Warrick and Miguel of REM-Fit spoke with us and provided great insight into how they developed the ZEEQ Smart Pillow. Tune in for helpful tips about prototyping and manufacturing a physical product and developing an app overseas.

ZEEQ Smart Pillow: Stream Music, Stop Snoring, Sleep Smarter

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • What types of struggles to expect during the prototyping process
  • Why you may need to visit China during product development
  • What challenges to expect if you visit China to meet with manufacturers
  • What challenges to expect if you’re working with Chinese manufacturers while staying in the U.S.
  • Why your product should be perfect before launching on Kickstarter
  • How to accurately create a timeline, from coming up with an idea to launching on Kickstarter
  • What types of feedback to expect from Kickstarter backers
  • How to respond to backer feedback while still keeping your end goal in mind

Links

Connect with ZEEQ

Sponsors

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Transcript

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Roy Morejon:

Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon, President of Command Partners, the top full service crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped raise over $70 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help take your startup to next level with crowdfunding.

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by the Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. To learn more, visit Thegadgetflow.com. Now let’s get on with the show.

Welcome to another addition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I’m joined by Warrick and Miguel with the ZEEQ Smart Pillow. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

Warrick Bell:

Thank you for having us.

Miguel Marrero:

Yeah, thank you.

Roy Morejon:

You guys have created a pillow, but it’s a smart pillow. Give us the pitch.

Warrick Bell:

Basically, we created a pillow that is an active participant in your sleep. What that means is it helps you sleep, it monitors your sleep and it helps you throughout the night to maintain sleep. It all started with me trying to fall asleep with music, but my wife hating to listen to my music while she’s falling asleep. I took apart some wireless headphones, shoved it inside of a pillow and I was able to hear the music and she wasn’t. I spent like that for a while and then I realized there’s a battery in the pillow, there’s some speakers in the pillow, what else can put in the pillow? That’s when I called Miguel, and he took it to the next level.

Miguel Marrero:

From there, we added an accelerometer on the inside, a gyroscope rather and then the microphone so we could start listening for snoring, put an app together. We really just made a really cool pillow that A: We like to use, but B: We found is actually pretty good at helping you sleep better.

Roy Morejon:

You guys spent over two years of prototyping and perfecting this product, if you will. Go into some of the process of the individual prototyping and what you guys have done to get here today.

Warrick Bell:

The first thing that was the biggest challenge was making sure there was no livestream between the pillow and the phone. Why we wanted that is obviously if you held a cellphone next to your head for a while, your ears get hard, there’s some radio waves happening. We wanted to remove that concern. When you remove the phone out of the equation for the sleep processing, we had to put or develop a mini computer inside of the pillow that could understand decibels. As you know how computers work is zeros and ones, but sound is three dimensional because it has to understand loud sound, medium sound, high pitch sound. That was one of the toughest things was making a mini computer that could understand a decibel.

Miguel Marrero:

There’s so many things today, especially Bluetooth devices, the device is just streaming just bits of data and then the phone and the app does all the heavy lifting. To what Warrick’s point was, if you can eliminate having radio waves blasting through your brain all night, that’s always a better situation. By offloading the heavy amount of data and analyzation that’s done from the microphone onto its own board, and then having ways to control ZEEQ without having to use an app, that means we’re only transmitting data at the very beginning of your sleep cycle and the very end of your sleep cycle unless you’re listening to music obviously because the music would be streaming.

Even from that, we thought of, “How can we prevent that from affecting you throughout the night?” Once your sleep timer goes off, we actually shut power down to the Bluetooth music chip. That was a big concern for us is, “How do we take something that we enjoy and that is fun but make it so it’s beneficial but also not harmful?” Another one of the reasons we chose Bluetooth over WiFi, that’s been asked from us quite a bit, “Why didn’t you put a WiFi chip in there? As you know, WiFi is much powerful than antennas” That it [would 00:04:39] just blasting through your head the whole time.

