When Brett Wingeier and Daniel Chao started Halo Neuroscience in 2013, there were no two people more qualified to bring to market the world’s first wearable neuro stimulation device. Brett is a Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering and Daniel is an MD/MS from Stanford, and the two had already built an implantable neuro stimulator to treat epilepsy at Neuropace, their previous company.
They even knew what specific area of the brain would be most responsive to neuro stimulation: the motor cortex—the movement center of the brain.
What they didn’t know, however, was exactly how people would use it. All they knew for sure was that there was strong data showing that neuro stimulation accelerates the natural learning process in the brain, and that when applied to the motor cortex, neuro stimulation speeds up improvements in skill, strength, and endurance. But in starting a wearable tech company, investors (and smart founders) need to answer the simple question: Who exactly is this product for?
Sometimes, however, only the market can tell you who your customers are. Let me explain.
At Halo, we initially focused on endurance athletes. As avid weekend cyclists, our founders were personally motivated to penetrate this market. Accordingly, the peer-reviewed research showed that neuro stimulation delayed the perception of fatigue while exercising and the business plan made perfect sense.
But the market, especially the wearables market, does not care about your business plan. Shortly after we started shipping the product in late 2016, we gained traction in an unlikely place: the U.S. military, specifically, Special Operations units, where motor control and reaction time is a matter of life and death. We had to respond accordingly, steeping ourselves in phrases like “target acquisition” and learning the labyrinthine procurement procedures of the U.S. military.
Almost as quickly, we began getting orders from professional sports teams. From rugby clubs to MLB teams like the San Francisco Giants, we found ourselves immersed in another new market segment we had not fully anticipated. This not only offered more institutional sales, but opened up a great marketing opportunity for us, so we responded accordingly, tweaking our product offering and tailoring our marketing materials for organizations.
Two of the more recent, but most avid adopters of our technology could not be more different: the Cross Fit community, and musicians. It turns out that these two groups, who appear to have absolutely nothing in common, in fact share the exact same need: to learn movement faster. That is why you’ll see us working with Cross Fit pros like Kari Pearce as well as the Berklee College of Music.
We did not learn who our customers were from thinking hard about it; we learned by putting physical product in peoples’ hands and seeing what they did with it. If you’re able to do this at scale prior to a product launch, do it. If not, stay nimble and be prepared to pivot.