Are smart wearables having their “iPhone moment” yet?

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10-17 am Session 1_1004.MP3

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Session name: Pebble, Smart Socks and the Future of Wearables
Chris Albrecht
Rob Coneybeer
Soulamain Itani
Eric Migicovsky
Davide Vigano

Chris Albrecht 00:00
MC for the day I kind of have one job really and that is to pronounce everybody’s name correctly. So, all my years of MCA have been leading up to this very moment because this is going to be like the Olympics for me in pronunciation. So, the next panel is Pebbles, Smart Sox and the Future of Wearable’s. I’m going to go through these and I’m going to get them right. So, we have Rob Coneybeer, he’s the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Shasta Ventures. We have Soulamain Itani, Founder and CEO of Atheer Labs, Eric Migicovsky, Founder of Pebble, and Davide Vigano, Co-Founder and CEO of Heapsylon. Please welcome our next panel.
Rob Coneybeer 00:45
So, I’m a big fan of science fiction and I’ve been reading science fiction most of my life and one of my favorite quotes is from Arthur C. Clarke which is, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. With the internet of things that everybody in this room knows and understands and is looking at, this is happening today. We’re entering a world of enchanted objects that are around us and very excited to be moderating this panel where we have three founders who are building companies in and around these enchanted objects that are coming into our lives. First off we have glasses then we have watches and then we actual technology built into the very clothing that we wear. So, I’d like to lead off by just asking each of these folks here, Soulamain, what would be, for the audience here, what’s one of the key technologies that might not be obvious about what’s enabling the heads up displays and Google glasses and other types of glasses that people are wearing?
Soulamain Itani 01:54
In general for glasses, it’s a very, very big challenge is their garments. I had a neck of garments. You’re displaying these things very close to people’s faces and if you don’t do it right the experience can be really bad. That’s the non-obvious one.
Rob Coneybeer 02:11
Is there a key technology in that? A key breakthrough that’s happened?
Soulamain Itani 02:17
Yes, yes. There are a bunch of key breakthroughs from the medical side in terms of understanding how peoples bodies work; the eyes and brain and how they work together and connecting that to the software and hardware and being able to do something about it. What can you do about that? That’s the non-obvious stuff. The more obvious is the whole trend in the smartphones, amateruization, low power or computer vision.
Rob Coneybeer 02:45
Great. Eric.
Eric Migicovsky 02:46
I think for us it’s been interesting because we’re working with technology that’s a century old, pretty much. People have been wearing watches for quite a long time and smart watches are not actually something that new. We’ve had Sony making watches since 2005. Even Microsoft worked out a smart watch. Some people might remember the Microsoft Spot whereas, a funny photo of a Bill Gates wearing this fairly large chunky watch. The thing that really changed for us was in 2008 when we started working on this, smart phones were just taking off. In 2008 I think there was something like 50 million smart phones shipped that year and for us Pebble is really an accessory to your smart phone. So, we leveraged with the fact that you already have a connection to the internet sitting in your pocket. We don’t have to put a 3G modem in it. Right around this time Kindle was still putting 3G modems in pretty much all of their Kindles, so, that people would have a connection to the internet from their e-book. I think what we recognized fairly early was that more and more people will be carrying around 3G modems in their pocket. Let’s just use that as a central point of connection to the internet. I think some of the best devices that are coming out now are the ones that take advantage of the technology that we’re already wearing instead of recreating it on the body. It seems obvious right now that more and more people are going to be carrying smart phones but I think that was one of the things that we spotted fairly early.
Rob Coneybeer 04:22
Then with clothing.
Davide Vigano 04:23
Well, for us clearly the–
Rob Coneybeer 04:26
And you might start for a moment by talking about it. I think people may be familiar with the glasses and the watches but to talk briefly about what you guys are building.
Davide Vigano 04:34
What do you mean? People are not familiar with Smart Socks yet ? Like Eric was saying, we’re definitely new territory here. The challenge for us and the primary asset that we have to build is sensing technology that can be woven or knitted into textiles. We did about eight to nine months of materials research. We totally underestimated the challenge . We thought it would have been easier to actually find nanotech technology that could be used in garments in a non invasive way and we found some. But, when you wash that technology, the physical [chuckle] characteristics of the textile changes on you in a random way. So, it’s really hard as a software guy and electronic engineer to actually build a component that actually communicates with that piece of technology in a reliable way. So, that’s what we had to do and pleased to do.
Rob Coneybeer 05:24
How did you crack the idea of washing electronics?
Davide Vigano 05:28
Well, some people actually don’t wash their socks but most of you do wash their socks. It’s obviously a component that’s necessary, right? If we think that the next generation of computing is going to be the garment is the computer. Right? So, we went through three waves of innovation; the pc wave of generation where the first pc’s were clunky and less than powerful. Smart phones the same thing, tablets the same thing. We think the same thing is going happen with t-shirts and sports bras and socks and they’re going to be–
Rob Coneybeer 06:01
Well, I think around that a lot of people ask this question of where are we really? Because people see these waves of innovation come along and they say, Oh, it’s the next PC, it’s the next smart phone. But, at the same time as an investor seeing a lot of companies come through and a lot of people saying, Wearable this, wearable that maybe 40 different tracking companies that we might see over the course of the last six months. We also wonder are we anywhere near the iPhone moment? Where it breaks through and you start to see a lot of applications. I think the question I have for this panel is, do you think that we are anywhere near that iPhone moment right now? Or, are we in the area of the equivalent of the flip open feature phone right now and there’s a lot of work to be done before we can actually get through that breakthrough opportunity of applications and use cases?
