Helen Thomas’s Touchjet touch tech smashes crowdsourcing records

10K backers bring 100K in a single day, nearly 700K total on Indiegogo. And that's only 1 of 3 huge rounds. Helen Thomas works crowdsourcing to rocket Touchjet to success. Here's how.

tj_logoWhat inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?

In January 2015, I joined Touchjet to lead the global team as CEO, based on my background working with companies like LeapFrog and Livescribe. I contributed to Touchjet’s first Indiegogo campaign for the Touchjet Pond Projector by making sure the products were produced with a high quality standard and shipped to backers as soon as possible. The campaign had committed to an unrealistic timeframe and after months of delays, Touchjet was low on cash and overwhelmed by complaints. So my first order of business was to solve these challenges to ensure our backers continued to be supporters. I put together a supply chain, as well as a professional, experienced management team to ensure the delivery of the devices.

Today, we learned from our past mistakes and made changes to provide the best experience to backers with our second Indiegogo campaign for our newest product, Touchjet WAVE. We did so by partnering with a well-known manufacturer, Seveco Global Ltd. out of Hong Kong, to ensure the product is delivered on time.

It turned out that the Pond backers were the first to jump in and back the WAVE campaign, which shows the power of the community and the importance of proper execution.

What do you see for your future?

Continuing to move forward and make things happen for this industry. Being the CEO of a startup is a nonstop responsibility. I have to work constantly on the future and the present, balancing the cash flow and priorities. For Touchjet, the vision is there. We’ve got over a million views of our YouTube channel and close to 10,000 backers/customers who paid for our products or supported us on crowdfunding. We developed two products and already shipped one with very little resources. This has been a gratifying experience for me as the first-time CEO and a female tech CEO in the Silicon Valley. I am looking forward to doing great things in the future. It takes vision, strategy, execution (as a team), and timing.

Helen Thomas Touchjet TV screenWhat do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?

As I mentioned, we launched Touchjet’s second product, the WAVE, in August on Indiegogo. It’s been hugely successful, as we reached our initial $100,000 goal within 24 hours and finished the campaign on October 8 with $688,217 raised.

The WAVE is the first device on the market that turns any flat screen TV or monitor into an interactive touchscreen with the built-in Android operating system. This offers great opportunities It is the most interactive TV device available and is the most cost effective solution for touch technology like this. It was created to bring interaction to the home, boardroom and classroom. That’s why we added the Android operating system so users have access to hundreds of thousands of Google Play apps.

As far as challenges go, Touchjet needs support from investors so we can quickly grow our market share and further advance our patented touch technology and connect software.

How can we help your business?

Exposure. Touchjet is a small company with currently only 10 employees. In comparison, Microsoft has a lot of resources for their huge touchscreen tablet that costs tens of thousands of dollars and Apple sells Apple TV with no touchscreen. We are in-between these giants with the most interactive and comprehensive solutions. We would like the opportunity to share our unique patented technology with influential investors and leaders in the tech and startup community.

Helen Thomas Touchjet PictureWhere did you grow up? And how is where you came from material to your identity as an entrepreneur?

 I’m from China. I came to the Bay Area after college. I’ve been here since 1992 and worked for American companies throughout my career. I still have the little printed ad in SF Chronicle for a position at S&W Fine Foods. I got an interview with the Senior Vice President of Sales and Operations. He walked me to the elevator at the end and told me: “Helen, you left your home in Beijing, traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, came to San Francisco, and ended up in my office today. Very few people could have done that. I think I should give you a chance.” His name is Chuck Smutny, my first mentor. From there I started my career. Later on, I went to UC Berkeley and got my MBA from Haas Business School. I transformed my career from consumer packaged-goods to high tech. But I’ve always been in touch with Chuck and asked for his advice along the way. My background has given me unique insights into cultural differences and the capability to manage consumer marketing with technology products. Most importantly, Chuck taught me to think outside the box and rise to the occasion to catch the opportunities in my life.

Tell us a story about a success in your business.

One success was the launch of Touchjet’s first product on Indiegogo, the Touchjet Pond Projector (formerly TouchPico). The campaign achieved its funding goal and raised more than $800,000 on September 25, 2014, making it one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns in history.

After reaching its funding goals, Touchjet managed to complete the manufacturing process (EVT, DVT and PVT) and QA process and delivered the product to most of the backers around the world. We launched the Touchjet Pond Projector on May 12, 2015. It turns any flat surface (wall, ceiling, table) into an 80” touchscreen—it’s like a virtual Android tablet that you can use with just the click of a stylus. It’s ultra-portable and easy to use. All you have to do is turn it on, grab a stylus and you can instantly start interacting: play games, write on documents or watch videos, all in one place. It’s roughly the size of a day-planner, so you can easily fit it in a briefcase, backpack, or purse. You can do a presentation without carrying a laptop, stream movies without a smartphone, and play any mobile games on Google Play.

