According to New York-based ABI Research data, 90 million wearable devices will be shipped out to global users in 2014 alone. So we have to assume that wearable tech is here to stay, despite skeptics who point out that they are as transient as New Year resolutions going by the number of discarded devices available on eBay. But fitness, health and sports wearables are currently driving the market and are fast becoming more powerful and more comfortable to use.
Watches, wristbands and heart rate straps still hold the lion’s share of the segment, but textile-based sensors are blending fitness-tracking directly into clothing, gradually edging out the gawky, uncomfortable and strange gadgets and gizmos. Armbands, connected eyewear, smart watches, baby onesies and micro embeddables share space with wristbands that connect you to your personal trainer for the occasional remote ‘high five’, or to your speciality doctor in case of an emergency. This month alone, two wearable wristbands will hit the Indian market — Bombay-based Vishal Gondal’s GOQii and Bangalore-based Mohammed Hussain’s GetActive Tapp. We bring you the details.
It’s not surprising that 38-year-old Vishal Gondal, known for his all-red wardrobe, high octane personality and his penchant for extreme sports, is able to summon some heavyweight support for his venture. His tale is the stuff of dotcom dreams — a college dropout who loved sports and preferred his Sinclair computer to his text books. At 13, he landed his first job compiling a master list of 6,000 customers for a bank and netted a cool `60,000 in fees. At 16, he began to teach computer programmes out of his dad’s garage and founded his first company, FACT. But real success came when he co-founded India Games in college, a company that he started along with five other people to publish and develop games across various platforms. It grew to become one of India’s largest mobile games outfits, employing over 300 people in Mumbai, Beijing, London and Los Angeles. By 28, Gondal was touted by business magazines and international channels as one of the top 40 entrepreneurs in the country. And India Games was bought by Disney in 2011 for $100 million.
The very next year in 2012, The Walt Disney Company India Pvt. Ltd. restructured its digital assets under a new division, DisneyUTV Digital and appointed him as managing director to drive their games, video and audio services for mobile, online and interactive TV forward. Recently, Gondal quit Disney to start GOQii, a combination of advanced wearable technology, personalised coaching and social philanthropy. Gondal, this month, plans to enroll 1,000 people across the country into the GOQii (pronounced go-key) plan, connecting them to live personal trainers and health care experts via his modest black and red wristband. The former gaming king has an optimistic bunch of impressive backers who believe in GOQii as well. Among them are Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit and her husband, Shriram Nene, Google’s Amit Singhal, Microsoft’s Taher Khorakiwala, and Flextronic’s Mike McNamara.
“I am not a big fan of fancy college degrees and overly structured work places,” says the man who describes himself as a ‘risk taker’, who loves to travel (especially to places like Iceland), experiment with food, and plans to book himself on the second Virgin Galactic flight, if the first one proves successful. He also has a no nonsense approach to business. “Money usually isn’t the reason people work really hard. People are most productive when they enjoy their work. I learned a lot from gaming, for instance. It calls for critical thinking, organisational abilities and managing individuals — all skills useful in a workplace.” A volleyball champion and marathon runner, Gondal was fascinated by fitness trackers initially. But found it was easy to get quickly bored with the gadget and just toss it in a drawer. “On its own, it was a bunch of apps and online data-crunching solutions — add a human element and it becomes a complete game changer,” he says.
The GOQii effect
GOQii connects the user with real live personal trainers and nutritionists. It carries a full-touch display, a vibrating alarm, a watch and a motion sensor that can be automatically wireless synced. The device is free but users pay for the personalised services that come with it. Once connected to your personal GOQii coach via an app, you can schedule monthly video or audio calls. GOQii users also earn one ‘karma’ point for every 350 steps taken, and when donated to a charity like Oxfam, gets converted into cash through a network of corporate and independent donors. The company is currently offering GOQii subscriptions to the first 1,000 users (band, experts, coaches and karma) for six and 12-month periods for Rs. 5,999 and Rs. 9,999.
Small band theory
Mohammed Hussain’s company, Bangalore-based 2mpower, offers lifestyle management services and first introduced GetActive Slim, a wearable pedometer in 2012. They are now launching GetActive Tapp – a Bluetooth-enabled health band, that Hussain believes is a conduit to a broad-based health platform, allowing users to seamlessly integrate fitness, wellness and medicare. “Data collected by a wearable device is not much to the user unless it is properly interpreted by a qualified medical expert,” he begins.
GetActive is completely indigenous with 10,000 users on its database. Hussain says that his GetActive Tapp, priced at Rs. 4,999, will allow users to connect with each other, engage in friendly competition and banter, link up with social media, and streamline their data to their medical advisers. “We should soon be able to manage even chronic ailments like diabetes and blood pressure more ably with the help of these smart wristbands,” he reasons. The algorithms are designed and developed by the GetActive R&D team, and Hussain says that simple gestures will soon be used for multiple applications. “For example, you can shake hands and thus transfer your contacts or authenticate your identification quite simply and safely. Sooner, rather than later, Indians will be wearing chipped and sensored clothing or jewellery and accessories while enjoying functions and features of health related technology we can’t even begin to imagine,” he enthuses.
Starting up right
Vishal Gondal is a member of the Inner Circle of The Ink Talks, a global ideas platform. He also co-founded the Sweat And Blood Venture Group, which invests in startups at seed level, mentors them, and help them scale. He offers some advice for young entrepreneurs:
1.You need to network extensively. People who cannot help you today can tomorrow. So don’t stick to quick transactional relationships, form lasting friendships.
2. India offers great opportunities for young entrepreneurs since there are so many problems to solve. The key is not to copy Western solutions, but finding your own.
3. Startups will have moments of failure. Try and build an organisation that allows you to experiment with new ideas without worrying about failing.
4. Don’t neglect your fitness while you are building a company — you can’t enjoy success later by eating boiled vegetables or moving around with an IV tube attached to your body.
-Jackie Pinto (m email@example.com)