Interview with Sarah Lipman
Imagine sitting at a table and reaching for the salt, and the person next to you pushing it towards you so that it's within your reach. Now imagine a touchscreen technology that, in the same way, anticipates what you're trying to do even before you touch it. This is Power2B.
An Interview with Sarah Lipman CTO, Power2B
Date: August 15, 2011 [musical introduction]
Lucy Sanders: Hi this is Lucy Sanders. I'm the CEO of NCWHIT or the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Were working hard to make sure that more girls and women are pursuing computing education paths and careers. This interview series is extremely important to us. Were interviewing fabulous entrepreneurs, women who have started technology companies and asking their advice about entrepreneurship. Were very excited about this series. Today were going to interview a technical visionary, I'm very excited about this. With me is Larry Nelson w3w3. Hi Larry!
Larry Nelson: Hi. I'm really happy to be here. I always like visionaries especially in this area. Anything we can do as it relates to business, technology and women getting into technology really turns me on.
Lucy: Well listeners will be able to find our interviews at ncwit.org as well as w3w3.com. The technical visionary that we are interviewing today is really big into 3D Technology and the human interactive interface. Her name is Sarah Lipman and she's the cofounder and CTO of Power to Be. These interfaces I'm sure our viewers know are so important and there really such leading edge technology happening there. I've brought along the Power to Be mission statement. This is awesome I think we should adopt this as our mission statement. "Power to be is a creative workshop dedicated to generating radical innovations in human experience at every level of daily living."
Larry: I love it!
Lucy: I know that Sarah will have a lot more to tell us. Part of what they've done is a innovative patent around 3D touch-screen technology. Their beginning to imagine certain interfaces for these devices where they can actually look at natural body language, and present things based on Larry sitting up straight. [laughing] Just based on how you are behaving. Sarah welcome were very happy to have you here!
Sarah Lipman: [over the phone] Thank you. I'm really excited to be with you.
Lucy: What's going on at Power to Be, give us a sense about that? What are you up to?
Sarah: Power to Be is unbelievable. It's a technology that replaces the traditional touch-screen. It's a fraction of the price. It provides coordinates not only in the x y plane, meaning when you touch the screen, even when your not quiet touching the screen. So it can track you before you even touch the screen. An easy way to envision the difference is if I were sitting across the table from you and you saw me reach for a salt shaker you might push it towards me, because you could see me coming. You don't need me to touch the salt shaker to know that's what I'm aiming for. If your smartphone or your tablet or your laptop or your TV could see you coming, then it can start bringing you what you wanted even before you start touching it. Given the amount of data, number of applications, the amount of content that were holding on even very small devices is a very profound change and how we can interact with our content.
Lucy: That is really interesting. Before I get into the first question about how you got into technology, tell us a little about other technologies that you see that are cool. As a technologist it's a especially interesting question to ask you.
Sarah: Certainly the whole issue of embedding sensors into all kinds of devices and products and objects. So that they can be more aware of us and responsive to us. That device to device communication, so it can be passed along, I think we haven't even began to scratch the surface of what we could create. Now I'm not talking about sentient computing or anything like that. Just devices that can be intelligent. They can see what your doing and understand where your going.
Lucy: Wow, that's amazing. Is that the same kind of technology that you might start to see in buildings and so forth?
Sarah: I think it's just going to be everywhere. In buildings, it's going to be in coke cans, it's going to be in laptops and cell phones and makeup and refrigerators. It's going to be everywhere! Because there's no reason why with all the data we give off in terms of body language, in terms of intention, in terms of history. There's no reason to still be using the old algorithms of algorithm principles for predicting peoples behavior. You don't need to predict it based on statistic's, predict it based on what the persons doing now. You'll have a lot more accuracy and it'll be much more fluid. That kind of magical feeling when something just works right.
Lucy: For you!
Larry: Yeah I Love it!
Lucy: I love it! OK, so one more technology question then will get into the interview. Tell me about makeup?
Sarah: [laughing] That was just a generic example. I certainly would not mind my makeup reordering it's self when it got low.
Lucy: Me too!
Sarah: [laughing] I have traveled all over the world, like alot. There was a long period of time were I traveled every four weeks or every six weeks. I used to pick up makeup foundation in different countries and it never matched. In the middle east it had this present undertone and in japan it would have this white undertone. I went crazy, it's like stupid things that's what the Internet's for! No I could never catch up with what I needed. [laughing]
Lucy: [Chuckling] That's amazing
Larry: I bet it'll even cover up spots that you've miss.
