Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters! My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com. I say with pride. Oh, it feels so good to be a founder. It also feels a lot of pain sometimes too, where you have to figure things out on your own; you have to suffer through a lot of setbacks. One of the reasons why I do these interviews is because I want to learn from other entrepreneurs and I want you to learn along with me how they overcame their setbacks so that we can be armed for when we have those big challenges in life. And that happened to today’s entrepreneur, as you will see.
This is the story of how paying attention to the problems of visually impaired people helped the Mixergy fan launch a hit product. Hyungsoo Kim is the founder of Eone Timepieces. They make beautiful tactile watches that allow you to tell time without looking at them. You can just run your fingers on them and see what time it is. In fact, they probably don’t want me to even call it a watch because you don’t have to watch it. You can feel it. So they use the word ‘timepieces’. It works for everyone, including the visually impaired. We’ll hear the story of how he built it and, frankly, the inner side of– well, the behind the scenes stuff about the challenges that he had.
And it’s all thanks to my sponsor, Lead Pages. Lead Pages is a company that makes landing pages that help anyone collect email addresses. Now, they’ve created a bunch of landing pages. Now they’re ready for the Mixergy audience to create their own landing pages that Lead Pages will be selling to their community. So, if you have any design chops – if you have any skill in creating landing pages that convert, that collect email addresses, I urge you to go check out Mixergy.com/LeadPages and create your own landing pages that you can sell on their service. And I’ll help you sell them. The first five people who do it, I will sell for you. Go to Mixergy.com/LeadPages for more information.
All right. Thank you so much for doing this interview, Hyung… Hyungsoo. Excuse me.
Hyungsoo: Hello! How are you?
Hyungsoo: I’m very glad to be here.
Andrew: I was so eager to make sure that I got the first part of your first name right, “Hyung”, that I forgot to actually say the full thing. Hyungsoo. Hyungsoo. What is the name from?
Hyungsoo: So, Eone. So, my company’s name is Eone. It is short for ‘everyone.’ We’re dedicated to creating products that are designed for everyone. So we create consumer fashion products with inclusive design, meaning it appeals aesthetically and functionally to a broader range of people regardless of age, gender, abilities, and disabilities.
Andrew: Yeah. Eone. What about your personal name? Your first name? The one that I tried so hard to get right?
Andrew: What is that from?
Hyungsoo: So, Hyungsoo. You know, all the Korean names are actually from Chinese characters.
Hyungsoo: And “Hyung” means “prosperous”. And “Soo” means, also, successful and rising.
Andrew: Successful and prosperous. And, boy, I see that you’re on your way there. In fact, you’ve done really well. You’ve already done one million in sales in your first year. Let’s find out how you did this. The whole thing happened when you were a student at MIT and there was someone sitting next to you who had a problem. What was the problem that he had?
Hyungsoo: So, I was sitting in a classroom and one of my classmates was visually impaired. And sometimes he would poke me on the shoulder and he’d ask me what time it was: “Hyungsoo, what time is it now?” Right? And I used to tell him all the time, you know, “It’s close to 2:30…2:40.” And as it happened more and more I was getting upset. Not at him, but just the situation. Right? And if he were sighted, I would have said, “Hey. It’s time to get a new watch!” Right? And I looked at his wrist and he was wearing a watch – a wrist watch. And I looked at it again, I realized that it was a digital watch, and it made me curious. Hmm. He cannot see, so how does he check the time and why is he asking me for the time all of the time? He’s wearing one! So I asked him after class and he showed me. So, this is what he used to wear.
Andrew: That’s the watch he had on? Okay.
Hyungsoo: So he could press a button. [mechanical tone]. Automated watch: 7:45 a.m.
Hyungsoo: So it is a talking watch. You press a button and it speaks the time. And I thought it was pretty cool. But he said this was very annoying because he could not use it during the class, during the meetings, when there are people around you because it makes sound and everyone knows that you are checking the time. It is pretty embarrassing. And, so I said, “Oh. Okay”. Then I asked him [??] Ben is there any other options that you can use? And he, next day he brought me once of the [??] solutions. So this is regular analog watch, with minute hand, hour hand. You open the cover glass to touch the hands.
Andrew: Oh, wow!
Hyungsoo: Yeah! And yeah! That’s, that’s what I said. I said oh wow, that’s pretty cool. But then why do you not use this and use a pocket watch? And he said he lost his vision once he was already grown up. So he doesn’t have his sense of touch, so if he touches the hands, either it breaks or it moves. So, so it’s a watch that you cannot use. If you use, it breaks. And so I asked him again. “So any other options?” And he said, “No. There are no other options.” And that was very surprising to me, because, and also there are some people who are vision impaired and use smart phones. But it’s the same, it has to tell time through the voice and you can also use the ear phone to be not disruptive, but you cannot wear earphones all of the time. Because for those that are visually impaired, listening is very important, and if you are blocking your ears with ear phones, that’s not convenient. So that’s why I launched this idea of [??]
Andrew: The first version that you launched didn’t look like the beautiful design that I’m hoping you will show us here today. It had Braille right?
Andrew: And, so what’s the problem with that?
Hyungsoo: So after we realized that all the watches and clocks require vision, I wanted to make a Braille watch especially designed for the blind. And there was actually a concept design, really cool concept design wrist watch called, [??] Braille watch. And it has the Braille display, the physical Braille display. And it changes the Braille dots, the combination, changes every minute…
Hyungsoo: And you can touch the Braille to tell what time it is. And luckily I was at the time, starting at MIT, and you know they’re many crazy MIT engineers around. So I put together a team to make a similar watch for the blind. By the way, the [???] Braille watch, never made it to the market.
