Monisha Perkash, CEO, Lumo BodyTech
Interview by Laura Piety
Fitness and fashion-related Wearables (clothing and accessories incorporating some form of technology) is a key area of growth in both the fashion and tech industries. In fact, Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm, forecast that shipments of health and fitness tracking wearables will reach 91.3 million by the end of 2016.* Dozens of the most prolific brands around the world from Google, Apple, Nike, FitBit, and Jawbone, to Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch are participating in the movement. And it's not just accessories that are making a splash, companies are now looking at the construction of apparel and embedding technology into the very fabric of clothes. As David Lauren, Ralph Lauren's executive vice president for advertising, marketing and corporate communications noted: “Everyone is exploring wearable tech watches and headbands and looking at cool sneakers... We skipped to what we thought was new, which is apparel. We live in our clothes.”**
Monisha Perkash is the CEO and Co- Founder of Lumo BodyTech, a venture backed Palo Alto-based company that provides people with tools to improve their health and performance. They have two main products, the Lumo Lift and Lumo Back, both of which track your movement, from the number of steps you've taken and calories burned, to the health of your posture - an invaluable feature for the millions of people across the world slumped at their office desks. The beauty of Lumo Lift in particular is that it can sit undetected, because of its discreet size and magnetic clasp, whether it's attached to your bra strap or used as a collar pin.
We chatted to Monisha about Lumo's products, the fashion-tech industry that's ripe for explosion, and her experience as a female leader in the predominantly male environment of Silicon Valley.
What is your background and what was the original inspiration behind Lumo?
I am a serial entrepreneur and passionate about health and fitness. I joined my Lumo co-founders with the desire to launch a business that would positively impact millions of lives. Our inspiration for Lumo Lift came after learning from customers that they wanted an easy, discreet way to get real-time feedback on their posture. Therefore, we designed the Lumo Lift posture and activity coach to be a small, stylish magnet worn on your shirt, and when you slouch, the Lumo Lift gently vibrates to remind you to keep your shoulders back and head lifted. In addition, it tracks your steps, calories, and distance travelled to motivate you to stay active. Because posture affects your confidence, appearance, and back health, Lumo Lift helps you to both look and feel great!
What has been some of your favorite Lumo feedback from customers?
We receive so many heart-warming stories from customers that it’s hard to pick favorites, but the ones that stand out in my mind are the customers who have reported reduced back pain and headaches, compliments from others noticing their improved appearance, and feeling more confident to take on the world. One customer recently reported, “Lumo Lift is a ‘must-have’ device for anyone who wants to stand tall and have a confident presence. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” Feedback like that is wonderful validation for our team’s dedication to delivering great solutions, and motivates us to delight our customers even more!
On your website you talk about ‘your best self’. What does this mean to you? As a company CEO and Co-Founder, how do you inspire your team, customers, and friends to live this out?
Being your best self means bringing out the most positive aspects of yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically. Our belief is that mindfulness is at the core of being your best self, and it empowers people to make the small but powerful changes that can improve their lives. The Lumo Lift is designed to promote greater awareness and mindfulness of your habits so that you can develop better posture and become more active.
Another component of being your best self is, ironically, to embrace failure. On our Lumo team, we encourage "failing early and failing often" as a way to take risks, learn and improve, and therefore become our best selves as individuals and team members, which will allow us serve our customers better. Success is sweetest when one also knows failure.
Tech Wearables are huge right now. What should we be looking out for in the future, and how do you see this industry growing?
We see wearables not being wearables anymore, but instead becoming completely integrated into our everyday behaviors and everyday things (clothes, jewelry, furniture, homes, cars, etc.). What we know today as "wearable technology" will become ambient and practically invisible.
As a company what are the biggest threats, and greatest opportunities, before you?
The underlying technology of Lumo BodyTech positions us to solve various movement problems across many high-growth markets, including sports, corporate wellness, ergonomics, and health. We risk being blessed with opportunities and cursed with choices, meaning that there are more applications of our technology than we can possibly tackle and therefore we must find that balance between focusing on today and building for tomorrow. Implicit in this are making the right tradeoffs and sequencing opportunities to support the growth of the company.
What is your perspective on all the health data that is generated from devices such as yours with Google and Apple’s health platforms? Where do you see things headed from a data standpoint?
We believe that data by itself is useless, unless it is turned into insights and actionable feedback. Integrating multiple streams of data across platforms has the potential to give a fuller story and deeper insights about ourselves. There is great potential for integrated data to create enduring value, and the industry is still in its early years, which makes for very exciting times!
Can you talk a little bit about being a female entrepreneur and founder in the male (heavy) environment of Silicon Valley?
My belief is that any leader must play to her strengths, which includes turning differences into strengths. For example, recognize that being a female entrepreneur in a male-heavy environment makes you much more memorable. Being a woman enables you to provide a female perspective to product design and marketing, thereby making your solution more relevant to the roughly 50% of our female population which is often times overlooked and underserved by other companies.
Finally, being a woman may help you to tap into a broader talent pool and attract a more diverse workforce. At Lumo, I’m proud that our team is diverse across genders, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. We believe that diversity of ideas and people is a huge competitive advantage.
How have you built a successful team? What key leaderships skills have you learnt and employed?
We maintain our core values which include collaboration, transparency, and setting high expectations. These are characteristics we look for in people we hire, and we regularly seek feedback from the team to assess how the Company is doing across our core values.
We have learned that at Lumo, leadership through influence works much better than leadership through authority, i.e., getting team members “bought-in” to a certain direction is more likely to yield successful results.
We’ve talked to numerous founders about their experiences raising venture capital. What was that process like for you and what advice would you give to entrepreneurs doing that right now?
I would advise that financing comes in many forms, and that it’s important to find the right-fit investors. For example, in my earliest phases of fundraising, I spent too much time pursuing investors who were not the right stage for our business or had very little familiarity with our space. Also, it's important to enlist investors as an extension of your team because they too want your business to succeed. The good ones will bring value to your company beyond their capital.
They might help with distribution, recruiting new team members, introductions to key partners, and more. Finally, evaluate the compatibility between you and your prospective investors in terms of temperament, values, and expected outcomes for the business. Having good alignment with your investors will make the company-building journey much more pleasant and successful.
* The Business of Fashion http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/11/amanda-parkes-wearable-tech-gadgets.html
** The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/fashion/at-us-open-ralph-lauren-to-introduce-wearable-technology.html?_r=0
For more information visit http://www.lumobodytech.com
Images courtesy of Lumo BodyTech