With touchscreen tables, walls, T1Visions fills a need for social interaction

Mike Feldman saw the problem: people staring at iPhones without saying a word to anyone around them.

He sought a solution: Give them a screen that would encourage human interaction and group sharing.

Enter the large-format touchscreen, a display that can be embedded in a table, desk or wall. Feldman, 52, sees it as a way for users to collaborate on projects, share information or just have fun.

Picture sitting in a meeting and reading on a high-resolution screen, every presentation or document on each employee’s computer. Or, waiting for food with friends at a restaurant and playing a touchscreen game that everyone can join.

“We’re a leader in a new, emerging market,” said Feldman, CEO of T1Visions. “There’s a big need for (touchscreens), but there’s not a lot of competition.”

After leaving his job as an electrical engineering professor at UNC Charlotte in 1996, Feldman worked full time at Digital Optics, a micro-optics company he co-founded in 1992. He sold the company in 2006 to Tessera Technologies for $60 million. He worked at Tessera for a year before he left and started T1Visions in 2008.

Six years later, T1 Visions was ranked at No. 456 on the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. The company generated $2.4 million in revenue last year, compared with $212,000 in 2010.

Feldman and his 30 employees create collaborative tables and touchscreen walls with prices ranging from $50,000 to $75,000, compared to what others offer at $500,000 or $1 million. By 2015, T1Visions touchscreens will be installed in five SouthPark restaurants and stores, Feldman said. And the company is preparing to roll out ThinkHub, which connects user’s computers and mobile devices to a large screen.

ShopTalk asked Feldman how he managed to stay ahead of the pack and create a product no one else considered:

Find an untapped market: Five years ago, Feldman said “there was nobody” making large-format touchscreens. His aim was to capitalize on a market that was small, devoid of much competition and held growth potential.

“To stay ahead of the curve, you can’t jump in with a new company, a new product with crowded space,” he said. “It’s really hard to come up with something new” in a multimillion-dollar market.

And, while the touchscreen market is growing, T1Visions remains competitive by keeping prices lower.

Figure out what people need: Instead of trying to push an invention or product, Feldman said he focused on what people were missing. Noting the popularity of iPhones, Feldman realized mobile devices isolate their users.

He developed the touchscreen so users can share pictures, files and presentations with multiple people at the same time in the same space. When considering a product, business owners should look at the need first, asking themselves: “What is there? There is a need. People really need that.” Then, make it.

Build relationships: Feldman has built rapports with a few smaller companies that work with him to develop products that fit their needs, from start to finish.

“You can’t do that with 100 companies,” he said. “Pick a few partners that will be customers. They can buy it, they can use it, they can give you the feedback, and that helps you develop your products.”

“Under promise, but over deliver,” Feldman advises. “Once the companies … find out you do a good job, they keep coming back to you.”