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The Blueprint talks with

Ringly

The connected ring that lets you put your phone away and your mind at ease

Ringly is a New York City-based company that creates smart jewelry and accessories. Their first product is a ring that connects to your phone and sends you notifications about the things that matter most to you. The company was co-founded by Christina Mercando, former VP of Product at Hunch. We sat down with Christina to discuss how she’s making beautiful technology that connects your life and your style.

What is Ringly?

Ringly creates smart jewelry that’s both stylish and functional. Our jewelry connects to your phone so you can stay connected to the people, messages, and notifications that are most important to you.

The first product that we’re launching is the Ringly ring. It’s a ring that connects to your phone via Bluetooth and alerts you to certain notifications, like phone calls, text messages, emails, and app notifications. The user can control how and when they want to be notified and what types of messages come through to their ring. For example, they can set it up where if they get a phone call, the ring can vibrate and flash a color to let them know who’s calling.

Our focus from the beginning was to make products that are simple and stylish, but also functional. It’s about staying in the moment and still being connected.

Why did you want to start Ringly?

Prior to founding Ringly, I was the Vice President of Product at a startup called Hunch, which was a social recommendation service aiming to build what we called a “taste graph” of the entire Internet by intelligently connecting people to the things that they love. Hunch was acquired by eBay in 2011, where I spent time helping to evolve the merchandising experience across eBay.com. While I was there, I was always thinking about the next challenge, and I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur myself.

Out of all the ideas I had, Ringly was the one that I just couldn’t let go of. I left eBay in April of 2013 to start Ringly full time.

What have you found to be your greatest challenge working in wearables?

For what we’re doing, there are a lot of moving parts. We have the electrical engineering, the mechanical engineering, the software engineering, the jewelry design, the industrial design, the manufacturing, the brand, and the marketing. It’s about being organized around all those things and making sure you have a good handle on them. It’s a balance between focusing on the details and not getting too tied up.

Why did you choose to enter Highway1?

We had a lot of experience designing and building products, but the part we were missing was the manufacturing piece. We decided to join Highway1 to learn more about that process, and the experience has been great. We’re now working with PCH and ShopLocket on the launch and manufacturing. We love to see how that ecosystem is growing under the entire PCH umbrella and how they’re helping entrepreneurs. It’s been an amazing experience so far.

What has your experience been like during the manufacturing process?

Highway1 has helped a lot. We joined the program last October. We were developing our prototypes up until March when we started working with PCH on the manufacturing side. We have calls with China every Monday night at 9:30pm ET. My co-founder, Logan, just spent two weeks in Shenzhen getting everything ready and up to speed. So far, so good!

How does the technology inside Ringly work?

Inside of the ring, there’s a battery, a vibration motor, and a circuit board that we’ve custom-built. The ring connects to your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy and the Ringly mobile app (iOS and Android). The user can then customize their settings to determine what notifications they want sent to their ring.

“It’s about staying in the moment and still being connected.”

Tell us about your first trip to Shenzhen, China

I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a great experience. We were with Highway1 and it was fun to be with the other companies that were exploring the city with us. We toured several factories and spent time assimilating into the culture. It’s really a remarkable place.

One of the best parts is an awesome art community around the OCT-Loft area. One day, I went out and explored some of the little studios and shops. There was a great coffee shop called My Coffee that sells this incredible pineapple bread that was absolutely delicious and has nothing to do with pineapples — I still can’t stop thinking about it! Overall, the trip was a really rewarding experience and I’m excited to go back.

How have you been able to find great people for your team?

When I first started out, I would get together with friends who were working on various projects on the weekends — we called it Side Project Saturday. We started working on things that we wanted to see built in the world. For me, one of the things that I was building was Ringly. There was a friend of a friend who came one day. He said, “This sounds awesome, I want to help out.” That was Logan. We were working on it and he became more and more interested in it. So much so that he ended up joining as co-founder.

I think it’s all about going out, building something and getting other people involved and excited. We also find people by getting involved in the community and talking to as many people in the space as possible. When we’re looking for someone new, I ask everybody I meet, “Do you know any great engineers who can do X?” We’ve been really fortunate to find some amazing people to join our team that way.

“We want to create something that people want to buy, even if it didn’t have any technology inside.”

What are the opportunities for people who want to work in hardware and be a part of the maker movement today?

For me, I dove in really not knowing what to expect. I think that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When you’re really passionate about something and you really believe that it will make a difference in the world, I say you’ve got to go for it. It’s risky and it’s scary, but don’t look back.

There’s a lot of competition in wearables today. In what ways does Ringly differ from some of your competitors?

When I first started on Ringly, it was never a reaction to wearable tech. Wearable tech wasn’t necessarily as buzzy as it is today. I set out to create Ringly to solve a problem that I had in my own life. I was extremely frustrated because I was always missing calls and important texts from family and friends. I started looking around and noticing that other people were having similar issues. For women, we keep our phones in our bags or purses. When we’re out to dinner at a restaurant, we always need to have our phones out on the table. It’s very distracting.

I set out to first solve the problem of “how can I be notified when it’s important?” — so I can put my technology away, but still feel connected to the things that matter most. It all started from there. I brought that idea into jewelry, and I thought, “maybe I should put something into my ring that will help solve this problem.”

Today, we’re seeing a lot of emerging wearable tech. We’re focused on the style of our products as much as the functionality. We want to create something that people want to buy, even if it didn’t have any technology inside.

“It’s risky and it’s scary, but don’t look back.”

What’s your vision for your company in the next three to five years?

We’re focused on making products that solve problems, but also making products that are stylish that people want to buy because of their aesthetic value. We have several ideas we’re playing around with, but right now we’re very focused on getting our first product to market.

Do you have mentors that you’re working with now?

I have an amazing mentor on the fashion side who was previously an EVP at Temperley London. She’s been instrumental in making connections and teaching me about building and running a fashion brand. We also have incredible investors who’ve helped guide us and make important introductions along the way.

What’s your current state of mind?

Happy

What is your idea of misery?

Not enjoying what you’re doing.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Starting Ringly.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Buying electric blue shoes.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Um”

Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to play a musical instrument.

Which entrepreneur do you most admire?

Steve Jobs

What is your most treasured possession?

My computer

What is your greatest regret?

Not pursuing some of my ideas earlier.

What book are you reading right now?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Ben Harris, the CEO of Drop, asks, “Have you been making sure you’re enjoying the journey as you go along?”

As a CEO and an entrepreneur, there are always going to be ups and there are always going to be downs. I think when you’re at both levels, you have to keep yourself balanced and know that things change really quickly. That’s important to keep in mind and know that if something doesn’t work out one day, it is going to absolutely get better the next day. This is why you’re here. I am definitely enjoying the journey.

What question would you like to pose to another founder about anything?

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

The Blueprint talks to

Abigail Kiefer