In each of our podcasts, we ask top hardware entrepreneurs the same 10 questions to better understand the challenges and best practices in starting a hardware company. In Episode 5 of Season 1, Lemnos’s Eric Klein speaks with Cheryl Kellond, founder and CEO of Bia, a former Lemnos portfolio company.
- Why did you start your project?
I am the classic late blooming adult-onset athlete. I was approaching my 40th birthday. I was in a rut, and a friend convinced me to do a triathlon. I had never run before. I barely swam before. I was not an athlete, but I fell in love with the sport. As I progressed in my abilities, I was looking for gear. I was looking for a training watch and an online training site that met my needs. I tried everything on the market and quickly came to the conclusion that they all sucked. They hurt my wrist to wear. They didn’t do what I needed. I mean, I’m an MIT grad, and when I have to crack open an instruction manual to learn a sports watch, you’ve got to be kidding me. I thought, “Gosh, we could solve this problem better.”
- What did you do before deciding to start a hardware startup?
I had a marketing background. I clearly knew my target market. I have to say, even if I had been a long-term hardware person at a big company, I don’t think very much of that would have prepared me for what we had to go through as a new company.
- Have you always been a Maker?
I was the girl in high school that was really good at math and science, but at a certain point, it was more important for me to have a cute perm and go to the prom, so I didn’t pursue that in college like I should have. I kick myself for it because I’ve always been technically inclined. I pick it up really easily. There were times on this project when I wish I could have done more, but there are times that I impressed the hell out my team by learning stuff.
- What is your day like?
My day is a delicious blend of talking to VCs, negotiating home marketing deals, working with press and prominent athletes, and doing first line customer support. I get the hot swap list, so if anything is wrong in the field, I get it emailed to me. I print the shipping label, print the stamps.com label, and order the supplies from Uline. Then first round product testing on new features comes through me first because I’m the “athlete” on the team. If there’s a new pace smoothing algorithm, guess who’s got to get her butt out of bed and go do a six-mile run with three watches on her wrist?
- What’s the hardest part about being a hardware startup founder?
The hardest part up until a few weeks ago was knowing that I made a commitment to these 2,500 customers that believed in us so deeply and spent their social capital and their money on us. Up until the moment it ships, you’re not really sure it’s going to ship. We had some big manufacturing problems as early as December, when we were like, “Oh, crap.” There’s that responsibility that I think weighs on you.
On the backend, now that we’re shipping, it’s just more expensive to make things better and fix problems—everything costs money. I can’t ship a product without paying for a mailing label. The financial hurdle is a little bit higher.
- Why did you choose Lemnos?
I was like, “Dude, Helen and Jeremy are on the phone offering me money. Sweet. I could take more money.” It was the best decision I have made. Having other hardware founders around going through the same struggles and having Lemnos have my back on everything, coaching me, advising me, and greasing the skids on things have been tremendously valuable. I think the credibility of having such a top class incubator behind me has helped me create some of the partnerships I’ve created.
- What are the most important tools you use to make your product?
Because we’re a crowdfunded company, I have mastered iMovie, ReadyShipper, and the stamps.com site. Find your zone; you will own it because you need to ship. And pie. My team coalesces around a pie every week.
- What advice would you offer to other founders?
“Don’t quit,” it sounds so cheesy, but really, if there’s 25 cents in the bank account, don’t quit. If you have customers that still believe in what you are doing, you will find a way. There is really nothing that comes close to shipping a hardware product and seeing your physical product on someone else’s wrist, a person you don’t know, and have them love it. It’s totally worth it.
- What book are you reading or TV series are you watching?
I have four kids, and I have my second Ironman Triathlon in 123 days. I read the permission slip for the skate park the other day before I signed it. Yeah, there’s not a lot of reading going on, but I’ve got a really awesome disco playlist that’s been motivating me lately.
- What is the best gadget you are carrying now?
Unfortunately, we did not have time for this response, but if you would like to hear more from Cheryl, including her rollercoaster of a Kickstarter campaign, what it is like for her as a female founder, and how the right product operations firm can make all the difference, listen to our podcast.
To contact Eric Klein, you can reach him on Twitter: @lemnoslabs or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheryl Kellond can be reached on Twitter: @XXfounder.