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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."

But even if the streaming works beautifully, Buzi acknowledged, "the limitation of that is that it's not interactive, so it's only one-way. We didn't realize how much demand there would be for more interactivity, so we kind of changed direction. We need to make it more interactive, because people want to do all these things with it and not just have it mirror, so it kind of evolved into basically a more interactive device."

The watch Buzi now hopes to make would offer both modes: a standalone mirroring option that isn't interactive, and a more traditional interface that could handle interactive touch. "The number one feature request is that people want to speak into the watch, so we want to add a microphone and speaker, too," he added.

"We want it to still be a mirroring device," Buzi said. "We haven't sold any yet, and we haven't taken anybody's money yet, but we want to be consistent with [what we said the watch could do]." He maintains that the entire iPhone screen will fit mirrored on the watch's display, despite the very different aspect ratios.

But it sounds like Buzi is realizing that offering such features may be somewhere between impossible and unmanageable. "The mirroring technology that we developed requires that separate box, and it doesn't have interactive features, and people really want interactive."

To explain his understaffed booth, Buzi described himself as feeling "dispirited and depressed" when the nonfunctional prototype watch arrived from China, after shipping delays and customs problems with the package, which he says related to the watch's lithium ion battery. "I wasn't as available as I should have been" he said about his presence on the show floor. He tried to train his friends on the answers to what he anticipated as the most common questions, and attributes the misinformation that reporters and customers may have received to his friends' misunderstandings.

Buzi says the watches aren't shipping any time soon; the plan is to try to get on Kickstarter in the near future, but the broken prototypes will likely delay that attempt.

Whither Starfish

Renting booth space for a nonexistent product takes a certain degree of gumption, optimism, and, of course, cash. Buzi's company isn't the first to possess all three, but his is the first booth at Macworld/iWorld in recent memory with nothing in the way of concrete products to show.

Perhaps the real surprise is that wantrepreneurs aren't a more regular occurrence at expos like Macworld/iWorld. It's easier than ever to come up with and publicize an idea on the Internet, but it's as hard as ever to turn an idea--particularly a hardware-based idea--from a concept into a reality.


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