Ep. 517 w/ Noga Sapir Founder & CEO at Reflect Innovation
Reflect Innovation is developing the Reflect Orb - a soft and comforting wellness companion that weaves together neuroscience, tech and design. The Orb uses the power of biofeedback to enable users to bring awareness to their emotional states and learn how to influence their reactions to achieve relaxation.
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Kevin Horek: Welcome back to the show today. We have Noga Sapir she's a founder and CEO at reflect innovation. No, go welcome to the show.
Noga Sapir: Thank you so much for having me, Kevin. I'm excited.
Kevin Horek: Yeah, me as well. I think what you guys are doing and building is really innovative and cool. Selfishly, I really want to learn more about what you guys are doing, but before we get into that, let's get to know you better and start off with where he grew up.
Noga Sapir: Sure. I grew up in or shine, which is like most places in central israel. It is a suburb of Tel-Aviv.
Kevin Horek: Got it. Okay. Very cool. You went to university, what did you take and why?
Noga Sapir: I went to university to study neuroscience. I grew up thinking of myself as a very a quote unquote left brain person. I did math and chemistry and biology. That track in school kind of brought me to neuroscience, which I found very interesting to learn. It was like a mix of biology and psychology and it was fascinating and I really enjoyed doing it. I wasn't sure that this was what I wanted to do in life and doing it was a three-year degree, was a bachelor of science degree. It was very interesting. I didn't want to continue on to masters, which is what you pretty much always need to do with a bachelor's in science. I kind of took a pause there and thought that I want to change course and kind of took a set step back and thought, what do I actually love doing and what would I want to do next?
Noga Sapir: The surprising answer was that I wanted to knit.
Kevin Horek: My interesting.
Noga Sapir: Yeah. My grandma taught me how to knit when I was little, I really enjoyed craft. I really joined out and design and for a really long time up until like my mid twenties, it wasn't something that I thought I could do. It wasn't something that I necessarily thought I had any inclination towards. And then I thought what I try. I took dislike complete 10 and went to study textile design once I finished neuroscience. I went to a design school coach in cow, which is the top design school in Israel. And I went to study textile design. Started kind of from the beginning, did a four year degree actual of design. It was just like a completely different world. I actually found out that I could do it and I love doing it. It's kind of brought me where I am today.
Kevin Horek: Okay, interesting. You finish school, walk us through your career until coming up with the idea for reflect and then let's dive into that.
Noga Sapir: Yeah. While in school I did have a walk in some places in startups and tech. I had some experience working in tech basically from my previous experience in the army. I did that while in school I did have some tech background, but in school, in my last year of textile design, I had to choose a subject to work on for the whole year for my final project. Up until then, I was kind of hiding my universe science background. In that final year, it all kind of erupted. I started thinking about how could I take neuroscience into textile design, add in a bit of tech and kind of mix the whole thing together. I came up with reflect in school. Reflect was my final project in textile design. It just was such an interesting combination of everything that is me loss, everything that I was interested in, mental health I'm a sufferer of anxiety for many years.
Noga Sapir: Stress and anxiety and how to tackle that. It all kind of came together in this final project. And this was the stout of reflect.
Kevin Horek: That's amazing. So, okay. How did you come up with the idea and let's dive into what exactly it is because it, the actual orb looks beautiful to me.
Noga Sapir: Thank you. Yeah. I wanted to think of a way to use textile, to use a soft interface that is comforting and appealing and think about how can I make something that is not just pretty, but is actually valuable and brings value to a user, to the wellbeing and to the life. I kind of thought back to what I know from, and I had this idea of combining textile with biofeedback. Biofeedback is a therapeutic method and is used by therapists and in clinics. It is based on the method of measuring physiological data from the client's body and presenting it to them in real time. You can see usually on a screen, what happens in your body as it dynamically changes. The amazing thing about biofeedback is that it's a beautiful example of the mind and body connection, because once we see what's going on in our body, which is unconscious uncontrolled processes, we can actually start to gain control.
