The SmartWatch market is gaining ground rapidly with many competitors on the scene such as the Pebble watch, Samsungs' Galaxy Gear, and at least 30 others. Each iteration has its' design and features, but they all have the same flaw: they still have a small watch face and are limited in functionality. I've always wondered when someone would come out with a phone for your wrist. When I saw the Rufus Cuff on Indiegogo a few days ago, I made sure I was one of the first people to buy one. I then decided to let the company know how much I loved their smart communicator. To my surprise, the CEO was excited and happy to talk to me personally. In our conversation I was able to get some fascinating insights into the workings of a hardware based tech startup.
CEO & Co-Founder of Rufus Labs - Gabe Grifoni started off by telling me that, "I came up with the idea just after CES in Jan 2013. There were a few Wearables there - but it hadn't really exploded yet. I noticed that companies were working with a form factor that hadn't changed in over 200 years." Gabe decided the smartest move would be to create a communication device for the wrist (another Sci-Fi prediction) to solve many of the problems he had seen. "A bigger screen means a real keyboard, full apps, a bigger & better battery, and of course real two-way communication." You haven't heard of the device until now, because they have been working in secret for over a year ever since CES.
Gabe and his team are working on some interesting ways to make the Rufus Cuff a standalone wrist phone, completely autonomous without sacrificing battery life or comfort & size. "Our end goal is to replace everything in your pockets with one device. If you replace your wallet, keys and smartphone - and walk around for 5 minutes - it feels pretty great." It seems as if Gabe and his team are halfway there. His team includes some friends from college and HS - all with diverse skills. "I was a Computer Engineer but graduated with a business degree - always kept my head in tech over the years. We raised some money from friends and family to help get us started. I bought a 3D printer and taught myself CAD and started building prototypes in my garage." Something interesting that Gabe said to me resonated in a big way because I agreed with him wholeheartedly, "We hired an industrial design firm after meeting many - design is somewhere I think a lot of startups fall short on - they don't spend the money on design or marketing. Anyone can make a plastic box and put stuff inside - but that doesn't make we want to own it, let alone wear it."
I'd like to end this article with the last things Gabe told me. And I believe this is a lesson to everyone out there who is thinking about starting a new tech company, or any company for that matter. As you know, I've been running startups for years now, so I know exactly how he feels. It's refreshing to see that feeling validated by a peer doing something unimaginable.
From Jan 2013 to March 2104 Gabe's team grew from 1 person to about 20, working on the Rufus Cuff. They used a lot of their budget to design prototype models and build test boards at their partner fabrication house in Plano, TX. "Indiegogo was the next logical step in my mind - we had spent over a year working on this project. Crowdfunding seemed like a way for us to get the last bit of help we needed to finish development, and at the same time validate our design and get some terrific feedback from our supporters." For those of you with a weak heart, even Indiegogo can be quite a daunting experience. "The amount of work, PR and 24 hour round the clock attention that go into it I think are more than anyone expects. We have adapted quickly and listened & learned from our supporters. It's really been a great experience so far. Getting so many positive messages and comments from our supporters has been one of the best elements of crowdfunding - its the first time in over a year you are putting yourself out there for the world to judge what you've been passionately building."
Hats off to you and your team, Gabe. You guys have created a whole new space, and it's one I've been waiting for personally my whole life. Looking forward to live in a Sci-Fi movie soon with your wrist communicator. If you haven't picked one up on Indiegogo, now's your chance before the campaign runs out of time. Click here to get yours now! As always, subscribe to this column to read more great stories, and share this story with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog!