Want to lie down on the job? Sonoma County startup has the desk for you
Standing desks are, like, so two years ago.
Walking desks? Go to the gym instead.
But working while you’re lying down? That’s the wave of the future, according to Geyserville entrepreneur Che Voigt.
His Sonoma County-based company, Altwork, lit up national and international news outlets Thursday morning when it unveiled a reclining workstation for “high-intensity” computer users. Set to go to market in 2016, the hybrid desk-chair design allows the user to go from standing to sitting to reclining with little more than the push of a button. After that, gravity does the rest of the work for you.
The workstation - which resembles a high-tech dentist’s chair - is designed for software developers, people who produce computer-automated design work, gamers and those who might have difficulty sitting for prolonged periods of time, said Jim Shissler, the marketing head of Altwork.
“Technology has evolved over the last century, but we’re still forcing our body to conform to the needs of the computer,” he said. “We’re constantly forced to interface with them through tables and chairs, and so what we wanted to do is create a workstation that makes the computer conform to the needs of our bodies.”
Voigt said the workstation could also be useful for people with injuries or disabilities that prevent them from sitting at a conventional desk, such as longtime collaborator John Speicher, a co-founder of Altwork.
The idea of developing a reclining working environment came to Speicher after he injured his back, which left him unable to sit at a conventional desk for longer than about 10 minutes, Voigt said.
“When his back got better, he decided he was so much more productive in that reclined environment that he wasn’t going to go back,” Voigt said. “So he came to me.”
The project, which is backed by $1 million of angel investor funding, has been under development for five years.
The company of 12 works out of a barn Voigt’s father built in Geyserville, and has been testing early prototypes with friends and family for more than two years.
“We’re out in the woods. … Sometimes we call it Area 52,” Voigt said, laughing.
Altwork recently began giving demonstrations for the public. On Thursday, for example, the team was at a co-working space in San Francisco called Galvanize.
The workstation is listed at a price of $5,900, but for early adopters, Altwork is offering a discount of up to $2,000, depending on the model.
“Obviously (the reclining feature) is getting all the press because that’s really unique,” Voigt said. “But what’s truly unique about this is that it transforms between those positions at the press of a button.”
Voigt, a mechanical engineer, spent at least 18 months trying to figure out why no one had created such a product before.
“And after we spent a year or two in the development and a lot of personal time and personal money, I started to understand that it’s just a really hard problem to solve,” he said.
To keep the design as compact as possible, all the motion is done with just four actuators.
“What we needed to do was create a system that, when you press the button, the monitor moves with your eyes and the desk moves with your hands as you recline,” Voigt said. “It’s magical.”
A press release announcing that Altwork was accepting preorders this week drew the type of media attention rarely lavished on a Sonoma County startup, including stories by CNN, USA Today, Fortune, Wired, GQ, Mashable, Ars Technica and Engadget.
The workstation is the first venture into the office furniture market for Voigt. A former mechanical designer at Healdsburg tech manufacturer Versatron, Voigt co-founded Sonoma Design Group, which manufactured imaging systems used by the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies. He sold the company to L-3 Communications in 2005 and became president of its Sonoma EO division.
After leaving Sonoma EO in 2010, Voigt founded Crossover Ventures to invest in high-growth companies. He currently serves as chairman of North Bay Angels, an angel investor group, and is a board member at Sonoma County BEST, an economic development organization within the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.
So what’s next for Altwork? Accessories, more options, side tables and a permanent - and larger - home in Sonoma County.
“These are designed in California, and we expect to build them in Sonoma County,” Voigt said.
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.