Jules – The Origin and Vision

Over the past few months since we’ve started rolling out Jules, I’m being continually asked where the whole idea came from?  Where did Jules come from?
So, I thought it would be best to detail it all here.  Here goes…

First off, a few things to know about me that even my family and closest friends most likely do not know.  Looking back over my life I have now come to realize I was born with a passion (some call it a disease!!) for doing everything as efficiently as humanly possible.  For many years I lived by the slogan “for something to be worth doing, it must first be worth winning”.  Yes I was very competitive as a young adult!  Now with 59 years under my belt I’m modifying this slogan to read “for something to be worth doing it must first be done EFFICIENTLY”.  My favorite class as an undergraduate student at Babson was Operations Research (The only professor I really remember, Prof. Ishmal Dambolina).  My term paper was done on optimizing traffic flow through a busy intersection in downtown Wellesley, MA..  During the summers between years of college I worked at the Ford Assembly plant in Metuchen, NJ..  Yes, we were building Pintos and Bobcats.  I was a summer replacement worker for vacationing full time workers.  I would get assigned to a specific job for 2 weeks then move on to a new one all summer long.  Immediately, when I would start a new job I would focus on how I could perform the needed job in less than half the time allotted.  Yes, this got me into big trouble with the labor union full time employees but I simply could not help myself.  Despite several talking to’s and yes even one beating, I simply could not stop.  That’s just how I’m wired.  I would actually feel myself start to hyperventilate if I knew the job could be done more efficiently than I was currently doing it.  After a couple years working for a large technology company in Palo Alto, I simply could not stand the inefficiency that seemed inherent in a large company.  To me it seemed like virtually no time was spent getting useful work done.  All my time was spent dealing with internal process and politics.  That feeling of being on the verge of hyperventilating was coming back.  After two brutal years enduring this inefficiency I went back to grad school at the London School of Economics and ended up writing my graduate Thesis on “Theory of the firm – Proximity to one’s marginal product”.  After graduating in 1983 I joined my first start-up and never looked back.  Fast forward 34 years and I think you get the picture.

As I progressed through my professional career and more importantly getting married and raising 4 girls life just simply got busier and busier.  Chasing the start-up dream took us from the Silicon Valley to Portland, Oregon, to Sydney, Australia, back to Portland, Boston, Atlanta and then back to the Bay Area for good.  During that time I worked for 7 startups (3 as CEO), invested in 6 others (through Pond Ventures) and served as an independent board member for 10 others.  Oh by the way, 5 of these years were spent commuting from SF to Boston, 6 years chairing the board of the Seven Hills School and coaching over 30 seasons of youth basketball, soccer and softball.  Yes, life was simply BUSY!!  Simply to survive I found myself utilizing every trick I could to be efficient in everything I did.  Since I already had this disease this was really not hard or unnatural.  I also quickly found that I was not unique or really even out of the norm.  As I looked around it seemed to me just about everyone was just as busy.  Not all were as adept at being efficient as I was.  Some of my early ideas for Jules started to emerge around now.  This is in the late 90’s into the early 2000’s.  Also being in the technology business utilizing technology in every imaginable way to help in this operating efficiency goal seemed only natural.  Around the middle of 2012 I started a blog writing about some of the ways I was utilizing technology and just generally inventing ways to be more efficient particularly when it came to tasks I really did not enjoy doing but still none the less needed to be done.  I remember one tool I used way back and still use today is making my “inbox” equal to my “to do” list.  If a message is still in my inbox that’s only because I have a task to do that relates to the content of the message.  One thing that emerged from this approach quickly was that all the to do list items I really did not want to do but rather had to do were at the top and all the fun to do items that I wanted to do but did not have to do fell to the bottom.  Only to the extent I would efficiently complete the must to do items at the top of the list could I get to the fun stuff at the bottom.  Even more incentive to ramp up on the efficiency scale when it comes to must do stuff.

Over the years I’ve also found this same passion/disease applies to Money.  The same feeling of being on the verge of hyperventilating comes over me when I know I’m about to overpay for something.  Maybe this just falls in the category of inefficiency and really has nothing to do with Money itself.  Most often when I’m overwhelmed with the length of the must do task list, is just the time when I’m least diligent on what I’m having to spend to complete the tasks on the must do list so I can again get to the fun stuff in life.  There’s a vicious cycle that emerges here when the must do list lengthens, you start throwing money at it to lessen the impact on the fun stuff and in doing so you end up feeling even worse.  Stress level rises, frustration rises and some days you wake up saying to yourself “is this really all worth it?”.  I’ve had many people say to me some form of the following; “The more I seemingly do all the right things professionally, the more my family grows and prospers and the more I experience success, the more stressed and anxious I feel”.  Why is this??  Well I spent roughly 5 years trying to answer this question for people and provide some tools (albeit very crude) via my blog I referred to above.  I got many comments from people all over the world that suggested I had hit on an important issue.  That was all great and made me feel like just blogging about this issue was helping some small group of people but I quickly felt that to really address these sorts of issues in people’s lives I need to really commit myself to building a service that virtually everyone could use in some way to help get out of this cycle, even if just in small ways.

