“Partner Up” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Somnox co-founder and Head of Growth, Julian Jagtenberg. Somnox is the world’s first sleep robot that…

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Somnox co-founder and Head of Growth, Julian Jagtenberg. Somnox is the world’s first sleep robot that works by using scientifically proven cognitive and simulated human breathing techniques to accelerate the process of falling asleep.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

During my time at the Robotics Institute at the Delft University of Technology, I was confronted with the very real, close-to-home fact that my own mother was suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation. She was forced to take addictive medication in order to fall asleep. It bothered me she was suffering and I had a difficult time understanding why medication was the only way to help her rest and get a good night’s sleep.

As a result, I decided to challenge myself as a robotics engineer and put robotic technology to use to help solve insomnia and sleep deprivation. As a result, my co-founders and I built some early soft robotic prototypes of what would eventually become Somnox, the world’s first sleep robot.

The soft robotic prototypes we built worked not only for my mom, but also others. We received thousands of emails based upon our initial prototype and research paper. It was crazy that without any marketing whatsoever, literally more than 1000 emails came in per week based on a research paper in the university’s repository.

That was the “A-ha” moment we decided to bring the Somnox sleep robot to the world to help as many people as possible live their life to the fullest after a great night’s rest.

The university is the perfect playground to explore theories and prototypes and take risks, and you can come up with great inventions! However, university is not the place to scale your idea and bring it to the end user. A startup is the most scalable way to do so. For this reason, Somnox was born as a business.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We develop soft robotic companions for personal wellbeing that help sleep-challenged people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. We’ve created a soft robotic companion that feels like a living being because it breathes. Our first product is a sleep robot that improves sleep naturally using guided breathing regulation combined with soothing audio at the right time in the sleep cycle. You snuggle and spoon with it in much the same way you would a person.

This is part of our unique value proposition because it adds up to the application for personal wellbeing and health.

During our R&D and testing phases, we’ve even had early customers name the sleep robot (like they would a dog or a cat), and many of them had a really hard time returning the prototype to us because they built an emotional bond with the product (sleep robot).

To me, this is the highest form of design you can reach, because emotional value makes things human. Nowadays, too much tech is techie, but not in terms of value, emotion and benefits.

At Somnox, we believe in value, not tech. We believe that smart soft robotics like our sleep robot will make a major difference in people’s daily health and happiness.

Other than that we have built a dream team over the past two and a half years including A-list players from the field of robotics engineering, sleep science and business development. We’re here to start a wake-up call to initiate the future of sleep.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Yes, we are about to launch and start shipping our sleep robot worldwide in mid-October of this year. We are super excited about bringing the world sleep naturally, and potentially helping millions of people get the rest their bodies need.

The soft, Somnox sleep robot helps you fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up energized. The Somnox sleep robot differentiates itself from other sleep technologies as a sleep companion that helps to improve sleep by breathing regulation and soothing sounds. An accompanying mobile application can help the user set his/her personal preferences to have a tailored approach to solving sleep at night.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. I read his previous book, Homo Sapien, as well. I love science fiction and was obsessed with it as a kid. I love that Yuval describes the future of AI/Robotics and the impact it will have on our daily lives. He described trends, stating that things that happened in the past can be projected on the future.

As Mark Twain once said: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

The Homo Deus book makes me believe we can, to a certain degree, predict the future — that the ideas of tomorrow are already there, but it’s just about connecting the dots.

I keep positive and hopeful that people — myself included — can solve worldwide challenges using the technology of today and trends that are already there.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twenty-something Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 – Just do it.

I know so many people that have great ideas, but never act upon them. An idea is worth nothing unless it’s acted upon. It’s the team and the execution that matters. Of course, it is risky and people will judge you and you can indeed fail. But never let your ideas and dreams pass by. You owe it to yourself to at least give it a try! The worst-case scenario is that you learn a valuable lesson that will be with you the rest of your life.

2 – Identify assumptions.

Be honest with yourself. Your idea can be great, but it is most likely full of assumptions. You think that you know who your customer is, but you need to prove it. If you think you know the value of your product, prove it! Use experiments and data to iterate quickly and validate your assumptions before you invest.

3 – Fail quickly.

Make sure you test everything intensively. First at small scale and then scale up! It can be very dangerous to spend millions of hours and dollars in an idea that in the end fails because you didn’t talk to your end customer or failed to do intensive user testing of your product. Many things will be wrong and you will fail. But, you should see failure as a gift. It’s an opportunity to improve and be better than anyone else. As Eric Ries once said, “The only way to win is learn faster than anyone else”.

4 – Partner up.

Don’t do everything alone. Find A-list players to join your team who have the same mission as you. Look further than just your team as well. Which companies and organization in the field have the mission and right of existence? In our case we found our partner Auping, Europe’s number one bed manufacturer to help us bring the product to market because our missions are aligned. Believe you’re always stronger, together.

5 – Make hiring your #1 priority.

The team is everything. In the end, companies are people. It’s people who work on the product and the mission, so if the team is not right, it is all doomed. Spend your time sourcing A-players, this will cost you a massive amount of time and money, but this can be a huge advantage to scale in the future. We made the mistake early on of hiring too easily. We got the wrong hire, which resulted in a lot stress and a waste of money and time — both of which are critical in the early stages of a tech-startup.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to have a private meditation session with Ariel Garten, founder of InteraXon (who developed the MUSE meditation headband). With her background in science and art she’s combined state-of-the-art technology with meditation — something this busy world needs now more than ever.

I also find it super inspiring that a woman like her founded the company, and made it a huge success with a mission behind it. I believe that’s very important — bringing the world calmness. Why would I like to meditate with her? First of all she is inspiring in so many ways, that I believe it can only help energize me to keep going. On the other hand, I feel like my company and hers could potentially collaborate and bring the world more peace of mind and rest like never before.

Jean: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

— Published on June 27, 2018

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