It’s the final term of our MBA and this was exactly the question we asked ourselves. We, that’s Christian and I, two IMBA graduates from the class of April 2014. Our idea, a product that would help people to lose less, forget less, and ultimately worry less. Today, one year later we hold in our hands THE O; a small smart wearable device. It creates a virtual leash to our mobile app on your phone and reminds you when you are forgetting a belonging.
Neither of us had a background in hardware technology. It was a totally unknown space. So, we dove in headfirst. We say it was our strategy, but I wonder if it was because we did not know better. We started building a product somehow and just iterated as we went along. We wanted to succeed quickly, but also to fail quickly in every step. The most important aspect of this way of working is that you learn so much about what you want along the way; the value of the product to the customer and how they should interact with it. The concept develops alongside the product. I am very glad we did it this way and I would not recommend people spend months developing a concept, then take it to a developer and expect to have something perfect that customers love.
We started prototyping immediately with people in Madrid. Most would argue to go overseas for this; to the UK, the States, India or Eastern Europe. But we felt that the value of being able to speak to people face to face would override the benefit of slightly lower cost, or more experience at that early stage.
The learning curve was steep. What were these engineers even talking about – SMT, PCB, IPX, TI…? But our lack of knowledge in deeply technical details has benefited us in other ways; as we have naturally focused on the customer perspective. How do we make this product super easy to use? How can we build it so it doesn’t require any interaction or maintenance?
And how do we make it look good? My background is in luxury fashion and jewelry, which I think, set a certain aesthetic standard and also created a real challenge. After all, we are building a wearable device for you to attach to your belongings which you will see every day. No doubt, it needs to be cool. And it needs to be desirable. So we worked with Ivan Castro, an amazing Spanish industrial designer who came from the Swiss watch industry. Previously, he had worked with Marc Newson; who is now at Apple and believed to be the person responsible for the Apple Watch design. Ivan understood exactly the level of care and detail we wanted for this product.
Finding a manufacturer is no easy feat. It is an overwhelming process, full of potential pitfalls. Type ‘electronics manufacturer’ into Google and 95,000,000 results come up. Who can we trust? Who will do a good job? How do we know the right questions to ask to evaluate them? Where do we even start? It took several months to find someone who matched the standards we wanted to achieve with respect to quality, cost and ease of communication. And it would not have been possible without a handful of senior operations managers with many years of experience who we begged for help and kindly said yes.
One of the very first lessons you learn as an entrepreneur is that you are not the only person to have had your idea, or something very close to it. And I’ll be honest, this doesn’t feel great. But then this lesson is quickly followed by the realization that your business will not live or die by the strength of the idea alone. There are so many challenges involved in getting your product made right, let alone selling and delivering it! I believe there is no way around trying; diving in headfirst.
These challenges can be overwhelming at times. It requires a lot of dedication to keep on going. We continue to stay calm, mostly, and cross bridges when we reach them. It’s summer 2015, one year in. So… we have a great product now. What’s next? We decided to launch THE O on Kickstarter this September and see what people think.
Do you have a great idea for a startup? Be brave. Give it a try.
Co-Founder and Managing Partner of THE O
THE O is now live on Kickstarter. The campaign reached 50% of its funding goal within 36 hours and reached 100% funded within a week. It is a Kickstarter ‘Staff Pick’. Access the page here to buy THE O.