What's your advice for inventors trying to get shelf space for their products?

You can't be afraid to start small. When we were just beginning, we had an idea for a dustpan. There was an independent hardware store across the street from our headquarters, and we asked them if we could put our dustpan in their window. So you build slowly from there; you get data, and then you can go to the regional players and eventually you'll work your way up.

You have a cutting-edge brand, yet you're working on smart-home products with huge, traditional GE. Why that partnership?

There was a bit of an issue with our name. As we were thinking about how to attack the connected home, and to make this really important safety stuff like smoke detectors and locks, we realized, "Do you want your lock to be quirky, or do you want it to be good?" GE is a very trusted brand, and it was looking to enter the connected home.

How can startups make sure they're getting a fair deal when they sign up with big partners?

My only real concern was, "Will they slow us down?" And what I came to realize was, "If they do slow us down, it will be for the right reasons." GE understands the regulatory environment and some supply-chain logistics better than we did.

You support American-made products, but how can domestic entrepreneurs compete with cheaper foreign manufacturing?

Have you ever met anyone who wants to start a factory? This is terribly disappointing to me. My mom ran a factory in Queens, and that's why I'm an inventor now. But today people build photo-sharing apps instead. Entrepreneurs need to step up and say, "I want to start a different type of company. It won't be sexy. We're going to judge ourselves by how many parts we push out on an hourly basis." That's not exciting to most people, but that needs to happen.

Published on: Mar 6, 2015