Usually the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know” is a warning. It’s meant to keep people, often entrepreneurs, from rushing after an idea, and, in so doing, biting off more than they can chew.
Admittedly, Christina Mercando d’Avignon, founder of Ringly, did not know initially how to build smart hardware or beautiful jewelry. But she said if she had known prior to founding her firm — a startup that offers its wearers a chance to look smart with an accessory that is itself smart — she might never have embarked on the adventure.
“We create jewelry that connects to your phone and will send you the alerts you want to get through vibration and light. Text messages, phone calls, Slack notifications, letting you know when your next meeting is coming up — it’s designed to give its wearer a little reminder push in a way that they are both unlikely to ignore or be overwhelmed by. Then, on top of that function, we also track a wearer’s activity — steps, calories, distance — so it can be used as a fitness device. We’ve also been exploring mindfulness and meditation exercises, so you can do breathing exercises and guided meditations through our app,” d’Avignon noted in an interview.
The problem in the firm’s early days, according to d’Avignon, was that she was neither a jewelry designer nor a hardware developer. She had an idea of what she wanted to bring to the market, but she wasn’t quite sure how to get there.
Luckily, what one doesn’t know can usually be learned in a class. D’Avignon took several — on circuit boards, on design, on the fundamentals of smart construction. The goal, she noted, wasn’t to create a business where she played all the major roles. She always wanted to build an expert team. But before an expert team can be assembled, entrepreneurs must…
- Have some idea what they’re talking about.
- Have a product and a plan to bring it to market.
So, what d’Avignon did with her little bit of education was design and build out her own prototype, with a littleBits kit and an assist from 3D printing, care of Shapeways.
“And I actually built a little circuit so that when you push the button, the ring would vibrate and light up,” d’Avignon said.
It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to give venture capitalists a taste of her vision, which they liked so much that Ringly secured a $5.1 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Why Beautiful Is Smart (and Practical)
For some people — particularly those who want to advertise their tech brand allegiance — wearing something that looks like a smartwatch is appealing. It’s a chance to advertise one’s ownership of the latest Apple Watch or Fitbit.
But for a large number of consumers — many of them female — all that function isn’t much of an inducement, since the design of most products on the market is usually square, a bit bulky and rather obvious.
The magic of the fashion wearable, according to the team at Ringly, is that the buyer isn’t being sold on the things it does. Consumers may like and even come to depend on those features, but jewelry, for most people who wear it, is primarily worn to be decorative, not functional.
If it’s also functional, consumers may like it even better, but for the brand bringing the product to the market, the most important objective is that it needs to look nice, because that is its purpose.
Ringly achieved that goal first with its signature smart rings: large, rectilinear jewels (that conceal the smart circuitry underneath) set in precious and semi-precious metal — fashionable for those who have a fairly “loud” personal aesthetic. For those with a more understated style, the brand also offers two lines of smart bracelets — the “Luxe” and the “Go.” The pricier Luxe incorporates precious metals and semi-precious gems (moonstone, purple jade); the Go swaps out the metal for a black or blush leather band and the gem for a polished stone.
The function of the jewelry, however, remains unchanged. The bracelet syncs to the phone of its owner and gently alerts them when messages of a certain type (the ones the user has preselected) come through.
Word to the wise for those looking for a smart accessory: As of the writing of this piece, much of the shop’s merchandise was sold out. But if the Go is what you seek — good news. Target has it. (They are, at this point, Ringly’s exclusive physical retail partner.)
Consumers, according to Ringly’s founder, buy the jewelry for the same reason they buy any accessory: They like the way it looks.
But Ringly customers come back, she noted, because of what the product ultimately delivers — an unobtrusive way to look cool, to stay connected and to not have to stress too hard about either.
“Whether at the dinner table, out with friends or in an important meeting, Ringly allows you to stay on top of your daily activity and mobile alerts so you never miss a beat, but aren’t glued to your phone,” d’Avignon told Digital Trends.
And to look good while you’re doing it.