Tejas ShastryCo-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, AMPY
“A lot of the work we’ve put into it has been to really make a better product than they’re expecting, to exceed expectations. I think that’s really paid off.”
Tejas Shastry can make the spring in your step power your phone. Shastry works with two fellow classmates-turned-co-founders, Alex Smith and Mike Geier, to put kinetic energy to mobile use. Together, they produced AMPY, a wearable device that can recharge smartphones or any USB-enabled device on the go, from the user’s body movement. Shastry’s mission to free smartphone users from the outlet has landed him onto Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30: Energy list in 2015, just two years after the product’s conception.
Born from the Farley Center’s NUvention: Energy course, AMPY has launched a successful Kickstarter crowdfund (over $240,000 in one month). And many prototypes later, AMPY MOVE is ready for customer use. Yet, Shastry and his team have bigger plans for AMPY. They recognize the increasing demand for scaled-down technology, as well as the prevalence of embedded sensors, and they’re ready to deliver solutions—so an energy quick-fix is always near and convenient.
"I decided to take the class partly because of my interest in energy and partly just my interest in startups," Shastry said about NUvention: Energy. "I’d worked at several startups in the past, as far back as high school."
When it came time to choose teams for the course, Shastry, Geier and Smith all knew each other from the same materials science program. "For the class itself, we had to go out and do customer interviews," Shastry said. "That really helped develop the idea and the product; and partially at the time, we were all super competitive and wanted to have the most customer interviews."
At the end of the class, Farley Center director and course instructor Mike Marasco asked if they planned to continue AMPY beyond the classroom, to which they said ‘sure.’ After prototyping for and developing over the course of a year and a half, the product improved aesthetically, and Shastry’s friend, product designer Mike Mannhard, became the fourth addition to the team. With their revamped product, the team entered business competitions to raise start-up capital. Brand development then enabled them to launch their Kickstarter and further grow the AMPY team.
At the Farley Center, the team accesssed the proper equipment to produce their first official prototypes. They were also alotted a work space in the university's incubator in downtown Evanston to continue developing their product. "We actually had a little bit of dedicated space in there where we had prototyping equipment and things like that," Shastry said. Now that The Garage is up and running, we actually own the lease on it and use it as our AMPY offices. And a lot of that is because of the help of the Farley Center, just giving us allowance to use resources that we really needed to kick off."
I see you guys are shipping out the products now. Did you all end the course with a physical prototype or did that come after?
During the course we had actually 2 prototypes, a form factor prototype and one that was a functional one. And then we slowly, we kept prototyping, kept iterating, merging those two into the final working prototype. The final functional prototypes didn’t happen until close to the Kickstarter. And even after the Kickstarter, we got feedback that they wanted a bigger battery, so we redesigned our accessory kit, added some more touches. Now when we’re shipping the product to backers, they’re getting a much nicer product than actually they’ve seen.
What has been your biggest lesson in entrepreneurship throughout this process of creating a business?
For us, we’re a hardware company and hardware requires a lot of moving parts and resources. Looking back, we definitely severely underestimated the amount that we had to put in place to really bring AMPY to life. But now that we’ve coordinated all those pieces, it’s a nice accomplishment. With hardware, unlike software, you have to get it right on the first time. Once it’s out the door, it’s out the door, and you can’t really change it.
Where do you see AMPY & STRIDE in the future, in the next 5-10 years?
… Scaling the technology down and incorporating it into a lot of wearable devices like smart watches or fitness trackers so you don’t have to plug them into the wall. And that’s actually a much nearer-term goal than some of the goals we have. In the broad sense, there are a lot of sensors coming into our lives. And we want to be the technology that powers them so that you don’t have to worry about powering them.
What drew you to seek out internships in previous work experience at startups as opposed to other larger corporations?
I don’t know, the opportunity just came about, but at the time I got involved because of connections or opportunities that came about. I liked the kind of openness and flexibility in thinking and working in a small team.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.