Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, spoke to students, faculty and staff this fall, sharing his insights on entrepreneurship and disruption. He visited CMU as part of Square’s college recruiting tour, which also included MIT and Princeton. Jack highlighted that CMU students are a good fit for the challenges Square will face. Read more
Tell us one thing about Nest Labs that most people don’t know.
You hear a lot about how our team came from Apple, but actually our team came from a variety of places. Tony and I, the two founders, came from Apple, but one of the key executives of Nest, Yoky Matsuoka, came from academia. Yoky was actually one of my professors at CMU! We have people from Twitter, Logitech and large groups from Dash Navigation and Netscape. There are probably 8 or 9 CMU grads at Nest right now and this contingency is growing. We bring in more and more interns from CMU each year.
Before you started Nest with Tony Fadell, you both worked at Apple. How did you know it was the right time to leave and pursue your startup?
It’s all about future prospects. The opportunity to build this company with Tony was something I had to do. It’s an epic problem. Ten percent of US energy use goes to heating and cooling homes and there’s been very little innovation in the space in the last 30-40 years. When you see opportunity screaming at you in the face, you have to do it.
Nest has received many accolades about its design. What were the driving factors behind it?
Number one was to keep it simple. Thermostats in general are very complicated. They are either touch screens with lots of buttons or they are hard to program and have many menus. Nest has a large, round LCD screen. You turn the dial and it changes the number. In terms of the industrial design, we wanted it to blend in to every home. As a small company it is impossible to house different colors and SKUs. We created a product that will blend in. The Nest Thermostat is stainless steel, so that it reflects the light from the room and blends in – we call it chameleon design.
What memorable experiences at Apple helped you when starting Nest?
In the summer of 2007 we created a new product – the iPod Nano. We built brand new hardware and software platforms. And, we did it in 1 year. With the amount of effort, organization and thought process that went into creating it, it was a lot like doing a startup. Obviously, there were things that went wrong and we learned from those. You want to learn from things that go well and from things that don’t. The whole idea of iterating quickly and weeding out the good ideas is key.
What is one piece of advice you received about startups that has stuck with you and helped you with Nest Labs?
Hiring is the most important thing you can do. Being able to hire a great team and quickly find great candidates and build your organization is key. You can have one of the best products ever, but if you don’t have a great supporting team, you won’t go anywhere. Nest was built through our networks. The first 50 hires we did ourselves. Hiring people we already worked with truly helped. There was no ramp up time – they spoke the same language as us, knew how we worked and how we think.
Who was your favorite CMU professor and why?
In terms of former would be Yoky. I started working with her as an undergrad creating the mechanical design for a robotic finger. She encouraged me to not become an academic and go into industry. In terms of current faculty it would be Howie Choset. At the time Howie was teaching pretty much the only CMU undergrad robotics class. He encouraged us to be very hands on and take a “learn by doing” approach. His class was difficult and enormously time intensive, but it taught us how to build things. Ideas are easy to come up with, but taking those ideas and accomplishing them is the hard part.
What do you remember most about your time at CMU?
My time working with Howie in my undergrad robotics class. We would spend very late nights and weekends building lego robots to navigate mazes and all kinds of things I’d never done before. Being able to apply skills in terms of mechanical design, writing software and how to wire the robots and sensors taught me how to design a system as opposed to one part. These are skills that I used at Apple and still use now.
What was your single most embarrassing moment at CMU and what did you learn from it?
My master’s year I was taking a project based computer architecture class with Babak Falsafi. It was the hardest graduate class and you’re supposed to spend the entire semester working on the project. On the last day you present the poster to everyone. My team and I were spending very little time on it throughout the semester and basically had to do it all the night before. It was quite embarrassing because it was pretty obvious we had phoned it in for the project. This reminds me a lot about how important it is to plan ahead and have milestones along the way. You can’t do things last minute. Sometimes you get by, but the results always show for themselves. I work very hard today to make sure that never happens again.
Describe one thing you think an aspiring student entrepreneur should take advantage of while still at CMU.
Two things –
The Seeds That Federal Money Can Plant
Duolingo, founded in 2011 by Luis von Ahn (CS’03,’05, faculty) and Severin Hacker (CS’09,’12), is a perfect example of university research funded by government grants leading to successful commercialization according to the New York Times. Duolingo, a free language learning website and crowd-sourced text translation platform, recently raised a $15 million series B round led by NEA with participation from Union Square Ventures. Read more
NoWait Raises $2MM
NoWait, founded by Robb Myer (TPR’06), raised $2 million series a round led by Birchmere Ventures with participation from Sand Hill Angels. NoWait is a mobile waitlist management app. Read more
CMU Undergrad Finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year
Neil Soni (CIT’13), founder of CollegeZen, is a finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine's College Entrepreneur of the Year competition. CollegeZen is a web app that makes the college search and admissions process more fun and cost-effective. Read more
Platypus Develops Robot for Environmental Monitoring
Platypus, a robotics company, developed an autonomous boat that could be used for environmental monitoring. The team, six robotics faculty members, is working on commercializing their research. Read more
From Science Lab to Startup
Neon Labs, founded by Sophie Lebrecht (post-doctoral researcher) and Michael J. Tarr (faculty), will help companies market themselves by finding the most visually pleasing images through the use of algorithms. Neon Labs started as Sophie’s post-doctoral work and became a startup after being accepted into I-corps. Read more
With entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University, contact Amanda Fox, assistant director of the Don Jones Center.