Noga Sapir: We first noticed them and become aware of them, and then we try to change them a bit. If we succeed, then there's a feedback loop that is created and we kind of strengthen that relationship. We can use a mud mind to affect our body. We can use that to relax yourself. Biofeedback as a relaxation tool is used in clinics, and we measure stress parameters from the body stuff like how trait or electrodermal activity, which is how conductive your skin is. We train you to lower your heart rate and to lower your skin conductivity just by first making you aware of what it is right now, and then helping you kind of guide yourself. And I found by a Fitbit fascinating. I was very interested in using it for stress reduction just by being myself. Also a design degree is not the most calm atmosphere. I thought that I could do it through textiles because I was also interested in smart textiles and measuring something through that tactile soft interface, and then connecting that technology with something that really interested me and I really wanted it to work.
Noga Sapir: It wasn't just like, this is an idea for something, it was an actual working prototype. During that final year in Chicago, I created a series of full knit OBS that have conductive yarns on the surface and they measure your conductivity levels through when you hold them, when you put your fingers on them, and then you get an led display that changes based on your stress. So there is obviously a brain inside. There was a PCB. I kind of learned a bit of DIY electronics doing that here. I didn't have much experience with that at, but I kind of picked it up and had some people help me.
Kevin Horek: Okay, wait, sorry to cut you off. You taught yourself how to basically build a working prototype just well in school. Full-time yeah. Amazing. That's amazing.
Noga Sapir: Yeah. It was also well really emphasizing goals. This textile and the knitting and creating it beautifully and creating it in an appealing way that I would want people to actually use. And it came up very interesting. We had this series of four OPES that people could put their hands on and then see their stress and try to regulate themselves. It was very apparent that this is something that, I mean, that I found something here that I, it was this combination of things that you just see it and you want to hold it because it's soft and fuzzy and cute. And then you learn what it is. And then it's just like magic. I got to see that in my exhibition, the final exhibition. And it's cool. I got to show the project around both in Israel and then in exhibitions in London and in Paris, what you usually do after you finish a design project is you take it around to like a lot of students, competitions and shows.
Noga Sapir: I got to see people experienced the product and it wasn't until then that I really thought of it as like, this is going to be a startup and I'm going to be an entrepreneur. It was my project. It was my baby in a way, but people were asking whether or not they can buy it. When, and they were coming up with interesting ways to connect to it and telling me how it affects them personally and how it would be interesting to combine in their lifestyle. That's when I thought, okay, this is something that I want to keep walking on. This is something that I want to make into a reality that I want to see people actually use.
Kevin Horek: Fascinating. Keep going. Sorry.
Noga Sapir: No, that's okay. I had a lot of luck because I found a VC that was willing to fund me and they really believed in my vision, they were interested in backing consumer products in the wellness realm, which is very rare in Israel, where first of all, physical hardware, a product, not an app is something that's very unique. The wellness space is also something that I think they will really ahead of the zeitgeists because they backed me in 2018 and they saw how big the wellness world is becoming and just been really on the rise sense, especially since COVID and just, stress and burnout. The conversation around mental health is really becoming open, which is amazing. They just believed in me and wanted to help me push, reflect into becoming a startup.
Kevin Horek: Well, that's awesome. How did you get connected with them or did they reach out to you? Or how did that relationship form?
Noga Sapir: I, I sent them an email. I found out about them completely by accident. I had a family relative who knew the CEO that was then we just started. They really just started. They were, I think, formed in the beginning of 2018, maybe the end of 2017. I arrived in May, 2018 and I was the first startup they backed, I was the first in the portfolio.
Kevin Horek: Awesome. Very cool. Okay. I want to dive deeper into how this whole thing works. You kind of covered it, but so obviously by this thing shows up at my house, walk us through setting it up and actually using this from kind of a day one and throughout my journey using the orb and the app.
