Welcome to Career Hack’s new series: Kickstarter Success Stories.
In this series, we will be sharing the victories and lessons from entrepreneurs who have successfully funded their ventures on Kickstarter.
Today we are thrilled to bring you Laurent Le Pen of Omate, a Hong Kong and Shenzhen based Smartwatch company.
Laurent, thanks for joining us at Career Hack. First off, tell us a bit about your company, Omate.
Thanks, I am glad to share further with you about what we do at Omate. Well, I set up Omate on July 1st, 2013 so we are young startup based in Hong Kong and Shenzhen a.k.a the “Silicon Valley” of China.
Omate® is a leading hardware / software design company that develops telecom wearable products and services designed to keep the world connected through your wrist.
The company’s flagship product, the TrueSmart, is a smartwatch 2.0 which has been funded through Kickstarter becoming the 5th most funded project of the Design category in September 2013.
The TrueSmart is the World’s first water-resistant Android smartwatch 2.0 setting new standards in the wearable computing field as the most advanced wearable lifestyle product to date.
Our goal is to make the World connected through your wrist especially in situations where you can’t bring your smartphone with you. (Outdoor activities)
– Omate has designed the world’s first software running on top of Android dedicated to wearable devices (a.k.a Omate User Interface OUI).
– Omate has set a reference design of the world’s first Android smartwatch 2.0 running on MediaTek MT6572 along with the OUI 2.0 a.k.a the TrueSmart™
More than a watch, more than just a Bluetooth accessory, the Omate® TrueSmart™ is a genuine standalone Android smartwatch 2.0 that can also work independently from your smartphone. The Omate® TrueSmart™ is the World’s First IP67 water-resistant Android standalone smartwatch 2.0.
The Omate® TrueSmart™ features a Dual Core 2G/3G GSM modem, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity into its IP67 water-resistent stainless steel casing, antennas built-in wristband (patent pending), and runs the OUI 2.0 on top of Android 4.2.2 + full Omate software strategic partnership ecosystem.
Omate successfully raised $1 million on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform. Walk us through how it happened.
Actually, the Omate concept started exactly a year ago at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona, where I was still VP at Umeox Mobile, a leading Android smartphone Original Design Manufacturer.
My vision is that the Wearable devices as we know them are mainly Bluetooth accessories and I envisioned that they will soon or late be led by the Telecom industry; I convinced my ex-boss the CEO & Chairman of Umeox Mobile – Jack Shao – to invest in my venture and we worked together on some concepts of a project called “Outdoor Mate”.
When we felt ready, we set up the company and we called it Omate by respect to the original project.
Then, I contacted a friend who had a US based startup and was working in the consumer electronics for years and was also planning to launch its own music project on Kickstarter, I asked him if he would be interested in launching the TrueSmart with us. We signed a contract and we started working on building Omate’s marketing campaign.
We got approved by Kickstarter on August 20th, 2013. I could not sleep that night, I was so excited to show the World what we have worked for the last 6 months and we launched the TrueSmart the day after on August 21st at 10am NYC time and 10pm Shenzhen time.
I invited the Team to a restaurant / bar in Shenzhen along with friends and we were refreshing our Kickstarter page every 30 seconds; it was growing so fast that after 12 hours, our project was successfully funded. We planned to raise 100,000 USD within 30 days and we did it in half a day.
To keep the pace, we made several announcements along with stretch goals that were not planned in advance for most of them as we did not expect to raise that much money, we were improvising but we closed our campaign on September 20th, 2013 just above a million USD; entering the ultra-selective million dollar Kickstarter club. That was the most exciting and tiring 30 days of my life and I did not know that the next 6 months will be even more epic. That was just the beginning and the “after Kickstarter life” only starts when you ship out to the very last backer. We will always be so grateful to every backer and I will remember that all my life.
Omate has received press coverage from all over the world. How did you get noticed? What did you have to do outside Kickstarter to spread the word?
Well, the TrueSmart is really a breakthrough product, even 6 months after our campaign we are still much more advanced in terms of features than any products announced by leading companies such as Samsung and Sony during CES Las Vegas and MWC Barcelona. The top leading hardware and software professional journalists are well aware about that and Omate is a small telecom startup competing with established companies that have 9 figures marketing budgets, it’s a kind of David vs Goliath in the wearables industry.
The same goes for the analysts which have access to data from chipset companies such as ARM. They all know the numbers of our preorders and how we have disrupted the smartwatch industry in a very short time.
How can aspiring entrepreneurs get the most out of crowdfunding platforms?
Crowdfunding is a fantastic tool for any entrepreneurs who has a great idea, a limited capital and want to drive a global marketing campaign. It’s just a tool, you must work with the whole ecosystem to make it work. Kickstarter gives you the keys to communicate with your early adopter community.
