Smartwatch-making not for everyone

Mr Leong (left) and Mr Tan, founders of Boldr, whose Journey analogue watches are now available in retail stores from San Francisco to Paris, and its own online store.
Photo: The Straits Times

Developing a smartwatch may seem like any other technology venture, but there is a hidden cost that can scuttle plans .

Three-year-old Singapore maker of classic timepieces Boldr Supply & Co has tried it and paid for learning the lesson.

Started by two 31-year-old Singaporeans, Mr Travis Tan and Mr Leon Leong, the start-up successfully raised C$128,000 (S$138,500) via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2015 to launch its Boldr Voyage hybrid smartwatch.

The amount raised far exceeded its C$30,000 target, and should have helped the mechanical watch maker cross successfully into the computer technology space.

Early success with the sales of its Heirloom mechanical watches - it sold 250 pieces in 2014 - had also emboldened the company to push new boundaries with its Voyage smartwatch targeting tech-savvy consumers.

The Voyage was essentially a Quartz watch with a built-in pedometer for fitness tracking, among other features, and was meant to ship in April last year.

However, the campaign soon hit a snag. The transition was more complex than the two founders had envisioned. They did not consider the additional costs of certification.

"Coming from a watch background, we didn't know much about the electronics part," said Mr Tan.

Products that emit bluetooth signals require certification - such as Europe's CE and the United States' Federal Communications Commission - before they can be exported to those markets.

However, each certification costs from US$30,000 (S$42,300) to US$50,000 for one model. The same watch of a different colour is considered a different model. The costs soon escalated beyond the funds they raised.

"We have six models of Voyage, so that means we are easily looking at US$200,000 just for certifications," Mr Tan said. "And we hadn't even made the product."

Furthermore, the supplier of the Voyage's printed circuit board had imposed a minimum order of 5,000 units when Boldr had only around 600 orders for the smartwatch, said Mr Leong.

After some deliberation, they decided to cancel the Voyage crowdfunding campaign and return the money to all the backers.

"It was a painful decision but the right one," said Mr Tan. "We did not want to disappoint our backers."

And the duo seem to have their continued support. They came back last year with another successful Kickstarter campaign.

But this time, it was for an analogue watch - Boldr Journey. The campaign raised more than C$100,000 - four times more than its C$25,000 target.

The Boldr Journey watches are now available in retail stores from San Francisco to Paris, as well as its own online store.

The two founders have plans to expand into lifestyle products by launching apparel and accessories sometime this year.

Mr Leong explained that the philosophy behind the company is that it wants people to be bolder and take that extra step to do something they always wanted to do.

The duo hope that Boldr products will accompany people's journeys and experiences, which is why their planned products will be wearables like T-shirts, caps and bags.

"However, the watch will always be the core product of Boldr," said Mr Leong. They are now planning their next watch: the Odyssey.

But will the duo be bold enough to create another smartwatch?

It is something that they will definitely look into for the future, said Mr Tan.

"But, for now, it is still about doing the things we are more familiar with," he added.


This article was first published on Feb 08, 2017.
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