Wearable World is a media and ventures company focused on Wearables and the Internet of Things. Through incubator and accelerator programs, news content, consulting services, and events held in cities around the globe, Wearable World is a catalyst for future Wearable Technology innovation. We sat down and got philosophical with CEO and co-founder Redg Snodgrass about his passion for unity, the betterment of humanity in wearables, and how empathetic entrepreneurs are the key to successful wearable tech.
Background-wise, I’ve been on the founding teams of many hardware companies. My first company people would really recognize besides Squaretrade was called Skout, which was one of the largest and first mobile dating sites. It was my first experience launching a product in a new emerging market. I tried some stuff with the Facebook program and product that didn’t catch on, but with the iPhone we really nailed it all together. We raised $20 million from Andreessen Horowitz and now Skout has about 80 million users. They’re killing it and I love what they’re doing.
I left there and joined Alcatel-Lucent with Bell Labs and I got to learn network, infrastructure, hardware, software, and all the different layers of the stack. I also got to see a bunch of trends around consumer adoption, blended with network connectivity and really cool, emerging, agile technologies while I was their VP of Innovation. What I realized is that there was this enormous trend emerging in wearables.
When I was in my startup purgatory after my other startup had failed, I called Kyle Ellicott, our co-founder, and we decided to launch the first-ever Google Glass smart glass incubator, which we called Stained Glass Labs. Our company quickly expanded to wearable technology, because we immediately saw that the market was really not necessarily just for Google; it was for everybody, and we then rebranded and officially became Wearable World.
We started our company a year ago, with the sole purpose of providing two things for entrepreneurs: help and hope. I felt both were something the industry really needed, and are what any ecosystem needs. Part of the “help” side that we give entrepreneurs in our Labs program is marketing, partnerships, relationships, events, and instruction on how to be an entrepreneur in this space, and how to position yourself to build a company.
The “hope” side means that if you do everything right, you shouldn’t be that person who’s constantly freaked out about money and revenue. We connect entrepreneurs with our terrific venture capital community, where we have a strict “No Asshole” policy. Jokes aside, what I mean by this is that we work with super nice, smart, cool VCs who are great collaborators. Also, making sure entrepreneurs connect with corporate executives is important, because it’s these connections that can lead to future partnerships and sales for your product, so we’ve brought this element into our company as well.
Once we tied these pieces together, we looked at our company and saw what else was needed, one of which was an industry-related news publication, so we created Wearable World News, which is the leading news site exclusively focused on wearable and IoT emerging technology.
As our team started to grow, we secured office space, which was generously donated from one of our corporate partners. It’s a great space — large, open, with dozens of desks for all of the startup companies participating in our Labs program. What’s great about it is that because it’s so open, it’s really conducive to brainstorming and idea-sharing for all of the entrepreneurs. My and Kyle’s desks are also on the floor and right in the mix so people can easily chat with us.
Our first class in the Labs program was awesome. We had 17 companies go through the first class, 16 of which received funding. We had over $5 million invested from a number of different VCs who are all good guys that I personally know and respect immensely. Skully Helmets, DrumPants, and Remedy are all amazing companies that have come through our Labs.
Besides our news publication and Labs, we also host events all over the world. Wearable Wednesdays is in 17 cities. We see a thousand people each month who are building these products, and interacting with those guys is great. We’re meeting people all over the world who are as passionate as we are about this industry. It’s no wonder why GLAZEDcon is the biggest wearable technology and IoT conference in the world. Our network is really growing and it’s awesome to see.
We do a lot of consulting now with some major brands, such as Mondelez International, which owns Kraft. We’re seeing more and more that major corporations want to learn more about wearables and IoT technologies and understand how these innovations will revolutionize their business, and we help them with this. What we’ve done is taken this whole innovation process, and unified it around wearables and Internet of Things. I mix the two industries and call them the Internet of Wearable Things sometimes, because I’m cheeky. But what we are building is a hub of what I like to call “curated serendipity” and we build that hub for everybody we work and partner with.
We’re probably the cheapest accelerator and incubator in the market, as far as equity, because I have a firm belief that the value needs to reside with the entrepreneur, and if this is the case, you’ll see exponential growth from that. We obtain 1% to 3% equity to participate in our Labs program, which is less than half the industry average, and once you’re accepted, you get access to our entire network, events, content, and publish articles on our news site.
“If you're not an empathetic entrepreneur, you're not going to understand how your product actually interacts with human beings.”
I’m passionate about entrepreneurs and that technology changes over time. What I like about this iteration of human and technological development is the fact that it’s so deeply ingrained in who we are as people. When you’re born, you’re born to see connection. Wearable technology is actually a part of that delivery cycle of establishing that connection, because we’re moving to an “always on” society where we’re inherently social where we can communicate and understand people better. In my mind, wearable is that next step for us, and if it’s embeddables next, we’ll be positioned when we’re there.
I love wearables; I’m passionate about the people that are building them, and what it means for us as humanity. I think for me personally, I push on this because I want to lift up the entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are the good guys. Marcus Weller from Skully Helmets is the nicest dude, and he cares about people. His motorcycle helmet is going to save a lot of lives; it gives you “eyes” in the back of your head. I can’t think of better human beings than some of the CEOs in our program at Wearable World and I feel good about providing value for the people working in that community.
