“In the Studio,” Sifteo’s David Merrill Unveils “Sifteo Cubes” To The World

Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is an EIR with Javelin Venture Partners and has been a contributor to TechCrunch since January 2011. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

“In the Studio” presents the first of two special holiday segments this Thanksgiving by welcoming one of the co-founders of one of my personal favorite startup companies. Almost five years ago, Sifteo’s David Merrill and his cofounder, Jeevan Kalanathi, embarked on a long journey that would take them from MIT’s Media Lab to San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, to blazing a trail for other venture-backed hardware startups during a time when traditional venture capital was more reluctant to deploy funds in this space. The result, after years and years of hard work, persistance, and learnings, is the Sifteo Cube, a set of small siftable computerized tiles with preloaded games for kids to play with and learn about math, spacial recognition, and most importantly, tactile play with real objects.

I invited Sifteo’s President, David Merrill, into the studio to talk about his long journey, the TED talk that turned his idea into a sensation, and the ups-and-downs encountered along the way, when hardware startups weren’t “cool.” In our discussion, we discuss the world of play for kids, the venture environment toward hardware today, what other resources hardware entrepreneurs can access, the trials of building a hardware startup and platform company at the same time, and a live demo of his cubes. Sifteo is unveiling these gaming cubes to the world right now, designed for folks aged 7 to adult, and inspired to make kids and others play with real tactile objects to learn. Merrill and his colleagues also have an SDK for developers out there who want to build educational games on this new platform. (There’s another Sifteo video demo below.)

Overall, when it comes to the long struggle of entrepreneurship, of creating an idea and working on it for a really long time, of building hardware, software, and a platform at the same time, a company like Sifteo, its founders, and early investors really deserve a lot of credit for their patience and vision to bring these kind of consumer electronics to market.