Designing the Eone Timepieces watches took a conceptual revolution.
Hyungsoo Kim knew he wanted to create a practical, discrete and high-quality watch to serve the needs of visually impaired people. So he first came up with a braille design — a straightforward solution devised with a team of mostly engineers. “We didn’t care about the looks,” he said.
That was a mistake. As it turns out, only minority of visually impaired people can read Braille. And besides, they wouldn’t want a watch that silently screams: “I’m blind.” “They just don’t like the approach of designing something that is exclusively for them,” said Kim.
So he started talking to more designers. An MBA student at MIT, he started attending contests at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design, “pretending I was a RISD student,” he half-joked (while Technical.ly DC resisted cracking a Mean Girls joke).
That’s where he met two of his cofounders, David Zacker and Amanda Sim. A fourth partner, Nick Lik Hang Gu, came from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
With his new team, Kim came up with a futuristic design that is as simple as it is clever.
The watch expresses time through a little ball ticking its way around two concentric grooves — one for hours and one for minutes. The ball is held in place magnetically, so even if it is misplaced with a finger, it will roll back to the right place.
“You don’t need to come up with a whole new technology to serve minorities,” he said.
Kim also came up with a tightrope marketing strategy. Eone, which is shorthand for “everyone,” is designed for visually impaired people, sure, but it’s not targeted specifically to them.
For the watches to appeal to his desired client base, Kim explained, the watch needs to be designed for everyone. “To serve their needs, it has to get a lot of traction from the mainstream design [world],” he said.
Kim estimates that only one to two percent of his customers are visually impaired — a “healthy” ratio he says he doesn’t want to change.
The business model seems to be working well. Eone is now selling a little over 1,000 watches (for $285 each) and making $150,000 to $200,000 a month, he said. He admitted, though, that “the growth is really slow” because he’s selling a physical product in the “saturated” market of designer watches.
Kim and his three cofounders, who are stretched between Hong Kong and Silicon Valley, have raised close to $600,000 on Kickstarter, $400,000 in angel funding, and are preparing to raise a Series A round.
Technical.ly DC had to wonder: Why did this Korean-born, Boston-educated entrepreneur set up shop in UberOffices Dupont?
Kim ticked off some of the other options: New York. “Too expensive.” Boston. “Everyone moves out” when they graduate. Besides, his “wife was working in D.C.”
Though he didn’t “really expect there to be a startup community” here, he admitted, that’s exactly what he has found.
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