Noga Sapir: Sure. The first thing that happens once you unbox reflect is you got to set it up through the app and reflect is an IOT device. It means that we set it up to connect to the cloud. From then on, you don't need to worry about it sinking. You will always see the data in your app immediately after you use reflect. So there's no friction there. The first thing you do is you download the app, you use the app to onboard the device. You teach it wifi, you set up a few things. From then on, you don't have to use the app anymore. If you want to just pick her up, reflect, do session, put it down. The app allows you to see data over time. You can see your progress and you can see graphs of how the session went and you can see insights.
Noga Sapir: We think the app is really like around supporting the experience of the, but it is important to me. It was always important to me that when you use the ope, you don't need yet. I wanted to create a common experience of homie, a common experience using a mobile phone is kind of paradoxical. I don't want to use the phone. I want to put it away. You need two hands to operate. The, obviously you can't do anything while you're doing it. You just sit with it and just look at the colors changing. I'll buy a feedback is that the feedback in our public experience is given to you through changing colors of an led ring. There are four colors, each indicative of an emotional state. As you sit down and put your fingers on the, oh, it will change colors over time and you can just become absorbed in the experience.
Noga Sapir: And it is an open experience. That means you don't need to use an app. You don't have to put on specific meditation. You can kind of find out for yourself over time, what works for you. If you have meditations that you prefer, if you want to put on music, if you just want to focus on the light reflect will help you through the feedback and through understanding what's going on in your body. It will help you understand what works for you. It's a learning experience in the end. It's a practice that every time you've done it more about yourself, and you can also use the app to note these understanding. You have a journal aspect of the app where you can write notes on your sessions. If you have a particularly successful session or a session that maybe didn't go so well, because you were so preoccupied with something, you can always note that and you can go back to your insights and then basically from yourself.
Noga Sapir: We're not telling you just how you feel and how you feel, but we're giving you a way to understand your body more. To really go into this experience, to learn and to practice relaxation and to really make it a habit, which is eventually what everyone wants to do with everyone knows that stress is harmful for your health. Everyone is stressed pretty much all the time from what I'm hearing from everyone I talk to. And, and you just want to have this moment of relaxation for yourself, and you want to be able to put that moment into your everyday life and to really keep coming back to it. In reflect, one of the most interesting aspects of working on the product is really how can we help users keep coming back to the habit over time? The app has as a large part in that, but also making the experiences seamless and just as visually and tactile and just interesting and fun and relaxing.
Noga Sapir: Just having DOP, it's like you have this companion with you that reminds you to think of yourself and remind you to take your moment to breath as a break, to just sit down with it. I think we find here that doing a physical product is obviously it's very hard and difficult than an arduous and long process, but it does have, it has, sorry, but it does have its advantages in that you create an experience that users kind of long for something that they can hold and touch it. It's like a physical anchor and people are kind of looking to step away from screens.
Kevin Horek: A hundred percent interesting. No, I think it's, I think it makes a lot of sense. Maybe this is kind of a stupid question, but how do your typical users use this? Do, is it kind of similar to like a meditation type schedule or a workout schedule or do they use it kind of throughout the day, a bit of both, or how do you see your users actually using this device?
Noga Sapir: So, first of all, it's worth noting that we're not out in the market yet. What I know is from user studies, which we've been doing both in Israel and in the states, we've been doing extensive user studies where participants get to take home for a period of up to four weeks usually, and we've been analyzing their behavior and you mostly see people use it in the morning after they wake up or at night going to bed, just like settling in or around like six or 7:00 PM in the evening, kind of when you want to switch from like walk mode to home mode. I think it's really interesting then COVID and people studying hybrid walk and during lockdowns and just like the whole work-life balance thing going completely messy and working from your home, I think people found, reflect to be like this ritual that you can do to turn off and go into like a more relaxing atmosphere at the end of your day.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. No, I agree. How do you quickly cover kind of stress and anxiety and sleep? How is it a similar kind of experience or is there a different thing that happens while I'm holding the orb, depending on what I'm trying to do, or how does that kind of work?
