Kevin Hall used to love watching American Idol in the same room with his girlfriend and her roommates, and connecting with them through their conversations about that shared experience. Then he and his girlfriend got married, and moved away, and tried to replicate the experience over IM and text. And it just wasn’t the same.
That was the seed of the idea for his startup Snackdish, which will offer an app to let people “check in” to television shows and movies — chatting and sharing information about shows as a way of connecting with friends. Hall, a University of Washington Executive MBA alum and Six Sigma expert who works at Microsoft during the day, is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to help get Snackdish off the ground.
Hall grew up in Seattle, rowed crew at the University of Washington, and got his start in business at Western Wireless in Bellevue.
Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What do you do, and why do you do it? I started Snackdish because I love movies and TV, but I recognized a growing problem. How can I maintain a shared experience with my friends in a world where we DVR everything and binge watch an entire series in a weekend? George R. R. Martin, the brains behind Game of Thrones, said about watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time in a theater, “That was a great moment in the cinema, and it was a great moment because it was shared. If you’re sitting all alone in your living room, it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact.” The goal of Snackdish is to bring that shared experience to the living room. Snackdish restores those connections between friends so that they can derive deeper meaning and engagement from the shows they watch. Ultimately it’s about using technology to strengthen personal relationships.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? It seems like everyone is working on making TV social. But that is only half of the equation. The act of sharing is to support two other purposes: to build trust, and to consume that shared information and convert it into knowledge that helps you gain better understanding. From my perspective, that is what is missing from all the other apps out there.
Where do you find your inspiration? I am a big fan of looking for patterns in one space and finding relevance for them in other areas. As a result, I try to go wide and gain as many experiences as I can in different arenas. I travel, work on my car, or watch how a kitchen team works together. There are insights to find in each of those activities. When I am working out big problems, I like to go hiking, especially to a new area. This distraction and exercise helps me focus on something else, which provides the space for inspiration.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Those little pocket PCs we carry around that we call smartphones. 15 years ago, it would have been inconceivable to imagine how much they do for us today, and how ubiquitous they are. I love watching TV shows and movies set in the pre-smartphone era. Remember when Ross and Joey from Friends got locked out up on the roof of their building? That plotline might be permanently scratched off the storyboard going forward.
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? At home, we have one room upstairs with two walls of windows. They let in great light. I set up a large desk against those windows so I can look out at the morning light, the clouds, or rain coming down. I still prefer to use pencil to write down my thoughts and ideas, so there is always paper around for me to jot on. I can close the door, turn the music up, and work away.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Number one, I would say find the routine that works for you and be relentless in following it. For me, I like to wake up early, often 5.00 am. That gives me time that is uninterrupted to work. Mornings are also when my mind works best to address big issues. And I always know what I am going to work on and accomplish. During this time, I always listen to music. By 11.00, I like to pivot and eat lunch. I try to get outside if I can for a short walk, or to exercise (weather permitting). Afternoons are for less mentally taxing work, catching up, talking with colleagues, reading or free thinking. By evening, if I have not exercised, I try to get out for a run or short hike. I then like to make a final pivot and spend time with my family, and later after the kiddos are in bed maybe watch some TV, or read a book. During that TV time, I usually quickly review my list of things to do, and update it for the next day.
Mac, Windows or Linux? We have Apple and Wndows devices all over the place. We are a blended family.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard. TNG is my favorite. In fact, I have the ship number for Enterprise D as my license plate.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter. I love the process of actually traveling, but I would get to so many more places with it.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I would use it to scale out Snackdish as fast as possible. But if I was required to spend it elsewhere I would use it get kids outside.
I once waited in line for … I waited in line to see Alien at the King Kat theater in Belltown. That was a great space.
Your role models: Aldo Leopold the conservationist is a personal hero of mine. He was the first person to think of the environment and everything within it as a system. Now we take that as a given to understand how natural systems work. That insight led to the application of many conservation minded practices and ethics that still work today as well as they did when he penned them.
I am also amazed at the creation of the Periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev. That was a master stroke in assembling the puzzle of the elements in a very simple and telling way about the existing and then unknown elements to be found. But truth be told I was terrible at chemistry.
Greatest Game in History Backgammon. Elegant but fast.
Best Gadget Ever: Tesla Model S
First Computer: Mac Classic II
Current Phone: iPhone
Favorite App: Nest
Favorite Cause: Washington Trails Association
Most important technology of 2012: Drones
Most important technology of 2015: Super capacitors
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Persevere. It does take time to make things work. If you don’t have things figured out in a year don’t panic. Great innovations we take for granted now often toiled away for what might have seemed like an eternity before their creators made it work and broke away. The band Arcade Fire started in 2001, but didn’t really take off until almost 10 years later. Persevere.
LinkedIN: Kevin Hall