Seeking S$50,000 for its wearable personal safety device, beyond just market validation
Wants to put device into as many hands as possible, even if crowdfunding target not met
MALAYSIAN startup WaryBee has launched a crowdfunding drive as one of the inaugural campaigns on StarHub’s Crowdtivate platform that also went live officially this morning (July 22).
WaryBee is seeking S$50,000 (US$40,260) for its wearable personal safety device, which acts as a panic button for users that can be embedded into jewellery. For more information, click here.
The pledge amount would act not only as market validation, based on the number of orders that would be generated, but is also the minimum WaryBee would need to ensure that the first production run is cost effective, said founder Ray Teng (pic).
“The funds would be used for the production of the WaryBee devices – everything from the mould to product certification to the boxes that they will be shipped in.
“Initial tooling is one of the costliest parts for hardware production; hence we’re hoping for support from the public to make our dreams a reality,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
Telco giant StarHub first announced Crowdtivate in April at Crowdsourcing Week Global (CSW) 2014 held in Singapore, describing the platform as a “social launchpad.”
Crowdtivate is an open platform for entrepreneurs and artists to obtain financial contributions from supporters around the region via a funding system, in return for specific rewards, StarHub said in a statement.
“With Crowdtivate, we aim to tap into a continuous source of innovative and creative ideas from local inventors, and ultimately help them grow as a future business or incorporate them into our service platforms,” said Stephen Lee, StarHub’s head of i3 (Innovation, Investment, Incubation).
Crowdtivate is co-managed by StarHub i3 and its partner Crowdonomic, a technology solutions and strategic advisory firm. The platform has the support of Home-Fix Experience Centre, the National Book Development Council of Singapore, NUS Design Incubation Centre and the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SITF).
Teng and his partner Bernie Eng had already been working on WaryBee when they participated in a 1337 Accelerator programme earlier this year. The original version of a software-only version was finally discarded in favour of a hardware-software combination.
Given the range of crowdfunding options available, why did the Malaysian startup opt for the Singapore-based platform?
“We met the StarHub people during our showcase under 1337 Accelerator at the Startup Asia conference in Singapore, and we’ve been in constant contact with them on the development of their crowdfunding platform,” said Teng.
“They’ve been very supportive of our project and have offered a lot of advice and tips along the way.
“We’ve always targeted WaryBee as a solution for Asia, which is why the app embraces an SMS (short messaging service) option – we can’t assume everyone has an always-on data connection in some countries.
“Being among the first to be featured on the [Crowdtivate] platform gives us some advantages that we’d be crazy to not capitalise on.
“We would definitely benefit and ride on all the marketing and promotions StarHub will be running to make its platform as well known as Kickstarter within the region,” he added.
In its statement, StarHub said that Crowdtivate accepts ideas or projects related to the arts, books, film, technology and assistive technology.
After an idea or project is accepted, Crowdtivate will also provide mentorship to create good campaigns, with options for support in business incubation and regional outreach.
In addition, the top three monthly Crowdtivate campaigns will receive exclusive assistance, including access to test users, marketing support, startup funding, free software development, invention development, and infrastructure support, StarHub said.
WaryBee is not the first Malaysian startup to tackle the personal safety space. With Malaysia’s soaring crime rate, already very popular is the Watch Over Me mobile app developed by SecQ.me. Both are geared towards the personal safety of women.
WaryBee’s solution uses a tiny trigger device that can be embedded into jewellery. The user just needs to press the trigger device to send a distress call to the phones of friends or family members she has designated. These ‘guardians,’ as WaryBee calls them, would need to install the mobile app (pic).
The team is working on options that will allow alerts to be sent to any other WaryBee app user within the vicinity of the device user, so that others can help in emergencies as well.
For the Crowdtivate campaign, the company is looking at a few pledge tiers, but expects its single and double (two units) offers to be the most popular.
“[Our] red WaryBee devices (pic below) will initially be offered as exclusives that will not be available on the WaryBee store when it officially launches next year,” said Teng.
