Billie Whitehouse of Wearable X
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What’s your story? How did you get here?
About 10 years ago I launched a product with a small group of people. It was vibrating underpants for couples in long distance relationships. With my Australian accent I call them vibrating knickers. It was one of those products that truly went viral. We had 55,000 requests for the product in the first two weeks. We also received 8 million hits on YouTube. Things were truly nuts. What this product taught me is there is something missing from a lot of experiences, so we deep dived into the haptics of vibrational feedback. (Note: Haptics is defined as a technology that transmits tactile information using sensations such as vibration, touch, and force feedback.)
Don’t get me wrong, we made every mistake under the sun before we could get to a place where we could commercialize this. We also decided to look at the full experience vs just the data. For the fitness wellness experience we wanted to help people understand if they were doing something right or wrong – that is why haptics play such an important role.
What were some of the pivots you thought you may need to make?
Yes, pivots can be crucial. I think this is true for multiple products we have created. We started by looking at basic materials and using them as our foundation to build and leverage. However sometimes you have pressure from clients, or budget or timeline. That is when you pivot based on those inputs because it has to happen.
For instance, when we were building our second product which was a fan jersey that connects to live sports data so you can feel what your favorite team is experiencing on the field. This can be everything from their heartbeat to the adrenaline or the chills down their spine. We did that with a large sports television network and our development timeline was so crunched due to the timing of the opportunity. We had to move ridiculously fast and that meant we couldn’t fully integrate the electronics. Since the units were separate they were bulkier since you had to take it out to recharge it. There was a bunch of learning in doing that. However you are always going to have inputs like that, whether from the client, software development team, hardware manufacturing team, timeline or budget. The hardest part is being the person who has to make the decision because someone is going to hate you.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The problem has really remained the same. Since then we changed some branding. For example, our original name was Wearable Experiments because we were truly experimenting. When we decided to go direct to the consumer we became Wearable X. There are three problems we are trying to solve:
- Bring people back to themselves and their body
- Connect people back to their loved ones and each other
- Give people the ability to connect to the spaces and environment they are in
Ultimately we want to help people live well and that is a big overarching problem. We want people to connect to themselves, their loved ones and their environment and not be distracted by their phones everywhere they go.
Are you intentionally focusing your efforts on one industry?
Yes, we have been really focused on that. Our product, NADI X, is a yoga line that is fully integrated. The sensors measure everything including your posture and they are paired with ten haptic feedback motors. They provide feedback to your body similar to a yoga instructor. The feedback comes in the form of vibrations. People really don’t really have a good idea where their body is during some of the poses so they receive real time feedback and know if they have achieved the pose or need to try it again. We really started focusing on the home yoga experience that peaked during the pandemic. Home fitness did in general. Unlike a Peloton or the Mirror that lives in one room of your house, you are able to take our products with you on the go to genuinely assist you.
How did you find your target market?
Great question. We originally thought it was going to be the early adopter tech consumer. We went after that audience with our marketing and press and learned the audience that converts the highest were Town and Country readers, a completely different audience. Their readers are middle aged women who look after their body.
Our products gave them freedom from the studio. They didn’t have to worry about the instructor, the music, the timing of the classes and instead were able to practice on their own schedule. Ultimately we found this community of people who didn’t feel confident that they were practicing at home in a way that was beneficial to their body. I think that is the most important piece of the puzzle as we want to give that confidence back to women so they can practice on their own terms.
How did you get funding? Bootstrap? Self-fund?
We bootstrapped at first because we had income from projects with Fox, Oakley, Bud Light, and American Express, so we were fine as long as everyone paid their bills on time. We were looking for the right manufacturer though and ended up raising $3 million with a strategic partner based out of Sri Lanka. It has been a great partnership as they also do our manufacturing and they actually care. That makes such a difference. They provide a great work environment for their employees. I think anytime anyone hears the word factory, people get nervous. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in these factories now and felt really confident that it was something that was a great experience for everyone.
What keeps you up at night?
First and foremost, you have to look after your body and mental experience. I also think it is important to build something great and have a long standing impact for people that is truly beneficial for them. It isn’t the traditional thing that keeps people up at night. .
Do you have any pets?
I’ve been in New York for 10 years while my family and my dog are in Australia. I miss my dog very much. I’d like to get a dog in New York one day.
What are some of your passions outside of work?
I do yoga. I confess, during the pandemic, my yoga practice wasn’t as diligent as it should have been. Since then, I had a pretty major surgery and so I’m slowly building back into it. That is why health is still number one for me. Prior to the surgery I was also running a lot. I do really enjoy running and then a 20 minute yoga session and then meditation. I’ve also just started to learn how to kite surf which is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done.
Are you a risk taker naturally or did you have to learn to embrace risk taking?
I had to learn to embrace risk. I think I came from a fear based family. I had to learn how to put that foot in the water and jump. My parents were entrepreneurs so there was an example that was set when I was growing up. It is important to understand the risk. It is trial and error. One of my mentors encouraged me to put myself out there publicly, which I didn’t really want to do. He said, if you are afraid of what people like what is the point of doing all these things if you aren’t going to share them with anyone.
Sometimes the process is for yourself. That advice really encouraged me to take the first step because sharing was a big fear of mine.
What is something that fits into the “If I knew then what I know now” category?
I wish I knew that it is ok to be wrong. I think that is super important. You’re not always going to have all the answers, sometimes you will be wrong and that is ok. I also think it is important to stand up for what you believe in because at times I felt like I let other opinions affect me too much. And as a young entrepreneur, there were several times where I either let my co-founder or even employees bully me which was just dumb.
What is one misconception of being a founder?
One of my misconceptions was that everything would be fast. It wasn’t. Patience really is a virtue. I think the misconception is that you do one thing and think it will be the best thing and will explode and you’ll never have to do anything ever again.
The other common misconception, especially for female founders, is your perception of the experience. It doesn’t have to be hard. With the right support network, the right network and the people – it can be a good experience. People are key. Everyone’s first hire should be someone who is amazing at hiring. Big mistakes in hiring can lead to big problems.
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