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Starfish smartwatch saga illustrates entrepreneurial stumbling blocks

Lex Friedman | Feb. 6, 2013
One of the booths I was eager to see at this year's Macworld/iWorld was that of a company I'd never heard of and a product I'd never seen. I first learned of Starfish from the company's advertisement in the current issue of Macworld magazine; that ad touts: "The next biggest thing is the next smallest thing: The world's first ever interactive iPhone and iPad mirroring device on your wrist."

Saturday arrived, but the watch didn't, at least not at first. After hourly promises of its imminent arrival, a single prototype of the Starfish watch appeared sometime before 1 p.m.

My colleague Dan Moren got to the booth before I did, and the Starfish device wasn't working then. It had apparently worked, briefly, in some sense of the word "worked," when a reporter for TUAW visited the booth. Megan Lavey-Heaton wrote "[t]he prototype that I saw today didn't do that much; it just accepts incoming calls." The company's CEO, Jason Buzi, told Lavey-Heaton that a Kickstarter campaign for the watch, originally scheduled for last fall, would kick off soon, and that the watch would cost $169.

My colleague Dan Moren visited the booth again and met Buzi. When Moren asked to see the watch, Buzi walked back to the prototype--which he described as "primitive"--pushed a button on it, left it where it was, and returned to Moren at the booth without offering any further information.

Moren told me that Buzi's interactions with other booth visitors seemed equally strange. "He seemed totally unengaged with other customers," Moren said. "He'd stare over their heads and answer monosyllabically."

By the time I got back to the booth, Buzi was gone, and the watch was dead.

On my watch list

The sole representative at the booth when I returned wouldn't give his name. What information he did give me didn't mesh with what Buzi had told TUAW. The rep told me, repeatedly, that the product had already been funded on Kickstarter. At the time, we couldn't find any record of it on the crowdfunding site--and no surprise, since the company's CEO later confirmed to Macworld that that information was incorrect.

That rep also claimed that the watch would start shipping in two weeks. And he told me that the watch would get 24 hours of battery life. But he couldn't answer my questions about how it worked, how it resized mirrored screen displays to fit its aspect ratio, how it handled touch input, what sort of connections it required, or any other technical details.

"What do you do for the company?" I asked.

"I watch the booth for my friend, the CEO, who asked me to," he responded.

"Will the CEO be back at the booth to answer questions later?" I asked.

"He'll be back when the show floor is closing," was the response.

I returned to the booth a couple hours later, with a few minutes left before the show floor would close. The same rep remained. He indicated that, in fact, Buzi wouldn't be coming back at all.

"Why did he send you to man the booth if you can't answer questions about the watch?" I asked the rep.

 

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