Adam Riggs-Zeigen was a DJ who traveled the world before landing at Qualcomm Inc. Now he’s mashed up his music and technology backgrounds to form an app that lets runners' heartbeats dictate what beats they listen to.
Rock My World Inc., which sits in the competitive downtown EvoNexus incubator, takes information from a runner's phone, heart-rate monitor or Fitbit device and changes the tune based on how their body is performing.
"We help people to be more fit, healthy and active by combining a music service with sensor technology," said Riggs-Zeigen, co-founder of Rock My World. “Body-driven music.”
There are 40 million runners in the United States alone, and 60 to 70 percent of them listen to music during their workouts.
Tracks that fit a runner's pace, striding style or heart rate not only help them run faster — but studies suggest they enjoy pounding the pavement even more.
The app can help them average a nine-minute mile, which is a popular pace for long-distance runners.
“Sensors can tell you're at a 9:20 pace and can speed up the music you're listening to,” he said.
The app monitors health, too; if a runner's heart rate is "through the roof," they aren't encouraged to pick up the pace.
The company developed a licensed music service that fuels the app. Mixes were compiled from DJs around the world, categorized by beats per minute.
“Basically more focused than Pandora," he said.
He spent a decade traveling the world as a DJ in nightclubs and weddings before working for Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) for 6½ years.
"It helped expose me to what the future looks like from a mobile device standpoint," he said.
He left Qualcomm earlier this year to pursue Rock My World full-time.
The app launched in February on the iPhone and will be on the Android in August. The patent-pending sensor piece will be integrated by the end of the year.
The testing period is extensive because sensors feed back various data points, he said.
"You have to write it smart to understand you’re stopping to tie your shoe and not just you got tired," Riggs-Zeigen said. "All information is taken into account to make the correct changes.”
That means realizing when a downtown runner is stopped at traffic light, for example.
His vision is to incorporate other activities, including cycling and weight lifting. So far, the nine-person company has raised $100,000 and needs $500,000 more in the next few months to speed up efforts.
“With that we can bring on additional engineering talent and begin to expand what we are doing to additional verticals,” he said.
On June 13, he attended his first Tech Coast Angels event, "Meet the Angels," which drew 80 attendees to Mintz Levin's San Diego offices.
TCA, the largest angel-investment organization in the United States, calls its San Diego affiliate its largest of five regional networks in Southern California.
The affiliate's thrice-yearly event lets entrepreneurs mingle and interact with TCA members, give elevator pitches and get real-time advice and mentoring.
Typically 20 or more TCA members, or investors, show up.
“You hear a lot of feedback about how difficult it can be to raise money in San Diego, but you go to an event like that and see angel investors there eager to talk to people,” he said.
Being out and about is important for money-hungry startups.
“Familiarity breeds more opportunity," he said.
His company was admitted into the Sunnyvale-based Plug and Play Tech Center, a global accelerator that specializes in growing tech startups.
The intensive 10-week program causes some of his team to make the trek to Silicon Valley once or twice a week.
“It’s good to have connections and relationships in Silicon Valley, but our goal is to stay in San Diego and help build a community here,” he said.
TCA plans to inject $15 million into California-based firms this year — a 50 percent increase over last year.
That would bring the total amount invested into tech and biotech firms to more than $140 million since the group was founded in 1997.
San Diego Tech Coast Angels have made $6 million in investments so far this year, most recently dumping $1.2 million into celebrity app Yapert.
TCA has 300 members, a third of which are in San Diego. Michael Elconin has been a member since 2000.
“The organization has been making more investments and has had some large closings," Elconin said. "This year is looking like will be a pretty good year. The question is why?”
Some years TCA makes only five to six investments; there are other years it makes 20 or more.
"I think that investors are feeling better about the economy. As an angel investor you put money in a startup and you get your money back when the startup is sold or has an IPO," he said.
An improved economy is leading to better exit opportunities, he points out. He was one of the earliest investors in prepaid credit card company Green Dot Corp., which got its first round from TCA in 2003.
It went public two years ago and has “done very well,” he said.
"When there are more exits it makes people feel better about investing in a startup, because there’s a better chance of getting money back," he said.
In addition, angels are in a positive spot because venture capital funding, or institutional money typically $5 million and up, is hard to find.
Meanwhile, angel investments under $2 million have continued to grow, he said.
"There are a lot of VCs that are not investing because they don’t have money. Angels have a lot of money. ... It’s a more attractive space for angels," he said.
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