Kagiso “Kai” Bond
From the Samsung Accelerator to Being Acquired by Samsung
During CES we had a chance to spend some time catching up with Kai Bond, founder of PixieTV, which was recently acquired by Samsung. He has had a distinguished career as an executive in mobile, casual games and now TV applications. He shared some of his lessons learned and thoughts about entrepreneurship and leadership.
Name: Kagiso “Kai” Bond
Grew up in: Stratford, CT
Role: Director, Product Development at Samsung’s TV Services Group
Favorite Book(s): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
How did you get into the world of technology?
My father was a computer nerd in the 80’s. We grew up in a household where computers were part of our daily life before most people even cared to own one.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
Raju Rishi. He only cares about what is right for me as a person. That is hard to find. Honest, direct feedback at all times.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
My first start up – SwitchGames. It was a spectacular failure, but I learned so much in that 18 month period… it was extremely hard to manage the disappointment after all we put in to it. But at the same time, it was the most fulfilling work I had ever done. Despite the hard times, I realized that being an entrepreneur really was more of a way of life for me.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
The deal that got away. I had a signed LOI to sell one of my companies. The deal fell through on the last day of the term. Telling my team that Monday morning was the hardest meeting of my life. It wasn’t just the deal or the money. We really had accomplished something special – we were proud… and that was a huge let down. But despite our efforts, the deal was dead and getting them motivated again was the hardest challenge I have had. They put all of their trust in me and I felt as if I’d failed them… then I had to ask them to get back to the grind again – I’ll never forget that meeting.
Computers were part of our daily life before most people even cared to own one.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
Take a CS class – you don’t have to be an engineer, but you need to be technically competent. It is critical that you understand the way products are designed, developed, and launched. It will be incredibly helpful to you over time. There are tons of online resources like Codeacademy and classroom courses like General Assembly you can take advantage of.
Who is one person you follow on social media who you think others should follow?
Hannibal Burress. Dude is hilarious.
What news outlets or media sources do you read on a regular basis?
Fast Company, New York Times, The Verge, The New Yorker, Bleacher Report, and Twitter.
It is critical that you understand the way products are designed, developed, and launched.
So I hear that you have been working in mobile for like a decade and a half which means you actually were in mobile before it was the hot space to be. What led you to mobile so early and does the space still excite you today?
I had the opportunity to travel across Southern Africa in the late 90s. Everyone had a mobile phone and at that point in the US – the mobile ecosystem was still primitive. No cross carrier text messaging, slow mobile bandwidth speeds, and phones with limited hardware capabilities. But I saw the opportunity when I was traveling. Everyone was using the phone as an MP3 player and camera. My cousin was paying his staff via mobile payments. The phone was the only internet device they had ever used in some cases. The opportunity to work in mobile was a fascination with what was possible when everyone had a real computer on them at all times. It was all green field. You had to solve incredibly hard challenges. Every day was something new. I love working on emerging technology for that exact reason – it has some of the most fun and challenging problems, but the most opportunity to pull off something amazing.
You have spent a significant amount of time in games (mobile) and now seem to moving to smart TV. What were the most valuable lessons you have taken from working in games and what led you to smart TV?
I think the most important aspect of working on mobile in the early days was that you had to solve for poor input. When I look at a typical remote control from a cable provider in the US and a mobile phone from the late 90’s they are almost the same. You have to use the d-pad as a primary input. Making a good TV product where users don’t have to do much other than up, down, left, right and enter is key in a lean back experience – that was true of mobile as well.
It was an absolute thrill to work in an environment where you felt the impact of your work every day.
You worked at Microsoft during the monopoly years, you are a Techstars mentor and you ran your own startup. What led you from working with large companies to working with startups? What led you to start your own?
I have enjoyed my time working at both large and small companies. When I left Microsoft, I had the opportunity to join a start up. It was an absolute thrill to work in an environment where you felt the impact of your work every day. The diversity of what is expected – everyone wears several hats – from product to marketing to sales – startups require you to challenge yourself and grow in a lot of ways professionally.
You have spent a lot of time in and around incubators and accelerators. How do you compare your experiences with TechStars, Hatch Labs and Samsung Accelerator?
Every good accelerator program has a specific philosophy on what they want to deliver in terms of mentorship, guidance, resources, and time. The mission behind each one of the TechStars, Hatch, and Samsung Accelerators has been rewarding in a different way. With my time at TechStars, I act primarily as a mentor and offer guidance from my past experiences and help with introductions and product feedback in any way I can. At both Hatch and Samsung, I was developing products as a founder of a new company. I think the common thread between these two is that both offered up tremendous resources around budgeting, finance, operations, and marketing – in addition to company executives and deep networking into the verticals that had strategic interest.
What was it like to go from being GM/EIR at the Samsung Accelerator, to running a startup in the accelerator to being acquired by Samsung?
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the team at the Samsung Open Innovation Center in January of 2013. I had a bunch of conversations about what we did at Hatch Labs – the good and the bad, and lessons learned. It was really just a good opportunity to share with other entrepreneurs and investors about the challenges and opportunities for corporate accelerator / incubator programs. While I was a Hatch, I was the founder of a company called CashPlay games and my passion has always been to start new companies. Several months after winding down CashPlay, I had my aha moment for my next start up – pixietv. I pitched this idea to the team at the Samsung Accelerator in June of 2013 and within 30 days I had received funding and was starting on my new venture.
How did the acquisition by Samsung come about?
During my time developing the pixietv smart TV application, we rolled out a framework for publishing social, sports, news, and entertainment applications – it was a Squarespace of Smart TV apps. As we deployed several of our fantasy football and World Cup applications, I was introduced to Ty Ahmad-Taylor who was working on an embedded social application at Samsung. We had several conversations about our goals and how well they aligned with the larger organizations goals to roll out a suite of applications in Tizen in 2015. The opportunity to be part of the larger TV Services organization was extremely compelling and after a few weeks of discussions, we were lucky enough to be acquired by this group.