Kate Unsworth – Spearheading Smart Lifestyle Technology!
Kate was introduced to me by Debbie Wosskow – one of Kate’s angel investors, and we met to do the interview at the insanely cool VINAYA offices in Shoreditch (DJ decks and all)! She is able to move seamlessly between a CEO leader, challenging the role that technology plays in our lives, and an operator, able to dive into the design, funding minutiae and everyday emails. If you have ever felt like you’re in need of a digital detox, let me introduce VINAYA properly: VINAYA creates designer wearable technology to improve digital balance and mental wellness, allowing your tech to help you become more human, not less.
Current Job Founder + CEO of VINAYA
First Job My first job was an Account Executive at BJL. It was hard work but it prepared me for so many hardships that come along with running your own company.
Education I first got my BSc in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Edinburgh. I continued my education there for my MsC in Economics.
Go to meeting spot It would have to be Allpress Espresso on Redchurch Street. They make the best coffee and the overall feel of the place is just so warm and welcoming.
Favourite book Eastern Body, Western Mind
Necessary extravagance Dinner and nice wine with friends!
Favourite productivity tool The ALTRUIS is my current favourite. It’s done wonders for my life in terms of filtering through unnecessary notifications and helping me be my most productive self.
Recent inspiration Definitely the quote, “People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Top networking tip I feel like as long as you’re just a genuine person and actually care about the ideas and interests of others, important relationships will progress organically. No tip can help you if you’re only interested in relationships benefitting your own goals.
Can you tell us briefly about your background prior to founding VINAYA and your biggest learning from these experiences?
Before VINAYA I was a technology consultant. I was working around the clock since my clients were from all different time zones. I was checking my phone from the moment I got up to the moment I went to sleep – It didn’t matter if I was at a family dinner or out to a movie with friends. The biggest thing I learned from all of this was how damaging it is to be constantly ‘dialed-in’. I now run a business and with the help of ALTRUIS, I work less hours than I did when I was working for someone else.
What is VINAYA and its philosophy & what was the motivation behind it?
VINAYA is a research lab and design studio located in Shoreditch, London where we design next-level smart jewellery. Our philosophy is to create fashionable pieces that allow people to become more centered in their everyday lives. The motivation came from my own life at a time when I desperately needed to free myself from technology.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today?
“Don’t be afraid to tread in unchartered waters”. When ALTRUIS was nothing more than an idea, this little piece of advice kept my spirits up and my fears at bay. It’s also been helping me a lot recently since our new product, ZENTA is a piece that hasn’t really been done before either.
Who do you surround yourself with for your support network?
I surround myself with a tribe of really great friends, team members, and family. I’m where I am today because these people not only believed in me, but supported me before anything started taking off.
What has been the journey to date?
I’ve been really lucky to have found two co-founders that made this journey really smooth-going. We’ve done so much with the short time that VINAYA has been around and our entire team is so incredibly gifted and driven towards making our company the best it can possibly be. We started with the ALTRUIS and now have a brand new product, ZENTA, coming out soon.
What has been the evolution and milestones to date of VINAYA?
We started in 2013 and hustled for the first 18 months. Our whole mentality was getting the product to market before raising capital because we knew as a hardware startup, that burns a lot of cash, we would need to raise a large amount, diluting us too much without a commensurate valuation. We convinced suppliers to work with us on 90 day terms, hacked together a website and announced our launch on conference stages in London and NY. We sold 200 units, paid our suppliers and only then did we consider investment. For that first phase it really was duct taped together. So post funding it took us another year to iterate the hardware, software and scale up the team to arrive at a premium product.
We then made a conscious decision to rebrand after accidentally building our brand too well before we knew what the company was. Without much consideration we had landed on Kovert Designs – seemingly encapsulating what we were doing, but when we did the look and feel it was very luxury fashion. It took off because we were the first in that luxury fashion tech wearable space. But we didn’t want to be luxury, we strive to be an accessible premium product and the fashion component of our brand was diluting the credibility of us as a design and innovation company. So on November 1st after a whole rebranding exercise we became VINAYA…and it really feels like us!