Warrick Bell:

That was just one of the struggles. That’s a couple a months of it. The other thing is when you put all the components inside of a pillow, obviously it needs to be comfortable because you don’t want be sleeping on a brick. We went through tons of different internal casing designs. We started with one box, but it was pretty thick. Then we went to two boxes, but you could feel it moving inside. Ultimately, we ended on a three-piece component that fits inside your pillow. When your head rolls across the pillow while your sleeping, so do the components inside. The microphone is a big thing, making sure the pillow was comfortable. To be honest, the music was the easiest thing. That’s why I made it in the first place. If I would have just come out with the music in the beginning, my life would have been easier.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. How did you guys end up deciding on what additional features to add?

Miguel Marrero:

A lot of it was born out of what do we like. As much as people think Warrick and I look alike, we’re actually quite different. Warrick wanted us [to do 00:05:49] our pillow for the music. I’m a data nerd and junkie, so for me I wanted to know what I’m doing when I sleep, and Warrick has a great phrase that throughout the day you know exactly what your body is doing, but you have no idea what your body is doing at night. That really made us think, “How can we start analyzing sleep but do it in a way that’s not annoying?” Warrick and I, we’re both Fitbit users, but putting something on your wrist every night and then remembering to check the data and things like that, that wasn’t super easy. We said, “How can we make it easier?” Obviously, integrating motion tracking into the pillow makes it easier because it’s just automatic.

Also, I’m a snorer. I don’t know that I snore, but my wife tells me that I do, so I believe her. I thought, “How could I also do something with that?” For me, it was more about analyzing how loud I was snoring, how often I was snoring. Warrick came up with the idea, “That’s great to know that, but how can we react to that?” That’s when Warrick though, “Maybe we should put some sort of vibration motors in the pillow.” That way when I snore too loudly, the pillow suddenly vibrates and then your roll and change position to help you stop snoring. For me, I wanted to make a pillow that I wanted to use, so data analytics was the big thing.

Roy Morejon:

I also think it’s a pillow that your wife wants you to use, right?

Miguel Marrero:

A hundred percent, for sure. I think that’s the only reason that our wives were okay with Warrick and I traveling so much because they know once we finally do get home, they’re going to sleep well.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, I know. Speaking of traveling, you guys have been abroad several times to meet with manufacturers both in the hardware and software side. Our community is always asking about that in terms of development overseas. Can you touch on that a little bit in terms of the process and what that looks like for you?

Warrick Bell:

I think since we’ve been working on it, I think we started October 2013, I’ve been to China probably I must say 15 times. Development is fun, it’s challenging, but it’s very high on cost. Just flying there all the time is expensive, but it’s also a 14-and-a-half-hour flight from here, and the time change is difficult, and then your day starts. The language barriers are obviously a challenge. It’s an exciting challenge. Sometimes, it’s terribly hard to get a normal sentence through, but other times it’s terribly easy to get a complex sentence through.

It really depends on your team that you have working in your manufacturing [pond 00:08:31] and how you can communicate with them. I think that rarely helps development out. If we were to start again, I think we would choose the same team. To anyone else that’s trying to start, if you’re not meshing with your developers and your manufacturers from the beginning, just choose another one, find another group. That’s what made it fun as well. We do get along with everyone. Our app developers are in India, and our hardware developers are in China.

Miguel Marrero:

And we’re in Chicago.

Warrick Bell:

And then we’re Chicago. Throughout the process, we also have to get our developers to China. Now we have three different cultures, three different languages all talking about something they’re passionate about. Trying to translate it all. That’s a challenge, but if you get along with everyone, it’s a fun challenge.

Roy Morejon:

Certainly. How did you guys start the process of sourcing the hardware and software side of the business?

