Getting President Obama To Play With Your Product

Yesterday, President Obama was in Boulder. The guys at Orbotix showed up and got him to play around with a Sphero. Watch the video (it’s pretty awesome) and then I’ll tell you the story of how they made it happen. The short answer – always be ready to demo your product – you never know when the President (or a key customer) is nearby.

Our main characters for this story are Ross Ingram and Damon Arniotes.  Ross is the one demoing Sphero to the President. Ross is Mr. Everywhere for Orbotix – his job is to handle every hack event, be at every party, and show up everywhere that might be interesting with a bunch of Spheros. Damion is the guy filming everything on his iPhone. His full time job is to video Sphero in the wild and tell the story all the time.

On Monday night after Ross and Damon found out the President would be at CU Boulder they starting talking about how awesome it would be to get a Sphero into Obama’s hands. No one knew Obama’s route around CU and Boulder, but Ross and Damon drove around the Campus and the Hill (next to CU) to scope things out. I’m betting at least one beer was consumed.

On Tuesday, they drove to CU with Spheros in hand but still didn’t know where Obama was going to be. They had to leave Damon’s camera gear behind because of security and the fact that Damon isn’t press (apparently only press is allowed cameras).

While they were driving to campus they saw a bunch of yellow police tape and took a guess that this was a spot that might see some action. If you are a fly fisherman, you know this drill. Go where you think the fish are going to be and wait. They found a parking spot near the Sink (one of the venerable old college hangouts on the Hill) and parked.

Ross called Paul Berberian, Orbotix’s CEO around 6pm and asked Paul if they should drive Sphero past the yellow tape towards Obama. Paul, who went to the Air Force Academy, responded with “No fucking way – you’ll end up in jail – remote control ball rolling to the president – bad idea.”

Around 6:45 Secret Service starts cherry picking folks from the crowd to be in the receiving line for the President. Magically Ross and Damon get picked – they get screened with metal detectors and are allowed in with Sphero. A girl with a Slurpie had to throw it away – apparently Slurpies are more dangerous than robotic balls. I bet she had one of those neon blue ones.

The President rolls up minutes later and starts shaking hands. Damon starts filming on his iPhone. Ross greets the President and asks him to see his iPhone to drive the robot ball. The President immediately gets it; Ross asks him if he wants to drive it  – and the rest is what you saw on the video. While this is happening, the Secret Service rushed in around Ross and Damon as soon as the President engaged, but the President kept going with Sphero so they hung back.

Someone in the crowd took the Sphero while Ross and Damon frantically played back to video to see if they got it. They did and the rest is memorialized for history – this is the first time we are aware of that a President of the United States has played with a robotic ball controlled with an iPhone.

There are two big lessons here. First, always be ready. Second, hire amazing guys like Ross and Damon and let the loose on the world. Guys – incredible!

  • Perhaps the President can use this for his dog?

  • That really was awesome.

    What a perfect example of lining up circumstances in such a way as to almost guarantee you ‘get lucky’. (that ain’t luck, it’s execution)


  • crazy cool, congrats to them!

  • Great Story! And getting the president to eat at the Sink – the most famous dive bar / pizza joint in Boulder!

  • This was such an amazing experience for me… I couldn’t have done it without the awesome product our team has created. Go Sphero!

    • Dude – you are helping make Boulder be all about robots!

    • Amazing story. Congrats!

  • I’ve had a chance to see Ross and Damon in action with Sphero – they’re immensely creative and a ton of fun to work with. To see that they scored some face time with Mr. President is a reflection of that.

  • Ross and Damon did an amazing job – so proud to have them on our team. They showed up – were prepared – and got the shot. – Brad thx for recognizing them.



  • DaveJ

    Get ready for the “Sphero Tax.”



  • Way to go, guys! You have to make your own luck.

  • Sashwan

    wow that’s so cool. you are the coolest guy in the world Bred

  • Jeff Ellenbogen

    @Gosphero, you guys should send Mr. Obama a Sphero as a thank you gift. I am sure his daughters would love to drive it around the White House.

  • “Everyone give me some space. Want to drive my robotic ball” #winning #thingsobamasays

  • I can’t stop watching this. It’s so fucking brilliant. And here I am commenting on your blog about it because I just can’t get out of my mind how awesome this is. I assume there are a few on their way to the white house as gifts? truly awesome.

    • Working on the gift to the White House thing – stay tuned!

  • touchyourdream

    Good advice!

  • I adore Ross and Damon. The president’s a good dude too.

  • the_engineer

    The secret service now has one more robotic ball than they did before this event.

  • I normally dont get too excited with startups and their guerilla gimmicks, but this deserves the ultimate “fortune favors the bold”

  • “So, you want me to sign it?”

  • The force is strong on this one.

  • Score!

  • A+++

  • jerrycolonna

    ‘scuse me. give me some space to drive my ball.’ Priceless!! Way to go guys!

  • Ross and Damon have balls!

  • Brad – you know, the video without the prelude you recounted wouldn’t have had the same effect. The story is as much about the plot as it is about the actual encounter. None of the other media stories I saw covered the inside scoop that lead to it.

  • sigmaalgebra

    Yes, that was terrific marketing, but you left out a crucial part of how they got to the president:

    The rumor that’s going around was that nearly all of the Secret Service was at the famous 150 year old Boulder Golden Nugget with French champaign, dark Honduras mahogany, oriental carpets, tassels, brass beds, and more red velvet than any high end old Buick!

  • Greg Kalai

    “Luck is an attitude” case in point

  • That’s awesome! The guys from Orbotix are always prepared. I met co-founder Adam Wilson and some other members of the team last week at MEGA Startup Weekend. They never went anywhere without Sphero in hand. Even at the private after party they were there with their ball. Unfortunately on of the party goers drove it off a cliff but before that they had the whole party in awe. I’m really rooting for these guys. I got a sneak peak at some of the things they have in the pipeline and I’m very excited to see them launched.

  • Brad- just wanted to say thanks again for the great post! This was truly an incredible experience for our company, as well as Ross and I. We received an interesting tip on the possible whereabouts of the ‘first’ Sphero – we’ll let you know what we turn up!

  • Amazing publicity for Team Sphero!!!

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  • very cool – good for those guys. I don’t think the secret service will be happy to learn that they let them in with a robotic ball but the slurpree had to go 🙂

    • We are pretty sure the Secret Service now has a Sphero.

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