Andrew: It didn’t?
Hyungsoo: Oh, I see. It looks pretty cool, but it does look like a strip of Braille, that goes on your wrist. And you’re saying it never made it into the market?
Andrew: No, they ran a Kickstarter Campaign…
Hyungsoo: …which I supported. But it didn’t happen. I guess it was because they were only targeting the visually impaired.
Hyungsoo: … So we spent a couple of months to develop it, then after that, the next step is to meet with the potential customers to get the feedback.
Hyungsoo: So that’s what we did, we arranged a couple of meetings with organizations that serve the blind. So we went to the meetings and even from the first meeting, the feedback was not good, and we got trashed. Because, I’ll give you an example. So, after we presented our idea, one of them asked me, “So how many of us do you think can read Braille?” I said, “Well, most of you maybe, probably, if not all.” And they said “Only two or three people out of 10 who are visually impaired can read Braille.” I said “Really?!”
It was very surprising, we just assumed that people who are visually impaired they, just read Braille right? But that’s not true, because Braille is really hard to read by touch, even though you memorize the combinations, it’s hard to read. And, especially the countries like US, and the developed countries. A lot of people become blind at the later stage of their life because of disease or accidents and so you don’t have the sense of touch. So unless you are born blind, it is hard to learn.
Andrew: You’re saying it’s not that they don’t have the sense of touch, it’s the sensitive touch that you need, to really pay attention to the little details like those indentations in Braille.
Andrew: I see, so, if only two out of 10 people who are visually impaired can read Braille, what do they do? Do they listen? Do they have programs that convert text into audio?
Hyungsoo: Yes, mostly, but still people who are visually impaired they have no problem. It’s not as easy. But they use screen reader programs, usually. The screen reader software just reads everything out loud to them. Text, documents, and everything. So, there was one big problem. Five minutes into the meeting we realized that, what we we’ve been trying to do, it’s not going to work. It was frustrating. Then, after that another person asked me, “What’s the size? Is it big or bulky? Because I don’t like big bulky things. “Also, another question they had been about the color. “Hey, Hyungsoo, what’s the color?” Those are the colors, sizes, and designs. Those are the things that my team really cares about.
We just assume that most of the products they use don’t have to look pretty, don’t have to look good. As long as it is functionally fit, then we thought they’d like our products. But, that was not the case. What they wanted, what they really wanted was something that everyone else likes to wear or use. “Hyungsoo, a lot of people come to us and show us a lot of cool products, cool gadgets that only we can use. But that’s not what we want. We want something that appeals to everyone, so that we can feel inclusive, so that we don’t feel different. Most of the products that they use are only specially designed for the disabled. So, whenever they wear it, or use it, it draws attention to their disabilities.
Andrew: Earlier when you said Braille watch, I did a search in Google images to see what it could have looked like and yes, I saw the watch that you and I talked about. The Haptica Watch. Which I think looks good, but it also has just one color, gray, and it clearly says disabled or a gadget geek. Others look really frankly handicapped. They almost make you look like, it makes you look bad to wear some of these watches. I can see the functionality of them but they make you look like you’ve got a huge problem. Alright, so what you’re saying is, they told you a lot of us can’t read Braille, number one, and number two, we don’t want to look like we’ve got a big problem. It’s just that we need something that will look good like every other human being would want it.
And so, you didn’t think of that. You said, functionality, functionality, functionality. It wasn’t until you talked to them that you realized, no, it has to look good and it has to work differently and so, you had to go back and work on this. How did you get to the design? In fact, why don’t we show the design that you have now. Do you have the watch there?
Andrew: Let’s explain how this works.
Hyungsoo: So, this is the watch. [??]
Andrew: Could you hold it towards the center? I want to make sure everyone can see it. And of course, we will also link to it too. There it is.
Hyungsoo: So, this is the minute. There is one ball bearing with a heading on the surface and it’s the minute. And if you see on the side there is another ball bearing with a heading. So you can tell time by either touching them, if you cannot see or if you are in a situation that is embarrassing to check the time. During meetings, during dates, during dinner with the in-laws. So, you can either check time by just looking at it or by touching it. And when you touch it, it might dislocate.
Andrew: It’s hard to see it now, but you’re right. Because the ball bearing, which is how people can tell the minute and the hour by seeing where it is, it’s attached to the watch, to the timepiece, excuse me. It’s attached to it with a magnet and you’re right, we could move it. But you’re saying it’ll always slide right back into place because the magnet is so strong. So that’s what it looks like today. It looks obvious now because I’ve seen it so much in preparation for this interview but how do you get to that design? How do you figure out that that’s the design that will work and look good.
Hyungsoo: So, it took a really, really long time. So, after the first meeting, many of my team members were mostly engineers, they left. Because it was not challenging to them anymore. Because I wanted to create something, instead of crazy techy gadgets, I wanted to create something by tweaking the existing design a little bit to make it as simple as possible. And of course we were working with the visually impaired. They asked, why don’t we design it together. We wanted to show people that when you include people of disabilities who we usually think we don’t their needs when we do any of the designs. So when we import them, we can come up with something way cooler that looks very good.
Andrew: So where did you come up with this design? Did you copy it from someone else?
