Meet the Cool Idea! Award Judges: Taylor Stein
The Cool Idea! Award judges are technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs, instructors, and some are even past Cool Idea! Award recipients. All of our judges have a story worth sharing, so we sat down with each for a quick Q&A to help you get to know them a bit better.
Next up in our Q&A series is Taylor Stein. He’s a technology evangelist at Autodesk based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work at Autodesk focuses on inspiring future engineers to solve real-world problems with generative design software and additive manufacturing.
What are you looking forward to most about being a Cool Idea! Award judge in 2017?
I’m most excited for the range of submissions in 2017! Looking at past award winners, I’m equally as impressed by the smart, connected devices, as I am by the simplest of products that need some injection molding to come to life.
Tell us about your background—what’s something about your professional life that we wouldn’t necessarily know by looking at your LinkedIn profile?
I find myself coding more and more at work each and every day. From writing Python scripts that gather social media metrics to algorithmically defining pieces of geometry, coding is continuing to be an incredibly important skill.
What’s the best piece of entrepreneurial or business advice you’ve received and how did it help you?
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on a hard enough problem—which is a mistake”—Wendell Castle. I attended a talk by renowned furniture designer, Wendell Castle, this past year, and this quote has stuck with me ever since. Challenging yourself is crucial to growth and success, and mistakes are nothing more than well-disguised learning opportunities.
What entrepreneurial or business advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs and startup companies?
User experience is everything. I see startup after startup building products that may be technologically advanced, built with advanced mechanisms and systems that excite their inner engineer, but at the end of the day, this doesn’t equate to a product people necessarily love. From software to hardware, never forget who your users are and what their experience will be as a newcomer to your product.
What companies or individuals are breaking the mold when it comes to innovation? What are they doing differently than others?
When I think of innovation, Tesla is the first company that comes to mind. Tesla introduced the first sexy electric vehicle, but their innovation doesn’t stop at the mere design of their cars. From over-the-air updates to simple features that make you love their product (automatic extending door handles, anyone?), Tesla continues to innovate and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Even re-imagining the buying process, by cutting out the antiquated process of haggling over the price of a car, Tesla is certainly breaking the mold. We talk about ignoring the norm when discussing innovation, and Tesla has truly done this across the board.
What are the most valuable resources available for innovators, inventors, makers, etc.?
The amount of knowledge and information available online—for free—is incredibly valuable to anyone that makes anything. Resources such as YouTube and Instructables have created communities for content creators to educate and share their passions with anyone wanting to learn. Want to learn CNC machining from scratch? There’s a YouTube channel (or twenty) for that. Building an RFID Door Lock? Pick from a selection of curated step-by-step guides on Instructables.
What qualities will you look for in a good Cool Idea! Award applicant?
In a Cool Idea! Award applicant, I’m not necessarily looking for something in a given industry or with a monstrous market potential. I’m really looking for an innovative idea that changes the norm and solves a real problem. With the lucrative acquisitions of hardware companies such as Nest and Oculus, there seems to be an unnecessary focus on building the next unicorn hardware startup. Whether you’re improving the lives of the elderly, or helping individuals sit with better posture, there’s no shame in a modest, profitable hardware business.
What’s your all-time favorite product and why?
As far as products I’ve owned, my favorite has to be my GoPro Hero Session. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved making movies, and this handy GoPro allows me to record everything. From weekend woodworking projects to traveling with friends, I’m able to capture it all. The entire camera is waterproof, fits in my pocket, and can shoot 4K!
What product do you think has had the biggest positive impact on people’s lives and why?
In my mind, the smartphone has had the biggest positive impact on people’s lives. Being able to walk around with the world’s collective knowledge in your pocket is truly remarkable. People are connected more now than ever, and the smartphone as a platform has opened the door for countless additional innovations.
What’s your favorite Cool Idea! Award-winning product and why?
My favorite Cool Idea! Award-winning product is the SOLOSHOT. As I mentioned previously, I love my GoPro, but I’m a bit limited when it comes to non FPV shots. This product solves that problem, and does so in an easy-to-use way. I’ve never used the product myself, but I’d love to give it a try one day!
What’s the most random thing you’ve ever watched all the way through on Netflix?
Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It was excellent.
Stay tuned for more one-on-one discussions with the Cool Idea! Award judges. In the meantime, check out the Cool Idea! Award website to learn more about our manufacturing service grant. If you have a project you’d like to submit for consideration, apply here.