September 29, 2014

Boston Tech Startup Pavlok Looking to Shock the World

What were you doing when you were 13? I can tell you what I wasn’t doing… writing a book. 

That is, however, precisely what Maneesh Sethi was doing – authoring the international best seller (that even went on to become a textbook in Poland) Game Programming for Teens

This accomplishment set Sethi up for a run of success that would go on to include a TV show on what is now known as G4 TV, 5 more books, trips around the world as a “famous DJ” (he and a friend hacked their own celebrity and had club promoters believing the hype) during a break from Stanford University and he even owned a camel. 

Sethi started a blog called Hack the System where he would work on random projects (like becoming a famous DJ) and write about them. These projects, while great to write about, made it hard for him to remain productive. Leading to him to realizing his productivity flaws. 

Sethi hired someone off of craigslist to slap him every time he strayed from task. He found his productivity results skyrocket and this data would become great market research for his latest venture, Pavlok, the wearable dubbed “a personal coach on your wrist.”

In December 2012 Sethi and a friend went to Radio Shack, purchased some items and hacked together a dog collar that shocked him every time he looked at Facebook. As he was about to post a video of this stunt online he realized he could be on to a true business opportunity. 

Sethi searched for someone to build his vision and in March he tells me he said to his brother “I need to figure this out right now or I’ll lose my passion and this is the best idea I’ve ever had.” 

In May of ‘13, Sethi was turned on to Bolt here in Boston, where he would apply and win the Wild Card slot and a $50,000
investment. He arrived at the hardware seed fund with hardly any knowledge of hardware on August 1, 2013.  It was there where he’d be introduced to his co-founder, Jim Lynch, and things would really start to take shape. 

How does this "Wearable Coach" Work? 

Pavlok uses positive and negative reinforcement to help people make and break habits. Negative reinforcement such as monetary penalties, posting to your Facebook page and electric shock. Positive reinforcement such as cash rewards, gift cards and points.” Director of Strategy, Chris Schelzi told me. 

First you’ll need to jump on Indiegogo today to purchase Pavlok. The online campaign launched this morning and the device will run you $99 with an estimated arrival time of March ’15. 

According to Schelzi, “Once people receive the device they can set it up using the iPhone or Android app. They can choose which habits they want to tackle first, whether they want to build a good habit or break a bad one, and then they can get going. In less 60 and usually less than 30 days they'll be able to establish or break habits.” 

Examples would be receiving a shock when you look at Facebook, waking up an hour earlier or getting yourself to the gym. The key feature is the “shock” (sudden vibration) given off through the device. This self-administered punishment trains your mind to stay on task. 

I had a chance to test the shock, it’s enough to get your attention (and not want it again), but certainly not harmful in any way.

You can also sync up goals with friends. Within your group you may have a wager (automated through Pavlok platform) where anyone missing the gym that day needs to pony up a few dollars or where others can publically denounce your skipping of exercise on Facebook. 

The device, or “module,” will also have the ability to be stuck anywhere on one’s body under a patch for those of who prefer not to add another item to their wrists. 

The basis behind Pavlok is to help people kick bad habits and form new, good habits. Their technology will continue to develop to where they’ll be able to add features, white label the platform and even work toward medical device breakthroughs. 

Sethi has a strong track record of success and he’s clearly passionate about seeing this through to do great things and help change people’s lives for the better… So, I anticipate an impressive product come next spring. 

We all have some habits to kick, why not have a local tech startup help us reach personal new heights.

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid
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