Hyungsoo: So, I’ll be totally honest. All of our, or most of our design sessions is not just done just within our team. So we invited people with all different backgrounds. People who are visually impaired, industrial designers, architects, teachers, students. And the idea came from a lot of people, not from a single person. And these concepts, using magnets and using the steel ball bearings, existed before. The patents have been filed even 60, 50 years ago but they never made it to the market. When we did the prior arts, the patent research, all those labeled as specially designed watches would apply. There was one watch that looks very similar to ours. We wrote about it in our blog as well. It’s called Abacus watch. Also, in MoMA, there’s a wall clock that has the same concept. There’s a wall clock with the steel ball bearing indicator which is driven by the magnets underneath the clock mechanism.
Hyungsoo: Both of them only had the hour indicator. Because they couldn’t figure out how to place both the minute and the hour. Because of the watch movement mechanism. We were pretty proud to say that we’re the first ones applying the same mechanism. It had both the mini and the elbow bearing.
Andrew: I see. So most of them on the watch face, in fact both of them not most. There’s the one that’s the Abacus watch and there’s one that’s in the MoMA which is called the Self-Aligning Ball Bearing. They both have, on the watch face, balls that are connected via magnets and, by touching where those balls are on the circle, on the watch face, we can tell the minutes. So neither one of them does the hour, I didn’t realize that.
Hyungsoo: Oh, only hour.
Andrew: Excuse me, only hours but not, oh and the way that you can tell the minutes is guess where the little ball is on the watch face.
Andrew: Got it, I see. So it’s not very clear. And you realized, if it exists there, how can we tweak it a little bit so we can get both the minutes and the hours? I see. You mentioned a big group of people who got together with you. Why would they get together with you?
Hyungsoo: Because they’re really into this. They really surprised me all the time as well. We never really had design meetings with so many people. I think nowadays, when we say good designs sometimes we think of something that is so specific to a specific group of people that it builds walls around them. It only appeals to a certain, small group of people. I guess, when we invited them into the designs they felt that, well, this is pretty cool. Especially people who are visually impaired, they were really excited because this was one of the few products that is targeting, not only them but the mass market.
Andrew: Are you saying that, because they got excited about the project and the goal of it and the ability to get to the mass market they were willing to help you? But they didn’t get any money for helping. Why would they want to help you for free?
Hyungsoo: It’s a mystery, still.
Andrew: Really? So what would you do? You would just email someone and say, I’m working on this project, a watch for the blind that I hope will also appeal to the masses. Will you help me by coming into, what?
Hyungsoo: Oh, it took a really long to build the relationship with them. We did a lot of cold emails, cold calls to them but they didn’t reply. So you basically have to knock on their door and show your product, your concepts and you just have to be sincere and honest.
Andrew: So you literally knock on their door and say, here’s the watch I’m working on. Can you help me make it better?” And then they would let you into their office and that’s where you would get feedback from them?
Hyungsoo: Yes. The wine community they’re really tight so if you can just get one person then if they have twitter groups if they have podcast. They have very close group they’re very well connected. So you ask for just a millisecond.
Andrew: So this is another thing that I see about you, that you are a hustler who’s willing. You look like, frankly like a MIT guy who just focuses on the tech.
Andrew: But you’re a hustler who’s willing to get out there will talk more about how you got some press for it, which allowed you to grow. But I think it’s. I think here we can talk about how you and I connected. I heard a little about it before we officially started. You said there was someone that reached out to us. Who is this person who reached out to us?
Hyungsoo: So, her name is Alexis, and she…
Andrew: Alexis Grant.
Hyungsoo: And she lives, then again her world is to either social media marketing, and reaching out to writer, bloggers, and just spreading out service out there. We will emphasize on telling the stories. We want to be more of a story telling company than just watch company. Because as I just said before, a lot of people probably should be heard or so excited it shows in our design session. Days and nights just because. It was probably because it was the first time to be heard. I felt they showed me that, “Well this is something that I need to really raise awareness of, the importance of the exquisite design, and the power of exquisite design.”
Andrew: I’m sorry but is Alexis a paid person?
Hyungsoo: She is yes.
Andrew: She is okay. So you have a pretty sure operation. One of the first people you paid was someone who would help get the word out. And her job is to look at all the different potential media and try to get you on. And you said before we even started, “Hey Andrew you’re a tough guy to get ahold of.” And when I saw that Alexis booked me I said, “Hey that’s pretty cool.” And you just said, “Alexis you understand what we’re going for, help us get the word out.” You didn’t even, you didn’t need to do more than that.
Hyungsoo: Yeah, I mean we always brainstorm some together. We’ll look at the list, and then. She the one who usually comes up with the list and we brainstorm together, we take a look at it. Make sure it is no brainer that we wanted to mix energy.
Andrew: That’s pretty sweet.
Hyungsoo: And here’s the thing. She did the job approaching to your team but at the same time I think that our convincing inspiring story that captured your attention. And the story comes from all the people who we interacted with. From people who contributed their ideas into our designs.
Andrew: Give me an example of one person who you had to hustle to get in front of and how that person helped shape the design before it was launched.
Hyungsoo: Sure so I guess that one person Brad Schneider. So this is called the Brotherly Tankees.
Andrew: After Hanes.
Hyungsoo: Yes, it’s named after Brad Schneider. He is a wounded veteran, he served in a naval, U.S. Navy as a bomb diffuser. In 2011 he stepped on a bomb, and because of the accident he lost his side completely. But after the accident he liked to show that. He wanted to show other people that he’s not any incapable than before. He’s the same Brad Schneider. He’s capable of doing things. He’s capable of inspiring amazing things. So he trained and competed in Paralympics in London 2012. And 365 days after the accident the same day he won the first gold medal in swimming for the U.S. Paralympic teams. That’s the type of message that we want to deliver to our audience in our story telling. We want to, like creating a product that can connect 2 groups of people who seemingly looked different. The visual impaired and the sighted.
