Synaptitude and Applying to Y Combinator


This week, after many sleepless nights. I am finally ready to launch, the website for the company Synaptitude I hope to create with Robb and Cole. We also recently (last night) applied to Y Combinator for Winter 2015. Although the acceptance to the program is <3% [1], I think we have a fair chance. Our idea/product is pretty awesome (if I do say myself), AlphaBKZ. Coupled with Cole, who works at CoreOS, Robb, who ported Plan 9 to Gentoo, and myself who works in a research lab on Computer Vision, we have a pretty solid team.

That being said, I think our chances are probably slightly better than average. Y Combinator wants technical teams, who are capable of selling a product and years of working together. We definitely have that. Although I hate to admit it, we spent most of high school running a World of Warcraft guild together, building website(s) for the guild, learning how to manage teams, and even making Christmas cards…

The Collective Christmas
From right to left, Rory Bebee, Austin Walters, Zach Herr, Sara Bolds, Robb Seaton, Cole Gleason

Why Synaptitude? was originally purchased 6 months ago with the idea that Jennifer Kokkines (my girlfriend), Robb, and myself would create a website around “Learning.” A fairly generalized topic, but one we honed. Learning is difficult for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. Using modern research in psychology and neuroscience we would create a self-help website (and accompanying book) regarding self-improvement and learning.

If you are curious where the term Synaptitude comes from, you can thank Jenny. The term combines the word “Synapse,” which is the structure that is used to pass electrical symbols from one neuron to another. Similar to the way we (via are trying to pass knowledge onto the reader/user. The graphic below would be an example of a synapse firing.

Synaptitude Loader The second word which combines with synapse to make “synaptitude” is aptitude — your natural ability, or suitability to do something[2]. None of us believe “natural ability” is innate in regard to learning, as such I would define aptitude differently,

Aptitude: Ones ability to accomplish a task or solve a problem.

Humans have the ability to grow, create new synapses, and learn. With this in mind, we hope to increase readers/users aptitude, through our company Synaptitude.

Synaptitude – Back Story

One of the issues we ran into when trying to build was that most research into neuroscience was either too new (i.e. results haven’t been replicated), or it was too generalized. Neuroscience is too new of a field to be fully appreciated and as such it is difficult to obtain research. Psychology, on the other hand, has plenty of research, but it is usually very sudo-sciencey (is that even a word?). Unfortunately, this led to a problem when we are/were trying to build a website.

If you have not noticed, I am all about the facts. Research needs to be rock solid for me to believe it is true, which lead to both a problem and an opportunity. How do we write articles or a book without any concrete research? Well, we make our own!

Obviously, this takes many long nights for months, potentially years. To expedite this process, I thought to myself, “What is the most fundamental element to most psychology and neuroscience research?” The answer, brain waves, or the tracking of synapses as they fire. I quickly looked up EEG (a tool to track brain activity) data and although I found data bases, none were as good as I wanted them, I wanted a massive study done on every population I could think of. Turns out, there’s nothing really like that. Though there is a few good sources [3][4].

Luckily, the technology was used as early as 1914, so it is one of the most studied tools in the neuroscience/psychology arsenal and is non-evasive. Better yet, EEGs are becoming cheaper every day and with Emotiv and OpenBCI, EEGs will become ever more common and cheaper. How then, can I leverage this technology to gain the information I desire? Building an analytics company off EEG data would be pretty straight forward, help others (like myself) and accomplish the task of gaining all the data I desired. Hence, Synaptitude became more than a website/book and now (hopefully) will become a company.

Synaptitude – AlphaBKZ

For those of you who read my website, you know I have been working on a project called OpenBKZ, pronounced “Open Books.” AlphaBKZ is the analytics gathering version. AlphaBKZ is designed to integrate and gather information with EEGs, eye tracking, and potentially other devices, as well as gather the standard analytics OpenBKZ provides.

Further, the design aspects I chose for AlphaBKZ enable video streaming, audio, images, etc. Essentially, AlphaBKZ can track users attention in any digitalized medium. If we go one step further, we may (probably can) actually be able to use the same techniques on real devices. Below is my “bed-side” introduction to Synaptitude and AlphaBKZ.

If you are still interested in the AlphaBKZ, I recommend checking it out on the Synaptitude Blog: Introducing AlphaBKZ. All of what we have developed thus far has been solely developed by myself. However, this semester Cole and I should be working together to improve the machine learning algorithm(s) and EEG data, so stay tune for more!

Synaptitude – YCombinator Application

Let’s start with our application video.

I personally didn’t get much time to speak there, trying to keep it down to a minute and all, but it is what it is! Obviously, we are all pumped (though I was/am extremely tired) and want so badly to be a Y Combinator startup. Robb, Cole and I have been apart of the community for years and Robb and I in particular get our fair share of front page posts (almost competitively).

All I really have to say about our application is that I hope we get in, and if we don’t I am looking forward to see other peoples ideas. I applied back in April 2014, with the same idea, after the application deadline, without Cole or Robb. Clearly, I was declined. However, after a few months of consulting neuroscience PhDs, authors, marketers, and refining the process I now have a pretty sound prototype. Followed by Robb and Cole coming on board, I am excited and think we have a pretty good chance of receiving funding. Even if we don’t get into Y Combinator, we will keep working on the idea, because it’s a winner.

Stay tune for more updates!

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