On a daily basis, I ask others, “What problem are we solving?”
Jim is the founder and CEO of Eyefluence, a company that transforms intent into action by leveraging eye biomechanics and the eye-brain connection to create an eye-interaction technology solution for head-mounted displays. Eyefluence sits at the active intersection of wearable computers, human-computer interaction, and mixed reality to transform and accelerate augmented and virtual reality.
Dedicated to developing innovative technologies that improve learning and productivity, Jim is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded several successful companies, including Livescribe, Explore Technologies, and StrataCom. He also invented the LeapPad learning system, leading to sales of more than $1 billion worldwide. Jim holds at least 36 pending and accepted patents, and he is listed as one of MIT’s top 150 inventors.
Where did the idea for Eyefluence come from?
In 2012, I looked at the markets for wearable computing, human-computer interaction, and augmented and virtual reality and concluded that all interaction in these segments begins with “intent.” The eyes happen to be an ultra-high bandwidth input channel, so I continued my personal research into sight, visual cognition, and the eye-brain connection.
I found a form of eye-tracking technology concealed in a small company in Reno, Nevada. The company, Eye-Com, had been funded with $15 million to develop wearable eye-tracking technology from 1998 to 2012. The technology had been deployed in research projects with Steven Hawking, the Mayo Clinic, Willow Garage, the military, and other organizations.
I studied the technology, team, intellectual property, and market for six months. I came to the conclusion that Eye-Com had the best wearable eye-tracking technology in the world. However, this technology was contained in a business that was out of cash and without a business plan.
With the support of Eye-Com’s team and shareholders, I acquired Eye-Com and founded Eyefluence. After nearly a year of experimentation, my team and I emerged with some seminal insights regarding the eye-brain connection and transformed these into the foundational elements of a new eye-based interaction model.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I am supercharged each day by the diverse challenges of running a startup, Eyefluence, whose purpose is to advance human potential and empathy. At the strategic level, I allocate time to study industry developments to continually validate our strategy and core goals, and I adjust when necessary. I review our business goals and check in with my senior staff in a scrum-like update for 15 minutes.
At a tactical level, my productivity is a nonlinear multiple of the productivity of my team, enabled by each person’s focus on tasks that are always driven by business goals. Given our small startup size, environment, and relatively flat management, I spend time speaking with both managers and individual contributors each day. In essence, my productivity is primarily driven by well-considered daily planning and prioritization.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have found that very few ideas have great merit, and even fewer are “BIG” and have a huge impact. However, to find those great ideas, one must be prolific in ideation. The most effective way to bring an idea to life is to physically instantiate it to address a pain point (e.g., make a compelling demo that addresses a critical need).
Further, the demo must appeal to both human emotion and an analytic sense of solving its primary problem. Once an idea becomes a demonstration that shows a measurable impact on a severe problem for a specific audience in a compelling manner, the essence of that idea can become a product — and hopefully, a business!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The advancement of human potential and empathy through biology and technology will define the future of our species. The propagation of information through the internet is being further accelerated with augmented reality and virtual reality. Cognitively, we will connect our minds in real-time, collaborative thought spaces. As a result, artificial intelligence will not be a threat but an agent of further human advancement in the form of hybrid human and AI cognition.
Just as no chess software program has beaten a human-software chess team, no AI entity will be “smarter” than a human-AI team. In a human-AI team, we have yet to explore what human identity and consciousness becomes and what we allow ourselves to become.
At Eyefluence, we enable human and AI synergy through an eye-interactive dialogue between a human and an AI agent at a communication speed that never before existed. When we “impedance match” your mind to domain-specific AI agents, we will increase your IQ in real time.
What is one habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I carry at least three problems with me at all times. I am then prepared to realize solutions via stimulation that occurs anywhere at anytime. I pick one of these problems every night to consider when falling asleep and through the night. Typically, I have an insight, breakthrough, or solution between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. I then review my problem list when I wake up and replenish as necessary.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I washed windows at a jewelry store using ammonia and newspaper because the owner claimed that this method yielded the cleanest, clearest glass for window shoppers to see the displayed jewelry. With poor ventilation in corners of the store, I became woozy and nauseous from the ammonia and nearly fell on a display case, which would have cost far more than the sales resulting from “clearer” glass.