The thing is we’re empathetic, and I think empathy is the reason why wearable technology is catching on. If you’re not an empathetic entrepreneur, you’re not going to understand how your product actually interacts with human beings. I believe that women are especially attuned to this, and I think there’s going to be this really amazing increase of female CEOs in the wearable tech and IoT industries.
I’ve observed that we’re moving away from a time when it was more about the coding and number-crunching, and the visionary entrepreneurs who created the products but didn’t necessarily have the personality to match. You had a lot of assholes that were successful in the first and second waves of technology. If you’ve been around the space a while like I have, you can see this attitude transition between the mobile entrepreneurs and the guys that built Web 1.0 and 2.0.
Today there’s a noticeable shift toward empathetic entrepreneurs. I think that they’re more socially adept to better understand the plight of the end user, and that’s why these entrepreneurs are just good people. If you’re going to pick a movement to get behind, you might as well get behind one that encourages people to be good.
“You missed mobile, don't miss wearables. ”
I think in the next few years, you’re going to be considered to be a bad parent if your child isn’t connected to some form of wearable technology. The guys who are actually building technology for parents hate it when I say that too, but it’s true. You can develop tech to monitor for SIDS, you can develop something to recognize when your kid is feverish. It’s incredible. Why wouldn’t you make sure you had that for your child?
Aside from life-saving technology, we also have access to practical tech for busy parents, such as the ability to know when your kid is going to wake up for a nap. Planning your day knowing when your child is going to wake up is a cool idea.
It’s like the question of whether or not you are a bad parent if you don’t get your kid a cell phone so they can call you if they’re lost. I think eventually having that raw data and delivering it to doctors is the next step to our self-actualization; kids are going to do it, and I think it’s going to be cheap.
Parents are going to do it for kids, and then kids are going to be brought up in a world where they don’t know what it’s like to be disconnected. We already have kids who don’t understand a world without Instagram or Facebook, and before that was a world without mobile Internet, before that was just internet. In our society you can’t find a kid who doesn’t know what the world is like without Internet now.
That’s where this really starts to really rev up and make sense, because this generation, the one that’s being born now, won’t know a world without that constant connectivity globally, even in places like Oklahoma. On the flip side, I think there’s a deep desire for this stuff everywhere. Price points, a real understanding, and even a consumer use case are the barriers to full integration. Metaphorically speaking, right now the consumer desire for wearables is at the XBox 360 level and we’re still on the Atari phases of the actual implementation of it. You’ll start to see a significant amount of uptake in the next one to three years.
Everyone’s going to buy this stuff, and everyone’s going to be disappointed, and then that demand is going to cause us to really rally together and rise up. We’ll see what happens in November when Apple launches the iWatch or whatever they’re going to call it. I think there’ll be a big reaction and a significant number of regular people are going to buy it. Not like when no one really bought the Samsung stuff, but there’s a radical user base of people that are out there that want to use it and you’ve got the Beacon technology that’s coming on, which is a big emphasis by Apple.
All of that is going to be integrated in this user experience, regardless whether the Apple watch sucks or not. If the Apple watch is exciting, people are going to change their strategy. I think there’ll be a massive amount of consumer-led adoption near the volume of the iPad when this stuff comes out by Apple, and I think that’s going to usher in real diversity in user-ship across all the spectrums; economically, demographically, and even regionally. It’s going to be that watershed moment where everybody starts getting it, but even then, it may just be in the 10th or 20th percentile range of us as a country. But I think we’ll see a lot happening, so I’m hoping.
Form follows function. What’s convenient about wearing a Pebble watch, or wearing Basis, or Jawbone, or any of that stuff? It’s getting significantly better, but I think that when the convenience factor is so apparent, that everyone just needs it. To quote the famous musical Oklahoma!, “It’s when the cowboys and the farmers will be friends.” There’s no real driving reason for them to collaborate right now.
The people buying the products today are not super fashion-conscious. There isn’t a universal reason as to why people need this product now. If there’s no real driving reason, it’s really hard for people in different industries that don’t understand each other and don’t really get along to realize they really need to communicate and understand each other’s viewpoints and concepts. There is potential, though.
What really moves that relationship forward is consumer adoption. When there’s widespread consumer adoption, I don’t think the fashion companies have any choice but to do it when there’s ubiquity and a lack of strong differentiation between the products. That’s when the wearable technologists will need the fashion folks to come in and make their products sexier. Right now there’s no real need for differentiation because they’re doing it within the technology. The flip side is there’s no real need for the fashion right now because most people don’t really understand what the product is good for.
When that massive consumer adoption happens, the early adopters and those who are aware of this need for fashion-tech convergence—and who are working toward it—will be positioned to win in this. A lot of people missed the mobile technology bandwagon when it wasn’t important, and when it was important they were sure trying to catch up and some of them didn’t. That’s one of the things we say: You missed mobile, don’t miss wearables. That’s why a lot of people are switching on and trying to figure it out.