Noga Sapir: You can use the old, if there's like a stressful situation or you're having anxious feelings and you just want to use it, like, let's say acutely, just like take it, hold it, and then try to regulate your stress and try to get yourself to calm down. Another way to use it would be habitually as a daily practice. We kind of think that we want to help you associate to have that connection that when you need it's will be there for you, but to help you make the connection and to help you just bring wellness into your everyday life, we suggest that you make it a daily or like a weekly practice. You can set your schedule in the app for if you want reminders for whichever days or whatever time you can totally make this customized program to remind you to practice. You can also set up the amount of time that you want to practice.
Noga Sapir: So how long the sessions would be. I think the first thing we want to help you cultivate is a habit of taking breaks and just minding your wellness and just taking this pause to sit down and look at how you're feeling. In the end, that would beneficial for your everyday life for better sleep and for just regulation of stress over time. I can say that like, ideally we teach you and we empower you to understand your body to the point where you wouldn't need reflect anymore.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. Okay. No, that's very cool. I want to dive deeper into your hardware journey because obviously I'm, and you can correct me if I'm wrong. I'm assuming you just originally bought parts kind of online or at some shop and kind of put them all together as you were learning this stuff, but how did you actually go to and get to the product, how it is today? Because obviously it's custom and you can't just buy these parts off the shelf. So walk us through that journey.
Noga Sapir: Sure. Yeah, I started with off the shelf electronics and just messing around with sensors and just learning that and building a very basic algorithm. Since then, I've been fortunate enough to bring just the perfect CTO and bolt who has IOT experience and electrical engineering experience. We've been walking with other service providers to really plan out and create the whole thing from scratch. The algorithm today is much more sophisticated than a very flimsy one that I wrote initially. The sensors are much better and the data that we collect is much better. It's gone quite a few of durations from where I started.
Kevin Horek: Okay. You worked with a team and kind of experts that have been and been down this path and actually built hardware and software before. Got it. Yeah. Okay. I'm curious then, is there any advice you would give to people looking to build hardware and trying to find a partner like you found?
Noga Sapir: It's definitely a challenge building hardware. And, and I was told that before I started, let's be clear. Some people did warn me. It's, it's a journey that obviously takes a longer time and is also resource heavy, more than developing software by itself. Obviously the cycle times are longer, but I think it's very rewarding. I think it kind of stems from being a textile designer. I like to feel things and feel textures and just hold something in my hands. It's a different feeling than swiping on a phone. Yeah, I think finding the right partner is hard, but crucial just finding someone to share your vision and to help you plan it. If they have experience with hardware, that's definitely a plus.
Kevin Horek: Not very cool. The texture that's on the outside, is it like a cloth or how did you come up with that?
Noga Sapir: Yeah, so it's a fabric that covers a soft foam shell that okay. Inside there's all the electronics protected and it was very important to me, never to give that up. So it was always kind of soft. It's not soft squishy. It's not like a stress ball that you can really press on, but it does give a bit of like the soft feeling, which is just unique. It's, it's not, it's a challenge to manufacturer for sure. It would have been much easier and less costly if it was just plastic. But for me, it was like disappointed. I would not compromise on that when you pick it up, it's something that is really nice to hold and is just like nice touch and nice to play around with. It's tactile experience, not just the visual one that really helps you become absorbed into this like kind of wellness moment we're trying to create.
Noga Sapir: You engage your senses in a way that you're not used to in tech and in consumer electronics usually. That's the point to give you this, like, feeling that this is like a pet in some way to companion. We really want to create that like emotional connection that you feel when you hold it, this is an extension of your body. This is something that talks to you about yourself and you talk to it. I think that unique interface is really one of the unique things that reflect is that I don't see in any other product, definitely not tech products that kind of do something similar to what we do.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. Okay. No, I think that's really cool. I'm curious then you're you have people using the product, but when can anybody that's listening to the show actually order one and get one in their hands and start using it?
