Undisturbed: Pocco startup works to limit workplace distractions

Buttonless cube helps address common employee beef
Undisturbed: Pocco startup works to limit workplace distractions
Posted at 7:00 AM, Mar 19, 2017

What’s most important to you in your work environment? Perks like free food, or a break room or having your own workspace?

Employees surveyed by research firm Oxford Economics reported that none of these were more important to them than this: the ability to focus and work without interruptions.

Not surprising perhaps that this would be the No. 1 response, considering the growing popularity of open-office environments, in which workers sit together at the same table or at least without their own cubicles.

It’s a need that Sabitha Anisetti wanted to satisfy when she founded Cubester, a Dayton, Ohio-based startup, that makes Pocco, a small cube you put on your desk to let others know you don’t want to be disturbed -- and to help you focus on completing a single task.

“There (was) no good solution in the market for human interruptions,” Anisetti said. Employees routinely say that workplace interruptions cut into 40 to 60 percent of their most productive time and negatively impact morale.

How does it work?

Pocco has an LED display that can show 10 preloaded messages that let people know you’re not to be disturbed. It doesn’t have any buttons. You tilt it to change the message, and you tilt it to set the number of minutes you want it to show the message.

Along with the message, Pocco displays a timer that counts down the time when you’ll be free again.

The name is short for Pocahontas. The kids in Anisetti’s neighborhood can’t say her name, she said, so they call her “Aunt Poca.”

Where’d the idea come from?

Anisetti moved to Dayton from her native India nine years ago to attend Wright State University. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, she wound up working for a health care company, helping it implement the Affordable Care Act.

She discovered many employees found it easier to take their work home, she said, because they couldn’t get things done in the office. That’s when she saw how much time is lost finding one’s train of thought again, once it is interrupted.

So two and a half years ago, she founded Cubester, and with help from an electrical engineer friend built a few prototypes and software.

As she developed the product, she did more than 200 in-person interviews with potential users and industry leaders. She made connections by going to tech conferences, wearing a Pocco T-shirt, sitting in the front row and making eye contact with the speakers, whom she would introduce herself to after their talks.

“People are generous, as far as listening to you and letting you know what they think of your idea,” she said.

Are there customers?

After two months of production, the company has deployed 47 Poccos for customers in Cincinnati, Chicago and California, she said, and she received an order for 35 more.

What about investors?

About $77,000 has been put into the business, most of that from Anisetti herself, she said, with some in the form of a loan from its advisers.

What’s next?

Making Pocco a connected product that could protect users from electronic interruptions as well as human ones. Also, to enable it to capture data on workplace productivity, so that employers can distribute rewards more fairly.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Keeping the team motivated, especially when the company is only now starting to make money. Also, learning how to talk with potential clients, since Anisetti doesn’t have a background in sales.

Juggling all the balls of sales, growth, operations and product development and making sure she doesn’t drop any of them has also been hard, she said.

She copes with stress by reading the Wall Street Journal before she goes to sleep.

“It’s full of stories where someone had a much (worse) day that you did,” she said. “Or (about) someone else had a really great day, that makes you want to wake up with more enthusiasm.”