Andrew: And so he’s a great spokesperson very active like you said he won a gold medal about a year afterwards. Actually he ended up winning 2 gold medals and a silver medal in the Paralympics in 2012 right. And so he helps elevate the brand by first of all he was a pretty cool guy, because of what he did in his life but also he’s got this cool attitude about him. And so if you could connect with him it would help your story spread. How did you get in front of him?
Hyungsoo: Yes, so I was extremely lucky, so when I first found out about him, it was before he competed in Paralympics. It was during when he was training, and then, he had this YouTube video clip, the title is, “Operation Mission Vision.”
Hyungsoo: And, so he was basically [??], getting trained, and, you know, to get support for his organization that pays for his [??] and trainings and food.
Andrew: I see yes.
Hyungsoo: And then, so I was like, wow. He could be the perfect person, you know. To be our spokesperson who can deliver what we want to deliver to people out there. He’s a perfect person to break the stereotype and misconceptions people had towards a blind. But I could not find any contexts, right? So I forgot about him for a while, but still I really wanted to confront him, one day. And, it was not even, I had two people on the list. Right? I had only one person in my list for [??].
One day I got a call from my classmate, from MIT, my friend Sean[SP], he used to serve in Navy SEAL. He caught me one day, and he said, “Hey [??], I’m just hanging out with my buddy in D.C.”, we served in Navy before together, he lost his sight because of the bomb, I told him about your watch, and he just wants to connect to you. He’s just curious about the watch. But he didn’t say who he was. And so I said, “Okay, sure.” Gave him my contacts, [??] to talk to him.
Andrew: And you didn’t even know that this was Bradley Snyder?
Hyungsoo: No! No! [??]
Andrew: Someone likes the watch and can use it, great! I’ll talk to him.
Hyungsoo: Yeah, and I’ll [??] to get from him. And one day, the next day, I got a call, that said, “Hi [??], this is [??] Brad Snyder.” And I was like, Brad Snyder who? I [??] a Brad Snyder that I’ve been trying really hard to connect to. And I’m based in D.C. now, and Brad Snyder lives in Baltimore, just one hour away from here, by car, so I just drove to Baltimore to meet up with him.
Andrew: I see.
Hyungsoo: And, I was like, [??].
Andrew: I see. And that’s how you got him. So it wasn’t one of these situations where you hustled to get in front of him, but, if I could take something away from this, it seems like talking to people and saying what you’re working on and helping word get out there before most people would feel comfortable because they might want to hide it from the world, you talked and so you were able to have your message extend over to the guy who ends up being the namesake of the product. All right, I get how you got it, now it’s time for you to go out there and get some money, because it’s expensive to build physical products, so you go out and you talk to investors. Who are the first investors?
Hyungsoo: So, me, in the beginning, before we launched our product, we are a product startup company, we get some money. And approach many investors, mostly in East Coast, and some [??]. The conversation never lasted, more than ten minutes.
Hyungsoo: Because they sold… There are three things they care about, and one is, the watch industry. We are a product company, a design product company. And it’s one of the wristwatch… it’s one of the most competitive and [??] market. And so you [??] investor, you’re not interested. And also, second they ask us about… if we have patents. And we do have a design patent, but we [??], we opened it to public, because… so anyone can use our designs.
Andrew: So the next thing that they wanted, which were patents, you said, “Yeah, we have them, but we don’t have that many, and anyone can use them, so, you don’t have a [??] that comes from that. What else did they want? What’s the third thing?
Hyungsoo: So the third was the market. And, because we are targeting the design/fashion community, most of the investors ask you, “So how many [??] can you sell the next year?” We have no clue! And usually its tech gadgets or apps, you can do market analysis, you can do pricing points, and what technology’s out there, but design products, are based on thoughts. And my answer was, “I think we can sell really well.” And they ask, “Why?” And our answer is, “Because we think the design is pretty cool.”
Andrew: I see now.
Hyungsoo: And there’s nothing more than that, you can and there’s no Quick Caller watch before this, so this is really the first product and . . .
Andrew: That’s when you start to make things up. That’s when you say, . . .
Andrew: “The market for this is huge.” And then you start to come . . . and you were willing to do that, and so as a result, they turned you down. I’m sorry, I’m moving this a little bit faster because I see there is so much more we have to get to. I want to hear about some of the negative things that I saw online and I know you’re willing to talk about them. So, you couldn’t get any investors. You ended up going where, to raise money?
Hyungsoo: So, the (??) campaign Kickstarter was the only option that we had. So, we had less than $20,000 in our bank accounts, so we did Kickstarter campaign and luckily it went pretty well, so we raised . . . Our target goal was $40,000 and we reached over in the first day and during the 35 days campaign we raised close to $600,000.
Andrew: $600,000 now let me put that in perspective. You said your goal is $40,000 in Kickstarter and you hit that in the first day. Right?
Andrew: So earlier, we talked about the Braille watch which was called . . . why is I forgetting the name even though I have . . .
Andrew: They aimed to raise a hundred . . . No; they aimed to get $150,000. They ended up with only $56,000. About $100,000 short of their goal and so the project never got off the ground. So, within a day, you did more than they did or you did almost as much as they did the whole campaign and that’s because of the design from what I can see. It’s a large number of people who bought, who aren’t visually impaired. Do you have a sense of what the percentage is?
Hyungsoo: So, we had a sense. Around 98% they’re society people who likes, you know, fashion designed watch and that’s what we’re really happy about. You know, we’re a little bit worried what if this only is popular among people that are visually impaired. Right? I mean we care about them. We’re really glad that people that are visually impaired likes our design and our products, but part of the reason that they really like our design is because it’s liked by, not just by them, but people who are, you know, trend setters.