Noga Sapir: Sure. Very soon we're just finalizing a few things. You can already, pre-order on a website matrix-like like com and you will be among the first people to get the job. We're really just like a few weeks away from launching. We already have customers waiting and they've been really graciously waiting patiently for us to be ready. We're just really finalizing final touches and making sure the experience is really perfect and just production is really ongoing as we speak. We're going to launch, I want to say in like six weeks, maybe eight and hopefully not more, but we will definitely be notifying everyone on the website when it's available to order where you get it now, but you can use it the time right now to sign up for an early bird pre-order price if you want.
Kevin Horek: Very cool. I want to dive into the software side, because you mentioned you basically built some of the software you're yourself at the beginning. How has that transitioned into what it is today? I know we kind of covered it quickly, but how has that journey kind of gone and actually connecting the two together? Because did you, when you built your original prototypes, did you have the hardware and software talking to each other or did you have to get help for that?
Noga Sapir: I did get help for that. I use just like off the shelf tools to build a very crude code. It's definitely, it's become a beast sense. It's a really strong software and algorithm, which is much more sophisticated. Obviously we've had people come into the team and the team is now 10 people strong. We have developers and we have a mobile app developer. Obviously when I did my prototype, we didn't have a mobile app. And it's really interesting. And, and for me it was really a learning experience. I didn't know much about IOT. I didn't know much about how to connect physical devices to the cloud and to build that architecture. It's really amazing what my th the developers that I'm working with have built. It's like a complete experience where you have the, oh, you have the app, you have the server that talks to both.
Noga Sapir: You have the app to talk to the old. It is a very complicated and complex. For me, it's really amazing to see what it's become at some point, I let it out of my hands and just let it grow. With the help of other people kind of it become it's become really something else.
Kevin Horek: No, that's very cool. I'm curious though, do you have any advice for people that maybe you obviously learn the hard way or along the way that you'd like to pass on to people that are looking to do an internet of things device?
Noga Sapir: So, like we said before, definitely get a technological partner with some background in that, and there's a lot of resources now, and there's also a lot of companies when I started, it took me a while until I brought on a CTO. For a long time, I think around a year I was by myself in the company and with working with a lot of service providers and freelancers and people that kind of help this get off the ground. There are definitely resources out there and just find the right people again, this is like the key.
Kevin Horek: No, that's actually really good advice. Before you took VC money, because we always hear stories about people trying to launch hardware software, or just even software where they want tens of thousands of dollars or even a million bucks or whatever the number is, it sounds like you basically bootstrapped your first version before you got funding. Is, is that correct? Or, or how did you sell funder fund the first kind of iterations and prototypes of this?
Noga Sapir: Yeah, that's correct. I self-funded and bootstrapped. Actually once you say that, I kind of think, oh yeah, I did, because for me it kind of started with the VC money, but you're right for the typing and working on it before during school was just bootstrapping. I think it really helped coming to the VC from really kind of a unique and unexpected background is as a textile designer coming into VC office, it really helped having a working prototype. I think this quick and dirty, make something out off the shelf components that you can actually demonstrate for me, it was really important to convince people with my vision because you can actually, you could see the VC people just sitting with reflect and really focusing on it and holding it. And it was something that was there. I think that kind of really helped seal to deal.
Kevin Horek: Sure. Well, it shows that you're motivated, right? That you feel, you basically learned enough stuff on your own, especially while going to school to build your first version, to basically take it to a VC, to pitch them and let them play with it. Sure. It might've not been perfect or, like it is today, but the fact that they could actually see that you built this yourself and yeah. Like all that other stuff, the connectivity, and putting up the app and making the device look really nice. That's not easy, but that's a lot easier once you have the vision and you can give them something to hold and they can see that. Right.
