Ann Crady Weiss is on a mission to help babies, kids, and their parents get the rest they desperately need. Five years ago, the entrepreneur and her co-founder and husband impressed investors on the popular television reality show Shark Tank with their innovative “Hatch Baby”—a smart changing pad that helps parents track a toddler’s weight and feeding times. Then, they set out to build what has become one of the most popular items in Amazon’s baby registry: the “Hatch Rest,” an Alexa-enabled smart device to help soothe babies—and their parents—into a better night’s sleep.
Weiss’ entrepreneurial inspiration began at home. Her uncle was an original Intel employee and later became the CEO. Her brother built and sold a company to Google.
“I grew up in Silicon Valley, so starting and running a successful technology company seems natural,” said Weiss. “But in reality, I wasn’t a tech person at all. I studied psychology, then became a lawyer!”
Hatch is Weiss’ second successful company, after building an early social media network for parents, which she later sold to Johnson & Johnson. “The internet of things was starting to boom, and we knew a series of internet-connected devices for mom and baby would do well,” said Weiss. “We were right. Our first internet-connected sleep device for babies was a runaway success.”
In 2015, Weiss was ready to start her new company, but she needed to secure funding. So she followed a suggestion from an acquaintance at Amazon and auditioned for Shark Tank, the television show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to potential investors. She appeared on the show in 2016 with her co-founder and husband. A thoroughly nerve-wracking experience—Weiss said she couldn’t eat or sleep before taping—she got through it by drawing on her venture capital experience.
“If you're not doing things in life that push you or even scare you, you're not living,” said Weiss. “As soon as I started the pitch I was fine. It was actually fun! We made a deal with the guest Shark, Chris Sacca, who helped us launch and is still a wonderful advisor, friend, and investor.”
After launching the original smart changing pad product, Weiss turned her focus to expanding Hatch’s product line with sleep devices for the whole family. The rest, as they say, is history. The current product lineup includes the Rest, the Alexa-enabled Rest+ for babies and kids, and the Restore for adults. The Rest Mini will launch in January 2021.
“Rest for babies is our big product, but adults need their sleep, too, so interest in Restore has been tremendous,” said Weiss. “Rest is the number one Amazon baby registry product behind consumables like diapers and wipes. It has over 5,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4 ½ star rating.”
In developing Rest and other products, Weiss listened to her main customers—parents—and she discovered they wanted hands-free help. After releasing Rest, customers started asking specifically for voice control of the devices—which makes perfect sense. After all, when your hands are full of baby, it’s easier to ask Alexa to perform a task than navigate your smart phone.
“Voice resonates with everyone because it makes their lives easier,” said Weiss. “Alexa powers our Rest+ device now, and we’re expanding to include Alexa voice controls in all our other products next year.”
Amazon’s Alexa Fund, which provides up to $200 million in venture capital funding to fuel voice tech innovation, invested in Hatch. With this support, Hatch has been able to expand on its work to create intuitive, hassle-free Alexa experiences for their customers. Hatch is also exploring other potential integrations available from Amazon.
“The Alexa Fund’s support feels like a validation of our product,” said Weiss. “We wanted to sell our products on Amazon, and their help in navigating that and connecting us with the right people has been instrumental in our success.”
A busy entrepreneur herself, Weiss is all too familiar with the struggles women deal with in business. She says it’s a challenge to be a non-stereotypical founder of a tech company, and as a venture capitalist, and realizes not everyone has a support network. That drives her to help others succeed. She has become a workplace diversity advocate, speaking to as many young women as she can, as well as participating in panels to encourage women to enter technology and entrepreneurial roles. She also meets with aspiring women entrepreneurs seeking venture capital. By mentoring and giving feedback on their pitches, she’s promoting women entrepreneurs and investors.
“Everyone who wants a career in technology should have a chance,” said Weiss.
“Voice technology will continue to improve at understanding your intent... not just your words. Language is very tricky - and people often feel like, ""that's not what I meant"". With the feedback loops in place, voice will get closer to understanding your intent. Also, voice technology will become more routine-based, instead of request/response based. You'll be able to take multiple commands and put them together - and have it repeat periodically."
- Ann Crady Weiss, Hatch CEO