Sarah: [laughing] Larry!
Lucy: That would be good too! Sarah, why don't you tell our listeners a bit about how you first got into technology? Sarah: I was so excited by this question! It made me really think "What's my first memory of technology?" It's a Rotary phone. The rotary dialed, this old lady came in, installed it, put our number inside and I was so fascinated I must have been three years old. I spent hours playing with the rotary dial, trying to figure out how it work, how it dialed. Why when you dialed the two it didn't take very long, when you dialed the nine it took forever to get it back to being able to do that. That whole product, that whole interface is just so fascinating to me! Then in first grade, I was having these conversations with friends about why these new touchpad's had a pound key and a asterisk, speculating about what they may be for. One friend said, "In the future it'll let you call somebody back if the numbers busy when you dial!" That was just so far out it was hard to believe. Then calculators keypad goes the opposite way of a phone keypad. I'm just so excited that you asked this question, it's the first time I've realized I've gone full circle! I was fascinated by phone interface when I was three years old, I'm still fascinated by it now. I'm totally memorized, I guess I never really changed.
Lucy: Who knew the rotary phone would have such a impact?
Larry: That's a fact! And then remember...
Sarah: [laughing]: Yes! Who remembers rotary phones?
Lucy: Oh I do! My background is at AT&T, I used to program software. I don't even want to go into that!
Sarah: My husband used to have an auto-dial made of toothpicks.
Sarah: Hold it under a little clicker and it would go "tick tick tick tick!" Auto-dial! Phone interfaces are fantastic. I have a whole collection of mobile interfaces, old phones like Nokia! Around the turn of the century they had these fabulous interfaces that looked funny with the keys all over the place, styluses you name it! I've got some funny example of it. To me it's both entertaining, educational and indicative of an industry of that's still trying to figure out exactly what the best interface is, test function.
Larry: Now what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick? In fact why did you become an entrepreneur?
Sarah: I think I didn't have a choice. [laughing] I kind of see an entrepreneur as someone who see's where there is a problem or a gap or a hole, understands what it really needs to be like, and really wants to make it be that way. That kind of excitement, that vision of I'm going to complete the world, I'm going to fix the world. That's me! You've got to be excited enough to jump in, get involved, take risk, push ahead and not be too worried about obstacles because you know that there is an end result and you know what it is and it is totally worth it. I'm an entrepreneur that way. In terms of I see a vision, I see what somebody or a something that could really be that has this amazing potential and I just want to make sure that it really happens.
Larry: That's great.
Lucy: Well, in along the way, Sarah, who or what influenced you or supported you as you went down this entrepreneurial career path.
Sarah: Definitely my husband because I would not be an official entrepreneur if it was not for his business and market vision really has been the force behind that whole side of let's turn this turn into a business. And we have had a couple of just amazing advisors and mentors who believed in us. They reached out to us even before we asked them and helped us turn what was a vision and had a belief and faith in what we were doing into professional skills required and know how and who to talk to and how to do it. Notably I would say Ken Dweeble whose is now a CEO at Coria who was previously CEO at Power to Be and even before that was a personal mentor, Hansel Baker whose is now a Techsports product development. Both of them just had profound impact on us
Larry: Well with all the different things that you have been through and it's great that you have had powerful people behind you and working with you but what is the toughest thing that you ever had to do in your career?
Sarah: Fire an entire lab of wonderful people, wonderful employees when we had a investment poll during the stock market crash in 2008. It was horrible to do it. Everyone understood why, there was no money for salaries for them but in that economic environment we knew it would be hard for them to find their next job, for at least a while. It was just awful.
Lucy: I know, I can feel it in your voice.
Sarah: Yes, it was horrible.
Lucy: Well, it is horrible I think that those things happen.
Sarah: Thank God they all are well employed now and are doing great but...
Lucy: I'm sure they have top skills.
Sarah: They are a great team.
Lucy: Absolutely. Well, if you were sitting here right now with a young person and giving them advise about entrepreneurship, what would you say to them?
