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uBeam Lay Off Around Half of the Employees?

Over the last week I've heard from a number of people as to some significant events at uBeam - last Monday the 10th June around half th...

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Energous at CES 2019

So it appears that it's not just uBeam that will be showing at CES 2019, but that Energous (the company that claims to do at-distance wireless charging via RF) will be there as well. While they are not in the official exhibitors list, one of the EEVBlog readers pointed out to me that they've applied for an experimental demo license from the FCC (Special Temporary Authority) to show equipment there that does not have FCC approval. They did this earlier this year for CES 2018, as well as back in June 2016 when trying to demonstrate their earlier system to the FCC.

The application for CES 2019 is very similar to the 2018 version, though only for 2 systems not 13, but a key difference in the amount of power transmitted - 10 Watts ERP (Peak) not 30 Watts ERP (Peak) from a year before. Whatever the system they are showing at the upcoming CES, its peak output is 1/3 of the system from last year. It would be interesting to know why they did this - but without further information it is hard to tell. (One other thing that is different is that they do not include the low power wifi/bluetooth communication component. Forgotten, or done via a separate commercially available part?)

Note this power is way down from what they tried to demonstrate to the FCC in June 2016 - not only was it at 5.8 GHz rather than the current 913 MHz, they were at 56 Watts (Mean), so what they finally got approved in December 2017 was significantly lower in power than what they showed the FCC only 6 months prior, and what they are showing now is lower than that. I go into a lot of detail about those 2016/17 changes here.

Looking forward to CES 2019 and the tech press completely failing to question Energous effectively, yet again...

Update Dec 7th: I clarified the wording that at this time it is an application for the license, not awarded. Also there is an informal objection filed against this.

Update Dec 24th: Energous filed a response to the objection calling for it to be dismissed. It doesn't look like the FCC granted Energous the experimental license to demo their new toys yet, and then the government went on shutdown. They might not get it before CES and have to rely on showing the same things as last year. This might work in their favour, no limited visibility of their next-gen useless crap!

Update Jan 7th 2019: Experimental licence granted by FCC. Now they just have to have a product that is safe, practical, efficient, and useful. Perhaps in the next 18 months? :)

Friday, November 23, 2018

The uBeam Handshake

It's Thanksgiving here in the US, and you'll see us Americans talking about what we are thankful for. For me I could say I'm thankful that things seem to be going well for my family and friends, that we've not all been incinerated in nuclear fire following a Twitter feud, and that I don't have to deal with the ridiculousness of working at uBeam any more.

Since I got such a good response to my earlier anecdote about working about uBeam, I thought I'd share my recollection of another that highlighted one of those ridiculous things - this time it's The uBeam Handshake:


Here's a picture of Meredith Perry in January 2018, co-founder and then CEO of uBeam, making a strange shape with her hand. At first you might think it's a Spock Hand (technically a Vulcan Salute), however you'd be very wrong. That, to the initiated and chosen few, is the beginning of The uBeam Handshake.

While I can't remember the exact date it started, it was sometime in the first few months following our Series A funding in October 2014, while we were in our office in Santa Monica. We were working hard to get the company going, equipment setup, and start the process of building devices, when during one impromptu group meeting Perry comes out and says how cool it would be to have our own secret company handshake. Trying to get the meeting back on track proved fruitless, Perry was on a roll and wasn't going to be dissuaded from this. Being a bit of a self described 'space nut', she starts making the Spock Hand and then has one of the other team members do the same, then reach out so they could touch fingertip to fingertip, at which point Perry said "Bzzzzt" - and lo the uBeam Handshake was born.

Perry was very pleased with it, and proceeded to educate the team about it for the rest of the afternoon, with mostly everyone there having to do it ('Bzzzt' included). Eventually the fun died down and we got back to work, and forgot about it all. Over the next few days and weeks, however, Perry started cajoling everyone to do the uBeam Handshake, and for me and others it quickly moved past being a slightly stupid and amusing distraction to being a really dumb and annoying distraction. From what I remember, many if not most were uncomfortable, Perry was the only one to ever initiate it, with most trying to get out of it but eventually being badgered into doing so - few wanted to tell the CEO "No".

