Selfie Shtick

Two decades ago, Philippe Kahn cre­ated a de­vice that is used by billions of peo­ple to­day. Mar­i­anna Cerini meets the Sil­i­con Val­ley en­tre­pre­neur who made the selfie pos­si­ble

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

ait­ing in a Cal­i­for­nia ma­ter­nity ward for his daugh­ter So­phie to be born in 1997, soft­ware en­tre­pre­neur Philippe Kahn was rest­less and bored. He be­gan tin­ker­ing with his flip phone and a dig­i­tal cam­era, synch­ing them to­gether through code he cre­ated on his lap­top right then and there. Just like that, the cam­era-phone came into be­ing, fol­lowed by So­phie, the first per­son ever to be cap­tured in real time with a mo­bile phone. Kahn went on to re­fine his pro­to­type and change the way we com­mu­ni­cate to­day, be­com­ing one of the most pro­lific tech peo­ple in Sil­i­con Val­ley. What do you make of your in­ven­tion to­day? The cam­era phone is the most successful con­sumer elec­tron­ics de­vice of all time and an im­por­tant so­ci­o­log­i­cal tool that’s opened com­mu­ni­ca­tions glob­ally. It’s some­thing every­one uses, ev­ery­where in the world. To have been at the ori­gin of that is amaz­ing, ob­vi­ously, but I’ve al­ways liked to in­vent, to in­no­vate and to build great teams that cre­ate great tech­nol­ogy—and that hasn’t been lim­ited to that first de­vice.

Did you ever imag­ine the selfie would be­come so per­va­sive? Not re­ally. But I think self­ies are fun. They’re a way of cre­at­ing per­sonal mem­o­ries.

You’re a bit of a se­rial tech en­tre­pre­neur. You’ve founded four soft­ware com­pa­nies over the years, span­ning wire­less syn­chro­ni­sa­tion and wear­able tech­nol­ogy Yes. All my ven­tures have been fo­cused on the fu­ture and the changes that can be brought about by the tech­nol­ogy we work on. I’m a math­e­ma­ti­cian, a sci­en­tist and an in­ven­tor, not a busi­ness per­son per se, so I work around what I know, even when it comes to es­tab­lish­ing a new com­pany.

What as­pects of tech­nol­ogy are you most drawn to? I’m in­ter­ested in the par­a­digm shifts in tech­nol­ogy. With the cam­era phone, for in­stance, we cre­ated some­thing com­pletely new: point, shoot and share in­stantly. That’s a par­a­digm shift. What are you cur­rently work­ing on? Right now, I’m in­ter­ested in the par­a­digm shift that can turn a bed into a smartbed; that’s what my cur­rent com­pany, Fullpower Tech­nolo­gies, is fo­cus­ing on.

How do you go about turn­ing a bed into a smartbed? Through some­thing called Sleep­tracker, a soft­ware sys­tem that can mon­i­tor sleep­ing and wak­ing per­for­mance to help us un­der­stand and im­prove our sleep. It can be built into your bed— any bed, so you don’t need to buy a new one. I see it as a po­ten­tially huge op­por­tu­nity to im­prove peo­ple’s sleep— and lives—right around the planet.

You and your wife work to­gether. How do you split your du­ties? We fo­cus sep­a­rately on com­ple­men­tary com­po­nents: So­nia runs the fi­nan­cial and busi­ness strate­gies of our op­er­a­tions, and I work on the tech­nol­ogy. We are both first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants. We both came to the Sil­i­con Val­ley armed just with dreams and the will to work hard to turn those dreams into re­al­ity. That has cre­ated a strong bond be­tween the two of us.

How do you take your mind off work? Through mu­sic. I come from a fam­ily of mu­si­cians and cabi­net mak­ers, so mu­sic has al­ways come nat­u­rally to me. I al­ways say that I am a pro­fes­sional am­a­teur. I got my master’s de­gree in flute per­for­mance and com­po­si­tion si­mul­ta­ne­ously with my master’s in math­e­mat­ics.

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