Davide Vigano 06:51
I think you’re example is really, really good but cell phones and flip open phones are a huge thing and they were a huge thing. Honestly, maybe we are at the iPhone moment maybe we are not but even if we are not there, there is still the whole cell phone world which is a huge revolution. So, wearable’s is I think is coming. There are all of these new cases that are very obvious and you can add a lot of value and people are willing to pay a lot of money there. And, the challenge is to know exactly the right moment to hit and engage that general public.
Eric Migicovsky 07:36
I think it’s more about when can wearable’s provide an experience that people will use on a daily basis like something that provides value. Maybe not 24/7 but on an extremely regular basis so that people can extract value from it. If we build devices that are very useful in very particular niche circumstances, then people will where them as tools. They will use them on an occasional basis when they do sports, when they do a certain activity. But, if we can build wearable’s that are always on the body for a good reason rather than just a geeky accessory or something like that. If they can provide value on a regular time–
Rob Coneybeer 08:13
Well, looking at that,–
Eric Migicovsky 08:14
–That’s what I think the iPhone moment.
Rob Coneybeer 08:14
Looking at that engagement, people are engaging with these things whether they’re the glasses, the watches, your clothing, etc. We have a lot of entrepreneurs in the audience that are thinking about, Okay, this is interesting there could be something that’s engaging and fun but how do you translate into making money in a business model? You’re talking about dirty socks how often do you expect people to replace their socks or do you expect them to pay for software? How do you think about that opportunity of building a business around that?
Davide Vigano 08:45
Well, I think the first thing is what Eric said which is, We need to find a way not to disrupt the consumer workflow. Right? I woke up this morning, took a shower, shaved, I put my clothes on. I didn’t have to remember to wear a glorified pedometer, right? That disrupts my workflow. I’m going to lose it, I’m going to, Where is it? It’s one more thing to remember. Right? So, that’s the first thing. The second thing is to actually build and enable an ecosystem of application developers to build Apps on this new breed of technology. Right?
Rob Coneybeer 09:18
What’s a quick example just like you mentioned those Apps.
Davide Vigano 09:22
We are totally blown away by the fact that we started a crowd funded campaign just to figure out what people would want because people don’t leave their home looking for smart socks. Right? We said well, price is seek analysis right we don’t have money to do it a quantitative analysis so let’s just do a crowd funding campaign and see how much money people are willing to spend for something like this. We got totally inundated by requests by developers that want to build Apps on garments being t-shirts or sports bras. Also, socks just ignited the imagination of personal trainers, physical therapies, orthotic companies, prosthetic companies and, of course, fitness enthusiasts around the world. So, we got people who want to build exciting applications, golf applications, full detection application for skilled nursing facilities.
Rob Coneybeer 10:06
Full detection.
Davide Vigano 10:07
Yes, because we got less false positives if you have pressure sensing under your foot than just wearing a external monitor type of device. Right? But, also, there’s a guy in Argentina that wants to be an Argentinian pango training application because apparently that’s important to know where your feet are. So, we’re not going to do it anytime soon, right?
Rob Coneybeer 10:29
From the conversation we had before this is, each of your companies has thought about building an ecosystem and then the back of your mind is the platform. You want to build the platform on the platform but how do you think about the socks talking to the watch, talking to the glasses, where is the platform?
Davide Vigano 10:50
Well, the platform is the combination of the devices that you need to enable your experience. So, today I’m wearing one of our prototype socks. We are still behind. Our goal is actually to make electronics disappear but it snaps magnetically to the sock, it doesn’t go anywhere. If I’m going for a walk or a run, this is going to communicate with my smart watch or my glasses experience or my smart phone depending on what I do. I’m wearing a t-shirt that has a Polar or Garmin Bluetooth 4 device–
Rob Coneybeer 11:17
Easy there.
Davide Vigano 11:18
Yes, I’m wearing it and I’m totally wired. To be honest with you until I told you, you didn’t realize that. Right? I don’t want people to know that I’m detecting my data .
Eric Migicovsky 11:32
I think from a technical perspective the more interesting problem that we’re running into – we launched our STK for Pebble six months ago and we’re a cross platform device. Pebble works with IOS and Android devices but the difficult thing that we found is for people that are hacking on Pebble on the weekend as a weekend project building a simple App that solves a problem in their daily life, they’ll generally write it for the smart phone platform that they use on a daily basis. So, we’re getting to the point where people are building really cool things that work with Pebble on iPhone and really cool things that work with Pebble on Android and it’s a problem. We know that this is a multi-platform world. People at our company use both phones. Our job over the last couple of months was to tackle this problem and just figuring out how will people write Apps that talk to mobile and wearable devices without worrying about all the extraneous stuff about how do I connect to the internet.