Noga Sapir: Definitely. I think it really helps to convince them when they can see that the seed of the idea and not just, it's, I'm not just pitching slide. I'm giving you something that this is how it's going to be. It's not perfect. It's very, very early version, but this is the idea. If the prototype is unique enough, then it's enough to build on and it's enough to sell the vision on because I think they could really see it. They could understand what I'm talking about. They could, so, the technology may not be perfect and the interface may not be perfect, but you could see from the really crude prototype that there's something there that's worth developing.
Kevin Horek: Yeah. Well, and it also shows that you spent a bunch of time and effort and that you're serious about it. Right. I think that's the one thing that a lot of entrepreneurs fail at is they think they need all this money to build this first kind of version. Sometimes you do, but in a lot of cases, if you actually really think about it, you could build the first version of anything yourself, just to show like, this is, I'm actually serious about this. I've been working on this in my own time, right. With my own money. It doesn't have to be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. You can probably do some of this stuff for hundreds of dollars or less sometimes. Yeah.
Noga Sapir: Yeah. And, I kept walking on it after school, but I kept my full-time job afterwards and I just kept walking on it on my time. And there's definitely stuff you can do. I kept talking to people and asking them for ideas and talking to electrical engineers to help me kind of progress on my own. People are really willing to help you with ideas and with advice and with ways to advance. I think it's always possible to kind of make something that's like a physical, very crude prototype is better than just a slide.
Kevin Horek: Sure. So, were you ever worried that somebody was going to take your idea and run with it because you were asking so many people for advice?
Noga Sapir: No. I think I didn't want to like hinder myself from getting help and advice by first, trying to sign people on the NDAs when they don't really have anything yet. I feel like I'm the most passionate person about reflects to really drive it and make it a reality. I didn't feel like I was exposing myself too much when I showed it. I didn't, show the algorithm to anyone or, but I think when you're very, when you're at the very early stage, it's worth dropping into like the suspicion and just asking for help.
Kevin Horek: No, I actually think that's really good advice. What is the, like the sayings kind of, it's like ideas aren't really worth much. It's always in the execution and if you're not passing it to execute, it doesn't really matter if somebody takes your idea. If they're not passionate about it, they'll probably never even do it anyway.
Noga Sapir: Yeah. Oh, they wouldn't do it as well as you.
Kevin Horek: Yeah. That's also true. No, that's actually really good advice for people. I'm curious as this thing launches, I'm assuming you're planning on adding additional features to the app, or how do you see this thing in six months, nine months without giving away anything that, you don't want to talk about?
Noga Sapir: Yeah, definitely. One of the most interesting things about the launches for me getting reflect, getting dope to people who needed and wanted and learning from them. I'm sure we're going to get a lot of feedback. We did already a mess, huge amounts of feedback from the user studies we did, and we want to make it the best experience that it can be for users. We want to make it as relaxing as possible and to help people achieve their goals, their relaxation goals, their wellness goals, just keeping stress as bay. Of course, we gonna be iterating on the app a lot and adding insights and data. Also as you use it more, the app will become more valuable because it will show you more insights and more data and show your progress. Does definitely a lot of plans to add features into the app and also think about unique ways that we can use, reflect to add value to life.
Kevin Horek: No, I, I think that's very cool, but we're kind of coming to the end of the show. How about we close with mentioning where people can get more information about reflect and where they can pre-order in any other links you want to mention?
Noga Sapir: Sure. You can look us up on a meet, reflect.com. You can also pre-order through the store on the website and you can sign up to a newsletter also through the website, if you want to keep up with news of when we launch and just how is how it's going and everything exciting that goes on with reflect and also feel free to reach out to me through social media, or just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you just want to say, Hey, I'm always open to talk to people about reflect or about anything else. If you just want to check.
Kevin Horek: Perfect Noga, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to be on the show. I look forward to keeping in touch with you and have a good rest of your day.
Noga Sapir: Thank you so much for having me, Kevin and I had a lovely time.
Kevin Horek: Thank you me as well.
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