Warrick Bell:

The best website in the world for developing is Alibaba. Alibaba is from what I found five percent works out and 95% doesn’t work out. I started the search on Alibaba looking for a factory that could help. That’s where I started because I knew I wanted the hardware, and I’m more of a making prototypes guy. Miguel is definitely more of the app guy. That’s when I brought Miguel on because I made my first prototype that worked with just the connections on my phone, which to me is straightforward, but I don’t know anything about creating apps.

That’s when Miguel came on and we started looking for app developers. I personally was searching for someone in Chicago because I also like face-to-face interaction with developers, it makes life easier. I reached out, I can’t even remember how, I just typed in app developers in Chicago, and Indian developers actually have an office here. It worked out for the best, but I literally just googled app developers in Chicago. I think I reached out to seven of them with the initial idea and only one of them replied. It happened to be they were in India. That’s how it all worked out.

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. What difficulties have you guys had outside of the ones that you’ve already discussed in terms of product development along the way?

Miguel Marrero:

I think I wouldn’t say they’re difficult. Obviously, we’ve learned a lot as we’ve gone through, which has been huge for us, but time management is key and also clear direction is key because Warrick and I and our team here in Chicago will get stuff done during the day, and we get lots of notes, and we give them to our teams overseas. Then they’ll do things and they come back to us the next day. Then we’re reviewing the stuff from the day before and then adding changes to it. If anything, when we’re too vague, because what Warrick and I have are shorthand and we get each other. Developing that shorthand with someone in a different language isn’t as easy. I’ve learned to become more robust than I usually am, which is to the detriment of Warrick because now I’m texting him very long texts, which he doesn’t like, because I’m so used to over-communicating.

Warrick Bell:

I think Chicago developing or US developing with that side of the world is tough in general because of the time change. When we go to sleep, they wake up. When they wake up, we go to sleep. There’s only an hour or two where you can talk to them, but you’re at the opposite sides of the day. One of you is always tired because you worked a full day, and the other one is full of energy because you’re just starting your day. I’d say a big challenge and a time delay is the time difference.

Miguel Marrero:

That’s why Warrick and I if there’s an inexpensive flight where we can get over there, we’re hopping on it because our productivity increases. Our families have both been fantastic in letting us travel as much as we have for this project. When you’re going to do something that you’re passionate about and you want to make it as good as you know it needs to be, it takes a lot of sacrifice. Collectively, just last year I think Warrick and I spent over three and a half, four months away from home when you line up all the days. That’s a lot of time, but the end result to us is amazing. I think that we’re over 14,000 backers now, they will agree as well.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. You guys are a quarter of a million dollars in. Let’s talk about some of the preparations that you guys did leading up to the campaign. What made you choose Kickstarter as a platform to launch your company and your product?

Warrick Bell:

Being that I like making things, I’ve always had an idea of making a product that people will use that’s impactful. When I first heard about Kickstarter, must have been four years ago, I always thought it was cool. I liked the concept. I followed Kickstarter for a while. I also have a development background as far as manufacturing goes, and I hated seeing these Kickstarters that say delivers in two months and actually ships in two years. When we were looking at Kickstarter, Indiegogo or these couple of others, we really know Kickstarter has the name that everyone knows. We chose Kickstarter because they’re the biggest name and we always wanted a Kickstarter project. We also when we chose when to launch our campaign, we wanted to be far enough into the development that we could match our promises, make sure we don’t put out something that we can’t actually develop.

Miguel Marrero:

That was huge for us. We showed off a prototype at CES this year, and we got a lot of buzz. Everyone was saying, “You got to get it on Kickstarter now.” We knew we needed just a little bit more time. I’ve got to say, I’m so happy that we took that extra time to get further along because what we’re showing people now and what we know ZEEQ can do in those last five months is not dead. I can only imagine, Warrick and I are dreamers, we probably would have said it would be ready in April if we would have done it January.

Warrick Bell:

April 2014.

