We can all name at least one company that has successfully raised some serious cash, managed to bring the product to market, before unexpectedly shutting down. Most recently, Ringly and Wisewear bowed out of the wearable tech space. As the continuous demise of fashion tech brands led to me explore, in an article, I wrote for Wareable, why venture-backed startups experimenting with innovation fail.
I honestly think that when it comes to startups failing, we also need to concentrate on what the companies have achieved and how far they came. I remember a time when the most significant hurdle was bringing a product to market, but Ringly and Wisewear overcame this hurdle. They took their product to market. The problem was that they did not manage to stay there. So what we need to figure out, as a community, is how to successfully take a product to market, and keep it there.
As the chatter around this rather hot topic gains further traction, I have been having some interesting conversations with some of the best tech experts in the field. They are innovators who have travelled down the startup path and lived to tell the tale. So it is straight from the horse’s mouth, that we share with you some of our favourite insiders who gave it to us straight, (just the way we like it):
Laurent Le Pen: Founder & CEO at Omate
“Indeed most of the fashion tech startups have failed. I am blessed that Omate pivoted in time. Actually, we did it twice from Sport to Fashion to Security. If I focused on my original ideas, Omate would be either dead or at the hospital. Back in 2015 at the CES Las Vegas, the motto of Omate was “Technology is what you carry; Fashion is what you wear!” We were announcing a strategic partnership with Richline Group and later on with Emanuel Ungaro. I remember that I was not keen to sell my devices without being approved by companies which had legitimacy and credibility in the industry. Therefore, these partnerships were very interesting for my Team as we are tech people so we could learn from fashion & jewelry leaders without being ourselves legitimate in the field. But even that was not enough because other tech companies quickly did the same, Fitbit was launching a special edition with Tory Burch, and Apple Watch came with Hermès.
A few months later Google announced a partnership with Fossil Group. I looked at their portfolio of owned, and licensed brands (Michael Kors, Diesel, Skagen…) and I immediately understood that they would jeopardize my whole “fashion watch” strategy. At that time, we were speaking with other watch brands, and I cancelled all these projects. Most of the companies who decided to continue focusing on that strategy are dead; the most notable one is Pebble.
Another threat was the emergence of Huami with Xiaomi, so I decided to give up the fashion segment and a year later in 2016 we introduced our first kid smartwatch followed by models aiming for elderly citizens and enterprise. That was the smartest pivot we did by focusing on what we are good at – standalone wearable tech – and acting on various niche segments where we did not face competition from the tech giants. On top of that, our number one satisfaction today is to save lives through our Wearable-as-a-Service solutions.“
Max Cooper: Founder at Prequel
“I think the core problem is that use cases once new quickly became a commodity: like notifications and tracking. Ringly was on in highway1 batch in times that it was ok to sell hardware without building any network or subscription service. They quickly became commoditized. In Wisewear’s case I would love to learn how customers interacted with features( like sos), were they that useful? In recent batch, HAX had no consumer electronics company, only b2b hardware. The bottom line: 7 years is quite a run, once a company manages to make a land grab, it has to evolve constantly! Cruel world of fashion tech, where processes and efficiencies still outperform aesthetics. If you feel nostalgic for good old times check these new kids on the block, who change the game Senstone!“
Suzaan Sauerman: Tech Expert
“Keeping consumers interested and using it for more than four weeks after purchase is even harder. I don’t think we have seen real desirable, wearable tech that is built with a consumer’s needs and behaviours in mind. It’s standing still.“
Ben Cooper: Founder of IoClothes
“As mentioned in the [Wareable] article, the reasons for “failure” in the start-up and corporate innovation worlds are many. At the end of the day, we have a front row seat at the birth of a new technology space. There will be many casualties… My first company 4 years ago was one of them! Bottomline: What we haven’t truly seen is a sound, standalone, model work in this space. Fitbit has the first-mover advantage but is trying to outrun the “commodity monster” that seems to be nipping at their tail. For Apple and Fossil, they both have strong propositions and other parts of their business that can support this emerging category (i.e. supply chain, distribution, internal expertise, etc). The four pillars of start-up success still need to be hit: 1. Timing 2. Strong value proposition(s) 3. Scalable business model(s) 4. EXECUTION“
Mano ten Napel: Co-founder FashNerd.com
“I am more and more beginning to believe that the factor timing is the main reason behind some of these initially successful projects’ demise. The fact that the space is in its infancy, only adds a severe difficulty to choosing a smart approach to what is the right timing. Not sure if Ringly or Wisewear ticked all the boxes you rightfully mentioned Ben, but in my opinion, they were solid in the field of design and marketing execution. The one excelled in solving the notification storm, and the other had incredibly valuable collabs while both enjoyed a crazy amount of column inches. Some say a service model’s what was missing but who knows.
The first WaaS solution still needs to prove itself. I would almost say, the most important thing for anyone chasing any ambitions in Wearables needs to focus on one thing the most, and that’s making sure they are getting their hands dirty and learn through execution. While the design boxes need to be ticked (with philosophical and anthropological aspects in mind), it should never be about the Wearables either. So when we can interpret the data in a meaningful way that can offer more compelling propositions, things can finally start to get interesting.“
Melissa Coleman: Software Dev | Curator | Artist
“Selling hardware is probably not the most profitable. Companies would be better off if they can sell a subscription service but you have to provide enough value for customers. IoT products are all facing this same problem wrt figuring out the business model.“