I made the case, as a 12-year-old, that the right window-washing tools would improve my efficiency and contribute more to the bottom line than ammonia and newsprint. I convinced the owner to allow me to use a less caustic cleaner, a squeegee, and cloth. My job improved, and his early customers gagged less and connected with a happier lad generating goodwill for the owner (thereby increasing his sales).
I learned two non-obvious, but important, lessons — that I could change a miserable work environment and that unexpected positive outcomes arise when one is full of positive energy.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Not much. I grew up in a single parent, low-income household. I never went hungry, but we had very meager means. I did, however, have extraordinary encouragement from my mother, and my siblings and I were rich in her support and caring. My mother instilled in me that I could “do anything I set my mind to,” which espoused the “power of positive thinking” and drove me to embody the adage that “enthusiasm makes the difference.”
I have had the good fortune to find my soul mate, my wife, and for the two of us to raise an extraordinarily capable and close family. My son, daughter, wife, and I support one another in our efforts to impact the world, to each realize our fullest potential, and to direct our energy and capabilities to improve lives and the condition of our world.
I work with brilliant people and have founded or co-founded six companies with some successes that positively impacted more than 100 million people. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-prize winning behavioral economist, speaks of “happiness” with a fascinating model: being happy in your life and being happy about your life. I have had the good fortune to arrive at a place where I am both, and I am able to challenge myself and others to find both “types” of happiness.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?
On a daily basis, I ask others, “What problem are we solving?” In any single discussion, I repeat this question several times to drive the explication of the actual problem to be solved. Einstein ostensibly said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend “55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
Most people proceed with activities without clearly articulating the problem they are solving. Virtually everything we do can be viewed as solving a problem of one type or another. Yet we typically proceed with habitual and rote methods of finding solutions, and we frequently do not review the essence of the problem to be resolved.
As an entrepreneur, I must apply limited resources to solve challenging problems, but also to assure that my team is solving the right problems, to guarantee that they have clearly stated the problem, and to ensure they are properly aligned to solve them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
At the seed stage, find the right problem to solve — which translates into a financeable business. I have learned to listen carefully to distinguish my colleague’s natural inclination to be positive about ideas while also knowing how to interpret negative feedback to refine or drop an idea. Be your own harshest critic at the seed stage to refine a business model, relentlessly, until you believe that success is unavoidable.
At the launch stage, assure that your offering is ready for your target audience. Readiness, particularly for today’s online software startups, can be beguilingly deceptive and create a culture of “ship now, fix later” without the discipline of a higher degree of thoughtfulness in product design and execution.
When expanding, retain the original nimbleness in a second generation offering to avoid classic second-generation paralysis and calcification that can occur through rigidity in organizational structure and reactive conservatism.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I failed when I yielded my intuition to a co-founding CEO. I assumed that his Harvard MBA and previous business prowess gave him deeper insights than I could understand. As such, I followed his direction until he drove our team, and my friends’ and family’s funds, into bankruptcy.
I overcame it by stepping away from the business, retrenching, and starting a new business that approached a similar issue with a new team and new technology as the founding leader. I succeeded, creating Explore Technologies.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Develop and market a product that first allows an individual to market his or her ability and willingness to “think” in real time, and then matches the think time to buyers who will pay for his or her thinking.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I’ve recently subscribed to Audible, given my daily Silicon Valley commute time of a couple of hours each day. I most recently listened to the fictional novel by Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One,” which is completely relevant to Eyefluence and my passion for VR and AR.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
My daily go-to mobile app is Flipboard. With properly specified areas of interest, the quantity and quality of relevant articles are superb! I obtain critically useful and actionable information daily and share articles with family, friends, and my team at Eyefluence.
Google Docs for collaborative document work is indispensable. I use the simple iPhone “Notes” app to capture ideas. I generally add three to six new business, technology, or patent ideas daily.
What is the one book you recommend our community should read, and why?
I recommend reading “Influencer” by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron Mcmillan, and Al Switzler.
This is a collection of inspirational stories about individuals who have changed the world and how they have done so.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Daniel Kahneman : Behavioral economist and author
Chris Anderson: Curator and TED mastermind
Peter Diamandis: Entrepreneur, author, speaker, inspirer, and friend
Eyefluence Twitter: @Eyefluence
Jim’s Twitter: @jimmarggraff
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.