Just because you are not a tech geek doesn’t mean you can’t create amazing technology
Have you ever heard the name, Meredith Perry? If not, don’t worry about it because you probably weren’t supposed to know her name, to begin with, based on traditional University type thinking. But I’m going to tell you all about her and why you will know her name! After you hear this story, you are going to have a renewed faith in everything you thought was impossible.
Meredith was a typical college student in 2007 at the University of Pennsylvania studying Paleobiology and was just living the typical college lifestyle. One day while in her dorm room, she noticed that all the technology she was using was basically wireless, like her Phone, the internet on her laptop, Bluetooth signal to her printer and on and on, but the one thing she still had to do was plug in the charger for all of her devices to charge the battery. That was still a corded technology that looked to be unavoidable because she thought that all these amazing people that invented wireless technology surely would have thought to create wireless charging if it were even remotely possible.
But Meredith was not the kind of person to just assume that something was not possible just because she knew nothing about it. For one, she was not a tech major, she was studying Paleobiology and not electrical engineering, so this kind of thing was a little out of her wheelhouse. The only thing she had going for her in her question of why there is not wireless power technology was she was a student at a large University. There would be physics and engineering professors right there on campus she could schedule some time with, free of charge, to ask the question. Meredith went to talk to a physics professor and she showed him her idea of wireless power charging. The physics professor nearly laughed her out of his office. He said that many people have tried to develop this technology and in fact, Nikoli Tesla, one of the greatest electrical engineers of all times and the discoverer of alternating current, could not master wireless power through the airwaves. He told her it was impossible and the laws of physics limited the technology and that’s why there is no such thing as wireless power.
This was a little disappointing to hear but not nearly as disappointing as the way he talked to her about it. He was very condescending and patronizing toward her lack of scientific knowledge. She left his office more determined than ever to get the answer to her question. She then went to see an electrical engineering professor, and once again, she was laughed at and told the same thing as what the physics professor had told her about the laws of physics. While still talking to the engineering professor, she decided to change the dynamic of the conversation a little and stop asking if wireless power technology was possible, but, what it would require to make it possible! (I want you to take special note of what Meredith did here in changing the direction of this conversation. She decided that her asking if the tech was possible was causing these professors to think like an academic and not an innovator. But if you ask what is needed to make something possible, then you are forcing them to think outside their education to solve a problem).
The electrical engineering professor decided to humor her question and explained to her what kind of technology she would need to make wireless power work. She wrote down everything he said and at the end of the conversation, he mentioned that wireless power technology was still not going to be possible because those things he just explained to her don’t exist and that there are no electrical parts manufactures that actually make them. She thanked him for the information and as she left his office, she was more motivated now than ever because he just told the entire secret to wireless power without him even realizing it! What made it seem even more possible was, not only did she have a blueprint of how to make it work, she also learned how to get people that were a lot smarter than her to tell her what she wanted to hear by not asking if the technology was possible, but what was needed to make it possible.
Meredith took the list of all the non-existent parts that would be needed and reaffirmed her strategy of getting really smart people like physicists and electrical engineers to give her information and went out to get the parts made. She went to engineers and manufactures and told them about a certain part that she would need for them to build and not what the part was for! She said she would pay for the part and the labor to make it and left it at that. She went to several engineers and manufactures and did the same thing but never telling them what the parts were for. Once she had all the parts needed, she put them together just like the first engineer told her to, and Boom! Wireless power! The technology worked and it was developed by a student that had no background in tech, engineering or physics!
She took her crude electrical prototype back to the physics professor that laughed at her and told her that wireless power was impossible and demonstrated the technology to him. The professor sat in complete confusion and said, “Holy shit! That thing works!”
The technology that the professors and engineers were thinking she was after was in fact, probably impossible by sending an actual electrical current through the air wirelessly to a device to be charged. But the technology that Meredith developed was based on extremely tight wave links of sound waves that easily travel through the air wirelessly. These sound waves create a charge once the device receives the sound wave-link. Meredith took her technology and went on to found a company called uBeam. The die had been cast by just asking a question in a way to get the information needed, and now her company, uBeam, specializes in wireless power technology. Meredith’s company, uBeam, is currently backed by large name tech investors such as Mark Cuban and Silicon Valley powerhouse investor, Andreessen Horowitz, and many others with the first round of funding of $10 million dollars!
Meredith’s story and how she started uBeam resonates with me so much and is undoubtedly one of the greatest entrepreneurial success stories of all time because it contains and highlights 3 very important parts that most people won’t recognize at first.
- College professors and university studies don’t know everything! Think about this, Meredith’s non-tech background may have actually allowed this kind of incredible technology to come to fruition. I have always believed that a naive eye can bring a perspective to a problem that experts and intellectuals in the field may not be able to see. Meredith was just asking why this isn’t possible without an academically influenced mind on the subject. Armed with that information, here’s another question you now have to ask yourself; what other technologies that are traditionally thought to be impossible, are now possible? Maybe we should just start ignoring the laws of physics and just start engineering them out! It seems to me, limits are only for the limited!
- Asking how to make something work vs if something can work has proven to be the very catalyst that made uBeam possible. This story makes me think that much more amazing technology would be possible, and probably materialized sooner if the right people would have asked the right question in the right way! Forcing people you want information from to think in the how-to mindset vs if-possible mindset will get them to shift out of the philosophical way of problem-solving and into the practical way of problem-solving.
- Meredith was not a tech major. As more and more technology develops and user interface gets easier and easier, people are now not required to have a tech education or background to start a tech startup. There is also a growing business movement that makes being an entrepreneur, even more entrepreneurial. This is where if you want to start a company that you don’t have much background in or develop something you don’t know much about, you just hire the people who do! It’s always best to surround yourself with smarter people than you, but you have to make sure you’re still in control!
I think the story of Meredith Perry should tell you that if someone is telling you something is impossible, they might be too close to the problem.
Daniel J Bockman