Get to Know the Lab Companies: Q&A with PERCH’s CEO and Founder, Jared Schiffman

Q: How did the idea for your business come about? 

A: PERCH is a spin-off of a company called Potion that was founded in 2005 by me and Phillip Tiongson, a good friend from the MIT Media Lab. One of Potion's project was for an interactive bar at Adour, an Alain Ducasse restaurant at the St Regis hotel in New York. While Potion had created many interactive surfaces before, this was the first one where objects (plates, glasses, etc) were placed on the interactive surface. This started me thinking about the relationship between physical objects and digital surfaces. Soon after, I realized that the killer app for this technology would be retail. And that's how it all began.

Q: What were the key turning points Perch's offerings since you started?

A: We launched PERCH at Liz Bacelar's Decoded conference at Lincoln Center in May 2012. This was after several months of internal development. At Decoded, we were showing our perfume demo and were lucky enough to meet someone from Kiehls who just happened to be launching a new fragrance line. Within six weeks, we had a PERCH display up and running at the Kiehls location in the meatpacking district. This was the very first PERCH in store.

Soon after the Kiehl's launch, we were selected as one of 11 rising fashion tech startups by the Bloomberg-sponsored Project Pop-Up. The competition was hosted at Rachel Shectman's amazing store STORY. We have worked with Rachel many times over the past two years and she has introduced to almost every major retailer that we've worked with. Without Rachel's help, PERCH wouldn't be where it is now.

The most recent turning point for PERCH was the launch of our year long collaboration with kate spade new york in April. For this dream project, we have the CMO of kate spade Mary Beech to thank. She truly understands the potential of PERCH as a storytelling device and was instrumental in getting PERCH into their stores.

Suffice is to say, the success of PERCH is strongly tied to individuals outside the company who have believed in what we're doing and have used their positions to help us get to the next level.


Q: How do you find people to bring to your team that truly care about what you are building the way you do?

A: I teach at NYU's ITP program. ITP is a master's program which focuses on the intersection of media and technology. Almost every PERCH employee is an ITP graduate. I find the best students and I ask them to join the cause.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

A: When I was very young, I wanted to be an inventor. Sadly, no one has that title these days. But that's what I am at heart. I love having new ideas, turning them from concept into reality and sharing them with the world. Of course, having an idea is the easy part. Making it work is challenging. And, sharing it with the world is difficult. What I have come to learn is that great products become great when they are refined by practice and real world usage. When a customer gives you feedback, that is part of the invention process too.


Q: Why do you think it has been so hard to build a bridge between technology and useful design?

A: I have a philosophy about this: humans are circles and technology is square. Technology exists at right angles. Humans don't. Therefore, in order to make technology work for people, you have to know how to shape it. You shape it in the same way a chair maker makes a seat out of wood. You have to know your tools inside and out and know what the medium is capable of doing. This is true for technology as well. Only once you gain fluency can you shape technology to be right for humans.