Tile Finds an Elegant Solution to an Age-old Problem

August 11, 2016

Posted by Barney Beal, Content Director, NetSuite(opens in new tab)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series profiling NetSuite customers who are changing their markets through innovation. For more interviews in the series, visit the Profiles in Innovation(opens in new tab) landing page.

“Imagine if you didn’t lose stuff anymore. That’s what we think about every day.” Mike Farley
CoFounder and CEO of Tile

The idea behind Tile is simple – to help people find, and ultimately never lose, the things they care about. After experiencing a devastating loss of a family heirloom, Mike figured lots of other people must have the same problem. After doing some research he learned the average person misplaces thousands of items a year, and spends lots of wasted time trying to find them. Mike wanted to solve this everyday problem and set out to raise funds through a crowdfunding campaign. Mike realized he struck a nerve when Tile raised more than 10x its $20,000 campaign goal in just 34 days, creating one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns to date.

With money in the bank, Mike set out to design an elegant, easy to use device that could emit a Bluetooth signal to a smartphone mobile app. Tile was born to much fanfare and a long waitlist. Shortly after Tile shipped, the team built a “community find” feature to help users find items anywhere in the world. Today the Tile community spans 200 countries and territories and finds more than 500,000 items a day.

Mike Farley, cofounder and CEO of Tile, talks about his journey in starting Tile and how Tiles are helping make the world more connected.

What is the mission of Tile?

Tile’s mission is to give everything the power of smart location. Bringing location to everyday things makes life easier – people will spend less time looking for, worrying about, and replacing lost things. A location-connected community can also help find things in another city or country and is as easy as finding something under the sofa.

What do you love about your work and what’s the purpose in this endeavor?

What I really love about Tile is that we’re helping real people with real problems. People welcome us into their homes, cars, backpacks, purses and pockets. Tile provides peace of mind – a sigh of relief when something is found. The average person spends 60 hours a year looking for misplaced stuff and we love thinking about how we are giving each of our customers that time back.

When did you decide you had to take this journey and start this company?

My co-founder and I came up with the idea a little over three years ago. We really were shocked that your phone can find out the answer to just about anything, but can’t tell you where your keys are. These two things are very different systems, but the technology was there to provide location for analog objects however no one had tried to solve this very human pain point. Bluetooth low energy and phone technology were finally at a place where we could solve for this, so it became an ideal opportunity to see if we could create something to change how we approach the concept of “lost and found.”

What was a bold moment for you?

One of the boldest moments for me was making that leap of faith – leaving a full time job to start Tile. The success of the crowdfunding campaign with 50,000 customers, 200,000 Tiles sold, $2.7 million raised all in 34 days, certainly confirmed that I made the right decision.

How will community culture, social, help shape your technology? Then vice versa, how will your technology be shaped by business and culture?

Losing things has been a problem since the dawn of time. But Tile is using community to put an end to this problem. As more people join the Tile community, Tile find things faster. Our community is global (200+ countries) and finds 500k+ things every day. It’s like a giant search party that is only getting bigger. The size of the Tile community is only limited by the number of smartphones – now 2 billion and counting.

To put this number in perspective using history, it’s been impossible to organize more than 100,000 people around a given project like building the pyramids. So, the idea that you could have 2 billion people helping to find your lost stuff is mind blowing – and its amazing to be a part of that.

What do you think will happen three years from now? How will your technology shape the world?

We see a world without loss. Imagine if you didn’t lose anything again. We’ve shipped 4.5 million units to date – so we’ve got a long way to go but we’ll make it happen.

What do you think technology is ultimately about?

Efficiency and productivity are probably the first two things that come to mind, then knowledge sharing and bringing joy.

A couple of words that are regularly repeated here at Tile are clean, simple and elegant. We really strive for that, from initial discovery of what Tile is all the way through to the product experience. Bringing that joy, bringing that efficiency and the productivity to our customers is what I really think technology is about.

We’ve heard you play the saxophone. How has music helped you become a better leader?

I think music has helped me, especially jazz because it’s all about improvisation. The most exciting part about jazz is that every single solo my favorite saxophonist Lester Young takes is different from another. In order to create an amazing band, you have to have creativity happening on a regular basis. You need a group of very open-minded individuals that want to collaborate big time. The same thing is needed to create an amazing work environment. You need team players collaborating with open minds, hearing everyone else, and where every idea is welcomed and encouraged.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

One of my favorite quotes is from hockey great Wayne Gretzky. He said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You’ve got to go out there and give it a go, and there’s going to be uncertainty, and that’s part of the fun.

What is your advice on team building?

Culture is very important here at Tile. Core company beliefs are essential, and you’ve got to quickly identify the folks that fit with those beliefs and those who don’t. Even if it means building the team more slowly, it’s important to stay true to the core beliefs, and develop a team that’s going to be cohesive and will collaborate.

What are some of the core beliefs at Tile?

Focus on building a quality product is at the top. We take pride in building products that function better than anything else available and servicing our customers in a way that surprises and delights them.

In terms of cultural values, we believe in being good to each other both internally and externally. With our community and our partners, we want to be good citizens. Everyone is accountable and that extends to our partners.

We’ve heard Tile do amazing things, from finding wallets to canes. What is the most memorable thing that Tile has found?

One of the most amazing Tile stories is about a VW bus in Brussels that was found in Amsterdam. The bus was stolen while the couple that owned it was at dinner. Using the app, they marked it as lost and enlisted the entire Tile community to help them find it. Seven days later, in Amsterdam, someone walked by that VW bus and anonymously updated the location. The owner got the update and called the police, sent in the screenshot of the map showing the location of the VW bus, and got that VW bus back.

This was a tipping point for us – to see that a $25 Tile can find a lost automobile in a completely different country using the power of the networked community. It’s just amazing to me.

To learn more about innovation and the rapidly-changing landscape for business, download the white paper, The Physics of Business are Being Rewritten(opens in new tab).


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