Rob Coneybeer 12:28
So, would you be okay if people are writing those Apps and they might address your watch, they might address the socks, it could live somewhere else, you’re basically creating an API that they can talk to. Or do you want the program to be a resident on your watch?
Eric Migicovsky 12:41
You still need to write Apps for the particular device. It’s very difficult to write a hardware abstraction layer for a wide variety of devices. Bluetooth actually worked on that using the Bluetooth profile system. What I think I’m more interested in is figuring out how software can just be loaded on devices intelligently so that when you happened to be paired with a set of Bluetooth enabled socks, that the socks wear on your wrist and on your phone would morph and change to become the best software for that–
Davide Vigano 13:21
Let me give you an example of that, if you are wearing a smart watch or a pair of smart glasses, you can actually consume the data that comes from your body in real time. Which is not something that we can do right now. So, if I go running and I have the heel striking tendency and I’m overweight right now and I don’t want to get hurt and I have my melistic shoes, I want to know that I’m heel striking when I’m running.
Rob Coneybeer 13:37
The question that I want to ask, is germane to a lot of people in thinking about a business is, do you see making money off of those sorts of interactions or do you see making money off of selling the products themselves in successive generations of products that people are constantly upgrading?
Davide Vigano 13:55
To us it’s two things; we sell the SDK right now because we have hardware components in there that are expensive. Our goal is to actually make it as free as possible. Number two is, we sell socks and we sell t-shirts and we sell sports bras and we want to become an ingredient brand very much like Gore-Tex. So, we work with companies to have their line of smart socks and their line of dumb socks [chuckle]. The smart socks would be powered by Sensoria. One thing that we have decided to do is we’re not going to sell the data. The data is users data and we’re not going there.
Rob Coneybeer 14:26
That’s great.
Soulamain Itani 14:29
I think the trends are a repeat in these with every innovation cycle where when you have a new wave of technology that’s coming, hardware peaks very quickly. You can make a lot of money first on hardware because it’s differentiated and things like that. And, that will lose if the differentiation will be very hard to compete. Samsung will make them for very cheap and very high quality. And, then you go to software and services. We see that this is the same thing that will happen with wearable’s in the beginning because the platform, the hardware is not out there. This is what one of those companies have to push and then as hardware becomes very acclimatized, you will go to software and services. The key there would be what you mentioned is that if every wearable’s company builds its own platform and they want everything to be running on their own platform only, then you’ll have a much tougher world than Android verses iPhone. They need to learn how to play together and there’s stuff like that happening in the background.
Rob Coneybeer 15:43
So, we have a few minutes left and one thing I wanted to ask is there’s a lot of people in this room that are thinking about how would I build a business or how could I build a company or how can I take the company I’m with and plug into this wearable’s wave? If we were to just take 30 seconds of advice from each of you for either an entrepreneur or somebody in large business thinking about entering wearable’s, it’s such a niche and stage that they should think about starting here?
Soulamain Itani 16:12
Super, super, super low power. That’s the very first thing that you should think about. The second thing that you should think about is leveraging the existing ecosystem as much as possible to give a better user experience. Wearable’s are all about the user experience. They’re making things closer to you; you access the information faster, you control things more naturally and so, power, ecosystem, experience. You get those right, you have something to sell to people.
Eric Migicovsky 16:45
I think the best way to look wearable’s is that the existing Apps that you use on your phone already. So, think about the top Apps that you use on a regular basis and the Apps that you just downloaded that do something new in your life. Then, think about the small micro interaction, basically, the display component or a small input that you think would be something that you could break off from the main App and bring onto a smart watch or set of eyeglasses or something like that. Think about how your life could be improved by taking a small interaction that normally you have to do on your phone and extracting it from there and putting it on something like a watch. Those are the cases where, as I was saying before, devices become more and more useful over time and become integrated into your daily life. And, I think the best way to do that is by thinking about the Apps that you’re using already and then go from there.
Davide Vigano 17:43
The best suggestion I can probably give people is we’re all trying to find the recipe there, all of us. It’s really trying to select one customer problem and then innovate before integrating, right? Just try to innovate and figure out why and how we could actually solve that specific problem in a smarter faster way compared with wearable components verses without. User experience is crucial. And last one I think the boundary between consumer and patient is blurring. Because now we’re going to get data from people and unfortunately everyone of us, each single consumer at some point turns into a patient. Wouldn’t it be nice at that point to actually get access to that data and use it and give access to a clinician. That enables applications that already exist on smart phones but also a new breed of applications that blur. We talked about fitness and health, we could talk about gaming . Gaming is another fantastic scenario that actually allows a new breed of applications to come up.
Rob Coneybeer 18:43
Well, great. Well, I just want to thank this panel for the advice for the entrepreneurs and their perspective and a few of the magic tricks, so to speak . If you could join me in thanking the panel.