Andrew: Yeah. So, that’s what helped you get off the ground, but as I compare your Kickstarter campaign with David’s Kickstarter campaign. David Chavez is the creator of Haptica, good guy as far as I know. I even like the design of his watch, but one of the differences that I see is he has four Facebook shares on his campaign. He has no big media logos on his campaign. You on the other hand were, as I said earlier, not just a MIT techie, you were someone who was clever about getting the word out. How did you get the media to pay attention to the fact that you did this?
Hyungsoo: Sure, so as I said before, we wanted to be more story telling company, rather than just a watch company, so when people hear about us, we want them to hear about inspiring story that Bryan Snyder [SP] brought to us and why we did this. So we focus more on what we built. We want to focus more on why we built this rather than, you know, what we built. So, we want to make sure that before we launched our campaign, we had a web site; we had mass video that contains the whole story and even before the campaign started. We approached, reached out to (??) Walkers who focuses on whose writing is more about the (??) style. So we approached them, we sent them the link and the pitch now, saying, describing what our campaign is about and what we want them to focus on if they decided to pour some of their info . . .
Andrew: People who you reached out to before you fully got going.
Hyungsoo: Fashion magazine, (??) company, and many design blogs.
Andrew: Okay. Design was really big for you. Did you reach out to any sites for the visually impaired?
Hyungsoo: Yes. We also approached two organizations that served the blind. And here’s an interesting thing. When we approached, I mean I have no hard feelings whatsoever, really wonderful and without their help there’s no way we could have designed this. They were so quite reluctant to help us promoting it. Just because they was not, they were not sure if it would become, it would become popular. And so it was hard to get, to build a partnership with organizations that served the blind before. All I can say in another product that, you know, just may go by associated technology (inaudible) products out there. And once we did well in Kickstarter and once we received some great media attention from design fashion communities, certainly those organizations that served the prime started interested, became interested in working with us.
Andrew: Okay, so I want to understand how you get people to write about you? Once thing that you say is, “It’s not about the product. It’s about the story telling.” Terrific. What else do you do? Do you put together a media list of people who you want to go after? Do you pay attention to the writers because frankly, I know there are a lot of people who are listening to me who say, “I want more people to write about me? I can come up with a story.” But no one will actually write their story. What’s your full process? Break it down for me.
Hyungsoo: So I don’t want to disappoint you, but there was no, anything special about what we did.
Andrew: Did you, before you fully got, did you do it before you launched your Kick Starter campaign?
Andrew: That’s pretty big. Okay. Did you put together a list of potential people, potential sites?
Hyungsoo: So we had a list of around 40 to 50 bloggers and writers.
Andrew: How did you come up with the list of writers?
Hyungsoo: Oh, you just have to read. So it took us more than a month to come up with the list. So first is, so here’s the trick. First is, we looked at other second campaigns that were similar to ours. The successful ones. And usually if you look at the (inaudible) on the campaign page, they brag about their media exposure.
Hyungsoo: And then you can find who wrote the blog. And the chance is the blogger he wrote about the campaigns that are very similar to ours, so maybe he’s interested in this topic. And that’s how we found.
Andrew: Somebody wrote about the iPod Shuffle Watch. I forget what that watch was called. I’m looking it up, but I can’t see it. The watch that turns the iPod Shuffle into a watch. You said, “You know what? They may write about us too. Let’s see who the writer is.” Is that right?
Hyungsoo: But, it sounds pretty simple, but pay really, really good attention into it. A lot of tells are what they will actually write about. How they write about it. You know, most of the writers that you target, you find that they are not a good fit.
Andrew: What’s a detail of it that many of us would miss if we tried to duplicate what you did?
Hyungsoo: So we looked at the writers who were apparently more interested in the background behind the invention. Why and how, rather than what. And how they’re doing it now. And how much they are selling. Where they are selling. (inaudible) So we took a risk and if you see our video in our website in Kick Starter, most of the people told us that the video should not be more than three minutes max. And any commercial product advertisements, it has to be a minute or a minute and a half. If it’s longer than that, people lose attention. It’s bad.
It’s six minutes and the first four minutes we don’t talk at all about our watch.
Andrew: You know what, I have to tell you, that’s drove me nuts. I was trying to see the watch to see what you’re selling. I had to fast forward until I saw you, but you were willing enough to do that to share Bradley’s story. And by sharing Bradley’s story, you tell us why this watch is important and you introduce the watch.
Hyungsoo: Correct. So in the beginning we’re a new brand and we needed real customers. We took a risk and rather than having 10 customers who see our products any different than their other product that they use, we would rather go with two or three of real customers who would be our spokesperson. And I think that worked pretty well.
Andrew: See if you just would have shown the watch, then people would have looked at you as just another watch. If you told the story then, they would have felt more passionately about you. They would have cared and then, they would have paid attention to the watch. And it would have stood out.
Hyungsoo: Yes. I mean at the end of the day our purchasing decision is very highly psychological, personal and emotional, and also at the end of the day even though no matter how good our storytelling part is they have to like our products as a fashion [??] otherwise they cannot become our …. will cost more. Probably they will say “Well the meaning was good, the story was good, but this is way too expensive.” One time purchase is good enough, but if the design is good enough and the storytelling supports the cause, then they will become our loyal repeating customers.
