As part of my CEO Interview series, I recently met the CEO of iBaby, Karl Xu at their Mountain View, California office where they are shaping the relationship of mothers and their babies using a futuristic looking monitoring device called iBaby which can be accessed through iOS and Android phones. Targeted to working mothers who want to stay in constant contact with their babies at home, these monitors are being sold at Apple, Amazon and Best Buy retail and online stores. What was unique about my conversation with Karl was that he's inspired by the success of Steve Jobs and Apple in building exceptional products that create a different experience. After all, the market is full of baby monitors, so I needed to find out what inspired him to start iBaby.
Question: Karl, please tell me about the company?
Karl: Company was established 3 years ago. "Before that I worked at JDS Uniphase for 11 years and I was looking for a new opportunity. At that time it was a magical moment Steve Jobs initialized the 3rd generation iPhone, so people started spending a lot more time on their mobile phone and that changed people's life and behavior changed. So, we realized that Mothers can monitor their baby using not just a monitor, but a mobile phone. That was a totally different story now and that was my inspiration to start a new company.
Question: How is the company structured and how big is the company now?
Karl: We design the products in California but the development and manufacturing is done in China. We have 7 people in California and 22 people in China. Product Marketing, Design and Sales will be in California. We have Sales team assigned to support our sales with Apple, Amazon and Best Buy.
Question: I understand you realized that Mobile is a huge opportunity, but how did you decide you wanted to develop a baby monitor?
Karl: Our sister company had already launched a blood pressure monitor on iPhone. And they were the 1st application launched on iPhone. But that was targeted for older generation of users and no was addressing the Baby monitor space. Every year 4 Million new babies are born in US and there are traditional baby monitors. But we wanted to recreate and change the story of the baby monitor with this new technology.
Question: What makes iBaby unique? What is the secret sauce?
Karl: You can see our design which is unique and so is the function. But we were the 1st company to launch a Wifi and Cloud based Baby monitor to the market 3 years ago. Instead of a security camera where the lifestyle has to fit the Camera, we believe our monitor fits the lifestyle of an active and professional Mom who wants to be able to see and hear her baby from anywhere. I also believe that we are shaping the experience of Moms who are able to stay in contact with their child when they are away from them.
Question: Tell me about the unique function? Why can't someone use a typical camera for the same purpose?
Karl: Our customers are mainly Moms who don't want to deal with configuration or use a manual or play with IT settings of a router. They just want to press a button and be done. We paid Apple's special supported technology to use a USB cable to share the router's name, password by just one click. Also, our P2P system allows connection from the Cloud to the Router to our iBaby device which is a new technology.
Question: With the recent acquisition of Nest by Google, people are raising concerns about Google knowing when you are home or not? Do you hear from any of our customers about security? How do you guys manage the security?
Karl: Yes, we value our customers' security very much and that's we have developed a unique way to secure the communication with a special Key in the iBaby device, another Special Key on the iPhone and yet another Secured Key in the Cloud. All 3 keys have a special algorithm for each user name and they are randomly generated so it is nearly impossible to access iBaby monitor without authorization.
Question: You are in your 3rd generation of your device now?
Karl: Yes, we have released our 3rd generation of the baby monitor which will allow Moms to take photos and even record videos. This version also has a HD camera with a 1 mgb upload and down load capability. With this release, Moms will be able to play a song to the baby and also can hear the baby's voice as well. So, you could sing your baby a lullaby even if you are at an airport in Europe.
Question: How is iBaby marketed and sold?
Karl: We are very lucky to be able to launch our products through Apple Store. We also sell through Best Buy and Amazon. We also sell the iBaby products from our own online store at iBaby website.
Question: What is your goals for 2014?
Karl: With 2 existing product and one on the way, we want to expand our partner channels and add Toy's R Us, Target, Buybuy Baby.
Question: As the CEO, what is your biggest concern? What keeps you up at night?
Karl: How fast can we can establish a strong team in US who can design more innovative products and provide better service. Also, we are facing challenges from traditional monitors who are moving to compete with us. So, as a small fish we have to be able to swim fast to beat the big fish like Motorola, Summer and Philips who will launch similar products this year.
Question: Where do innovative and creative ideas come from?
Karl: We always want to have an in-depth understanding of our customer's need. That's number one. So, we focus on translating their requirements to product features. So, the 1st piece is people. The 2nd is Silicon Valley where we can get a lot of creative ideas from the community here. For instance, I envision future baby monitors that will recognize emotions and recognize movement.
Question: A lot of companies struggle with Direct-to-Consumer? How do you get feedback from your customers?
Karl: Online reviews from Amazon and other channels provide us the voice of consumer to us. Also we invite Moms to test our products and provide feedback before we launch. We use focus groups for that.
Question: How about the company culture?
Karl: My thinking is that we don't just provide hardware at iBaby. What we provide is much more than hardware. We provide an experience for Mom to interact with her baby in a unique and memorable way and to be able to share that with her social community. When a Mom records her song to her baby, that's not a product, it's love. So, I consider my engineers as "artists" and I tell them that they should design something that Moms would "love". And that's important to me.
After seeing the product demo and hearing about the innovative product product road-map from iBaby, I am heartened that Moms will have a much easier time at work since they will be able to sign a lullaby from work and share the story of their baby with their social network very easily.