How did you go from Olin student to becoming inventor and business manager of Mooshimeter?
After graduating as an Electrical and Computer Engineering major, I worked for my big brother as a two-men IT company called Charm City Networks in Baltimore.Then, from 2010-2012, I worked at Boston Dynamics on a variety of their hydraulic robot projects. I became the lead Electrical Engineer on the Atlas project. It was fun but I felt like I wasn't growing, so I struck out on my own. I went in to business for myself as an EE freelancer and did a variety of contract gigs, before deciding to try build and sell a product from scratch, which became the Mooshimeter."
What led you to invent the Mooshimeter?
I've wanted to make a wireless meter since high school when I was working on the DARPA Grand Challenge. That was an autonomous vehicle race. I sometimes wanted to check electrical values while the vehicle was driving around, but that was impossible from the sideline or from a follow car. This was in the mid-2000s, when Blackberry was king of the smartphone, and most people carried flip or candy bar phones. So I was thinking more along the lines of a detachable display meter, since a smartphone connected meter at that time wouldn't make sense.
DARPA Grand Challenge team, 2005. With George Harris '09
I encountered the exact same issues when working at Boston Dynamics. The solution was so darn obvious; I just never had the time to develop it. The cheapest way to connect to a smartphone at the time was through Bluetooth Classic, which was very expensive money and power-wise. It also required painful certifications to talk to an Apple smartphone (look up the Apple MFi program if you're curious).
Many startups were building some sort of smartphone connected, wearable nonsense. So while freelancing, I designed a few of those and got very familiar with newer radio protocols. One of those newer protocols was Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE). BTLE was simple, was being adopted industry wide, and had no special certification requirements. Furthermore, you could get the radios for $2 each off of Digikey. I had cultivated all the necessary skills from design to assembly, so that I could make the first prototypes myself for a few hundred dollars. So the Mooshimeter is just one of many ideas that have been percolating since forever. It's an old idea re-implemented for 2015's technology stack. Like most inventions in real life, there was never any "Eureka" moment, no light bulb over the head. That's a story that sells well but it is almost never true in real life.
Why did you call it Mooshimeter?
When freelancing I wanted to put up a corporate curtain but couldn't think of a name. Everything I could come up with sounded kind of dumb, so I accepted that anything I picked was going to sound dumb, and I should go for something that's personally meaningful. Mooshim is my mom's dog's name. Mooshim (무심) literally means "no heart" but idiomatically it's closer to "without attachment" or "clear mind"."
Mooshim is on the right
The multi-meter project became the "Mooshim Multimeter", but that's clumsy, so it just evolved into "Mooshimeter". It turns out Mooshi sounds exactly like the German word Muschi, which is a casual way of referring to lady parts. So Mooshimeter translates to German as something like "lady-parts-detector". About ¼ of the crowdfunding backers were German. I hope they're not disappointed."
What was the biggest challenge in your entrepreneurship experience with Mooshimeter?
Did you do any market testing while/before prototyping the Mooshimeter?
As an Electrical Engineer, I'm part of the user group and market. Furthermore, every EE I talked to about the meter said there is something useful they can do with it, so that gave me some confidence about the idea. Eric VanWyk, also an Olin alum, shopped the idea and some prototype videos around and got some distributors to express an interest in the idea early (late 2013). That was a great validation.
What are your next steps for Mooshimeter? What are your hopes and goals for it? Are you thinking of developing it for long term production?
As I write this there are about 1300 meters in the wild and 700 in stock. Initial reviews are very positive and there are a few distributors expressing interest in larger volumes. I'd like to make a new version and start producing more of them. The big players (Fluke, Agilent, Chinese copycats) are already moving to integrate smartphone connections into their meters, so I have to try to make a move while there's an opening. To bump up the volumes will require growing the company though. Right now it's just me. Every one of the 2000 meters in existence was assembled and calibrated in my 10x12 office (though the individual parts were subcontracted out). I probably did about half of them, and I have a few friends who come in on the weekends and evenings and do manual labor for favors, beer and food. Doing a run of 10,000 will require actual hiring, training and investment...
The office. My friend Kate boxed herself in packing orders and made the best of it.
Do you have other ideas that you want to build?
Many, and all entirely unrelated to the Mooshimeter. But I have to see this project through to a sustainable place before taking on anything else.
What are some thoughts or advice for current Oliners?
Advice? I am hardly the person to ask but I'll try: Promoting your work is as important as the work itself. This doesn't mean you have to be bombastic, but you need to find ways to make it clear what you're working on and what you've accomplished. Whether it's an email to your boss or a post to your blog, communication is key. Working in silence doesn't look like work to anyone but you. Passion is fickle. Cultivate discipline. Creativity and passion are just noise if you can't follow through. Do what's the most efficient for you- which might mean allowing time for 8 hours of sleep each night and 1 hour of exercise every day. Especially when you work for your own business, there's no need to look like you are working hard for others, outcome is the only metric.
Don't worry if you have no idea what you want to do when you graduate. I stopped believing in the idea that 'technology can change the world' some time in my junior year. And it shook me that there's no purpose in life. Just make sure you keep challenging yourself and learning as much as your brain can take. Your education doesn't end with a diploma. "
To learn more about the Mooshimeter, check out the website: https://moosh.im/. James' blogs on the website form a good example of clear communication of his work with the rest of the world!