l innovator and entrepreneur Dave Mathews has built, tried, failed — and started again, over and over.
“I’m on my eighth startup right now. I’ve 70 patents granted. And I just keep trying and trying again.”Dave raised $250million for eight startups — here are some stories about them
How does it feel to raise $200M, build a revolutionary product, ship six million of them — and watch it not only fail, but be named one of the worst inventions of all time? Dave Mathews loved the whole ride. He still does.
AT TOA Berlin 2017, Dave, whose current startup is NewAer, told a series of stories to a packed room. Some were funny, some were tales of wild success, and some were hard learnings about critical failures. Not quite all of them were his stories, but they were all fascinating.
Dave’s journey is peppered with the unique learnings of a man who has repeatedly jumped off a cliff to find out whether he can build a parachute before he hits the ground. Highlights of his amazing stories are below, or you can listen to his or you can listen to his full talk here.
First, remember to keep trying
“If you take all of them together, I raised $250 million with my startups. I’m going to tell you stories about doing lots of startups and trying lots of things. I’m on my eighth one right now. I’ve 70-something patents granted. And I just keep trying and trying again.”
Story 1: work with smart people
“When I was 14 I hired this kid that was 16 to write software for me. There was a brand new thing called Caller ID.
“I thought that if you called my BBS (the pre-World Wide Web Bulletin Board System used to communicate from computer to computer) and if I knew what area code and exchange you were calling from, I could pop up an ad for you or anyone calling me.
“It was kind of like what Google Adwords did with search. That kid went on to create Salesforce.com… so if I only would have paid him that $100 in order to buy stock in Salesforce I would’ve been way richer!”
Story 2: my biggest, proudest failure
“I do things for passion and the CueCat was my most passionate product. It was the first Internet of Things device [released in 2000], and was a barcode scanner for your computer. In America we made 6 million of them. We added what was a brand new idea, called location services: like GPS, but using your IP address.
“Coca-Cola invested $10M because if there was a Coke can on your desk and you swiped that barcode it’d deep-link you to Coke partner content. So if you swiped a can in Dallas, Texas you’d get a website for Six Flags amusement park in Texas. But if you flew with that same can to Atlanta, Georgia, and swiped that barcode again, that same can would take you to the SeaWorld promotion in that city.
“We raised $205 million: they were all strategic dollars — not a single VC was harmed in the production of this! I thought it was a little ahead of its time. In 2009 both Time and Inc magazines called it the worst invention of the decade. Other things they thought were also bad included DDT, Agent Orange and the Segway.”
I went from making the worst invention of the decade to an Emmy!
Story 3: The job that made my parents happy (and won me an Emmy)
“One time I had a job, and my parents were finally happy… because I got a job. I joined the Slingbox team. It was a bunch of guys, 30 of them at that time — and they just raised $20 million on their first round.
“It used a brand new chip from Texas Instruments called a Digital Signal Processor: it would compress video [from your TV at home] and send it to you anywhere you were in the world. We won an Emmy with that. So I went from making the worst invention of the decade to an Emmy!”
Story 4: Think far ahead and be prepared to fail
“Other people have produced failures that were a little ahead of their time too. Dash was a connected GPS receiver: it plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter and used a cellular connection to get traffic updates from everyone else that used Dash too.
“The problem is that it launched at $600 and had a $13 per month subscription. It eventually dropped it to $400 but it still had that subscription. It failed miserably and was sold to BlackBerry in 2009.
“In 2013 Google bought [community-driven traffic navigation app] Waze for a billion dollars. Dash, as hardware, and Waze, as software, was the same thing — you know, minus that billion dollar purchase.
“The whole idea of leveraging the phone, the software, the GPS — everything inside this supercomputer in your pocket — to do what Dash was trying to do with hardware.”
Story 5: I’m still making tech that connects people and information through location services
“I think we’re de-evolving as humans. As I walked into TOA yesterday I saw that everyone was [looking at their phone screens] so as I walked into TOA today, I talked to the girl next to me instead. I want people looking up: I don’t want people looking down at devices.
“I think software will predict the future, and what I’m trying to do with your phone will enable that. So NewAer has built technology that allows screens showing information that change when you walk up to it. As I approach the screen, the phone in my pocket acts like a cookie and drops a token into the sign.
“At an airport, I don’t need to see a screen with all 400 flights on it. We’re building signs in an airport that — instead of showing every flight — just show the flight information for me and the people standing next to it.
“We collaborate with a conference app called Grip which does [a similar thing] with business networking. So if you want a little icebreaker, Grip uses NewAer technology to find out who’s nearby in the room. And there’s also a dating app that uses it too: you just walk by somebody and you get an alert.”