Eric Kanagy of SimpleSense Answers Four Questions for Founders
Newlab member SimpleSense develops information-sharing interconnects that decrease emergency response time.
Founded in 2017, SimpleSense started in the private sector, connecting 911 to Fortune 500 security teams and moving into the defense sector with a $9M contract with the U.S. Air Force. SimpleSense is headquartered at Newlab in Brooklyn, home to over 800 entrepreneurs, engineers, and inventors solving the world’s biggest challenges.
1. Tell us about the journey since SimpleSense’s launch.
My co-founder and I had founded adtech and IoT startups previously that hadn’t scaled and we wanted to take our lessons learned to build a scalable startup that solves a meaningful problem, one that improves the built world that we all share. After our initial idea for SimpleSense didn’t pan out, through a chance introduction, we won a government skunkworks hackathon which exposed us to an entire universe of massive legacy problems very much in need of startup thinking and resolve. Four accelerators and over 600 user interviews later (the primary metric for our first two years of existence), we’ve found problem-solution fit and are scaling our information-sharing approach with early adopters in the defense and security sectors.
2. How are you applying transformative technology to create a positive impact?
As consumers, the smartphone has truly transformed our lives in terms of convenience, communication, and access to information. When you step into the built environment of a city, military base, subdivision, or corporate campus, however, you’re dealing with legacy software systems that don’t interoperate. For example, FDNY is running software called Starfire that was written before I was born, in 1980. This single program coordinates response to around two million 911 calls each year. There are reasons Starfire’s still around, however, and we don’t propose to replace it. In safety and security, succeeding means figuring out how to blend modern technology with whatever legacy tech is still in use. It’s not a sexy space that gets a lot of attention or funding, but it is very much in need of transformation, and there’s a small group of startups, SimpleSense included, who are working to make this change happen.
3. What has been your biggest challenge as co-founders, and how have you learned from it?
The biggest challenge for me is prioritizing time. As a founder, there are a million things you could be doing at any given time. Identifying the projects that are most important to moving the mission forward is a daily journey. You can’t control many things as a startup, but you can control your priorities. It’s easy to get sucked into putting out the daily fires and trying to keep every stakeholder happy and really hard to step back and think about the why and how of what you’re doing. Going through YC startup school and several accelerators was a big help in understanding the Tao of startups: I intuited my way as a founder before and really needed to study why, what, and how I was building. There are a ton of free founder resources and amazing communities out there. Don’t try to figure it all out on your own like I did early on.
4. What role has Newlab played in helping you advance SimpleSense?
Newlab is one of these amazing communities of startups working to solve difficult problems, many of them in legacy industries. Being able to go to work and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs at a similar stage is key to continuing to learn outside of a formal accelerator. Especially in a post-COVID world, engaging with the community is how we will re-integrate and re-build the world, making it better than it was before.
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