When it comes to Kickstarter, what is more important: product or strategy? What influences the decision to invest (or not)?
Kickstarter is all about Product. Most of the Backers embrace the long term strategy and vision of the company but they mainly want to be part of the first people in the World to get their hands on it at a lower price than what it will be when it actually hits the retail market. Their top motivations are to be part of the early adopters, the beta testers, the beginning of an industrial design story and business journey.
Some backers are incredibly supportive and really do their best to help us. We have set some hackatons to reward the best developers of our Kickstarter community. We call them the VID (Very Important Developers)
Do you see crowdfunding becoming a more prominent source of startup investment in the coming decades?
I think crowdfunding is not only a fantastic source of startup investment but more than that it’s a new tool to drive the marketing campaign of companies planning to go global. Omate is shipping worldwide and we have signed distribution agreements in more than 50 countries. This is unique for a company which is only 8 months old.
Crowdfunding will surely be used by more and more startups and this will allow to drive innovation faster than ever
Are there any other projects in the pipeline at the moment?
Last week at MWC Barcelona, Omate® introduced the TrueSmart™ Elegance, designed with active women in mind but optimized for any athlete looking for a colorful lightweight version of the original TrueSmart™
The TrueSmart™ Elegance is made of aluminum instead of stainless steel in the original TrueSmart™ so it drastically reduces its weight (30% less) to make it become even more comfortable during outdoor activities. The TrueSmart™ Elegance is first and foremost an elegant smartwatch users can wear and feel comfortable with, wearing it wherever they go and whatever they do to enhance their connected life all in the size, look and feel of a watch.
On top of the existing Omate User Interface 2.0, allowing users to make calls, send emails or text messages, run Android apps, and update social media, we have designed an entire ecosystem and our own Ostore with new apps such as Osos designed by Cyril Preiss, one of our Kickstarter Developer backers. Osos, provides in one click your GPS location to your preset preferred contacts allowing them to know and locate when & where you are in danger. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, this app will save lives.
Omate’s attention to details and commitment in creating unique wearable designs can also be seen in the Sparkle edition. The TrueSmart™ Sparkle features hundred twenty White Zirconia Swarovski Gems™ Pure Brilliance into its aluminum casing.
We are working on other strategic models which will be unveiled in the second half of the year.
Do you expect to keep using Kickstarter as your primary source of funding as Omate expands? If not, where will you be looking to generate funds?
I do not think we will launch new Kickstarter campaign anytime soon as we got greatly “Kickstarted” with our first product and now as we got recognized internationally we can use more “traditional” ways to communicate and distribute our new products.
I like the concept of preorders for a limited time. I think our next product will be launched under our own website for a 30 days preorder period as we did during Kickstarter. We keep the same mindset but adapting it to our own platform.
Failure is often a prerequisite for success in business. Please tell us about some obstacles you faced along the way and how it prepared you to succeed later.
We have faced multiple roadblocks. The Omate TrueSmart is a complex product, it’s not just a Bluetooth or WiFi accessory, it’s also in many ways more difficult to mass produced than any smartphones due to its form factor and assembly process.
We have been working with wristwatch designer and brought or telecom expertise on top of it. That’s pretty hard to set up.
The reasons for the delayed shipment are diverse but usually related to unexpected issues with the new design and implementation of the improvements. The difference being that now with Kickstarter, this process is open with the backers who are all waiting for their pledges. While in a traditional development process, the product only hits the retail shelves after several rounds of such improvements which are behind the scenes and not in the public eye. That’s exactly the same reason why we see many new devices announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona which will only make it to market later in Summer. Product and production planning is a difficult process and sometimes it takes longer than expected.
On top of that, I and my team come from the Mobile Phone Design industry and most of us worked in the Business to Business (B2B) side so over the last few months, we have learnt a lot about becoming a real Business to Consumer company (B2C).
Who and what did you look for when putting together your team at Omate?
Well, I am still actively building the team and looking for new crew members to join the Omate rocket ship.
Our motto is “Design is a mindset; not a department” so first I want to know how you think about design, and how you tackle problems. We’re also looking for people sharing our vision along with expertise, creativity and optimism. We’re also looking for an entrepreneurial spirit.
We need people who can operate quickly, learn from failure and iterate all along the path from concept to launch while keeping in mind the Time-To-Market pressure we face in our fast moving industry.
We are thrilled to be working with a huge community of developers which has embraced the project since Day 1. We are using this pool of talents to pick the best apps and developments to enhance our User Experience and the whole Omate ecosystem. This is a unique hiring experience, we have closed more several deals with Android developers and we use their apps by default into the TrueSmart.