Andrew: All right. So this thing took off, as we talked about. You ended up getting; let me scroll over to the top of this page, $594,000 in sales, almost $600,000 in sales just from this Kickstarter Campaign. But you said that you made a mistake, that I want my audience to learn from. The mistake you made was not marketing more on your own. What do you mean by that?
Hyungsoo: Correct. So we were very spoiled by … so after we launched our Kickstarter Campaign and we got a really good media exposure, Washington Post wrote about us and [??] the best company, and we were very spoiled, and we thought well, people said we need to spend a lot of money on
marketing and PR, but no we said that’s not true, we are not spending any money, and everyone is writing about us. So we stopped spending time on reaching out to more bloggers and writers, who can help us spreading our story, and that was the biggest mistake.
And right after … right before we finished our campaign our media exposure level dropped quite significantly, and especially when we finished our Kickstarter Campaign, our media exposure level was none, zero. And that’s when we realized that oh it was not us but Kickstarter who did all the marketing and PR for us, and that was a little bit too late for us to [??] momentum. So we lost good momentum.
Andrew: Is it true that Kickstarter actually did promotion for you? It wasn’t just you reaching out to bloggers, it was Kickstarter doing it?
Hyungsoo: So, in the beginning it was us, who reached out to bloggers and writers, and that’s how we got good media attention and the support in the beginning, but that was only for the first couple of days. The bloggers, they are really good, they are very powerful, but most of the blog posts, it doesn’t last more than a day because every day it’s pushed down the list. So the first day it helps us a lot to get a lot of funding, and that’s how we were able to be featured as one of the most popular campaigns in Kickstarter page. And it’s true, Kickstarter didn’t spend money to promote our campaign to others’ directory, but just being on the main page of the Kickstarter it just did all the marketing for us…
Andrew: Oh, I see. So you kicked off the marketing, but once your Kickstarter campaign started bringing in a lot of revenue, then other bigger media outlets said “We have to cover this because it’s doing so well,” I see, and then that spoiled you. You said “Great. Everyone loves our stuff. We don’t have to do anymore.” And so you didn’t continue, and more importantly you didn’t promote the business outside of Kickstarter, and that’s one lesson that we can get from this. All right. You end up getting your Kickstarter funding; it’s time to actually create a product. [??] is a past interviewee here on [??], a mutual friend of ours, and she talked about the challenges of actually creating your first product. Talk about your challenge creating the Bradley timepiece.
Hyungsoo: Sure. So it was my first time building a sub-company so I am not experienced so [??]. Before we were [??] Kickstarter campaign we got couple of the finished prototype, a working prototype that looks just like this, and we said “It’s all set; all we need is some money to place an order.” So we did the Kickstarter Campaign and we received good, more than enough money funding. So we placed an order, and so three months later we received our first batch, which was 500 time pieces. Out of 4,500 preorders they received from the Kickstarter. We ship them…and everything…and all the watches we received looked as good as our prototype. It looked perfect. And the next month, we shipped 1,000 watches. Time pieces. Suddenly, we started receiving around 5 to 10 e-mails a day…indicating that their battery is not working anymore.
Andrew: The challenge that I saw by looking at the comments, in preparation for this interview, is people were saying that the balls. What do you call those? Ball bearings? The shots?
Hyungsoo: The ball bearing loses its magnetism and it just spins around freely.
Hyungsoo: If you check out our comment section of our Kickstarter campaign…This is embarrassing to rebuild this. But if you check it, many supporters, backers, who indicate that their [??] is broken and the magnet lost its magnetism and it spins freely. The reason was…we didn’t check our final products. We just assumed that it’s as good as our prototype that they gave us. They didn’t do a good job attaching the magnets to the watch movements.
Hyungsoo: For many of them, it was taken out. Our defective rate was…Oh man, it was really embarrassing to say. [??] It was close to 15 to 20 percent.
Andrew: 15 to 20 percent. So about one out of five watches. Time pieces. Excuse me. That you send out. Boom, were not working well. What could you…How could you have tested this? It seems like by looking at the comments, for a lot of people, it worked well. They were seeing the time. They knew that it worked and functioned well and then [snaps] suddenly it stopped. How would you have tested it?
Hyungsoo: With final products you have to take the samples and you have to break it apart to really make sure that they used the right parts inside and assembled it correctly.
Andrew: Your saying that when you finally get it, before shipping it out, you open up a handful of them and look at the pieces? Kind of like iFixit does to all of the Apple products that are launched?
Andrew: Unscrew it. Look inside. So that’s what happened? You paid for one material and the factory ended up switching it to something cheaper that didn’t work as well?
Hyungsoo: Yeah. The materials they used were very similar but they didn’t do a good job assembling. Attaching the magnets and the hands to the watch movements. The 20 percent…Think about it. We shipped 1,500 watches and 20 percent of them. We shipped internationally. We received preorder [??] for 6 or 5 different countries. And international shipping one way costs about 30 dollars. And the defective watches we get. We have to collect it and we have to send it back. That’s more than 60 dollars right there per watch. Per one broken watch.
Andrew: Break that math down for me. How does it end up being 60 dollars to replace one watch?
Hyungsoo: We have to collect it.
Andrew: So you’re basically have to pay for shipping to bring it back to you?
Andrew: What else are you paying for?
Hyungsoo: And fix it and ship it back to them.
Andrew: So, that’s what you would do? You would hire watch makers or watch repair people to fix the watches?
Andrew: Yes. You would. Wow. Okay.
