After winning LaunchKC’s grand prize — $100,000 — Cambrian Tech has its virtual eyes on another prize: total interior home transformation.
“The goal is to open your phone, walk around and visualize any project you may consider doing,” co-founder Joel Teply said. “From walls, countertops, backsplashes, flooring, cabinetry, appliances, hardware and landscaping.”
DIY tech presents a huge opportunity for the company, co-founder Heather Spalding said.
“It’s so hard for people to be able to visualize or imagine their space differently,” she said. When you get a little rectangle sample from the store of either a paint color or flooring sample, it’s almost impossible to visualize.”
The LaunchKC win was the latest in a string of high-profile successes for the augmented reality DIY company, which had been intentionally lying under-the-radar for years. But it was Cambrian’s first third-party funding source for the startup, Spalding said.
“Being the grand prize winner of LaunchKC was so legitimizing and affirming of what we’re working on,” Spalding said.”We have this vision for what we were going to be and how big we could be. To get the support from LaunchKC and the community is wonderful and meant so much to us.”
Managed by the Economic Development Council of Kansas City, LaunchKC awarded nine non-dilutive grants following the live pitch competition Friday on the final day of Techweek Kansas City.
The firm wasn’t expecting to snag the $100,000, Teply said.
“The competition was really well run and a great experience,” he said. “The startups were all incredible and made for tough competition. I think every one of the companies should receive funding.”
Cambrian has created an augmented reality app that enables DIY’ers to visualize such home improvement projects as painting, flooring and countertops. The firm offers an Android and iOS app called Home Harmony that provides a representation of a completed project in your home — without spending anything on consultations or installs.
In addition to the app, Cambrian licenses its patent-pending AR technology to home improvement companies, and has worked with the likes of Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement. The firm plans to use the LaunchKC funds to catapult the business forward, which has been in operation since 2011, Spalding said.
With years of experience in computer visioning under his belt, Teply found solving that problem to be fascinating.
“Even artists have trouble visualizing DIY changes,” he said. “I first tried to visualize it in Photoshop which was painstaking — it just wasn’t the right algorithm. We had to break down the math behind each pixel. We asked, ‘What makes something bright, or dark, or whatever it may be?’ and then computer vision paints around the objects.”
Teply — who also was the first developer hired at the biometrics firm EyeVerify (now Zoloz) — said that Cambrian’s technology combines augmented reality, computer visioning, artificial intelligence and more.
What started as a side project in 2011 has grown into a lucrative, full-time business, Teply and Spalding said. Earlier this year, Spalding joined ScaleUP! KC’s 2017 cohort. And in June, Cambrian Tech was selected as a finalist for the WeWork’s Creator Awards, earning them free office space for a year.
A former neuroscience researcher at University of Kansas Medical Center, Spalding never envisioned herself as a business owner, she said.
“ScaleUp! did so much for us,” Spalding said. “It helped us learn a lot about our company and where to grow and what to work on. And it also introduced us to a lot of people. It was a really good experience. I think it helped us a ton.”
Building the vision
In 2011, newlyweds Teply and Spalding were looking to build a family — and a life together.
“A month before I was due with our son, Joel came home and told me, ‘How would you feel if I quit my job and worked at this startup (EyeVerify)?’” Spalding said. “I was like ‘That sounds amazing,’ so we had to switch over our insurance and stuff right before the baby came.”
Spalding, who worked at KU Med at time, shared her husband’s interest in computer visioning. After the pair brainstormed possible applications, Teply built the app Wall Painter, which allowed users to visualize a change in paint colors with a single touch.
The app unexpectedly reached 12,000 users overnight and quickly garnered attention from large paint companies across the globe, Teply said. Legitimizing the concept, Spalding and Teply decided to respond by forming an official business.
“It was successful because it was such a simple concept,” Teply said. “We also just bought a house during this time, which motivated us to do all the DIY stuff because we’re doing it ourselves. We were the target customer.”
What started as a simple paint app was always envisioned to someday become a full DIY application, Spalding said. But with two full-time jobs and two children at home, it was nearly impossible to achieve in the beginning, she said.
“We were stretched so thin with our jobs, our marriage, our family and Cambrian,” Spalding said. “During the day, I was conducting lab experiments and Cambrian was what we did during nights and weekends. We would have business meetings during lunch breaks and while giving the baby a bath.”
This arrangement worked for a while because of mutual support and appreciation, Spalding said, but the pair knew that eventually, something would have to give.
The leap of faith
In 2016, Spalding left KU Med to spearhead Cambrian full-time, while Teply continued to program on the nights and weekends.
“My entrepreneurial journey evolved by me doing anything I could to take some of the workload off of Joel, since I couldn’t program,” Spalding said. “At first, I wasn’t sure what I was capable of, I just knew we needed to keep our finances straight. I started to step into roles, like putting together presentations, taking meetings, accounting — everything.”
Albeit a struggle at times, the pair figured things out by relying on one another. When running a business, you have to imagine the bigger picture and appreciate the work of your teammates — or else the chaos will consume you, Teply said.
In September 2016 — right after EyeVerify sold to Alibaba for more than $100 million — Teply took a leap of faith and joined Cambrian full time.
“I felt like (the EyeVerify) era was nearing completion, so I felt comfortable leaving and ready to look to the next thing,” Teply said.
Designing for the future
Cambrian Tech now has four full-time team members and is looking to hire at least a dozen in the coming year.
Eyeing total interior home transformation, the firm plans to build out its new features on the Home Harmony app rapidly by hiring a strong team of developers as soon as possible, Teply said. The process begins with flooring, which is expected to launch later this month.
Within a few years, going to the store to pick out paint and floor sampling will seem “archaic,” Spalding said.
And that’s just the beginning, she said. Cambrian wants to help Kansas City become a hub for augmented reality.
“I think augmented reality is going to be everywhere and permeate every aspect of our lives,” Teply said. “I think it started out being a little cheesy with little Pokemon characters running around and Snapchat effects. But that was good because now people are a little accustomed to it. People are starting to realize the practical purposes to this technology.”
In addition to hiring a larger development team and building out new features for Home Harmony, Cambrian is expected to begin raising its first funding round and aims to collaborate more with the Kansas City community.