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. 


Meet Kate

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.

The Journey

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! 

Follow Kate!

Tania Boler - Revolutionising Women's Health

I would like to introduce Tania Boler - the Jonathan Ive of women's health technology! Our serendipitous introduction meant I got a glimpse into her future rocket ship over tea at Riding House Cafe. A few years ago Tania took the entrepreneurial leap from her career in sexual and personal wellness and founded Chiaro - a women's wearable technology company with real impact. Chiaro's first product is Elvie, your most personal trainer. Elvie is a smart kegel exercise tracker and app and is unparalleled in its scientific innovation and exquisite design. Mine hasn't arrived yet but when Tania presented one to me the "out of the box experience" was a hybrid between opening an iPhone and a Tiffany box! Keep reading to learn the secrets to better core strength, control and even better sex! You will also boss that pilates class! 


Meet Tania

Current Job CEO, Chiaro - a women's wearable technology start-up

Education Oxford, Stanford and a PHD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

First Job When I was thirteen I had a Saturday job working on a clothes stall in Portobello Market

Favourite place in London The canal behind my Islington home. I love the juxtaposition of cultures & styles

How do you switch off Watching Homeland - it just gets better and better! 

Necessary extravagance A blow dry 

Go to meeting spot Profrock coffee shop on Leather Lane 

Female inspiration in business I recently met Cindy Gallop in New York. She is a strong inspiration as someone who doesn't care what people think and is relentless in her ambition to change the world

Top finance tip Raise more money than you need

Top networking tip Don't think about job titles 


The Journey

You have a long career of working in women's issues, including working for the UN on global sex education curriculum. Can you share a highlight? 

Travelling two days by rickshaw and boat in northern Bangladesh to deliver family planning services with the Marie Stopes team.

Where did the idea for Chiaro stem from and what was the catalyst to quit the day job? 

I thought I was an expert in women's health! This was until I got pregnant and realised that there are so many things to do with our bodies that we don't talk about and that I wasn't aware of. At the time I was leading the innovation and strategy team at Marie Stopes and knew we were at the beginning of a health tech revolution and that I wanted to be a part of it. My vision for Chiaro was to change the way technology is used by developing new products that break down stigma and change lives. I talked to over 40 physiotherapists and kept iterating. The catalyst was winning the UK Technology Strategy Board Innovation Award of  £100,000 which validated the idea! 

Tell us about Elvie, your most personal trainer, Chiaro's first product

Elvie is a small yet powerful exercise tracker for your pelvic floor. It's beautiful and smart - giving women real-time feedback so that they can track their progress.  It's hard to exercise a muscle you can't see. Without feedback, you simply don't know how you're doing. We have designed and patented a new way to measure force so that women can visualise their kegel exercises. Elvie even corrects your lift technique as 30% of women push down which can lead to damage.  A journalist recently said it was like the iPhone - the new must-have gadget for all women. We agree with that!

Can you elaborate on your motivation behind Elvie? 

I think all women deserve smarter technology. Women and men are different physically and therefore have different health and lifestyle needs. Technology doesn't seem to have caught up with this basic fact. With 1 in 3 women experiencing problems due to weak pelvic floor muscles, there has been shockingly little innovation in this area and we hope to use the novel, innovative data to improve motivation for women to exercise and see results.  

Most consumer electronics - when adapted for women - tend to focus on the aesthetics like the colour or adding a jewel or prettier packaging. Sure, Elvie looks beautiful which is part of why women get excited about it - but it is also smart. It has induction charging, no lights, no exposed parts, fully waterproofed, machine learning-based algorithms and personal goals.  But why isn't there more smart technology for women? 



You have won best R&D at HealthTech Awards and Best Startup at the Wearable Technology Show - tell us more about the research and innovation that distinguishes Elvie

My partner is Alexander Asseily and he founded Jawbone so we have really benefitted from his experience in designing awesome products. We worked with academics at Imperial and Oxford and also with some top engineers and designers. The likes of kickstarter have helped inspire a hardware renaissance but I think that we are being flooded with poor quality products that will disappoint customers. We are under pressure sometimes from investors to show how we will launch four products in two years but this is unrealistic unless you don't really care about true innovation and quality.

As well as working with the best, we also worked with the end users throughout the process. I think we had over four sets of user testing and well over 150 women test Elvie and tell us what they think. Just this morning I got an email from a journalist who told me she was at a party this weekend and her friend came racing up to tell her all about Elvie. I fundamentally believe women have been waiting for something like Elvie for a while - something fun yet effective.

How did you pitch Chiaro to your early financial backers Lars Rasmussen (co founder of Google Maps) and Alexander Asseily (co founder of Jawbone) 

I think the numbers speak loudly here. For Elvie as our first product, more than half of all women have physical problems at some point during their lives and one in ten women need to have an operation because of a pelvic floor related problem. The adult sanitary pad market is valued at close to $17 billion over the next couple of years. This has to end and is crazy as it is largely preventable. 

For Elvie, you need investors with vision as there isn't an existing marketing. This is a new product category so there is an element of education involved. We intentionally delayed raising an institutional round, bringing in a lot of super angels instead who bring so much to the table; as well as Alex and Lars we have Nicole Junkermann and Michael Spencer. So far our rounds have been doubly over subscribed meaning we have the luxury of being picky in the next raise. We will look for investors who can help with accessing new distribution markets for example in East Asia or North America. 

What are your future ambitions for Chiaro? 

We want to be the Apple of women's health tech. We are changing the way technology is designed for and used by women and we want others to follow suit. For example, for Elvie, there are a few competitors coming to the market and they are using our language of women's empowerment and placing this more as a lifestyle and wellness issue rather than waiting until it becomes a medical issue. This is great - together we can change the discourse! 


Women in Tech

What is your definition of success? 

When your consumers tell you that your product has changed their lives

What has been your observations of women in tech?  

Female investors are without a doubt amazing Elvie women and ambassadors. However, behind most male investors is a strong Elvie women! For us the female tech journalists have been incredible too - Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch, Olivia Solon at the Mirror and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian. Check out their Elvie experiences: 

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?

  1. Don't worry about what people say about you
  2. Live with the uncertainty - it won't feel comfortable and it is a steep learning curve but that is part of the fun
  3. Be determined - you need to be the kind of person who doesn't give up as it will always take longer and cost more money than you expected

What is one thing you recommend all women to do right now to safeguard their health? 

Our motto at Chiaro is: Learn your body. Love being a woman

Check out Elvie!