How many gadgets do you charge when you get home at the end of the day? Do you bring chargers to work? Text your friends that your phone is about to die more often than you’d like? Worry that if you meet someone at a bar and don’t make it home that night, you won’t be able to charge your phone?
Rob Gold and Shaun Teblum didn’t create their newest piece of tech, smrtFOB, so iPhone users could stop worrying about only being able to date iPhone users. But it is an upside of the tech that they did create so that they (and their more than 200 backers) could worry less about running out of batteries for any of their devices.
After miniaturizing the power bank to the size of a keychain for their first product bKEY, the Montreal entrepreneurs decided to revolutionize the charging station. The result is smrtFOB, which Gold and Teblum are now promoting through their second Kickstarter campaign.
Here’s how it works: When your phone battery is low, you connect smrtFOB to it for an extra five hours of life. When you go home, you charge the smrtFOB by placing it on the charging station, which lights up when it’s charging. As long as the smrtFOB is on the charger, it’ll charge. And if you never put your keys in the same place when you get home, the smrtFOB app will send you a push notification to move your keys on the charger. The company also offers some lightweight, big-power extras including flash drives, a Bluetooth speaker and an extra battery (yes, an extra battery for the extra battery).
Gold and Teblum have come a long way since they ran their first Kickstarter for bKEY in 2014. They’d hired some industrial designers to design the product, then went to China to source manufacturers to build the product. “We’d used our personal savings to develop the prototype for two years,” says Gold. “Kickstarter offered us the funding the manufacture the product, but the biggest thing was to validate the business and idea and talk to our customers firsthand.”
They had a $25,000 goal and ended up raising more than $77,000. After joining Concordia University’s District 3 Innovator in Sept. 2014 and delivering the product to their Kickstarter backers in March 2015, they hooked up with some big re-sellers including Brookstone in the US, (have you ever been in an airport without a Brookstone?), online e-commerce sites and more than 30 stores in France. “It’s a $25 impulse buy that everybody can afford and it gives you enough juice to get you to your next charge. It’s essentially the spare tire for your phone.”
But after doing a series of customer feedback interviews, they found that people often forgot to recharge their bKEY power banks, rendering them useless.
Hence smrtFOB, with its reminders and charging pad. They designed and built prototypes by reinvesting the money they made and are still making with bKEY. The modular system with the extra flash drive, speaker and extra battery already exist on the market, but not in a symbiotic way and they’re often bigger and clunkier than the smrtFOB modules, which clock in at around the size of a Tictac container.
“And we created a calendar sync,” says Gold, “so the app can actually connect to your calendar and see what you’re doing the next day. If you’re traveling or have lots of meetings, the smrtFOB app will suggest you bring certain modules based on your activities. If it sees you have a plane ride somewhere, the night before it’ll send you a notification to take an extra flash module or battery module for the plane. For BBQs or pool parties, it’ll suggest the Bluetooth speaker module.
In the last week smrtFOB has received a plethora of media attention from TheVerge to AndroidandMe and even local Montreal newspaper The Suburban.
The key for smrtFOB’s success according to Gold is marketing. “Our challenges for now are getting people to grasp the lofty goals we’re going for,” says Gold. “We’re doing something nobody has done before. Success will be about whether people really get it. I know a lot of people who are very busy, so this concept of simplifying one’s life, people are willing to pay for that.”
Marc Pascal, VP of Kombi Sports, agrees. He’s been a mentor and advisor to Gold and Teblum for the past year. “I believe there’s a strong market potential for smrtFOB as there are many unique features and benefits that the current market competition doesn’t have,” he says.
While many companies don’t get the chance to do things differently, Gold and Teblum are lucky to get to put into practice what they learned about running a successful Kickstarter campaign the first time around. “Our first Kickstarter, we didn’t know much about what we were doing. For this one we’ve hired PR people in Toronto, New York and San Francisco.”
Other challenges have included losing key personnel at the worst possible time and hitting technological roadblocks. “Our first foray in building a team was take on everyone and anybody who wanted to help, and we realized that’s not necessarily the best strategy,” says Gold. “It took us about a year-and-a-half to figure out what we value as a company. There isn’t a lot of hierarchy in our team. Recruiting people we ask: can you work well in teams? Are you creative? And are you someone who when you say you’re going to do things, are you actually going to do them? ”
After so much work and investment, Gold and Teblum are just waiting for the financial payoff. “It’s a challenge emotionally and psychologically to stay focused and dedicated. But the gratification from going from an idea on paper, there’s a ton of pride for my team and what we’ve accomplished. That achievement outweighs the gruelling side.”
As for the rest of us, we can be grateful that it will be just a little bit harder to be forgetful.