Entrepreneur Philippe Kahn is the man you want to thank for being able to take beautiful pictures on your mobile phone.
You may recognize him from Best Buy’s recent Super Bowl commercial, which focused on his breakthrough engineering in creating the first-ever camera phone. In 1997 — when the Internet was just four years old — Kahn inserted the first point, shoot and share camera into a Motorola Startac, the most popular mobile cellphone at the time. The concept is now one of the most prominent and prized features on cellphones and smartphones worldwide.
The concept stemmed from Kahn’s desire to send a picture of his impending newborn baby to friends and family in real time. He purchased a Casio QV-10 digital camera during a time when only simple email existed and wireless bandwidth was constrained.
“I wanted to create a 21st century version of a Polaroid picture,” Kahn tells Mashable.
His creation was done just in time for his daughter’s birthday. On June 11, 1997, an image of Kahn’s new baby Sophie became the first-ever photo ever taken by a mobile phone.
Making His Way to Tech
Kahn has always had a passion for blending technology with everyday life. Born and raised in Paris, he came from a family of cabinet makers and musicians. He attributes his inspiration to French composers Nadia Boulanger and Claude Debussy — both of whom were masters at the skills they were most passionate about. With structure and creativity as a backbone to both cabinet-making and music, he developed a love for mathematics and building things that could improve certain experiences for consumers. He moved to Silicon Valley on a tourist visa and hoped to make his way into the tech world.
“The hardest part was getting started,” Kahn says. “I didn’t know anyone in California and didn’t have a Green Card, so regular jobs were not open to me. I knew nothing about business besides how we ran our cabinet shop, which included cash in a shoe box.”
He finally landed a job building printer cables: “Knowing how to build things is a very useful skill, and it wasn’t easy to create professional custom printer cables,” he adds. “Since there was no Wi-Fi at the time, everything was connected with cables, and the demand was high. I was lucky to fall into that business.”
The more printer cables he made, the more successful Kahn was. The demand became so high that he decided to hire outside help and teach others how to make the same product. He marketed “programming and technology consulting services” at a premium and ultimately landed HP as a client.
“That’s when everything changed,” he says.
After the Cell Phone Camera
Kahn has since founded four software companies over the years, including Fullpower Technologies, Starfish Software, LightSurf Technologies and Borland. He now focuses his time on Fullpower, which is best known for its wearable sensing platform called MotionX that embeds wired solutions into products for brands such as Nike+ and Jawbone’s UP band.
“Focusing on one thing at a time is critical to success in the tech industry,” he says. “Steve Jobs had a razor-sharp focus on Apple each day, and that really made him successful. His other interests were more of an adviser role than as a day-to-day person.”
Kahn says he is most fascinated right now by how technology can be used to improve the health of consumers.
“There are tools out there that can help people sleep better, be more active, and lead richer and more productive lives — all of which can be done without pills and prescription drugs,” Kahn says. “It’s an exciting space to be in right now, and it will be interesting to see what groundbreaking things come out of the next few years.”
The company is gearing up for a major announcement later this week that incorporates a new app for iPhone users that is three years in the making.
“I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and I live and breathe it,” he says. “When we get to do what we love with people that we respect, it makes you want to keep growing.”