This next year will be launch after launch and scaling up the front line go to market team!
How do you learn CEO skills as a young founder – any tips?
I think all CEOs share that vision and drive so it is often the boring things that you need to get on top of. Fortunately for me training as a management consultant in my previous life gave me a lot of that toolkit, including making me a spreadsheet nerd! Whereas in other areas such as staying organised and time management I am still improving. I think it is about recognising your own flaws and hiring people that complement you. My other tip would be always second guess yourself; it is really easy to have that passion and trust your gut but you’ll be surprised how much time you can waste going down the wrong track, allow your assumptions to be tested.
What technology trends excite you right now?
I am passionate about technology that genuinely improves peoples lives. I hate innovation for innovation sake. Whilst quite often technologies can be tweaked and evolved and needs to begin somewhere, I like innovation with purpose and positive impact on humanity. In general I hate the idea that some of the brightest minds of our generation are building the latest app.
I am excited about technology in the mental health space particularly. It is something we talk a lot about at VINAYA. Technology has really revolutionised physical wellbeing but there has been little innovation in mental wellbeing. The technology we are developing has the potential to really make an impact using pattern recognition to spot behavioural changes in your life that might be off centre, which could help identify early signs of depression or eating disorders for example. We like deploying tech in a preventative fashion – that is a much easier solution!
What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for both the business and your team?
For the team we set what we call OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) – an approach used by Google and Facebook. I set company objectives, present them to the team at the beginning of our two day quarterly workshops, everyone then sets their personal objectives that applies to those as well as three key measurable results attached to each. We then track on a monthly basis to see how we are doing.
In terms of the business there are the obvious revenue targets but we care more about engaged users and user satisfaction. We use net promoter score (NPS – standard across industry) as well as RFV, which stands for recency, frequency, volume. This gives us an idea of true engagement. True measures of success include how much time are we saving people, how much are we improving peoples lives and is this product actually helping people.
What is the long term vision for the company as well as more imminent milestones?
Longer term we are building not just products but a full platform. And as we grow that is really where we are directing our attention as it becomes our USP. Long term vision is the platform is used across different products and acts as a centralised hub of your information where the products act as a data feed.
ZENTA is VINAYA’s next product – the world’s first biometric-sensing wearable for both body and mind. Our journey is far from over as we intend to be the world’s go-to lifestyle technology brand.
Women in Tech
Can you share your fundraising history as well as your experience and advice for women looking to raise capital
It is the same advice that I give to male founders but with one caveat. Keep your wits about you. Don’t take drink meetings and be hyper aware of how people interact with you. Even when I was at my sharpest I still made mistakes, realising 10 minutes into a meeting that the person had no intention of investing in me. Be very polite but very clear as your time is so precious.
I tended to take a phone call first which is 20 minutes instead of an hour and a half coffee. Be smart about who you target, know what you are asking for, what your valuation is and most crucially set a deadline.
Do you consciously think about building a diverse team and how can we do better to attract and retain more women in those teams?
Yes and no. Our team is super diverse but kind of done accidentally. We represent over 20 countries, speak 30+ languages are are almost 50:50 male:female. Saying that we do struggle to hire female engineers to the specification that we need. It is not that women are not skilled enough but very few women study those subjects. And the few that do the majority do not go on to pursue engineering careers, which is a shame. We need to tell them at 11 that this is a really cool career and they can kick ass at it!
So many of the brightest graduates continue to go and work for a big bank or consultancy. What would you say to them to cut through that rhetoric and consider joining/starting a startup?
The only reason banking and consulting jobs were so popular was because they paid big salaries. But they are yesterday’s industries and the shift is naturally happening. Today it is so easy to set up a business. My advice would be don’t be scared of that risk; if you try and set up a business and it collapses four months later, you will have learnt far more than you would have as a consultant for a year.
I think our generation has realised that money isn’t everything. Instead it is about experience and lifestyle!