Immutouch wristband buzzes to stop you touching your face

In the age of coronavirus, we all have to resist the urge to touch our faces. It’s how the virus can travel from doorknobs or other objects to your mucus membranes and get you sick. Luckily, a startup called Slightly Robot had already developed a wristband to stop another type of harmful touching — trichotillomania, a disorder that compels people to pull out their hair.

So over the last week, Slightly Robot redesigned their wearable as the Immutouch, a wristband that vibrates if you touch your face. Its accelerometer senses your hand movement 10 times per second. Based on calibrations the Immutouch takes when you set it up, it then buzzes when you touch or come close to touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. A companion app helps you track your progress as you try to keep your dirty mitts down.

The goal is to develop a Pavlovian response whereby when you get the urge to touch your face, you don’t in order to avoid the buzzing sensation. Your brain internalizes the negative feedback of the vibration, training you with aversive conditioning to ignore the desire to scratch yourself.

“A problem the size of COVID-19 requires everyone to do their part, large or small,” says Slightly Robot co-founder Matthew Toles. “The three of us happened to be uniquely well equipped to tackle this one task and felt it was our duty to at least try.”

The Immutouch wristbands go on sale today for $50 each and they’re ready for immediate shipping. You can wear it on your dominant hand that you’re more likely to touch your face with, or get one for each arm to maximize the deterrent.

We’re not looking to make money on this. We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly, and handling” co-founder Justin Ith insists. Unlike a venture-backed startup beholden to generating returns for investors, Slightly Robot was funded through a small grant from the University of Washington in 2016 and bootstrapped since.

Slightly Robot and Immutouch co-founders (from left): Joseph Toles, Justin Ith, and Matthew Toles

We built Immutouch because we knew we could do it quickly, therefore we had the obligation to. We all live in Seattle and we see our communities reacting to this outbreak with deep concern and fear” Slightly Robot co-founder Justin Ith tells me. “My father has an autoimmune disease that requires him to take immunosuppressant medication. Being in his late 60’s with a compromised immune system, I’m trying my best to keep the communities around him and my family clean and safe.”

How to calibrate the Immutouch wristband

Based on a study using wearable warning devices to deter sufferers of trichotillomania from ripping out their hair, Immutouch could potentially be effective. University Of Michigan researchers found the vibrations reduced long and short-term hair pulling. Ith admits you have to actually heed the warnings and not itch to instill the right habit, and it doesn’t work while you’re lying down. The Immutouch stops short of electrically shocking you like the older gadget called Pavlok that’s designed to help people quit smoking or opening Facebook.

Perhaps smartwatch makers like Apple could develop cheap or free apps to let users train themselves using hardware they already own. But until then, Ith hopes that Immutouch can gain some initial traction so “we can order larger quantities, reduce the price, and make it more accessible.”

Modern technologies like Twitter for rapidly sharing information could encourage people to take the right cautionary measures like 20-second handwashing to slow the spread of coronavirus. But having phones we constantly touch — before, during, and after we use the restroom — and then press against our faces could create a vector for infection absent from pandemics of past centuries. That’s why everyone needs to do their part to smooth out the spike of sickness so our health systems aren’t overrun.

Ith concludes, “Outbreaks like this remind us how we each individually affect the broader community and have a responsibility to not be carriers.” 

Zapier CEO Wade Foster on scaling a remote team up to 300 employees

When Zapier was founded in 2011, it was a side project for three friends from Missouri who wanted to make it easier to connect any one web app to another. Nine years, millions of users and around 300 employees later, it’s one of the most highly valued companies to ever go through Y Combinator — and they did it all with a team that is entirely remote.

I chatted with Zapier co-founder and CEO Wade Foster to find out why they decided to go remote from the start, and how the company addresses the challenges of scaling up a distributed team. Here’s our chat, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

TechCrunch: Why remote?

Wade Foster: I’ll give you a little of the origin story.

We started as a side project… and side projects can’t afford offices. So we’re kind of working via coffee shops, our apartments, wherever we could get the job done. 

We moved out to the Bay Area from Columbia, Missouri for [Y Combinator] . That summer, we were all three in the same apartment — the only time in the company’s life cycle where the whole company was together. At the tail end of that, Mike, one of my co-founders, moved back to Missouri to be with his then-girlfriend/now-wife as she was wrapping law school. So we were remote by necessity there.

SaaS stocks drop over 8%, reaching bear-market territory

Today was an awful day for the stock market, with global and domestic equities falling sharply as the world digested a collapse in oil prices, and yet another weekend of the spread of COVID-19. All major U.S. indices were down, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq falling the least of the three, slipping a comparatively modest 7.29%, to 7,950.68 on the day.

However, while the tech index didn’t fare as poorly as other American indices, a critical portion of the technology market actually fell further than the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500: SaaS and cloud stocks, as measured by the Bessemer-Nasdaq index.

Indeed, the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index was off 8.28% today, closing at 1,134.51. That’s the lowest level that the index has traded at since last October. Putting the basket’s swings into context, the index is just 7% above its 52-week lows, but 21% off its recent highs (52-week range data via the excellent Financial Times).

That means that SaaS and cloud stocks are off the requisite 20% needed to classify as in a bear market. A correction is defined as a 10% decline from recent highs. A bear market is 20%. Other major indices are near the bear market mark, but are still above it. They could easily reach the threshold tomorrow, but SaaS got there first.

What the hell?

It was just three days ago that SaaS stocks approached the correction threshold. Covering that marker earned me some flak on Twitter, as some folks invested in the success of SaaS read the news item as a dis of the category itself. To the contrary, really, SaaS companies are still richly valued — far above historical norms — and it seems unlikely that investors are about to price them more cheaply than other types of companies.

However, what does seem clear is that there is less short-term optimism about SaaS than there was just a few weeks ago, when, in mid-February, companies in the sector set all-time record highs on the public markets. (We’ve been covering the SaaS run for some time now.)

The carnage today was widespread, but not that bad when we take into account resulting revenue multiples. For example:

  • Atlassian was off 7.87% today, but still had a price/sales multiple of over 23, per YCharts data.
  • Slack was off 6.13% today, but had a price/sales multiple at the end of day of 21.24, again according to YCharts.

This doesn’t undercut the pain that public SaaS companies felt today, or the gut-drop that SaaS startups felt as they watched their leading lights get pummeled on the stock market. But SaaS highfliers are still just that, and the whole category is still expensive. So, pour one out, but just one. Another day or two like today, however, and worry becomes a bit more understandable.