Sonny Vu

Sonny Vu, CEO of the San Francisco-based wearables company Misfit, shared his insights with the audience at Techcrunch Beijing this afternoon, touching on where he thinks the wearable industry should be headed and imparting wise morsels of advice to potential entrepreneurs. Seeing as Misfit’s most popular product is its wearable fitness tracker, the Misfit Shine, it was certainly a little surprising when Vu declared that many wearables on the market right are not compelling enough.

To illustrate his point, Vu brought up what he calls the ‘turnaround test’.

“What items would you turn around for, if you are on your way to work and realize that you forgot them?” Vu asked. “iPhone, keys, wallet.. But my wearable device, I’m not sure I would turn around for them, at least not right now.”

The reason for the failure of this test, according to Vu, is that the first generation wearable devices that have sprung up so quickly in the market today – 1.0 devices – often have a single use-case, merely tracking fitness, for example, often made of plastic and requires lots of charging.

Vu notes that despite the proliferation of these so-called 1.0 devices, there is slowly but surely a movement towards what he calls 2.0 devices, where the wearable device is much more design-oriented, leaning towards more sophisticated materials such as plastic, metal and ceramic. The ideal 2.0 device would be less dependent on charging, feature more use-cases and blend in with the user’s lifestyle, instead of building the device to work with just an app.

If the device works with an app, the app experience is also important, as is allowing users to customize their own devices.

“At the heart of fashion is customization,” he quipped.

Pinned to the lapel of Vu’s jacket was the Misfit Shine, a sleek, matte, metallic disc that is discreet and tracks the number of steps taken, calories, distance covered and sleep patterns. The Shine is void of any display or indicators, and purportedly does not require charging – users simply replace a new battery after six months. The stylish Misfit Shine can be worn as an accessory, such as a necklace, or with a strap around the wrist, allowing it to resemble a watch.

“The Shine was first a wearable before it had functionality,” stated Vu. “We thought about how to make the product before what to do with it – it sounds crazy but it almost didn’t have a sensor.”

The Shine was first launched as a campaign on Indiegogo, where Misfit spent $25,000 on the campaign, including making the video that introduced the Shine. The Indiegogo campaign received overwhelming response, raising $846,000 at the end of the campaign, far surpassing their target of $100,000.

“We didn’t spend any money on PR or marketing. People are either going to buy it, or they won’t,” Vu said.

Launched in the last quarter of 2013, it has since shipped 200,000 devices, according to a Fortune article.

Dishing out advice for wearable makers, Vu recommended imagining and drawing out the product, and lauds crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo as excellent places to sell the concept and test the market, since it is an excellent way to interact with potential customers. He also stressed the importance of feedback, of prototyping and watching people use the product, before improving on it based on the feedback received.

As a seasoned entrepreneur, with three startups under his belt over the last fifteen years, Vu also shared bits of wisdom in building a startup – it is important to hire people with skills, and not just IQ; employees with wisdom and not merely experience. The most important of all is the cultural fit, and adjusting the team according to company values is also a good practice.

“Work and live,” said Vu. “Don’t just have a work-life balance.”