To celebrate Women’s Day, we hobnobbed with 24 year-old Silicon Valley-based high-tech startup founder Meredith Perry. She’s audacious, persistent, resourceful and a game changer in every sense. Perry’s start-up, uBeam, develops technology using ultrasound to wirelessly charge devices. In 2012, Mike Arrington hailed her demo as the “closest thing to magic” he had seen in a long time. Since, Silicon Valley powerhouses such as Marissa Mayer, Peter Theil, and Andressen Horowitz have invested in uBeam.
Perry designed the early prototypes of uBeam’s technology without any engineering degree, relying on in-depth Internet research and “begging professors to teach her extra concepts after class.” When she first brought her idea to experts and engineers she was met with point-blank responses along the lines of ‘you are trying to do the impossible; it will never work.’
Our three takeaways from Perry’s seemingly unlikely success:
#1 Persist through naysaying by pursuing open-minded research
In her TEDx talk, Perry reported asking herself, “how can I get this to work” rather than a binary, “will this work or not?”
When experts diagnosed her designs with insurmountable challenges, Perry turned to tangentially related research — from acoustic weapons to musical instruments — to find new solutions. For example, a professor told her she could never transmit enough power through sound to charge a phone, but she kept moving forward with the idea because of the research she did on acoustic bombs. After she’d put considerable effort into research and thinking up out of the box solutions, many of the experts she spoke to came back and said, “hmmm, actually that could work.”
Perry was pursuing a degree in Paleobiology with a focus in Astrobiology, and had no background in electrical engineering, but her dedication to thorough and open-minded research embodies the axiom that crazy ideas are revolutionary ideas yet to be fully explored.
#2 Hire the experts
Through persistent, open-minded research, Perry was able to communicate competence and rally engineers to help her realize her designs — beginning with a fellow student who wired the first proof of concept model. She won University of Pennsylvania’s student invention competition. She then found an engineer in Indiana who helped to dramatically increase both the power output as well as the range of her prototype in just under a month to demo on stage at All Things D.
By continuing her dogged research efforts, Perry is now working with engineers at the top of their fields — several of whom were authors of the papers she was reading in her early stages of research. When we interviewed her, she said, “It was most efficient to go directly to the source. It was relieving to finally be able delegate to people who knew a lot more than me after working on the technology independently for over a year.” Now, uBeam will be able to go beyond parts found on the shelves and create its own specialty parts for its product.
#3 Root out the investors likely to support your vision
Initially, Perry had difficulty finding willing investors for uBeam. In 2013, the New York Times reported that she decided to research investors who had financed “crazy things.”
In her interview with us, she recommended “seek[ing] out specific investors online interested in your startup’s space versus just trying to get in front of the “top investors”. Again, an out of the box approach proved successful. “Prior to raising my first seed round, I went on AngelList and searched for investors that invested in things as unusual and crazy as wireless power (i.e. aerospace startups, hardware startups, etc).” Her efforts paid off, attracting support from Founders Fund, the venture capital fund from former Paypal founder Peter Thiel. Perry soon after gained the support of Yahoo’s CEO, Marisa Mayer within a record-breaking 12 minutes!
In conclusion, as Perry rightly blogs, “Never, never, never give up. If you believe in what you’re doing and you’re not breaking the laws of Physics, then it can be done. It’s just a matter of how and when. Pull as many teeth as needed to get there.”
Charu Sharma is a TEDx Speaker and the author of a forthcoming book on women entrepreneurs, and Ariel Marcy is the Founder & CEO of Silicon Valley-based Edutech startup STEAM Galaxy Studios. They co-curate an entrepreneurship blog theshiplog.com. Follow them on twitter at @charu1603 and @aemarcy.
International Women’s Day (March 8th) began in the early 1900’s as a way to advocate for women’s rights. Now it is a celebration of women’s achievements in order to inspire continued progress towards equality.
VB’s research team is studying mobile user acquisition: Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.