Steamboat Springs Need help finding your lost stuff?
Carrie and Tony Requist did. With three children participating in a variety of activities, their things started to disappear. So the couple who moved to Steamboat Springs in 2000 set out to create a product to find their lost items.
They call the company U Grok It. And their product is a handheld device that uses a smartphone application to find items marked with inexpensive, battery-free tags.
Tony Requist said people don’t realize how much time they spend looking for stuff because they don’t think it’s a problem that has a solution. Unlike looking up something online, technology hasn’t made it easier to find lost items.
“Searching for visible things, it’s not gotten any better,” he said. “It’s as painful and slow now as it was decades ago.”
The Requists knew they wanted to create a business using their backgrounds in technology. But when they started about 18 months ago, they weren’t sure what they had until one of their daughters left her gloves at Howelsen Hill Lodge. After finding the gloves under a pile of stuff in less than two minutes, they thought they might have a marketable product.
“We knew the problem was one that needed to be solved,” Carrie Requist said. “But whether we could find the right tech to solve it and whether it could be delivered in a way that people could use it was what we were still testing at that point.”
The device, which the Requists call a Grokker, attaches to a smartphone through its audio port. It has evolved from a laptop to just larger than the phone it connects to. And it uses radio-frequency identification tags that cost less than $1 each. The tags can be affixed to just about anything, and the Grokker can find the tags from 6 to 10 feet away.
When the Grokker searches for an item marked with a tag, the tag’s tiny chip sends a unique 96-bit number back to the device. It can identify what the item is only if the two are synced. The device can find other tagged items but can’t identify them unless that item is synced with that particular Grokker.
The Grokker also can be programmed to identify sets of items, such as school supplies in a backpack. If something is missing, such as a certain textbook, the Grokker will notify you.
Carrie Requist said there are a couple of similar products on the market but that the tags are larger, require batteries and cost as much as $100 each. So it might make sense to tag a briefcase but not all of the kids’ shoes.
The Requists are part of a growing and important segment of the community called location-neutral businesses. It’s a group of employers who work mostly from home or small offices and whose customers primarily are located somewhere other than Steamboat.
During a presentation recently to the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council, Yampa Valley Data Partners consultant Scott Ford called location-neutral businesses an “economic developer’s dream come true.”
Ford said location-neutral businesses contribute to the local tax base, pay well (up to 25 percent better than the median job) and are increasing by 50 to 75 people per year.
“It is the component that helped temper our current recession,” Ford said.
Carrie Requist said although U Grok It falls into the location-neutral business category, it’s a little different. She said most of the company’s potential fundraisers and future employees are not located in Steamboat. The company recently hired a third employee, who works from San Francisco.
She said her and her husband spend a lot of time traveling to Silicon Valley and Boulder to meet with potential investors and the experts who can assist them with their product.
Tony Requist said that they ultimately hope their product will cost $99 but that it may start out a bit higher. Carrie Requist said the plan is to offer U Grok It with a test market of less than 1,000 units in the fall and to hit the mass market in 2013.
“It’s a roller coaster, but it’s fun,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons to have a great co-founder. Then, hopefully most of the time, you’re both not at the down point of the roller ride so you can pull each other back up.”