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PCH talks with Petteri Lahtela, co-founder at

OURA

Improve sleep. Perform better.

ŌURA is a ring that measures your sleep and health to help you perform at your optimum level. After years of development, the product launched on Kickstarter where it reached its funding goal in about 15 hours. We sat down with co-founder Petteri Lahtela to discuss breaking down complex problems.

What is ŌURA?

Our company is built from the desire to help people be at their best in their everyday lives. Most of our team members have lived busy international business lives while also trying to have successful family lives, so we’ve struggled with health and finding balance in the context of flying all the time and working too much.

We started developing this first solution for our own needs, and we saw that there are so many other people who are struggling with the same thing. ŌURA creates solutions so people can listen to their body, assess their lifestyle based on what is good for their body and mind and then improve their performance and quality of life. We create beautiful, simple-to-use products for that purpose. Our first product is the ŌURA Ring and the app.

We want to help people to realise their full potential, stay balanced and well performing. We believe that when people get personalized recommendations based on objective data from their own body, they are more inclined to change their lifestyle.

What were you doing before ŌURA?

I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for 20 years.

The first 14 years of my career I spent in telecommunications. I was in a company that developed mobile telecom network testing systems. It’s another Finnish company that was small in the beginning but grew quickly to be a global market leader in its product segments and we ended up buying a couple of companies. At first I was there in the development of the product, but someone had to start selling it, so I started traveling around the world and ended up doing business in about 30 countries and learning a lot from people everywhere.

I left in 2005 because I got frustrated with telecommunications. I wanted to do something to help people and maybe the environment as well. I was invited to a company that developed IT systems for chronic disease management. Our customers were mainly in the U.K., but I also did some business in the U.S. and Japan. Since 2005, I’ve been in this health, wellness, and medical devices business at different companies.

Around the same time, I began measuring myself with different kinds of devices and sensors. In 2005 I did several weeks’ continuous measurements with heart-rate monitoring belts and other sensors, and then tried to assess my body responses on my activities, sleep and lifestyle choices so that I could recover from the mental and physical load of my day and improve my sleep.  

Wristbands are more common as wearables. Why did you decide to go with a ring?

When we started creating the solution for the problem, we didn’t know it was going to be a ring. We didn’t develop it with a view to the form factor, we just wanted to develop something that provides really accurate access to physiological signals and at the same time is really comfortable and convenient to use for a long time. It needed to look good and feel good. Those were the drivers for us.

We tested everything available in the market. We found that even though most of those products have some great features, none of them could conveniently provide the kind of data we needed, especially in long term use.

That’s why we developed prototypes for different areas of the body, from the ear to the wrist. While developing a pulse oximeter prototype, we found that the arteries of the finger provide really good access to blood volume pulse, which is important for us. By then adding the temperature sensor and accelerometer, we could do the things we were planning to do.

My co-founder had been working for Nokia for 13 years running global software and hardware development, but in addition to that he is also jewelry designer, so he had a view on how to design a ring and make it ergonomic for the hand and finger. Then a couple of other guys at ŌURA have long experience working for Polar Electro, which is a pioneer and global market leader in heart-rate monitoring watches. We took this long heritage of understanding the physiological changes in the body and how a body reacts in different situations and combined that with high-end technology and design to make it really comfortable, ergonomic and beautiful. People can use this for a long time.

ŌURA turns deep scientific knowledge into concrete user benefits. In a very unique way it combines style and ultimate wearing comfort with high-end technology and proprietary algorithms applying over three decades of science and pioneering research of human physiology, psychophysiology and performance.

“Our company is built from the desire to help people be at their best in their everyday lives.”

When you were testing the form factor, did you just test internally on yourselves or did you have focus groups?

Both. Many of us have athletic backgrounds and some of us have developed solutions for top athletics, so we know how you can improve your capacity without overreaching. The ring is about applying those metrics based on body signals, daily rhythms and lifestyle related choices to normal daily life and for normal people. We began by testing ourselves, and then we had some limited focus groups in the beginning. We are expanding to include different focus groups right now.

How do you break down such a complex subject like sleep into something you can actually solve?

We started by building on our vision, own athletic background and our understanding of how we can enhance mental and physical recovery towards better balance and performance.

It so happens that Finland is home to Polar Electro, which developed their first heart-rate monitoring device in 1977 and the first wireless heart-rate monitoring watch in 1982. Since then, they have been doing lots of research here in Finland, and as a heritage from that, there are several universities and research organizations in Finland that are deep into the science of understanding the physiology and improvement of performance. As I mentioned, one of our key people had worked at Polar for over 17 years and as a principal scientist for the last few years. He has developed most of the algorithms in existing Polar heart-rate monitors and activity trackers.

Our approach to dealing with sleep comes from the fact that sleep is the most important time of the day from a recovery perspective. We wanted to understand how to measure not only your sleep, but also your physical and mental recovery during the night. We wanted to create a holistic view on life so that we could provide understanding on how our daily activities and lifestyle choices affect sleep and how the quality of your sleep affects your ability to perform.

Coming from this long heritage of physiological performance measurement helped us tackle the problem from a scientific perspective, to understand the root causes. From that perspective, it was easier for us to understand what technological solutions we needed to access necessary  vital signs, and then from that, also understand how to fit a full-feature computer inside a ring.

