What was your inspiration for the PIP?
I can’t take any personal credit for inventing the PIP - that goes to Daragh McDonnell, our CTO, who showed me a simple early PIP prototype way back in 2011. It was tear-shaped, about the size of my thumb. He said this device was capable of helping anyone to manage their stress. I knew something about stress as I had worked in the corporate world for many years and following a demo of the device I could immediately see the many uses and benefits. We set up a corporate structure shortly afterwards in order to commercialise PIP.
What were some of the challenges in raising finance for the PIP?
Seed funding can be hard to come by in Ireland despite what people might think. The mantra we kept hearing was “You need a minimum of a three year plan and some sales traction” … we had the former but we needed the investment to create the latter!
Along with own funds we managed to raise €100,000 initially from people we knew and through perseverance we managed to attract funding from an angel investor, Christopher Bielenberg, who is now our Chairman. He understood the PIP opportunity immediately, was prepared to invest his time and money into the business, had the experience of building successful businesses himself, and has since brought further experienced third party investment into the business (again someone who is giving their time and money). Having someone like this a Chairman has been critical to the business. To date we have secured c.€2.2m of inward investment.
How did you acquire your first customers?
In 2013 we decided to go the Kickstarter route to get product to our first customers. It is a fantastic route to test your product and see what the appetite is for it. More importantly you have a group of people will provide immediate feedback with suggestions as to how it can be improved and all this advice is free!
Our Kickstarter experience, despite a lot of hard work, was ground breaking in Ireland as we were the first Irish company to raise over $100,000 on the US Kickstarter platform.
Did people have any objections to the PIP?
PIP and has been received very well in the market. Stress is a serious issue out there – over 105 million days are lost to stress each year in the UK alone, costing employers £1.24 billion. PIP can help people and corporates to tackle this and be part of the solution – it is also complimentary to other solutions for stress.
More and more young people want to become entrepreneurs. What are some of the downsides of embarking upon entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted - the failure rates for start-ups outweigh the success rates by a multiple and there can be a lot to be said for a monthly salary hitting the bank account which can at times be a missing ingredient in start-ups. However, all this said, the great thing about youth is that they will take those big swings not hampered by years of wisdom which can be a hindrance.
If I was giving any advice to young person starting out it would be to find a mentor, preferably not a family member, whom you can bounce things off and get alternative solutions to the many roadblocks they will face – they do not need to have all the solutions themselves.
What is most fulfilling for you about working on PIP?
Some of the best days we have in the office are when people share their own stories with us as to how The PIP has helped them – we are making a difference and that feels very good.
Tell us about the prototyping process. What was the journey to getting the first version to customers?
At the best of times the transitions from the prototype to production to manufacturing phases are challenging and we were no different in this regard. As you move along the phases you rely more and more on third parties – some will knock it out of the park and some will let you down. We had issues with the product mould in the early days which we managed to sort but it delayed getting initial product into customers’ hands by six months.
Tell us a story about one of your most stressful moments whilst working on PIP. How did you overcome it?
I guess was as around the delays in getting initial product to Kickstarter customers due to the initial mould issues. With Kickstarter it’s out there for everyone to see and there is no-where to hide. You never want to disappoint but we found it best to be up front and advise as early as possible when we were not going to hit the aggressive deadlines we set for ourselves. I still see many companies making the mistake in not communication regularly enough with their early adopting loyal Kickstarter customers who have parted with monies well in advance of getting product – this is a mistake.
How do you think that technology is going to change the way we manage our stress?
I am best placed to answer this by explaining how the PIP technology helps manage stress.
The PIP measures Electrodermal activity – EDA – is a scientifically proven measure of someone’s stress. It’s also referred to as ‘emotional sweat’, and the best place to measure it is on the tips of your fingers. And that’s where PIP goes to work. The PIP’s gold discs capture on-going changes in your EDA – at a rate of 8 times per second – puts it through the device’s algorithm, and then sends it via BlueTooth to your smart device where we have developed a number of engaging applications.
If you permit me to use a film analogy to explain what we do …. In the film ‘Predator’, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Delta Force major whose men are being being picked off by an invisible alien in the South American jungle. To start fighting it, and work out how to defeat it, Arnie first needed to be able to see it. To defeat the ‘Predator’, he needed to work out a way to disable its cloaking device. He succeeded. Well PIP has removed stress’s cloaking device, if you like. It has made it visible. And it places the user’s stress level, now visible, within a virtual environment. This can be a race, it can be an obstacle course. The possibilities are endless.
By visualising the user’s relative stress levels, and seeing them within a specially-created world, PIP allows users to get immediate feedback on how to control their stress
What technology security issues are there that impact your business, that you need to be mindful of?
Data protection is critical and when building software in this space and you're better off building the software in a HIPAA compliant environment to begin with and this is the approach we are taking with our cloud development program.
What is in PIP’s future?
We have a very exciting pipeline of PIP opportunities we are working hard on at the moment which people will experience over the remaining course of this year. Asides from some new applications due to be released shortly and some interesting partnerships. We are well advanced in executing on our cloud strategy – but that’s all on this for now!