Hyungsoo: Then we start fulfilling our preorder [??]. Still 3,000 people out there are waiting and we stopped completely. We are supposed to ship all of our [??], the Kickstarter rewards, by mid-December. But it was already the end of November. But we could not ship anymore. So we stopped. We had to spend…about close to two months in China, Hong Kong, and Korea to look for a new manufacturer. That was crazy. While we were doing that, even though we posted an update, there were a lot of angry… I mean imagine. Many people, they even doubted that we really exist. We got a lot of nagging e-mails and impatient backers saying that if you don’t ship it by next week I am going to just terrorize your social media sites.
And it was very difficult. And just spending time the whole day long, for a couple of months in China, is difficult. But, luckily, eventually we found a good manufacturer, so now our manufacturers are; one in Korea, one in China. But the China manufacturer, they only manufacture watches for Japanese companies, and Japanese people get crazy about quality control. They are run by the Japanese companies, so the quality control is [??].
Andrew: How do you find a really good factory? I see that a lot of people who create physical products end up having trouble with the first factory that they go to. I would like anyone who’s in my audience who says “I’m going to create a physical product”, to avoid some of that heartache. What’s some advice you can give us about finding the right factory?
Hyungsoo: So, what we did was, basically I just contacted anyone who might have even a slight chance to know someone in China, who works in these product companies, [??]. One of our co-founding members, he is originally from Hong Kong. I met him in Boston. He was a Master’s student studying architecture at Harvard. He could speak Chinese fluently, so we just needed a connection. We reached out to, again, a lot of people. When you reach out to thousands of people, you just need one person who has the right connection.
Andrew: So it was one of those situations where you just put the word out to a lot of people, and then you ended up with one person, who happened to actually be really close to you, who introduced you to a factory? I see that over and over again, that you need to talk to someone who’s had experience with the factory, and get them. Did he have experience with the factory?
Hyungsoo: You mean my co-founder?
Hyungsoo: No, it was his first time as well.
Andrew: So it was because he was close to it, that’s how he found the factory?
Andrew: I see.
Hyungsoo: So he based himself full-time in Hong Kong, with China. But you would be very surprised to see, there’s just one person, randomly, out of a [??], or whatever. If you reach out, if you spend a good amount of time to connect to the person, you will get a connection, no matter who it is. That’s what we learned, whenever we meet someone, or we need to connect with someone, we just reach out to random people. We just shoot everywhere, and one of the bullets will land in the right place.
Andrew: I see. Here’s something else you guys did really well; most people who have problems-, I shouldn’t say most, I don’t know what the numbers are. I see a lot of people on Kickstarter who have problems fulfilling their orders, or have tech issues after they do fulfill them. They start ignoring the comments. What you did here is, it seems to me, you responded to everybody. Including this guy, “Cow M. Voo [SP]”, who said, “I got my titanium version a few weeks ago, and noticed that the time is often WRONG”, in uppercase letters, “and not by a few minutes, by hours. I’ve had to correct this several times already, over the course of a few weeks.
This is unacceptable. I would expect time to be perfect, since this is meant for the visually impaired.” This person asked for a refund. You jumped right in there and you said-, where is that comment? There are so many that you responded to here. “We just e-mailed you the instructions about return/refund. Let us know if you have any questions.” Publicly, you responded there, and you did that to a lot of other people, to “Frank”, to “Mark”.
Hyungsoo: Yeah, we didn’t miss any comments. Out of the Kickstarter funding, we spent it all fixing and shipping back. We covered in full.
Andrew: So no profit at all from Kickstarter?
Hyungsoo: Almost, no. Out of Kickstarter, no. A good lesson learned. We are still very thankful, and grateful that we could still survive.
Hyungsoo: That’s the plus. We delayed for three months, and after that our defective rate from the new manufacturers dropped down significantly. Our pre-order sales, luckily, were good enough to support our business for more than a year.
Andrew: Here’s another thing that happened, -and I think this is because of your story, just based on having looked at some of the commenters. This is “Chris Smith”, who posted on Kickstarter: “I have posted a couple of comments here before, but I can’t thank enough to E1 for having created such an art piece. I have been wearing Bradley for about half a year and it’s simply the best and most beautiful watch, I mean time piece, I have ever worn. It’s a wonderful conversation starter and I truly enjoy other people’s Eone stories and how this beautiful watch was born. Good job Eone.
I think a lot of people came in because they believed in your mission and they wanted to tell anyone here who was complaining that this is a good company. I’m trying to find one here on the fly here as we are moving and I can’t do it, but there were people who said, “I believe in this mission” and partially because of the way you told your story. They wanted to tell all the other customers this is good, let’s support them and let’s allow them to continue to grow.
Hyungsoo: Yes, and we appreciate them and because of that we are not spending much money on marketing and PR we are only spending a little bit on Facebook promotions. On our Facebook page a lot of people post photos of themselves wearing the Bradley. Yesterday there was a really great post and he shared a picture of his son wearing the Bradley and how honored he is to support such a [??] and it’s been great.
Andrew: I’m pulling that up right now and I see it. You guys have a very active Pinterest account. You’re talking about the story of the person in the Navy who showed his watch.
Andrew: “My Bradley watch is a story on synchronicity. I was reading Popular Science when I saw an article about the 10 best things from July. I have had the same watch for 20 years and never thought to replace it. But when I saw its slick design I had to have it. I dropped the not so subtle hint to my wife and went online to your website to learn more about the watch.” Then he goes on to tell his story and includes a photo of himself wearing it. So maybe what we are seeing though is that investors are right. It is complicated to create physical product as your experience shows, the market isn’t gigantic, and frankly if Apple’s about to shake things up by creating an Apple watch that people are going to have, they can’t wear two watches. What are you going to do?
