Sharing Advice Max Nelson  | July 11, 2018

I’m the Founder of Eone, and This Was My Biggest Mistake

“My Biggest Mistake” features real business owners talking about their real mistakes, and what they’ve learned.

He really thought he’d found his “Aha!” moment.

It was 2012, and then MIT student Hyungsoo Kim was sitting in class when a blind friend leaned over and asked for the time. Kim’s friend had a talking watch, but didn’t want to draw attention to himself by setting it off in the quiet classroom. Surprised to learn that all clocks and watches require seeing or hearing, he put together a team to design a braille watch that could be used without sight or sound.

After six months of testing and $50,000 spent, his braille watch was ready. And he’d met the perfect customer: a woman hoping to find a nice watch for her blind son’s eighteenth birthday. Thrilled to learn that Kim was developing the product she was looking for, she borrowed a prototype to take home. The next day she brought the watch back.

Her son refused to even try the watch on.

So, what went wrong?

He’d never bothered to learn how many blind people could actually read braille (only about 10%) and he never asked them what they wanted in a watch. And now money and time were down the drain. But he would learn from his mistakes.

“I tried to create something I thought my target audience needed, but it turned out to be something they didn’t want,” said Kim. “I identified a problem and tried to find a solution without first trying to understand my audience.”

Kim pivoted, choosing to focus on designing an innovative and fashionable accessory for everyone. He changed his company’s name to Eone (pronounced E-One) which stands for everyone.

Fifteen prototypes and six years later, Eone is selling two thousand watches a month. Like any entrepreneur, Kim has been up and he’s been down. FreeEnterprise.com spoke to Hyungsoo Kim about how understanding his audience helped his company survive and thrive. Here’s what he said:

1. Learn from Your Audience

“User research, the process of meeting in person and creating prototypes, was incredibly valuable — so valuable, in fact, that it completely transformed our approach to the design. Sure, we made some small discoveries, like where to place the indicators. But the biggest thing we learned was something we didn’t expect. Through this process, we identified unique needs of our users that we hadn’t realized exist: We learned that they are as concerned with fashion and style as they are with function.”

2. Never Stop Improving    

“As we gained insight from users, we continued to build prototypes, improving the design. Each time, we created a prototype that reflected what we’d learned. Being able to stay flexible is the key. Being able to change your direction, to step back, is very crucial.”

3. Be Inclusive

“We learned that visually impaired users want to wear a watch that everyone else is wearing, not one specifically designed for someone with a disability. Similarly, we found that when presenting the timepiece to sighted users, portraying it as a ‘watch for the blind’ that the sighted could wear as well garnered a rather lukewarm reaction. They were disenchanted with a product designed for the visually impaired.”

4. Be Ready to Admit Failure, and Pivot Away From It

“To solve the problem I’d set out to tackle, I had to forget about it. So we made a huge shift, transitioning from a timepiece for the blind to a high-fashion product designed to be inclusive, a product that would help everyone tell time easily. When users, whether visually impaired or sighted, fell in love with the fashionable design and innovative function of the timepiece first, then learning the motivation behind it later only boosted their interest.”

5. Be Patient

“Hiring people is easy. Expanding your team is not so difficult. But Scaling down is really, really hard. It’s better to take your time and go slower, then going fast with knowing where you’re going.

“You read about startups who are growing exponentially fast. But once you start comparing your team to a very selective group of successful startups then you’ll be very unhappy. Everyone has a different pace, and you just have to be satisfied with your own pace.”