Deren Guler: Founder, Teknikio

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My Native Admission Statement: Deren Guler is a researcher, designer and educator based in New York. She holds a B.S in Physics and a Masters of Tangible Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon University. Designing accessible tools to improve the quality of life motivates her work. She has lead design and engineering workshops around the world. Her work has been featured in Wired, the BBC, the NYTimes and CNN among others. She is the founder of Teknikio- a series of tool sets that show you how to re-imagine and reinvent your world with technology. She adjuncts at Parsons School of Design, is a co-founder of the FatcatFablab makerspace in New York City, and author of Crafting Wearables: Blending Technology with Fashion. She loves to take things apart, and sometimes puts them back together.

How did you get into the industry?

While studying Physics in undergrad and was frustrated when friends thought that it was over their head, or magic. I took a physical computing class my junior year and was immediately enamoured with the world of digital to physical interaction design. I started to imagine experiences that would allow people to better understand and even partake in science and technology. Upon graduating I designed an exhibit for the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and decided to return to school to study computational design.

Any emerging industry trends?

There is definitely a trend towards AR/VR that has been emerging over the past few years, which seemed outside of the scope of what we do at first, but as we develop more complex tools we are finding opportunities to weave these experiences in. There is also more talk around data responsibility and Internet safety, which is a very important issue, that I am relieved and excited to see is getting the attention it deserves.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I remember having a moment in grad school, when I was experimenting with basic electronics that I realized it was pretty easy to make light up shoes and then I thought “ I would have loved this as a kid, why aren’t there kits about this?”. I did some market research and found that there was an upsetting void of engineering kits targeting girls. I set out to put together kits using off the shelf parts and see how far I could get. We soon saw the flaws in many of these products as they were not suitable for beginners, and started to design our own components. This has remained a core part of Teknikio’s mission over the years: to inspire people to add new tools, techniques, and parts to their personal toolbox and skillset. This also means that Teknikio might adapt and design intuitive experiences for new technologies, we are not married to one system, or set of products.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We have been working on a new software and hardware platform for over a year now that we are very excited about and planning to launch soon. I am really excited about this and think it will be a very transformative tool for many people. The goal of the platform is to make it easy to build connected projects and teach you about the Internet-of-Things. You can find out more here, and inquire about joining the beta program! \

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

There have been several challenging moments and they all relate to being a small startup, with limited resources. I’ve had to wear several hats, including unofficial lawyer, logistics supervisor and more. Early on we were asked to change our brand name by another company as they felt it was confusingly similar. In the end I am much happier with this name, but when something is so fresh it is hard to understand the impact of starting over. We lost many resellers from this and re-branding too far longer than expected. While it opened opportunity for reflection and strategy, it definitely set us back. However, every time we launch something new I think back to that experience and have a better idea of what obstacles we may face.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?I

Always remember an experience from one of the first workshops I hosted at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. As we were finishing our projects, one student exclaimed “I can use this to replace the controller in my remote control car”. I was so excited that they made this connection, and felt like I had really succeeded in demonstrating that the principles learned in the workshop can be applied to all kinds of things. We’ve received similar feedback over the years, and it is always very rewarding.

How do you motivate others?

I try to encourage people to push the limits and see what happens. I am a fan of whimsical ideas and I see a lot of people playing it safe, especially when they first start at a new company or new project. I try to encourage people to experiment and form something based on a lot of ideas as opposed to a single track. I think this also helps people feel ownership or confidence that what they are doing is unique and interesting, it just generally makes everything more exciting.

What makes me the best version of myself?

That I am as some close friends and family call me “a completionist”. I rarely think that something is too difficult and do what it takes to get things done. Even if I can’t do it personally I know that there is someone or some tool out there that will help me accomplish the task.

My Biggest Success?

Probably a project I did with my friend in Grad School- Float Beijing. It was the first time I traveled internationally  to teach an electronics project and it was subversive project that we pulled off despite many obstacles. We were even monitored by the Chinese Secret Service!

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My mom- she has her own company (Intuvision Inc.) and always assumes the best, I think it’s very important to have this kind of outlook in life and I try to be more optimistic

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Seaside or nature (rainforests, jungles, etc). Living in a city, I like to flip 180 and visit places that feel most wild/natural, it helps me reconnect and be present in the moment.

A Day in My Life:

What do you love most about Your City?

People using public spaces. I feel like a lot of cities have public spaces that are just empty. I also love all the history, the old houses and factory buildings. Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant? Turkish breakfast- Simit, cheese, jams, menemen

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Snoozing my alarm

10:00 AM - Team meeting

12:00 PM - Favorite lunch meal & restaurant? Roberta’s Pizza by the office

7:00 PM - Trying to leave work, or biking home

11:00 PM - Checking email before bed, organizing my apt

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?

Turkish Tea, 5-10 cups!