Hyungsoo: That’s fine because [??], but the market for a wrist watch is just huge. People wear a wrist watch more as a fashion statement and you can see one noticeable feature about the Apple wrist watch, which is different from previous smart watches, is that they tried to look as close as possible to the analog fashion wrist watch. They realized that it has to be a fashion accessory because people wear watches as a fashion statement and one thing about this watch is that there are not many accessories that a man can wear. Maybe wrist watch, maybe tie, but the tie is very limited, cufflinks maybe; so the market is huge and the market is never going to die. It’s still increasing it’s still going.
One thing about the fashion wrist watch market is the more people like it, the more they are in to it, the more selection they tend to have. If they really like the Apple watch then there is a good chance they will go buy…
Andrew: I see you’re thinking about it like sneakers, if people really like shoes they’re not going to buy just one pair of shoes. Once they decide that shoes are a fashion statement for them they are going to buy multiple pairs and that’s what you’re thinking. All right, I get that. You’re also moving outside of the wrist, you’re going to create other products. What’s another product you guys are going to create?
Hyungsoo: So we are now working on the desk clock and alarm clock. The concept is the same. Until a couple of years ago there was no alarm clock that people who are visually impaired can use by themselves, someone else had to check it for them. Well now a days they use a talking alarm clock, that’s the same, you have to wake everyone up if you want to set or check the alarm time. So the concept is the same you can check or set the alarm time by touching it and we are creating it with a really cool beautiful design so that anyone would want to have it in their living room or the bedroom and we are continuing our tradition of naming it after someone. The real person who is very inspiring and it will be named after Christine Ha, who is the first blind person on the Fox Channel’s Master Chef.
Andrew: Oh, okay.
Hyungsoo: And she won Master Chef Season 3. She is completely blind, and she is amazing. You have to watch her episodes, and you cannot watch a single episode without drawing some teardrops.
Andrew: Even me? I have very little emotion, as you can tell. [laughs] Unless it has something to do with work, I have no emotion. But I’m willing to take that challenge, and just by Googling her name I see her Master Chef appearance online here. All right. I think I’ve got everything. Here are the big lessons that I took away from this. Tell me if I’m missing anything bigger here. Number one: talk to your customer before you build your product.
Your customers actually told you that everything that they were presented before, including what you created, was wrong because it treated them differently, and it showed something that you wouldn’t have been able to figure out on your own. So talk to them. Number two: start with a problem. The student who was sitting next to you at MIT showed you a problem and then you were able to solve it. Number three: physical products are still hard. I mean, I see a photo of your 3D printer from Pinterest where that — obviously, 3D printers didn’t exist before for prototyping so we clearly are making a lot of progress when it comes to physical products, but it’s still hard.
Next, you can contact anyone. If you’re really willing to put in the effort and consistently do it, somebody out there will respond, and we saw that with you. Spread the word about the product before you even launch. That’s how Bradley connected with you. A million dollars isn’t what it seems to be. If you and I had talked and you said, “Hey, we made a million dollars,” I would’ve thought, “Great, this is a huge success! You’re on a great path.” But instead we see a large part of it has to go to actually fulfilling the orders, to fixing the first problems. What else? What did I miss? Investors do not like physical products as much as they like software, apparently.
Hyungsoo: I understand. Now I see why.
Andrew: You see the pain.
Hyungsoo: So no hard feelings. Investors out there, no hard feelings.
Andrew: But the good news is that because you’ve actually gone through it, you’ve proven that you can get some traction. You’ve proven that you can figure out this whole model and now if you were to talk to investors you’d have a much different story than you did about a year ago. All right. If anyone wants to go and check out all these visuals that we’ve been talking about, there are a couple of things I recommend. The first is the actual company website. The URL is eone-time.com. Right?
Andrew: Why not the number 1?
Hyungsoo: Thank you very much for promoting our website.
Andrew: I like it. And then the second thing is, I actually think you guys, for a company, have a really good Pinterest account. Frankly, because you show the watch that talks, so we get to see what inspired this problem. We get to see how you make the watch. I think there’s somebody here on a — I forget what they’re called — the press, something press, making the watch. I get to see the 3D printer that you used. A lot of cool things in there. I really like the Eone Timepieces Pinterest account. Did I miss anything?
Hyungsoo: No, good. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your interviewing me. It’s my great honor and I’m really flattered.
Andrew: You bet. Thanks for being on here and for being such a fan of Mixergy. Here’s one thing that I will add to this conversation. Just earlier today I looked in my inbox and I saw an email that went to the founder of Shazam, and I was cc’ed on it. The guy just said thanks for doing the interview on Mixergy, and then he shared a personal story that he had with Shazam in the early days. The guy who’s the founder of Shazam is a busy guy. He hit reply I think right away and responded back in such a cool way. I don’t want to reveal any private conversations here, but it was such a cool thing to see the interaction.
I say this all the time because I see it all the time. My audience cc’s me on stuff a lot. If you got anything of value out of this interview — frankly, forget me. Forget this interview. If you got anything of value out of anything that you see someone put online, I urge you to find a way to say thank you and connect with the person. This is not like the old days of television where someone would have this big box that was sitting in front of their couch, and everyone on the box was as disconnected as the box.
It’s a brand new world where the people we’re hearing, we’re seeing, we’re learning, we’re reading about, are all real people that we can connect with. And you owe it to yourself to take advantage of that accessibility. And I think the best way to take advantage of it is to just shoot an email and say, “Thank you. I learned something from you. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for putting this up.” And I’m going to do it right now. Thank you for doing this interview.
Hyungsoo: Thank you very much.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being out there. Thanks for watching. Bye.