Tackling sleep quality measurement was such a challenging problem because the golden standard of assessing sleep is based on EEG, EMG, EOG and EKG measurements in the sleep lab. To do this in a such a small device like ring was a crazy idea that no one but us believed was doable. But after two and a half years of development, we did it. We also developed these algorithms for accurately detecting changes in the body and sleep phases—for accurately detecting deep sleep, REM and light sleep and the moments of wakefulness. It, along with understanding the body changes and recovery, are the core part of our solution and the most innovative parts that differentiates us from the others.

At the same time, tackling such a huge challenge brings lots of opportunities for us. Many universities and researchers are now contacting us because they want to start using this ring for their studies. It’s a big challenge for them to get people to sleep in a lab, and as a result it’s hard to get good results on the quality of sleep. We want to change that by providing a simple and comfortable way of measuring sleep quality and how restorative your sleep is in the context of normal daily life.

“When we started creating the solution for the problem, we didn’t know it was going to be a ring.”

On your Kickstarter you estimate that you will ship in November. How do you set up your company so that you crowdfund in August and ship in November?

We decided early on that if we did a crowdfunding campaign, we wanted the product to be almost ready and well tested. Especially with hardware, because most of us have developed high-tech hardware consumer products before, and we know how hard it is to make it complete and ready. We’ve had the ceramic rings and all the main functionalities ready for more than half a year already, and we have produced several hundred of them with Sanmina, who is the manufacturer. They’re a U.S. company that manufactures here in Finland. We wanted to be sure that we could make it and also have tested it for more than a half a year, so we knew for sure it works.

We are now concentrating on refining the algorithms and the app, so that we can deliver all this complicated data to the users in a way that it becomes actionable. We’re introducing a new term—we call it readiness—which is about determining how ready you are to perform at your best, based on among others on your sleep quality, activity levels, rhythms and body functions. Determining readiness is our passion and it’s a huge target. That’s why we wanted to be sure we could do it before we went to Kickstarter.

Why did you decide to manufacture in Finland?

It definitely would eventually be cheaper to manufacture in China, but there are so many new things combined in this small device, we wanted to make sure we could keep the quality high. There are lots of challenges—we have a full-featured computer working in such a small device and we’ve invented new manufacturing processes to make it work mechanically—so we wanted to be close to the manufacturing, which is now just 20 km from our R&D center. If there’s some problem in the production, we can drive there and change the process as needed. Being a Finnish company, we want to make the highest quality product, so we are willing to raise the price a little rather than cut the cost by making it in China.

What do entrepreneurs typically overlook when looking at manufacturing?

In many cases, they overlook how much iteration preparing to manufacture complex hardware takes. There are several rounds of iteration before you can really start ramping up the higher volumes. We have already done several rounds, manufacturing several hundreds of rings for testing, finalizing the process for manufacturing certain parts and finding better ways to do things.

Many startups concentrate on developing their product and overlook how demanding it is to make the manufacturing straightforward so that you can scale it well and ramp up the volumes, while also maintaining high quality.

Fortunately, we have many people in our team from different businesses that have done millions of complex high-tech consumer electronics products and delivered all over the world. We understand the need for iteration.

What’s your current state of mind?

Calm and passionate.

When and where were you happiest?

When my daughters were born.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Being together as a family. Travelling continuously between Finland and USA is challenging but I want to do that with whole family so that we can be together as much as possible.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Finding balance in life while still chasing my passion.

What is your greatest fear?

Losing someone important, like my daughters or dear wife.

Which talent would you most like to have?

To use humor constructively.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Whether you think you can, or can't— either way you're right.” -Henry Ford

If you were to die and come back as another person, who would it be?

Tom Hanks.

What is your most treasured possession?

Being together as family and having a close connection to nature.

What’s your favorite book?

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

What’s next for ŌURA?

Right now we’re refining the app and the algorithms, and doing further testing and fine-tuning as we prepare for this volume production run. We’re also preparing for market entry and doing different things in the U.S. market. The Kickstarter campaign was one step in this market entry, especially in the U.S. and other English-speaking markets. We are happy to see that over half of our Kickstarter pledges came from the U.S. and Canada. We’ve already done lots of footwork, but we will continue doing that this autumn: hiring more people in the U.S., finding some good retail channels, and doing further research in the U.S. to prepare ourselves for the market launch in in the next few months.

People are becoming more aware of the importance of sleep and want to have simple and comfortable ways to know how they can recharge themselves from the challenges they meet in the context of normal daily life. They also expect more personalised and actionable recommendations that are relevant and help to do small adjustments in their lifestyle to stay healthy and well performing.

The core of ŌURA is in the algorithms and technology that are based on biomedical engineering, human performance and psychophysiological research. The ŌURA team has a long experience in detection and interpretation of biosignals combined with deep knowledge of human behavior and chronobiology. This experience has given us solid background for the creation of the ŌURA ring to assess and improve sleep, understand the effects of physical activity and adjust them to balance life and improve recovery.

We believe that when the deep and longitudinal data is provided to the user in personalized and actionable way, always pointing out the relevant insights, the user will learn about themselves more and can see that small adjustments in behavior will bring big effects in the quality of life. We want to be a pioneer in providing elegant and scientifically proven solutions that provide real benefits to the user and enables self-learning and self-realization. We want to provide seamless and effortless solutions people love to use and continue using for a long time.

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