I discussed with my team members how to find ways to get out of doing it, and spoke with Perry to let her know it was not popular and that for a CEO to press her employees to do something like that was inappropriate. Perry was clear that I took it too seriously, that everyone thought it was great as no-one else had complained, and she'd run her company as she pleased. A few days later at a company lunch in the office, Perry tried to get me to do the handshake with her, making a fuss about it to try to get the whole team to watch. I declined, making some joke about not shaking hands while eating, but Perry was having none of it and kept pressing. And I kept declining. After a few attempts, she gave up, and we went back to eating. That incident was never mentioned again, and it was the last time she ever tried The Handshake with me I can recall, but I felt she was annoyed that I had not done it, and I was annoyed she'd attempted to make me in front of the whole team - whether I had done it or not, the company lost with either choice.

The Handshake disappeared for a while, or so it seemed, and I wasn't really hearing about it from the staff. I remember Perry tried to create variations of it, such as The uBeam Wave, which she demonstrated to me in the hallway by standing straight upright with feet together, military style, with arm outstretched forward at an upward 45 degree tilt, very straight and hand in the 'V' shape. When I reacted with some alarm and said what it reminded me of, Perry stopped doing it (she hadn't realized the resemblance at first), and I think is one of the few times she listened to me tell her not to do something. Eventually the uBeam Wave seemed to morph into what you see in the picture above from Jan 18 - hand in the 'V' shape, elbow bent and close to the body hand about shoulder height, with a little side to side motion.

As 2015 rolled on, it started appearing again, especially around the convertible note round in early summer, sometimes with Perry telling guests, potential customers, or investors about it, then doing it with whichever staff member was nearby. Given the presence of a third party, it was a lot of pressure to not say 'no' to the CEO, and so people seemed to do it. Things at the company were very unpleasant at that time, and I was arguing with Perry about a lot more critical matters, throwing in stopping her doing it to the team just would have been an exercise in frustration - and one of the many, many, reasons I left later that year.

Pretty much every time I saw it done after the first handful, I had the feeling it was an odd power-play, a way to locate the few who would find it equally 'fun', or who were in a position where they wouldn't or couldn't decline. Or, perhaps, to identify the 'heretics'? It wasn't the only ritual that happened at uBeam that gave me that feeling, but I'll get to those others in future posts. In the meantime, if you see a former uBeam team member from that era, try to give them the uBeam Handshake, I promise you'll get a reaction...

Update 25th Nov 18: One of the former uBeam employees tells me that one of the handshake variations tried was that rather than touching fingertips, the hands were at 90 degrees to each other and interlocked at the 'V'. I also want to make it clear my opinion is these choices of variations were made without realizing possible alternative interpretations and not not done to be deliberately offensive to any group.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

uBeam at CES 2019

For those of you going to CES in Las Vegas this coming January, you might be interested to know that uBeam will be exhibiting at the Venetian. It looks like it may be one of those "invitation only" rooms, so you'd likely have to contact the company to see what they have to offer. From the CES notes:

uBeam is a technology leader in the wireless power industry by utilizing airborne ultrasound to transmit power to create a true contact free charging ecosystem. By using proprietary transmitters and receivers, uBeam is able to deliver the necessary power to charge a range of devices from portable electronics to IoT sensors at various distances. uBeam’s wireless power solution removes power constraints for system designers and decreases battery-related issues to enable performance enhancements and system robustness, thereby creating a new dimension in power delivery and design paradigm.

I'm not sure someone told the marketing team that they've pivoted away from consumer and portable electronics, to solely B2B and IoT (apparently only working with TLAs now). That they claim "proprietary transducers" is interesting because every demo I saw had them using Murata off-the-shelf car parking sensors, and any proprietary transducers highlighted were never shown working or in a device. It's a sleight of hand to show your own tech and claim it's brilliant, but the actual demo you don't admit there's something else in there.