Helen Thomas Touchjet Phone BackgroundWhat picture is on your phone’s home screen? Share it with us?

It’s the beach where we had family vacation this summer.

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

The ability to be creative and control your own destiny.

What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

 LeapFrog was one of the first companies that brought interactive technology and education together. Now, mobile technology has taken over our day-to-day life and work. We spend a lot of time on our smartphones, from gaming and streaming movies and music, to texting, emailing, working and studying. Our children are used to having access to information and playing games at their fingertips. At the same time, we are struggling to get family time together at home and to develop social and collaboration skills at school and work. Touchjet turns any surface and TV into giant virtual tablet and brings mobile apps and content to bigger touchscreens at minimal costs. Compared to interactive whiteboards and giant touchscreen tablets like Microsoft Hub, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, schools can spend only hundreds of dollars to get the Touchjet Pond the smart projector or the Touchjet WAVE for their regular flatscreen TVs or monitors. Instantly they will have full access to the internet and all mobile apps on Google Play. One of the issues with individual tablets and laptops in the classrooms is the lack of visibility and collaboration. With Touchjet, teachers and parents can bring children together on bigger touchscreen surfaces. I have strong beliefs in family values and social skills. Accessibility to technology that helps education at reasonable costs will strengthen our country and the world.

What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”

I am strategic and able to build a business from scratch. I was an entrepreneur within past companies and was tasked with initiating a new business in a new territory or new category. In addition, I am good at building partnerships that have strategic value.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now?

Steven Jobs

Why Jobs? 

I’ve brought up Steve Jobs quite often throughout my career. If he asked investors or conducted focus groups when he launched iPhone, people might have told him that nobody wanted to touch their phone and that a phone was for talking. Today, some people continue saying that a TV is just for watching. Touchjet is designed to create new experiences that would make the big touchscreen integrated with individual, small smart devices. That collaborative and interactive experience is going to be essential part of the internet of things.

What’s the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman?

Women entrepreneurs produce better financial returns for investors, studies show. At the same time, female entrepreneurs raise less capital from VCs, according to market reports. It seems unbalanced.

For me, the best part is I sleep well at night knowing that we are doing the right things and executing on them well as a team. I used to lose sleep at night because I was caught in the middle of what I believed was right for the company and what is actually done, or just wondering what’s going on behind the scenes due to lack of transparency. As an entrepreneur, I am responsible for the results with a team I put together, people who are accountable for their deliverables. Not everything is smooth sailing, but I have the peace of mind at least. And the results show that we’ve built a strong community with brand loyalty in a very short period of time. I am now getting ready for the next round of financing. The worst thing that could happen to Touchjet is that we don’t raise enough capital to capture the market opportunity. We should put out as many Touchjet WAVEs as fast and as low-cost as possible. With TVs converted to touchscreen tablets, content and apps will connect us all at home, work, and school. 

Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs?

 Yes, there are differences. In general, male entrepreneurs have better support because they have a circle of fellow entrepreneurs and are connected to circles of investors. They tend to raise more capital—just as there are still more male executives than female—and they are compensated more than their female counterparts who hold the same positions. It’s the network effect. Same thing with owners and executives of professional sports. How many female CEOs are out there for MLB, NFL, and NBA? We all saw the interaction between Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina on national television and social media. I think it’s just a matter of time; there will be more and more female entrepreneurs who will raise more capital and be more successful.

What the best advice you ever got, and from whom?

The best advice I ever got was from a baseball coach talking about how to approach players and make them better. He said he always compliments players when they have a great swing, even when they miss the ball. He tells them “Great job” and they are very surprised by the compliment because they didn’t hit the ball. But it was encouraging and gave them confidence. They keep up the good mechanics, training, and consistency. The process took care of the results. Eventually with the right hand-eye coordination, they hit the ball out of the park. As an entrepreneur, I see myself as a coach all the time. My job is to recruit the right team and get them to deliver superior results. There are bumpy roads. So it’s important to encourage my team to keep up the good work, even if sometimes it takes time and reintegration to get thHelen Thomas Touchjet projectore results we desired. A startup is a journey through ups and downs with lots of uncertainties. It’s important to have the right team and build teamwork from the beginning.

How can people keep up with you and Touchjet?

On Twitter: @GoTouchjet and on Facebook: Facebook.com/GoTouchjet

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