Krispian Lawrence is the quintessential tech entrepreneur. An electronics engineer from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, he spent 13 years in the United States, before finally leaving the country to return his native city of Hyderabad in Telangana to set up India’s first genuinely a world class wearable tech company –Ducere Technologies Private Limited.
Defying conventional wisdom has always excited Lawrence, who pioneered ‘Lechal’—the next-generation smart footwear—that combines the aesthetics of fashion and the power of wearable technology. Lechal, which means “take me along” in Hindi, is the world’s first haptic technology based footwear.
The product is a powerful precursor of where the future of footwear actually lies and how it can solve the most arduous problems such as navigation among the visually impaired. Though India is certainly not known for great product innovations, Lechal, with its hands-free navigation powered by haptic technology and exceptional fitness metrics has attracted global attention.
Vikash Kumar, the editor of XING magazine, exclusively talked to him at length about the product, the future of wearable technology in India and his exciting entrepreneurial journey.
XING: There is an interesting mention of ‘genius and jugaad’ on your company website. How can they go along with each other?
Lawrence: (Laughs) Sometimes it’s very difficult to draw a line between these two. However, in this case, it just needed a different approach to possibilities. I always believe in crazy solutions. If a solution is not crazy, it does not excite me. And I am like that only. You can ask my parents, who will tell you how I tried my hands on every device and gadget in the home. In fact, I have been a tinkerer since I was a child.
XING: So you decided to move to India after graduating from UMich to launch your product. How easy was the decision considering you could have done it there?
Lawrence: It was a very difficult decision for me. Though I lived in the United States for 13 years, I always wanted to return India. I wanted to do something in my own country.
XING: Do you want to position ‘Lechal’ as a shoe for visually-impaired people?
Lawrence: (Cuts in the question) No…no, it’s not like that. Though the idea germinated from there, as time went on we developed it as a fashion and lifestyle product.
XING: There is a lot of hype surrounding wearable technology. Why did not you positioned it as a wearable technology product?
Lawrence: If you think about it carefully, there is a lot of technology involved in the development of a normal shoe, whether it’s the design of the soles or be it leather technology. But people often fail to see those aspects. Had we positioned Lechal as a wearable technology product, it would have become just another gadget. And we never wanted our product to be perceived as just another gadget in the market.
XING: How does the product work?
Lawrence: First, you insert our pods into your Lechal smart insoles or shoes. The pods connect to your phone using Bluetooth 4.0. Then, set a destination in our app. And simply follow your feet. You left shoe will buzz if you need to go left, the right one vibrates if you have to go right and so on and so forth. It’s completely hands-free and you can use it when you walk, bike, run, drive etc. And you can also track fitness metrics such as the distance you’ve travelled, the calories you’ve burnt and steps taken.
XING: But don’t you think Indian streets and alleys are highly unpredictable and they may throw up some nasty surprises sometimes. In such a scenario, how it can be helpful for the visually-impaired?
Lawrence: The traditional white cane helps the visually-impaired know what’s in their path, but it does not help in orientation or navigation. So, Lechal is the perfect companion to the cane.
XING: What kind of challenges did you face while developing the product from conceptualization to realization stage?
Lawrence: The challenges were aplenty from design to sourcing raw material to manufacturing. But with our innovative approach toward problem solving, we overcame these obstacles. Sometimes after working on an idea for a month, we would realize that we were completely wrong. But we were never worried about the failure as we failed quite fast. And if you fail fast, your chances of success are high.
XING: There is a lot of buzz around wearable technology products. What does Lechal bring to the table in terms of new features?
Lawrence: There is no smart footwear in the world uses haptics for navigation. If you add to that features such as tagging locations, using gestures to control certain parts of the Lechal experience and that you can even use it when you are offline, and you can see that Lechal is rather revolutionary.
What’s more is that there are endless possibilities. We are thinking about crazy features for the next version. However, for us, it’s not about adding a lot of useless features to the product. Our challenge is what kind of features we exclude! One thing is crystal clear. For me, user experience is the supreme thing and we would never compromise on that. And if that means leaving things out, then so be it.
XING: How is the response so far?
Lawrence: It’s quite encouraging. Initially, we received nearly 30,000 pre-orders from over 150 countries. Since we opened for sales on our website – http://.store.lechal.com – we have sold at such a brisk pace that we have currently sold-out our first production run of shoes. We have also received interest from many well-known retailers and e-tailers in different parts of the world and talks are going on with them.
XING: Could we know some names?
Lawrence: Not right now, but you will certainly know by the end of January.
XING: Now, let’s talk about your journey towards entrepreneurship. At any point, did you feel the fear of failure?
Lawrence: I would be lying if I say ‘no’. There were dilemmas and fears, which is very natural for any entrepreneur. There were a number of situations when things did not go to plan or as per our expectations. The product itself has gone through multiple iterations in the development cycle. But, it has been an unbelievable journey so far. We started out as a duo in my apartment and now, we have a team of over 100 people that works everything from design to engineering, procurement and sales. However, I would say that it’s just the beginning….