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Clarity has facilitated 13,000 customer calls to date, Martell says. User profiles are ranked on many factors, including customer reviews and how much the experts do to promote themselves on the site. The experts, in turn, grade their advice seekers. The big no-nos: bailing on a scheduled call and making a bait-and-switch appointment to look for investment capital. "Don't pitch me, bro" is one of Clarity's mottos, Martell jokes. "You can't be a dick on Clarity."
Martell thought the company would be useful for young startup owners seeking sage guidance from their business elders — people like his imaginary 18-year-old self. But Clarity's demographics skew older. "Established people are actually a bigger use case than first-time entrepreneurs," he says. "The reason why is because first-time entrepreneurs are really intimidated or don't know they should be doing this."
A Big Omaha veteran, Martell says one point he'll make at Big KC is that nobody goes straight to the top in business. Failure is an important part of an entrepreneur's career, he says. "Every one of my lessons will be based on a failed story."
Sphero rolls mobile gaming into the real world.
Sphero, the cueball-looking robot that Adam Wilson invented, looks at first glance like something designed to startle a cat. The app-controlled ball (you pilot it with a smartphone or a tablet) does more than just wig out your pets, though.
Wilson's design brings the touch-screen-gaming plane into the physical realm. Among the 20 apps developed for Sphero so far is Sharky the Beaver, in which the user manipulates a character on the screen and Sphero rolls round in sync. In others, such as a drawing game called Etch-O-Matic, Sphero is the controller and guides what happens on the screen.
Wilson and co-founder Ian Bernstein came up with the idea for Sphero while working on other small, phone-controlled robots. Most of the robots they built were too difficult to create an app for, Wilson says. He then suggested a robot that looked like a marble.
"And Ian said, 'Let's just make a robot ball,' " Wilson says.
The Boulder, Colorado, company launched in 2010, and the robots are now sold at Target, the Apple Store and specialty electronic stores. This year, they plan to go international.
Anyone can write apps for Sphero. (The company doesn't take a cut of the profit.) Wilson sounds surprised and giddy about what developers are doing with his robot.
"It's very humbling," he says. "It's very exciting. But it's also very satisfying. Kind of like the plan is working. You build it, and they get excited."
A favorite third-party app at the Sphero office is a hot-potato game, called Pass the Sphero, Wilson says.
"We've turned that into a more violent game around the table," he jokes.
Our favorite uses of Sphero so far:
• Tipsy isn't available just yet, but nothing that holds so much promise can stay shelved for long. It's simple: a Sphero drinking game. Put the robot on a table, add your friends and some booze, then start playing. The loser of a series of mini games has to drink. In this case, it's probably good that Sphero runs only about an hour on one charge.
• YouTube has some pretty amusing videos of Sphero running complex racetracks and obstacle courses. And the footage demonstrates just how tough these little robots are. (In one promotional video, a man stands on one but doesn't break it.) This isn't a toy that requires you to be very gentle with it.
• Are you shocked that there's a SpheroCam? This app allows you to control the ball and snap pictures or video using an iPad or iPhone camera — finally, a way to capture every perfect moment of kitty confusion or puppy outrage and share each one with the world.