“It's a place where we can learn more about ourselves in a day by wearing a watch, than any of our ancestors could have learned in a hundred years about who they are or what they are. ”
The highest number I’ve read is eight pieces, total, but here’s what I will say: The right amount is the right amount. This means it’s all about personal capability and convenience. How many items of clothing do you wear now? You’ve got socks, shoes, underwear, a shirt, and pants, maybe you have a belt, a hat, or you’ve got glasses. All those pieces serve this very specific function for you. You take your time to actually put all those things on. Now, you could use a sock for a glove, but it’s not really convenient. You could use it like that because it has the same capable functions but they’re not oriented for that use. As many convenient-inducing, life-enabling pieces of hardware you can wear on your body as makes sense for you to get the return on investment that you need. If it were up to me, I would walk around naked all the time—maybe with some underwear—but functionally I need those things in order to go about my daily life.
Anyone guessing at a number is full of shit. There’s no real number there, but what if there were different pieces of wearable technology, and you had 10 things that you really needed to do in a day, and each of those pieces did not have combined capabilities, but they served a very separate unique function in order to make your life easier and better? You’d likely wear 10 pieces.
For example, maybe you’ve got some type of patch that delivers certain types of medication that you really need — you’ve got augmented reality glasses, plus a wristband or bracelet that actually serves as your identity while you walk around. You’ve got all these pieces of technology because it’s not fully integrated into one convenient place. The fact of the matter is you’re going to wear as much stuff that you need to be convenient, and/or fashionable. And when it comes to accessories, it’s more than just form follows function.
All of them. We’ve talked to big consumer packaged goods companies. I wish I could release some of the things that we’ve been talking about. There’s not an industry where wearable technology doesn’t enhance human convenience in life. Humans are created to be lazy, that’s why we built tools. If there is a way to build up significant ROI in my life, I am going to figure it out.
What’s your current state of mind?
When and where were you happiest?
In the mornings, when I'm on a walk or drinking coffee.
What is your idea of misery?
Not being able to do what I want to do.
What is your greatest fear?
What is your greatest extravagance?
Drinking with my friends.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be a world-class musician.
What is your most treasured possession?
A full life-size painting of my roommate and I as Zeus and Poseidon.
What book are you reading right now?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think that what I’m doing right now doesn’t really matter. The world is millions of years old. The universe could be billions and billions of years old and inevitably everything we do doesn’t even really have a strong significant ripple through any of it. Our life here is just like a vapor and there are a few things that you could focus on that inevitably move us forward.
One of the things that could move us forward is space travel, and another involves doubling, tripling quadrupling, or multiplying human life by 10 times over. Until we can really live a lot longer, we’ll never do space travel because it just takes so damn long to get everywhere, but I think that that’s important. As a species, a race, and even a planet, I think we are beautiful and incredible creatures of thought. We are capable of horrible things, yes, but I think that we deserve to be better, to move forward, and even to show societies outside of this planet that humanity deserves the sentient-ness that we have.
I think wearable technology is a step along that way. It’s a place where we can learn more about ourselves in a day by wearing a watch, than any of our ancestors could have learned in a hundred years about who they are or what they are. My hope, and part of the reason why I put this together, is for it to be a stepping stone where I’m hoping that I can be one of the enablers for us to move forward into that unknown of where we need to be and even just get a little bit better.
My tiny ripple, or the thing that I want to pull together, is to instill a discipline of empathy, be caring and giving to other people because they’re human beings. I want to infuse my philosophy into a lot of things that these wearable technologists are creating. It’s all about realizing that you can either be an asshole of an entrepreneur, or you can invest your life into a lot of these incredible men and women who are building that next generation of products. I think it’s a blessed responsibility to be aware enough to communicate that the technology we build should be empathetic; the technology that we build should encourage growth on all socioeconomic levels.
Whenever we get to the point where you put in a chip and it allows you to understand something like one million billion gigabytes of information more quickly and more efficiently and we evolve into that, we shouldn’t just allow the rich people to evolve and leave the poor people behind. It’s not that I think the rich people don’t deserve that product, but primarily because I believe it’s good for all of us to move forward as a communal society as we reach new horizons.
Basically, what I think matters is more about how we in Wearable World interact as a company and present where we think technology should be moving towards, which is empathetic. We choose to be built around hope, which is about pushing and pulling all these people together to really help each other, versus creating large-scale multi-conglomerates that fight and condone espionage and hold onto IP when other people could be building on it and really help for society.
You’ve got these store holds of brilliant people that create technology, and they just hide it from the world. We try to stand for a different human ethic there, and without sounding like a hippie—because I am capitalist—I do think that we should make money and enjoy it. Right now I think the reason that this matters is because inevitably it gives me pleasure. It makes me happy to get out of bed and do it, and I think that that’s the only thing that really matters, on my short-term existence plane, is maximizing my own internal happiness while hopefully enabling us to move forward into that next realm of belief and understanding as human culture.
What question would you pose to another founder or entrepreneur?
If you started all over again from childhood, what path would you take in life?