see that Dennis is at mile 4.64 of the NYC Marathon via RunKeeper. He just checked in at mile 5 on Foursquare. And yes, Twitter and Facebook are active also.
While some people may not like this future, I love it. Yeah, it’s kind of a pain to carry a bulky iPhone around on a marathon, but there are armbands for that and – in a decade – it’ll just be a thing you inject into your arm under the skin. But for now, guys like Dennis are helping us create the future.
Oh – and he’s running a marathon. He’s now at mile 5.64. Way to go Dennis!
I’ve written in the past about my obsession with measuring things. While my manual measurements via Daytum include miles run, books read, flights taken, and cities slept in, I’ve become much more focused in the past year on what I’ve been calling “human instrumentation.” This resulted recently in Foundry Group leading a $9 million financing in a San Francisco company called Fitbit.
If you want to see the type of data I’m tracking, take a look at my Fitbit profile. For now, I’m focused on the data that Fitbit tracks automatically for me, primarily derived from the step and sleep data. But from my profile page you can see a variety of other data which I can currently enter manually (I’ve entered a few examples) even though I use other sources to track them (for example, my weight using my Withings scale.)
I now have a house full of personal measurement devices and an iPhone full of apps to track various things. A few are still active; many have long been relegated to the “closet of dead, useless, obsolete, or uninteresting technology.” During this journey over the past year, I feel like I tried everything and finally found a company – in Fitbit – that has a team and product vision that lines up with my own.
A year ago when I first encountered the company, they were just launching their product. I was an early user and liked it a lot, but hadn’t clearly formed my perspective on what the right combination of software and hardware was. As I played around with more and more products, I started to realize that the Fitbit product vision as I understood it was right where I thought things were going. The combination of hardware, software, and web data integration are the key, and the Fitbit founders (James Park and Eric Freidman) totally have this nailed. That made it easy when we explored investing again to pull the trigger quickly.
One of the things my partners and I love about products like the Fitbit are the combination of hardware, software, and a web service that lets the product continually improve without having to upgrade the hardware. Fitbit is a great example of this which I expect you’ll see over the next quarter if you buy one today.
I firmly believe that in 20 years we’ll simply swallow something that will fully instrument us. Until then, we still have to clip a small plastic thing to our belt or keep it in our pocket. But that’s ok since it now knows how to talk to my computer, which is connected to the web, which is getting smarter every millisecond.