Ben Harvatine, co-founder of Jolt, explains his intervention invention
The harmful effects of athletic concussions—especially untreated ones—have been making the news lately, especially in sports such as football and lacrosse. But as Jolt founder Ben Harvatine explains, his local startup has found a way to stop them in their tracks. The company's sensor and connected mobile app let coaches and parents know the impact of the damage as soon as it occurs.
What were you and your cofounder doing before starting Jolt?
I had just completed a rotation-based management training program at Anheuser-Busch InBev before leaving the company to work full time on Jolt. Seth Berg, my cofounder, was completing his undergraduate degree at MIT with plans to continue as a grad student before he decided to join full time after graduation.
What inspired you to start the company/create the product?
My own experiences with concussions in sports inspired the project. I had a nasty concussion at wrestling practice during my junior year at MIT that really sparked things. I couldn't point to a single big impact that had done it, and I felt like I could've benefitted from a device to keep me aware of the smaller head impacts I was being exposed to. This led to an engineering lab project later that year where I strapped a bunch of accelerometers to my wrestling headgear to gather data—a project that eventually grew into Jolt.
How did you get from initial idea to startup?
The process of going from conception to product was a long, iterative one. It took a lot of hard work, and I relied heavily on the knowledge, expertise and feedback of others to bridge my own gaps. Jolt would not have happened and would not be where it is without all of those people who believed in me and my vision.
What inspired the company name?
We were looking for something brief, bold, memorable and evocative of the product. We threw around a lot of different names, testing them on friends and family. When we landed on “Jolt” for the company and “Jolt Sensor” for the product, everyone (including us) loved it and we ran with it.
What's your typical day like as a cofounder?
I cover just about every role under the sun, from web development to industrial design to customer support. The biggest adjustment for me, coming from an engineering background, has been navigating all of the accounting, paperwork and legal considerations that go into running a business. Reaching out of my comfort zone has been a great opportunity to learn something new every day.
How was the company funded?
We spent a lot of time in R&D mode, iterating over designs, constantly making small tweaks and really focusing on getting everything just right. As all of our R&D efforts came to a head, we won an Arch Grant, which, among other things, provided us the extra cash to prepare a really slick video for our Kickstarter campaign. We launched that mid-way through the MassChallenge accelerator program and managed to reach our funding goal. Since then, we've been setting up our manufacturing and distribution channels in preparation to deliver to our Kickstarter backers and start to really push our sales along. And we have some exciting news on the fundraising front that we'll be able to share publicly in the coming months.
What’s your business model like?
It's pretty straightforward. We sell sensors and the connected app is free, to be used by parents, coaches or trainers. Our products are designed to be as simple and intuitive as possible, to strip down any barriers to adoption.
How big is your team? How have you cultivated its culture?
Right now, it's just Seth and I, although we're in the process of adding several new team members. The present culture is really just an extension of our friendship—we were members of the same fraternity at MIT and have been friends for years. As we grow our team, our main focus will be on sharing the “work hard, play harder” mantra that we learned at MIT. We love intellectual challenges, working quickly and tackling problems head-on. But we also remember to keep things fun and relaxed, and often approach fun with the same intensity with which we approach work.
What do you wish you'd have known before starting?
Something I've learned that would've saved me some stress earlier on is that failure IS an option. It's the worst thing that can possibly happen, but, in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad. Obviously, when you set out to start a business, you want it to succeed and will do anything in your power to see that happen. But it's also important to remember that even if you do your best, sometimes things won't work out. No matter what, it's a learning experience unlike any other, and it's one that you'll never regret. Letting go of the fear of failure and chasing my dreams with reckless abandon has been instrumental in Jolt's development.
Do you have a favorite app or software that helps you every day?
I use IFTTT and Slack every day. IFTTT is an amazing service for automating your digital life. I can schedule social media posts through my calendar, send automated messages to people when I enter or leave specific geographic areas and so much more. It integrates really nicely with Slack, a communication platform that has replaced email for in-team communication and document management. It's awesome.
To what do you attribute your success?
I think the biggest factor in my success has been pursuing something challenging that I am passionate about. Taking this course was a big risk, and it has not always been easy, but it has been immensely rewarding to wake up every day knowing that I'm doing meaningful work that will help make people's lives better. It doesn't get much better than that.
What's next for the company?
Sell, sell, sell. We're excited to have our production lines up and running in the coming months and to start getting products into the hands of kids who need them. We've put a lot of work and preparation into building an amazing product and scalable operations, and now we're ready to grow.
Where do you see the company in five years?
It's hard to tell. I think the next few years will dictate a lot, from potential product line expansions to finding major athletics brands to team up with. Regardless of the nitty gritty of business decisions, one thing is certain—millions of athletes will be playing smarter and safer thanks to their Jolt Sensors.
Jolt co-founder Ben Harvatine
Photo credit: Attilio D’Agostino