Miguel Marrero:

We wouldn’t have been able to release a product that we would genuinely would have been proud of it yet. Taking that extra time to make sure that ZEEQ was right before we did it, we really appreciate that. Now we’re taking this last bit of time. We’re getting great feedback from the Kickstarter community, which is to me the main reason that we did Kickstarter at all is the community of early adopters. They don’t hold back on their feedback. If you look in our comment section and some of the messages we’ve gotten, people tell us what they really like about ZEEQ and they also tell us what they wish it was different at doing. We saw an opportunity to make adjustments based on their feedback. That community is very passionate about projects, especially the ones that they back. We love those people because we want them to be just as passionate about ZEEQ as us.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. What would be your biggest piece of advice for someone working on launching something on Kickstarter?

Warrick Bell:

Take your timeline, times it by three, and that’s more realistic. Look, the day I thought of the product, I wanted to release it in three months. It’s been three years basically. You have to be realistic with anything you do. The slightest change in your mind could be the world of change in software or hardware. Just be conscious of development time. If you really want to launch a Kickstarter, make sure you’re 99% there. Because the day you launch on Kickstarter, that’s going to go back to about 75% there because you’re going to get so much feedback that you’ll never have from your friends and family. You’re going to get so much feedback from the press. Then you’re close enough. I think 75% after your launch is a great place to be. Look, I would have launched the products two months, three months ago if I didn’t go to Kickstarter. Hearing from everyone on Kickstarter has really made us tweak a couple of things and hear what features people like.

Miguel Marrero:

A perfect example of that is when we built ZEEQ, the music portion of it was to help you fall asleep. That’s really how we designed it from the beginning. Overwhelmingly, people were like, “I just want to use it as a Bluetooth speaker.” Which baffled us because Bluetooth speakers exist already, but that’s what people wanted. They wanted to be able to listen any sorts of music they wanted from ZEEQ. Through some software and some firmware tweaks, we’re able to create a speaker mode where if you want to, you can just listen to ZEEQ like any old Bluetooth speaker even though we had designed it for a different function.

That’s where that Kickstarter community just helps you tremendously because these are the people that want the product. Getting their feedback is invaluable. Sometimes, it also means a feature that you love might not make the final version because no one else loves it. Things like that or things that you really, really want they’re not going to make it yet. The great thing about software and firmware is you can always add a feature later, which has also been exciting for us.

Warrick Bell:

One thing I’d also add to that is if one person says it should do this, don’t change your end goal. If you see their problem is mentioned a couple of times, maybe start re-looking at it. Don’t be too quick to react to comments because that could also delay your development time. If we had a firmware, a physical component change for that music, I don’t think we would have jumped on doing it because then it would have just delayed the process. We would have to make new models, new PCB boards, design the app differently. The way we designed it in the beginning is we are able to do firmware updates. Because people wanted the music without the app, we’re able to update the current PCB boards and the current app to make that work. Just listen to everyone, their responses and then evaluate them.

Roy Morejon:

Sound advice. This gets us into our launch round where I rapid fire questions at you guys. Either one or both of you guys can answer. Are you good to go?

Warrick Bell:

Sounds good.

Miguel Marrero:

Do it.

Roy Morejon:

What inspired you guys to be entrepreneurs?

Warrick Bell:

Really, inventing something that other people use. If I’m making someone else’s life easier or better, that gives me butterflies inside.

Miguel Marrero:

I too sense that. I think for me, it’s always the challenge of something that literally wasn’t here before, and now it’s here. Like this definitely exists, now it exists. That’s what excites me.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. If you could give the smart pillow to any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Miguel Marrero:

Rip Van Winkle.

Roy Morejon:

Fair enough. How about someone of our time?

Miguel Marrero:

That’s a great question.

Warrick Bell:

The reason I needed music to fall asleep was because my brain thinks too much and then I couldn’t fall asleep. If there’s silence in the room, I just keep going away with my thoughts.

Miguel Marrero:

Do you think Einstein needed the pillow?

Warrick Bell:

Yeah, maybe I’d say Einstein or Nikola Tesla.

