Hyungsoo Kim, Founder and CEO of Eone, is not just another entrepreneur. He is a visionary and he has a great story to tell.
Today, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but only a few have the vision to create a live-changing product. Well, in the rows to follow you will meet one of those few guys who really inspired us.
What time is it?
It’s a common question, which is asked millions of times a day. But on that day when Hyungsoo was still a graduate student at MIT, this simple question turned to be the beginning of something great.
“I was seating next to a classmate who was visually impaired and he whispered to me to ask what time it was. I told him the time, but soon I noticed he was wearing a watch. It was a digital watch, which made me wonder how he checked the time with it. So I asked him after the class, and it turned out that it was a talking watch that said the time out loud when he pressed the button”, Mr. Kim recalls.
Hyungsoo thought the talking watch was cool, but his classmate explained that it’s audibly disruptive and embarrassing to use in public—during meetings, on dates or in the movie theater. Everyone knows you’re checking the time. It’s basically a watch you can’t use when other people are around.
“The biggest investment I’ve made is time. It took two full years to launch the Bradley. Money plays a role, but your commitment is way more important.”
“I asked whether there are any other types of watches available for the blind and he told me there’s one alternative. It’s an analogue watch; you open the cover class to touch the hands. But these analogue watches are often fragile, and the hands move easily when you touch them. So people who don’t have a good sense of touch struggle with it and tend to get stuck with the annoying talking watch”, Hyungsoo says.
That afternoon after the classes Hyungsoo spent the whole day Googling “watch for the blind”, hoping to discover something better. But it didn’t exist.
“I found some cool tactile watches, but they were all “concept only” and didn’t exist in real world. That surprised me quite a bit. It’s the 21st century, and there are still many people out there for whom checking time is a huge challenge. All the watches and clocks available require vision. None of them work if you can’t see”, Mr. Kim says.
It didn’t take long for Huyngsoo to decide he wants to develop a timepiece that you don’t have to look at to tell the time.
When your background or studies are not related neither to design nor engineering, making a good product that requires both, is definitely a tough challenge.
At that point Mr. Kim started to look for industrial designers and engineers who would help him with the making of what he has in mind.
“It took more than 6 months to find good designers and engineer (my current co-founders) who are like-minded and passionate about this project”, Hyungsoo recalls.
“My background in psychology helped me understand that people don't buy what you do, but they buy it why you do it. And it always let me not forget to put people before products.”
The very first thing the new business team wanted to do was to meet with as many blind user groups as possible to understand their needs. Hyungsoo and his partners were very surprised when they realized that blind people care about design and style and, actually, they care a lot.
“While talking with visually impaired users, we did quickly understand that they were as concerned with fashion and style as they were with function. In almost every meeting with people who are visually impaired, one of the first questions was always about the look, the material, the size and even the color of the watch”, the founder says.
The most challenging moments, according to Mr. Kim, were those when they had to bring the physical prototypes to each individual one by one. It's tactile timepiece and they can't give any feedback unless they 'touch' it.
“Nor pictures or written descriptions work for the visually impaired. Usually, industrial designers skip much of this 'physical' prototype testing steps with 3D images. But I have to make the actual 'physical' prototypes even with very small changes. Then I have to travel all over again to go around and meet those people”, Hyungsoo says.
Mr. Kim wanted Eone to be more story-telling team than just a product making company. They don’t want just to make products, but instead to raise the awareness of the importance of inclusive design practice.
“We aim to connect the 'seemingly' different groups of people together - the sighted and the blind - through our products. That is why we named our debut product after naval officer Bradley Snyder”, Hyungsoo says.
Bradley Snyder is an ex-naval officer who lost his eyesight after an explosion, while on a mission in Afghanistan in 2011. Just a year after this man won gold and silver medals in swimming at the Paralympics Games in London 2012.
“What’s most important and unique about our design is its inclusivity and simplicity. We believe that good design should be inclusive, not exclusive.”
“We hope to deliver a truly inspiring stories through our products. And that is why our video has a heavy focus on Brad's story and it doesn't talk about the wristwatch until the end of the video. We want people to see the stories before they see our products”, Mr. Kim explains.
The Bradley is a fully international product. The quartz (watch movement) is from a Swiss brand called Ronda. This is one of the most reliable quartz providers in the world. The titanium watchcase is manufactured in China and the straps are from Korea, while the final assembly is done in China. And the guys will be working with US fulfillment service company for handling inventories, shipping, and tracking.
“You need to show people that you know their lives even before developing products for them. Most entrepreneurs think that the product will just take off if it’s cool and innovative, but it doesn’t work this way. It takes lots of strategies to bring it to the market and you need to be able to tell people why and how you developed it, otherwise it will end up being in your garage forever”, the CEO concludes.
The company is expanding the target market geographically and is currently looking for distribution channels/retailers in EU and Asia. They are working to increase their visibility, while strengthening the branding.
But the most important is that the guys from Eone are continuing to develop products and 2014 will bring some new inventions.
As Huyngsoo says “they share the same concept and principle – inclusive designs”.
It’s just the beginning…