Sarah: First of all I would say if you are person who likes to get things done and likes to make things happen, then starting your own company is your dream job because you can just do it and make it happen. That said, a lot of people are very vague about their ideas. They kind of sort of have some idea and they don't have that clarity, vision or focus. And that is what you need to cultivate. That is what all the business planning is about. You got to push your self. Clarify your vision, what are you trying to achieve, what is the objective, what is going to look like and you got to make it that you can share it with other people. So I would say pitch and present as often as you can to anyone who would listen to you. Presentations, articles, drawings, whatever, be on panels and then listen listen listen to the feedback that you are going to get because you have got to keep learning every minute and that combination of pitching and pulling out and then listening and pulling in, that's how you are going to make it happen.
Larry: You know, it's great that your husband was one of that power force behind you becoming an entrepreneur, what are the personal characteristics that has given you the advantage of becoming an entrepreneur.
Sarah: [laughter] First of all, I really think that being a mother gives you important experience. What it means to be completely committed to a project, to be willing to put in a 22 hour a day.
Sarah: ...Without looking at a paycheck or worrying about your overtime. So I am a serial mom-entrepreneur. I have a large family but I am like that with everything. You know there is a kind of save the world mode in me is a lot stronger than what is in it for me mode.I do think that helps me put a 100 percent to my work even though success with the start up is down the line thing, it's not immediate so I guess what I'm really saying is that you have to love what you are doing. You have to love doing it now and not just be looking out for the money that the success might bring you down the line. So startups are an uncertain universe but if you love what you are doing now then it will be satisfying.
Larry: Boy that's a fact. Being a father of five I can relate to what you have said.
Lucy: And picking up on your answer about how being a parent really teaches you important business lessons for sure, what do you do, how do you manage to bring in the balance in your personal and professional lives?
Sarah: You assume I manage. I don't think I manage well enough.
Lucy: Well you must be doing something right.
Sarah: But I do, I have found this kind of like using a lot of the business skills has been helpful at home as well. It was vice versa but it also works the other way. So kind of [inaudible] to say what do I need to achieve right now, what do I need to achieve in the next two hours of really being with my family so trying to be very focused in that. What is the number one thing I'm trying to do and that helps me not to look at my computer, not check the black berry. Really listen to my kids, to my family, talk to them, be there with them, I find that those skills are kind of across the board and it has been helpful.
Lucy: I think that is an incredibly important advise. It really is around do the next important thing well.
Sarah: Yes. 100 percent. I know everyone loves to talk about multi tasking, I'm not a believer in it...
Lucy: I'm not either.
Sarah: I was in a meeting with Nokia several years ago, and one of the guys said here we call it continues partial attention. [laughter]
Lucy: That's great.
Sarah: Yes, exactly. Continuous partial attention is not satisfying for your children, your babies or your husband or your project or your presentation when you are not 100 percent in the moment, everyone knows it and they feel neglected and you can't run a business that way so yes I believe in multi tasking more as task switching. You got to be really good at rapid task switching but not all at one time.
Lucy: Yeah that's a fact.
Larry: Exactly. Sarah, you have been through a great deal, you have a growing company. What's next for you? S
arah: Oh gosh. I'm empowered to be always next, it's so exciting. It's the potential to change the entire mobile industry. I know that I am very privileged to have the opportunity to be part of something that grand and it's not everyone's chance to be part of something that huge. I also founded Keyshore which is a professional network for religious women in Israel. It is a big success. I just left Israel and I put the project into wonderful good hands. Keyshore is in need of workshops and conferences. It has become a big player in the national scene and just bringing women. First class business marketing strategy skills for their business. That's what we do and it has been fantastic so I'm a big believer in changing the world one moment at a time. That is the most satisfying thing. It's kind of like multitasking versus task switching. One person at a time, you change a lot of people. I have a folder of 20 or 30 more projects that I want to get launched. I want to make it happen. You know, technology and education. Usually a combination of the two...Wow. I see myself fully booked for the foreseeable future.
Lucy: And that is very good for all of us to know because I'm sure it's going to have a wonderful positive impact in the future as well as what you have already done. So thank you very much for talking to us, Sarah, we really appreciate you working on a very very cool technology and we gonna want to keep a close track of it because I'm sure it's going to as you said, really change. So thanks a lot for being with us. I want to remind the listeners where they can hear these pod casts once again, w3w3.com and ncwhit.org. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you. You have such a great philosophy and best of luck with your company.
Sarah: Thank you and continue success with NCWHIT. It's such an important initiative. I'm so happy to be a tiny part of it.
Lucy: Well thank you very much.
Larry: Thank you Sarah. We will have you website, powertobe.net up also.
Sarah: Thank you so much.