Anubha Sacheti, 39, a pediatric dentist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a member of Team Grush, which beat out 23 other teams to win this year’s “America’s Greatest Makers” $1 million funding prize, awarded at the end of the Intel-sponsored TBS television series’ first season.
Grush’s winning entry was a “smart toothbrush” that uses Bluetooth connectivity, motion sensors, and cloud data processing to transform the chore of brushing into an interactive game for kids, while also allowing parents to track the results.
DC Denison: Team Grush had to make many presentations throughout the season. What advice would you give to others who have to present their product ideas?
Anubha Sacheti: Many teams came in with an idea but not a working prototype. We had a prototype, which made a big difference. It was helpful to actually let [people] play with it. It was cool that we could get their input immediately.
Were there any surprises during the course of the show?
A lot of teams got hung up on how much to sell their product for. You have to have a good understanding of your fixed costs, your market, etc.
A lot of the price points were through the roof, so not attainable for the average consumer. And some people hadn’t come up with a price point at all, which turned out to be a problem later on.
A Grush toothbrush sells for $59, right?
Yes, some investors wanted us to up our price, and we had thought about. But we really wanted to keep it affordable. We wanted it to be priced so low that it could go internationally — so all children could use it.
How about in the makerspaces?
Well, I am 4’11” and some people did not think I could work some of the equipment. Sometimes I heard, “Hold on, let me take care of that.” Some of the equipment was heavy, but 99% of it I could do on my own. I’m a dentist. I drill everyday. I was comfortable with a lot of making, but people didn’t expect that.
Is it important to have an industry insider on a maker project?
It made a big difference for us, no doubt. Every judge commented that we had a dentist on the team. They assumed that we understood what parents want, what size brush can go into a child’s mouth properly, etc. There are very specific things that are applicable to pediatric dentistry; having a pediatric dentist on the team meant that we understood them.
After watching 24 teams compete, what did you learn that would be valuable to next year’s contestants?
It’s hard to compete as just one entrepreneur: that’s true in the show, and it’s probably true in real life. You need other people to be your partners and absorb information. For every question we got from a judge, we analyzed it for about ten hours, I kid you not. The three of us would battle it out: What did that question mean? Do we take their advice or stay on our own course? What is best for our product and our future vision?
How would you compare the importance of maker skills to business skills?
Having a good team means that one person wears the maker hat, and one person wears the business hat. But you share and feed off each other, to make it a unit. We had a team of mentors from University of California at Berkeley, and every Wednesday night we would have a 4-hour class with them. They were top business professors and they would grill us: Where are you with your product? How many customer interviews have you had? What have you learned?
What impact do you think the Maker Movement will have on entrepreneurial projects like Grush? Where are the opportunities for Maker Pros?
Technology like the Intel Curie module, which we all used, is really going to expand the possibilities of what tech can do, because it’s so small. That means that you can do things you couldn’t otherwise do. There were certain things we wanted to do with a toothbrush, for example, that we couldn’t do originally. But now with this tiny chip, we can. We can put it in the toothbrush and get the data we want. And it can talk to other devices. Eventually your toothbrush will be able to talk to another toothbrush and you can compete against each other.
Your product incorporates connectivity to the cloud. Do you think that’s going to be increasingly important?
Yes. That’s where the data is, and people are interested in big data. In our case, if we can tell you that your child brushes great in the morning but horribly at night, and they’re always missing the back surface, that’s valuable. The cloud enables that.
What was your biggest marketing challenge?
We needed to make sure that people didn’t say, “Oh, another gadget, another way to distract your child,” without understanding that in this particular case, dental disease is the number one chronic disease affecting children.
Even parents who are resistant to giving their child technology will give them this because it’s helping your child learn a task that is hard to teach.
I bet it’s also important to figure out how big you want to be. That will determine whether you want to approach venture capitalists.
Yes, very important. Our product has been a venture-capital-type product from the start, which separated us from many of our competitors. Our goal is to make a lot of units, and get them all over the world. That’s really different from products that had a price point of $500, and inventors who were hoping to sell a couple of hundred a year. We are targeting millions of units. It’s not a small idea.
So you’ve got some more fundraising to do.
Yes, $1 million doesn’t take us very far, so we’re looking at Series A funding now. We’ve had a lot of people express interest. Because of our success on the show, they’re coming to us instead of us having to go to them. That’s a huge difference.
What’s your advice to makers who are considering going pro?
I say go for it! You can get a lot of help along the way. The maker community is really different from any other community — everyone is there to help you. That was unique about the show: the other shows these producers have done, like Survivor and Shark Tank, have been very cutthroat, very competitive. We were completely the opposite. If one of our competitors was struggling, we would drop what we were doing and help them. That’s unique to the maker community: we’re all there to help each other. During the competition we had guards watching us all the time, but they came to love us, because none of us were cutthroat competitive. They told us it was a very different kind of show than they were used to.