Misfit Wearables Puts Design First in New Activity Tracker

Misfit Wearables cofounder and CEO Sonny Vu learned a valuable lesson at his last company, AgaMatrix. The mobile health startup produced a blood glucose meter called the iBGStar, which allows users to check, monitor and share their readings on their iPhones. With only a glucose strip and the iPhone plug-in, users could track and analyze their health data over time, and even share it with their doctors, without having to keep a record or carry around a dedicated blood glucose meter.

“If you can reduce technology from people’s lives, make it invisible, we could end up with a much more delightful experience,” Vu says. “I don’t think people like technology itself. They like the functionality. They’ll put up with wearing electronics. But they don’t do it because it’s fun.”

As Vu and his AgaMatrix cofounder Sridhar Iyengar started thinking about what to take on next, they realized that in the post-PC era, the next big thing is computation and sensors on the body. But the products already on the market involved annoying logistics, like chest straps and wristbands.

“The problem we saw immediately is all these products [are] not that wearable,” Vu says. “They’re usually made of plastic, when you wouldn’t normally wear it. It made people look like cyborgs, and I don’t think people like that. So that was it.”

Misfit Wearables' founders. L to R: Sridhar Iyengar, Sonny Vu, and John Sculley

Misfit Wearables' founders. L to R: Sridhar Iyengar, Sonny Vu, and John Sculley

Vu, Iyengar and John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, founded the company on Oct. 5, 2011, the day that Steve Jobs died.

They put “misfit” in the name as a tribute to the legendary CEO, a reference to the iconic Apple commercial with the words, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.”

“It wasn’t by design,” Vu says. “It just happened.”

Initially, the three cofounders bootstrapped the company, but six months later they closed a series A round of $7.6 million funded by Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund. But despite the money, the founders decided to crowd-source funding for their first product, an activity tracker called the Misfit Shine, on Indiegogo.

“People ask why. ‘You guys raised enough money. You don’t need it for production.’ The answer is yes, true. We wanted to do it mainly to get consumer validation.”

Part of the reason, Vu points out, is that activity trackers are basically just pedometers. The concept isn’t new. The question was whether consumers would be willing to pay $100 for a type of product that’s been on the market for decades. Sure, products like the Nike+ FuelBand and the Fitbit were already testing the concept with hefty price tags, but Misfit Wearables wanted to be sure consumers were willing to pony up for their design, a quarter-sized metal disc made from aircraft-grade aluminum with only a small display of lights.

They were.

The Shine wearable fitness tracker, from Misfit Wearables, is about the size of a quarter.

The Shine fitness tracker is about the size of a quarter.

The cofounders’ goal was to raise $100,000 in 30 days. They reached it in 10 hours. The deadline was extended by more than a month (to Jan. 16), and they’ve raised more than $570,000, essentially financing orders of a product that won’t even ship until March.

“We preordered 5,000 units,” Vu says. “We thought that would last between now and March. But fortunately those 5,000 sold out in the first 10 days. We are doubling our preorder and I have a feeling will have to quadruple at this rate.”

Vu thinks the company has taken more than 5,067 unique orders.

“It’s awesome, “ he says. “We don’t’ have a marketing budget. We have no PR firm. We have 570,000 views of our YouTube video. It seems to have caught people’s attention.”

Vu attributes the success of the campaign to the product’s design. Like other activity trackers on the market, the Shine measures distance traveled, vigorousness of activity, and calories burned. Users can also wear it in the pool. And like the FuelBand, it has a pretty minimal light display. But Vu believes that it’s far more wearable than other products.

“You can wear it anywhere on your body,” he says. “Women can wear it as a hairpin or necklace.” Misfit Wearables also offers accessories that make it easy to wear as a watch, or a clip that can attach it to clothing.

Vu also points out that the design is particularly useful in Asian cultures, where wearing plastic to a formal event goes against common etiquette.

“In Asia, in a business casual setting it would be somewhat insulting to other folks,“ he says.

Misfit Wearables’ 22-person team is split between the company’s two headquarters, with 10 employees in San Francisco and 22 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It’s a small company to take on Goliaths like Nike that produce similar products, but Vu is unfazed by the competition. “It’s not the first time we’ve been in a market that’s very competitive,” he says.

Misfit designed the Shine fitness tracker to be wearable in many locations.

Misfit designed the Shine to be wearable in many locations.

When he started AgaMatrix, there were already 30 glucose meters on the market. When the first product was finished more than three years later, there were 68. “We believed it was a growing market. Indeed it was—an exploding market. Four years later were doing over $50 million in revenue. $50 million is tiny in a $10 billion market, but $50 million is a lot bigger than zero. We’re comparing to zero, not total market share.”

And he believes that consumer tracking devices will explode as well.

“If we can hit the sweet spot where people can track activity and be inspired to be healthy and not look like robots, we’re in for a ride,” he says.

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