In May of 2016 I decided to go for it and knew it would be a big challenge and I would need to build a world class team to pull it off.  There were choices of where to focus in terms of bringing more options for efficiency into people’s lives.  I decided to focus on life in the home.  I decided to bring all useful elements of technology to help.  I also observed that life in the home has drastically changed in the last 10 – 20 years.  It’s not just the business world that is now firmly in the digital age it’s also your personal lives.  Access to digitized data is crucial to being efficient in the home as it pertains to managing the modern home and not being constantly overwhelmed by it.  Having instant access from anywhere anytime to the model number of your fridge when it breaks helps a lot, to your husbands license plate number when you need to fill out a car registration form helps a lot, to your daughters immunization record when she’s applying to volunteer at a children’s hospital helps a lot, having detailed knowledge of your insurance coverage’s when disaster strikes or you’re simply thinking about it helps a lot, having detailed wills, trusts and estate planning documents accessible when a loved one dies and the family is left with sorting out the estate helps a lot, and on it goes!!  Like it or not so much of life revolves around access to organized information.  Just think of how many online sites you have unique login/password credentials you need to recall when needed.  How many pin numbers and security codes you need to recall.  If you’re not organized in your approach to your personal information your life can quickly become a source of stress and anxiety rather than enjoyment and satisfaction.

During the summer of 2016 I hired a Cornell CS major to build the pilot system.  I told him to cut every corner you needed to be get it done by September.  He got it done.  It was crude and rough around every edge but he got it done.  We convinced 12 homeowners to participate along with several businesses in each category of the residential real estate ecosystem that serve the needs of the homeowner, to participate in the pilot.  These businesses include maintenance and repair contractors, real estate agents & brokers, Insurance agents and brokers, mortgage lenders, inspectors along with key property suppliers like appliances and HVAC products.  The pilot albeit very crude, proved we were onto something and if we could really deliver on the promise of the vision we could solve many of the challenges described above and enable more people to spend more time doing what they wanted to be doing and less time doing what they felt needed to be done.  Leading to less stress and anxiety and more happiness and satisfaction.
Starting in December 2016 I started building the team that would make this vision a reality.  Having been the sole investor and outside board member at a company called Liverail which, through Pond Ventures I funded from inception to it’s eventual sale to Facebook in August 2014, this was a great place to start.  Andrei Dunca (the technical co-founder of Liverail) agreed to join my board and help me build a technical team and vision.  We were off an running.  I raised $1.85M in Angel funding many of the investors were actually Pilot homeowners who through the Pilot experience got as excited as I did.  Fast forward to today (July 2017), the technical team is now 10 engineers, many of which came from Liverail following their 2 year tour of duty with Facebook that followed the acquisition.  The last month has been spent in alpha test mode with the Beta version of Jules set to release later in July and run for at least the next 3 months.  We have well over 100 homeowners already pre-registered to be Beta testers in our first target local market in the Bay Area.  To provide assistance to early Beta users of Jules we’ve assembled a “White Glove” team consisting of a manger and 3 local college interns eager to help homeowners get through the initial bulk loading of their home, property and personal information.

To wrap up and link all this to “Jules” one metaphor that comes the closest to summing up what we’re trying to provide is what I think of as a “digital butler”.  If you think back to when Batman and Robin was the most popular TV series of it’s time or back further to past centuries in England when certain families had butlers taking care of everything associated with the home life so the homeowner could spend all their time on the fun to do list items knowing that “Alfred” was there to take care of all the to do’s on the Ugghh to do list.  Well, we’re now in the digital age and we need a digital butler that everyone, not just those who could afford it can take advantage of   I don’t expect anyone out there to use every aspect of the Jules service.  I doubt there are more than a handful of you out there with this disease I have, but there are millions of you out there that can use Jules in very specific ways to help in your specific situation to more efficiently deal with the chores of life so you can spend more time enjoying all life has to offer and you deserve.
More will follow as the next chapter unfolds.  Stay tuned and feel free to sign up as a Beta user (here) and see for yourself why I’m so excited!!