It seems like the only time families get to connect these days is at the dinner table – that’s if you’re lucky enough to have everyone come home at the same time. The average working parent spends 20 minutes a day with their kid. There are a lot of both small and big everyday things that go unnoticed by parents when it comes to their kids everyday lives. Danny Robinson, Co-founder and CEO of local startup Perch, is working on a way to bring families a little closer together. This “ambient video communication” app is breaking new grounds in the way families communicate on an everyday basis.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and how it got started.
I’m Danny Robinson, I’ve been an early stage technology entrepreneur for over 15 years. Prior to co-founding Perch, I started the first Startup Accelerator in BC called Bootup Labs. I was also the CEO of BCIC; a government-owned corporation dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in British Columbia.
The idea for Perch stemmed out of an app called Redhand, built by the Perch team in early 2012. Redhand was built to monitor an area with any iOS device and record any motion in that area. In the simplest terms, it was an extremely smart security camera. For months, Redhand was recording everything from pets and family, to office shenanigans and sock thieves. It was connecting people on both sides of the camera.
I placed Perch cameras around my house for both testing and home monitoring. Within days of setting up the cameras my kids made the connection that I was on the other end of the camera and I’d be notified when they were in front of the it. Dancing, showing off, boasting about report cards, the kids knew they were in the spotlight and that I could see them. It was at this point that Redhand just wasn’t enough. I wanted to reach out to the person in the recording, talk to them, or just connect in some way without the complexities of current technology.
2. What makes you unique from possible competitors and what compelling evidence have you had from the market that there is a big need for a product like this?
Perch is an always on video communication app that uses something called ambient video communication. No other company can make that claim. That said, we’ve been compared to Facetime, Skype, EveryMe, and Pair, but Perch isn’t a social network or a live video communication tool.
We’ve been seeing this type of communication for years already. In almost every sci-fi movie you’ve seen, they’re usually using some form of impromptu video communication. Perch is just turning that fiction into a reality.
3. Speak more about your direct link to hardware such as the Apple tablets or smartphones the app works through. Also, please speak to the motion sensor capabilities with Perch and how you’re improving that.
Currently, Perch is only available on iOS devices. This is just a launching point for getting Perch out the door, we’ll be expanding to Android and other platforms in the 2013. You can use Perch with one device, but we recommend using at least two. One device as a dedicated camera that you can set up in your home letting you monitor a specific area, as well as send hands-free videos to your family. And the other device being your iPhone or iOS device to receive the notifications regardless of where you are.
Perch can record video when it detects motion in front of the camera. It’s a unique algorithm that we call our ‘interesting detector’. As we progress forward with Perch, the camera will become smarter and be able to inform you of only those moments that you find most interesting.
4. What kind of challenges has your team had to face and how have you mitigated them?
Crafting the technology that runs Perch has been an extremely complex job. We are breaking new ground in computer science by developing machine learning and computer vision software capable of running on lower powered devices. Finding talent to help us overcome these challenges has been the hardest part.
5. How does this improve the city of Vancouver? What is the real world problem you’re solving?
Vancouver’s startup community is becoming much more recognized by the tech world. We hope to build a large company here in Vancouver and become an anchor for the tech sector. We’ve raised money that will not only bring in work for Vancouver, but also showcase how Canadians continue to change the ways people interact.
As the world advances through technology, we have a tendency to miss moments that happen while we’re away. The average working parent only spends 20 minutes directly with their kids on a daily basis. It’s not enough and parents are busier than ever before. We’re trying to bridge this communication gap using Perch.
Perch also uses old recycled devices that many people discard or don’t know what to do with. We take these recycled iOS devices and turn them into something advanced and futuristic.
6. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Don’t do it! Work at a startup first, see if you like it and get a feel for what it’s like to be in an entrepreneurial setting. If you enjoy it, take your idea and run with it.
*End of interview*
Intro video: http://vimeo.com/
Perch has really hit on a great niche that is solving a hidden problem. How do you keep the connection when everyone is just getting busier? Adoption by families for a product like this is getting more realistic as the mainstream usage of apps, smartphones, and tablets soar. There are of course various other opportunities beyond families that Perch can expand to so it will be interesting to see how that unfolds in 2013.
Stay in touch @pauldavidescu
*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send firstname.lastname@example.org an email explaining why*