Roy Morejon:

All right, so if you gave it to Einstein, then what would be your first question for Einstein after he woke up from an amazing night of sleep?

Warrick Bell:

Which jams did you fall asleep to?

Miguel Marrero:

Yeah, for sure. I want to know his playlist.

Roy Morejon:

Einstein’s playlist, that’s a good idea. We might to build that out on Spotify. What business books have you guys read recently?

Warrick Bell:

Recently, I did read the Zappos book and how he started his whole career. To me, that’s a great book, it’s an easy read. I read it on a flight to China. It was a nice quick easy read, but that really inspires me as an entrepreneur to see what he did in a shorter period of time. I recommend that book.

Roy Morejon:

Delivering Happiness was a good book. I actually just read that on the way up to New York. I was up there for a meeting, and that’s where I saw your banner in Times Square.

Warrick Bell:

Yeah, [inaudible 00:21:34].

Roy Morejon:

I’m sure you guys have gotten some buzz out of that. Where do you guys see yourselves in five years

Warrick Bell:

In five years, with ZEEQ 3.0. Even better than this product and making sure people get a quality night sleep. We all work hard, there’s not much vacation in America, we’re all stressed and we all need to optimize our sleep. If optimizing sleep means falling asleep easier or if it means that the pillow can help you figure out that drinking four cups of caffeine versus six cups of caffeine makes you sleep better, that’s great.

Miguel Marrero:

In five years, I think the people will think of the ZEEQ brand as quality sleep. It won’t just be the smart pillow, it’ll be other things that are connected and in your room to really create that sleep space in a smart home. I really think that’s in five years where we’ll be.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. Last question in the launch round. What do you think the future of crowdfunding looks like?

Warrick Bell:

Look, I hope people start delivering what they’re putting out there. The biggest thing we’ve seen since we’ve launched on Kickstarter is, “You guys are the next Coolest Cooler.” That’s never a good thing because they did it wrong. They had a great product, a great campaign, but they delivered it wrong to their backers. What I hope to see for crowdfunding is quicker development and delivering on your promises.

Miguel Marrero:

I think that what I miss about a few years ago from Kickstarter was there were more just crazy ideas. That’s the kind of stuff that I like to back. I remember backing some just ridiculously thought of tabletop games, but they were fun and someone was just taking a chance, and they just needed that little bit to make it real. I hope Kickstarter could branch or any discovery could branch with one of two ways where it just becomes basically a pre-launch tool or it really does get back to the people that just have a crazy idea and they want to just get it to the people that like it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome, I agree. Warrick and Miguel, you guys have been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch, tell us what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should go buy ZEEQ.

Miguel Marrero:

Definitely go to Kickstarter right now and search for ZEEQ, Z-E-E-Q. I think the easiest way to describe ZEEQ is just to think of it as an active participant in your sleep. ZEEQ is going to help you fall asleep with some great tunes, it’s going to monitor your sleep while you do sleep, it’s going to listen for snoring and it’s even going to react to hopefully wake you up or encourage you to change your sleep pose when you’re snoring. It’s going to wake you up when you want to wake up and even using smart wake, it’ll wake you up based on your sleep stage. It’s literally the perfect addition to anyone’s bedroom. No matter what feature you like, you’re going to find something to love about ZEEQ.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. Thank you guys for being here. Everyone, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all the show notes, a full transcript and of course links to the campaign and everything we talked about today, including a coupon to the Gadget Flow. Warrick, Miguel, thank you so much for being on the show.

Miguel Marrero:

Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Roy Morejon:

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart. The show about building a better business, world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to visit Artofthekickstart.com and tell us about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes and our Kickstarter guide to [crushing 00:25:20] it. If you loved this episode, leave us a review at Artofthekickstart.com/itunes. It helps more inventors and entrepreneurs find the show and helps us get better guests on here to help build your business. If you need a more hand-on crowdfunding strategy, please feel free to request a quote on Commandpartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in. We’ll see you soon.