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DUMBO Inventors Shake Up the Tech World

By Janet Upadhye | July 27, 2012 11:52am | Updated on July 30, 2012 3:11pm

DUMBO — A small group of virtual mad scientists are rubbing their hands together in a small office space at 55 Washington St. in DUMBO.  

Andrew Zolty, Mattias Gunneras, and Michael Lipton are young entrepreneurs who create gadgets with retro looks but with innards from the future.

They call themselves Breakfast, because as Zolty said, “We learn by breaking stuff, quickly.”

In the heart of Brooklyn’s own Silicon Valley, tech companies by the hundreds are tucked away in trendy red brick loft office spaces, reimagining the web from their Macbooks.

But Breakfast, voted the No. 1 innovative digital marketing agency by tech website Mashable, is unlike most tech companies in that it envisions a future beyond the confines of the computer screen.

Zolty, 32, has worked for more than 15 companies since he graduated from the Visual Communications Department at the University of Delaware around 10 years ago.

“I was becoming frustrated with only working in a computer screen,” he said. “I wanted something more tactical, that I could feel and touch.”

It was at his last company, Poke, where he met partner Gunneras and together they created their first off-the-screen project, called Baker Tweet. It was a tool for local cafés and bakeshops to let neighbors know when something was coming fresh out of the oven.

Basically a little box with a dial sat near the oven and tweeted out minute-to-minute updates on the status of their baked goods.

“This was before Twitter was hot and people didn’t really know what to do with it,” said Zolty. “Baker Tweet was such a success because it helped people understand the practical uses for Twitter.”

With the success of Baker Tweet under their belts, the duo, along with the newest addition Lipton, decided to do their own thing.

One of their first business tactics was the creation of an old school, red, rotary dial phone. Wiring the inside of the phone themselves they sent it to potential clients with a note to plug it into the wall.

Once plugged in the phone automatically called all three Breakfast founder’s cell phones.

“It was ingenious because clients were actually calling us,” said Zolty.

And it worked. Today Breakfast has a packed roster of clients including Ray-Ban, Nike, TNT Television, Banana Republic, Fuse, Gizmodo, and Aveda to name a few. Not to mention Conan O’Brien, for whom they created a blimp.

Zolty said that it is actually hard for them to meet the demand of requests.

But what exactly does Breakfast make? Well, that depends.

Their bread and butter comes from one project called Instaprint. Described on their website as “a mobile photo-booth that turns Instagrams back into the Polaroid-like prints that inspired the app in the first place,” Instaprint is a small box that clients hang on the wall during an event.

As people at the event take Instagram photos and identify them with a hashtag, the box will print the photo in the style of a Polaroid.

Currently only used by large companies for major events like backstage at the Grammy Awards, Instaprint rentals start at $5,000 for the first few hours.  And quite literally, the profits are sustaining the company, allowing the trio to spend their time envisioning and creating new gadgets for the future.

“We are inventors,” Zolyy said. “We dream up things that don’t exist yet, and make them real.”

Their latest?

It’s called an Electromagnetic Dot Display. Currently displayed in the large window of a building near Herald Square, the display is nothing less than high art, but also an advertisement for TNT’s newest crime-solving show, Perception.

Much cooler than the ubiquitous high rise billboards, this display is made up of over 40,000 spinning black and white circles that reflect back the image of passers-by. And it was made with their own six hands.

According to the press release,  “Through their body movement, pedestrians can literally erase words from the screen. And not only able to see a unique black-and-white reflection of their movements, but hear what that sounds like as the thousands of analog dots spin rapidly back and forth.”

The only way to believe it is to see it in the video above.  Or in person, the display will be up at 32nd Street and Sixth Avenue until July 29.

But the screen was so delicate that transportation was nearly impossible. The process made clear to Breakfast that they needed a larger space.

“We have actually been unable to find a larger affordable space in DUMBO,” said Zolty, echoing the claims by others that DUMBO is currently filled to the brim with tech companies with little room for newcomers. “So we hate to leave, but we are on the lookout for new office space to fit our growing needs.”

What’s in the future for Breakfast? Well, the question is redundant. They are already there.