“All the units will come with pendant holders but the designer jewellery will be available separately on the WaryBee store closer to launch. We didn’t want to include a specific design at this early stage, and will work with designers to offer more designs as we move forward,” he added.
What if WaryBee fails to meet its Crowdtivate pledge target?
“Well, we’d hate to think this will fail as it’s a great product – everyone we have shown it to says they’d get one or two for their loved ones,” said Teng.
“This would be a ‘flexi-funding’ programme, hence we need to make the call if we can still deliver the product to customers if we don’t meet our minimum run.
“Our main goal is to get the product into the hands of as many people as possible. If it means we’ll have to do it as a loss initially, I think we’re still crazy to say ‘Let’s Do This.’
“With people using it in the field, it’ll only sell itself in the long run,” declares a confident Teng.
WaryBee was at the recent Runway 2.0 fashion and technology event in Petaling Jaya, where Teng said they met some designers who had expressed an interest.
“We have not signed partnerships with anyone just yet, but we are in discussions with a few designers.
“With the coverage so far in local media, we’ve been lucky to get many recommendations on some amazing local designers for us to work with,” he said.
WaryBee is not Teng’s first startup venture. The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia IT graduate – “I am a proud local graduate,” he declared – started his career as a programmer in the year 2000.
He then took on a role as a solution architect with Ericsson before moving on to become a project manager with IBM, specialising in the telco industry.
“Together with a few friends, I started an F&B (food and beverage) business a few years back, and last year, my partners and I launched a job recruitment portal called www.MauKerja.my,” he said.
A startup like WaryBee has its own set of challenges, he acknowledged, with one being hiring the right people.
“We not only need people that a typical software startup usually needs – web designers, server-side programmers, server administrators and mobile app developers – but on top of that, we had to get people on board who know electrical engineering, firmware programming, as well as industrial and jewellery designers,” said Teng.
“It was also challenging to source for the right partners for prototyping, manufacturing, sales and delivery, etc. To get all these people, and at the right price, is a nerve-wrecking process,” he added.
The challenges of being a hardware-based startup don’t just stop there either. Hardware almost always involves more capital expenditure.
“Hardware prototyping is costly. Each iteration potentially involves redesigning the PCB (printed circuit board), acquiring new components (Bluetooth low energy and accelerometer chips), remodelling the casing, 3D-printing the casing, and other tedious tasks,” said Teng.
“And any little tweak can warrant a new iteration of the design. Every time we did one, it set us back thousands [of ringgit].
“We’re glad we at least had some funding from the 1337 Accelerator programme – that took a burden off our wallets, but there’s more to come with actual production.
“Hence the crowd-funding drive is really important for us to make this happen. Alongside this, we’re still knocking on investors’ doors to raise more funding,” he added.
1337 Ventures, which runs the 1337 Accelerator, has an 8% stake in WaryBee in exchange for the funds – RM50,000 (US$15,680) worth – and support it has have given the startup in the last three months, according to Teng.
Big plans afoot
Whether the Crowdtivate crowdfunding campaign launches WaryBee to the next level or not, Teng and his partner Eng (pic) have big plans and are thinking of new ways to use the underlying technology.
The team is already looking at coming out with a form factor for children, as well as ways to bring the technology to old folks homes, hospitals and even schools.
“We even think this would be great for people heading for their pilgrimage,” said Teng, referring to the Muslim hajj.
“This way, they can easily send a message to their tour group head or family members with the press of a button, or have it automatically detect if an elderly person has fallen,” he added.
And because it’s wearable technology, it’s not only about the hardware or software, but also about fashion.
“We will open up a designer platform and welcome designers around the world to be part of the ‘smart/ open jewellery’ movement,” Teng enthused.
“We’ll provide them with the specifications of the WaryBee base unit, and they in return can design pieces of jewellery to embed the device.
“We want our customers to have an ample selection of pieces to choose from, for various needs in their daily lives.
“We’ll also help promote the jewellery on our online store and have a revenue share with the designers,” he added.
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