Founder Interview: Andrew Zenoff, CEO and Founder of BEAM – The Ultimate Conversation Starter
In times of tenuous political, environmental, and interpersonal debates, the desire to speak up or declare uniqueness also crescendos, acting as a natural counterbalance. Once you break the ice, these conversations flow freely, building upon each other and ultimately driving change and understanding. But breaking the ice can be hard, and starting meaningful conversations even more difficult. One company is trying to change that. Coupled with technology, BEAM has created a digital, wearable button with a fully customizable screen. Whether it is standing up for a cause, provoking thought, or creating laughter, BEAM is an immediate, modern, way to share ideas and start face-to-face conversations.
BEAM also comes with a built-in panic button setting – holding down the button for several seconds will trigger a panic text message and map link / GPS location from the user’s phone to a pre-set list of contacts. This makes BEAM the perfect accessory for self-expression and safety.
We caught up with Andrew Zenoff, CEO and Founder of BEAM, to hear more about the origin of BEAM, how his wife influenced the design, and all the ways, some surprising, BEAM is being used today.
What drove you to create BEAM?
Zenoff had been noticing the amount of time Millennials were spending on social media, being online, and on their screens. “In some ways, they are losing the art of conversation with each other face-to-face.” Zenoff continues, “My hypothesis is that as long as people can talk to each other and look each other in the eye to discuss challenges, issues, values, and opportunities, we can overcome obstacles to build a better tomorrow.”
It wasn’t until after seeing Fruitvale Station, a Sundance-winning movie about the true story of a young black man who lost his life to institutionalized racism and police brutality, that Zenoff moved into action. He had all these thoughts and feelings after seeing the film and no way to show them. “Walking out of that theater I knew that I wanted to create a platform that allows people to very quickly share the things they care about, wear them in the real world, and start conversations.”
Tell us about your customers.
BEAM is selling directly on their website – and individuals, organizations, and companies are seeing its value. Especially for those who care about buying and consuming brands that are doing something meaningful and good, BEAM is the perfect platform to showcase self-expression and values.
Organizations, foundations, and recent empowerment movements have also contributed to the early adoption of BEAM. Perhaps more surprisingly, many businesses are using BEAM as the ultimate icebreaker. On the B2B side, there has been tremendous interest from companies to outfit their sales teams and tradeshow teams with BEAM, as well as their consumer-facing staff in retail. The BEAM team just launched an Enterprise platform for corporations to have their own, closed site for content creation and distribution.
What is one revelation or interesting way users are interacting with/using BEAM that surprised you?
“One of the biggest surprises is that older generations, 45-65 year-olds, are using BEAMs for fun. They are worn at dinner parties and birthdays to spark humor and laughter,” says Zenoff. And really, what a wonderful thing – sparking joy.
What were the top priorities in designing BEAM?
“When I started envisioning the initial concept, it was a baseball cap with a digital display, and that morphed into a dynamic wristband. But most people don’t wear caps to work and wrist real estate was getting crowded.” For the form factor, Zenoff wanted it to be universal, easy to understand, and versatile (so you can put it on a hat, wear on a jacket, add to your lapel). “My wife is a huge button fan, and because she always wears buttons, it occurred to me – yeah, we should make the modern equivalent of a button.” The idea was further solidified by the history of the button as an iconic instrument for self-expression in the 1960s. “We also wanted it to be big enough so you can see it from 20 feet away but small enough so you could put it on your lapel and not feel weighed down. We didn’t want people to feel like they are wearing a screen.” The size and feel of a river stone, which it was modeled after, the device is both unobtrusive and comforting at the same time.
What’s next for the product?
“We are working on a way for users to upload their own GIFs and create their own GIFs.” The ability to let users showcase their creativity is important to Zenoff – and it’s been something users have been asking for.
Zenoff launched BEAM to empower connections. Whether it is on college campuses, the Washington D.C. Mall, or at business conferences, the way it sparks in-person conversations is magical. And at a time when most social platforms do the opposite, BEAM is a breath of fresh air.