In Conversation with Somnath Meher, CEO and Co-founder, WitWorks
How Blink is Going to Disrupt the Smart wearable Market!
Witworks, an Indian consumer IoT firm, has just launched its first smart wearable called Blink, which is powered by Marvin OS, their own voice-based OS. Blink is now available for pre-order and starts at a price tag of INR 12,999/-. It comes with a 1.4 inch screen. It was started by Somnath Meher, Ankit DP and Chandrashekhar Iyer. CEO and Co-founder, SomnathMeher has called it a unique wearable that will re-imagine how wearables have interacted (UX/Input) with other apps till now.
Startup Buzz recently interviewed Somnath Meher to understand the trends in smart wearable market and how Blink has the potential to hold its own in front of industry giants like Apple.
Que. Tell us about the voice-enabled Marvin OS that you have especially designed for Blink.
We started off with a problem-solving approach wherein we started figuring out what all was wrong with the existing wearables. We realized that the entire experience was broken. The way all apps were, they were maybe developed for a bigger screen. We wanted to go for a completely reimagined experience and for that we had to have our own design and framework. Making your own software also allows you to have the control over integration with hardware to create the desired experience. Marvin is built on android kernel and brings a set of new services that are relevant to the working of the watch. The entire idea is to gradually move towards an app-less world where access to all info can be had with just Marvin. It acts as a central platform.
Que. So you start shipping in November. How has been the response to the pre-booking season? Can you share some numbers with us?
The response is overwhelming. We will start with limited number of pieces which can be pre-booked on our website, http://store.witworks.com/ . We want to understand the user response with this limited batch. And the response has been strong in the pre-booking phase.
Que. Any plans of international distribution?
We have thought about certain channels for sales to the international customers. But right now, the watch supports certain services that are only available in India, like Ola Money. Nevertheless, we will figure out the way as we go forward from here. Also user reaction to our product will be an important deciding factor.
Que. Many big names were associated with your recent funding round, like Maninder Gulati (Chief Strategy Officer, Oyo Rooms) and Pranay Jivrajka (COO, Ola). How did you guys manage to convince such industry leaders?
They all were entrepreneurs before reaching here. Their way of looking at a startup idea is very different. 95 out of 100 startups fail because people give up sooner than the people who succeed. You have to be persistent and 100% dedicated to make your idea work. And these people understand that. They look out for the underlying possibilities and the passion of the founders. This is what convinced them to support us.
Que. You, Ankit DP, and Chandrashekhar Iyer come from IIT Kharagpur. Could you recount those initial days when you landed this idea and all the subsequent brainstorming, which went into it?
We graduated in 2012. We already were working on a project in IIT registered in IIT Kharagpur with 10 lakh funding from the government of India. We faced the kind of roadblocks that come along when you are pushing the technological boundaries. But we learned a lot from the experience and moved on to a job which we did for a couple of years. Post this, we decided to skip our MBA plans and move to Bangalore to work on the idea of Blink. However, we had already paid the MBA fee, which we never got back. (laughs) The idea of it didn’t’ come overnight; it was a gradual process. We realized the future belonged to IoT- connected devices. We got together and visited some of the more advanced manufacturing units in Taiwan, China and other regions. Simultaneously, we started working on the tech and decided that wearable market was the way to go. People were curious about wearables and the market was waiting to be disrupted.
Que. Any regrets about not joining that B-school?
Not at all! (laughs) In fact the very next year, that B-school contacted us asking us to join their college. But I think our generation has come a long way from our parents’ generation. They had their own lifestyle and different requirements at that time. They have already worked hard for us and have made our future secure. It will be a shame if we didn’t use that opportunity to take our chances and do something new that our parents couldn’t do. Also, MBA is a roadmap to have a secure future. But we can do more and disrupt the industry, which in the long run, can prove more fruitful than a degree.
Que. The smart wearable market recently saw a slump in market growth. As per the International Data Corporation (IDC), the second quarter of 2016 saw 3.5 million smart wearables being shipped as compared to last year’s figure of 5.1 million. What could be the reasons for this?
That would be very tough to compare because in Q2, Apple launched its new smartwatch. If you do a Q3 to Q3 analysis that would be a more accurate number, which is when actual purchases are happening. I don’t believe that the sales went down. It was due to a particular event where Apple was launching its watch and pushed it into the market. The customers were divided. Saying that, I would definitely say that the numbers were and still are way below what they should be. It is because people have still not figured out the exact usecase for wearables. Fitness as a feature is restricted to only a certain segment of the audience who actually have a use for it. For different markets, there have to be different use cases. Also, the feedback from various users have been middling.
Que. Why do we see only the tech companies leading the market and not the traditional watch makers?
Fundamentally every traditional watch maker has been trying to get into the market. Fossil, Titan and many more are trying to break into the smart wearable market. Their quarter over quarter sales are going down as the generation today don’t wear watches for time. For them, it’s just jewelry. The problem why these companies have not been able to crack this market is that they don’t have tech in their DNA. All the smart wearable players of today have technology as their underlying platform. So they have been collaborating with small tech players in some ways. But it’s still a long way to go for them.
Que. The smart wearable market is right now dominated by big names like Apple, Garmin and Fitbit. Taking on them must be really challenging and exciting. What drives you towards tackling this kind of competition, and how do you plan to do it?
The motivation that drives us is to make something absolutely fantastic in terms of functionality and experience. We are basically product guys and when it comes to building a product from the scratch, there is a lot of design empathy involved. We have spent so much time on getting those curves right; how the top glass has a 0.5mm curve which took us months to get right but we did it because it provided a certain depth to the screen. Plus, the moment you realize that you can do even better than these giants, it puts you in a better place. You can experiment without any baggage and that, I think, is our biggest power.
Que. IoT is coming up in a big way and it is expected that India alone would be contributing around $10-$12 billion in that space by 2020. What kind of future do you see for smart wearables in this scenario?
Tomorrow, a wearable could become a notification center, fitness device or authentication device. It would be wrong to put a finger on any one particular feature. The way we see the future, it should be a single center for all the use cases. It should be one singular interface that can be used to do access multiple services.
Que. A message for your consumers.
Blink watch has been designed with much love and passion by a very enthusiastic team to get to you just the perfect blend of most advanced technology as per global benchmark and a solid watch craftsmanship that a watch should have. Blink encompasses that blend to offer users a very satisfying and gratifying experience.
What future do you see for the smart wearable market? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.
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