I love the last sentence, it's "marketing buzzword bingo"-tastic. Seeing "new dimension" and "design paradigm" reminded me of the ridiculous terms that then CEO Perry and the PR team would add to documents, even technically oriented ones, over the objections of the engineering team. But, hey, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.

I don't think this shows that uBeam are still active as a company in producing a product, but rather that marketing booked this months ago and really want the free Vegas trip before the whole thing goes belly up.

Monday, November 5, 2018

uBeam Glassdoor Review: "Not sure if uBeam even qualifies as a company."

Some of you may not be familiar with Glassdoor - an online site where you can anonymously post a review of your job, your company, or your interview experience. The collated information is made available if you sign up with an email, and for sizable companies there can be a good amount of information as to company culture and even salaries. Somehow they must make money from all this, I guess at some point you hit a paywall or large companies pay for anonymized/collated data, because in June of this year they were purchased for $1.2 billion

I've checked in to the uBeam section of Glassdoor every few months over the last couple of years, and there's only been a couple of reviews posted. They were mildly positive with statements such as such as "5 star. It feels like working in a lab in grad school..." tempered with "Sometimes there is uncertainty with any project and there may be a sunk cost mentality." to the slightly more negative "3 star. No technical leadership at high level". For whatever reason I checked in today, and saw a review had been posted yesterday with the title:

 "Not sure if uBeam even qualifies as a company."

So this got my attention, enough that I finally signed up for a Glassdoor account so I could read it in its entirety, and oh boy, was someone unhappy with their time at uBeam. Before you read this, I'll be clear - this was not me, nor is it anyone I know (that I'm aware of).


Just to repeat:
"Not sure if uBeam even qualifies as a company."
Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
Doesn't Recommend
Negative Outlook
Disapproves of CEO
I worked at uBeam full-time

Pros

Dog friendly office
Benefits paid for 100%

Cons

Like being paid to sit and witness the ramblings of the mentally ill. The female head of the company was beyond delusional, and while I felt sorry for her at times, her delusions gave a complete false sense of reality. This company is more about a small group of engineers getting paid to run experiments than anything else. There is no chance this company will survive or succeed. Not a good career move in any way. I regret ever starting this job.

Advice to Management

She should have never been allowed to run this company - not even for one day.

So that would have been an interesting exit interview...

But, on a serious note, when someone asks me why I started my blog, what you read above is one of the many reasons. When people take jobs, they move their families, change their direction in life, and make choices that have huge impacts which ripple down for years or a lifetime. New entrants to the workforce have no experience of what is normal, good, or bad, and they don't have that metric to tell them "something is wrong". They can learn bad habits or miss out on opportunities for mentoring by talented seniors, or building a career in a worthwhile company. More senior staff can spot the warning signs, but they can be subtle until you're on the inside, by which point you've swapped your kids schools and put your old house on the market, and the practicalities of life force you to stick with a frustrating job for a couple of years. 

uBeam were getting so much glowing and uncritical press coverage (though, hats off to the few journalists who did a solid job) that the public perception was not what I saw as the reality, having experienced it from garage prototype through Series A and the next round. At the very least potential staff had to have some possibility of seeing an alternative view before making a major commitment. In some ways it was the excerpt from Adam Grant's "Originals" about Perry, which in no way resembled the reality I had lived, that was the straw that broke the camel's back and made me write the first blog post. So well done Adam Grant, I can now say your books are not completely pointless.

Update Nov 6th: I just realized that the two 'Pros' in this review were things I had a strong hand in setting up. For the year I worked in the Santa Monica office from its opening, I would bring in my dog Jackie on a regular basis, and so set the precedent. On the 100% benefit coverage, this is something Marc Berte and I had implemented, and fought for when incoming CFOs tried to kill it. We believed that happy, stress free, healthy employees were worth more to the company than ones worried to go to the doctor or stressing about paying bills. The automatic reaction of the MBA class to that setup was horror and an immediate "We have to end that" and "That's far too expensive" even though as a % of well qualified engineer salary it was pretty low and waaaaay down the list of company expenses. Feeling quite pleased with myself this morning. :)