The pair behind Bia are quite a force. Cheryl Kellond describes herself as a forty-onederful tech exec with a specialty developing and launching new products. She has four kids (21, 12, 10, and 7) and does triathlons in all her spare time. Sylvia Marino, also forty-onederful mother of three (11, 9, 7, plus one four-legged) is an executive director of community operations at a major company and in all her spare times, is an open-water long-distance swimmer.
"Sylvia and I met through work nearly 15 years ago and became fast friends," says Cheryl, "I was a last minute stand-in bridesmaid at her wedding, and she donated 250K frequent flyer miles to help me get to China to pick up our youngest daughter. But this adventure with Bia Sport trumps it all."
An adventure? We love adventures. Read on.
Me: When and why did you come up with Bia Sport idea?
Cheryl: Two summers ago I started looking for a GPS training device for triathlon. I was NOT going to strap my $600 smart phone to my arm to workout, so I ordered every GPS watch on the market. I returned every one. There was nothing that fit my wrist right and didn’t hurt to wear. And they all required a users manual to operate.
I went to MIT, so I’m no dummy when it comes to technology, but seriously? There is no need for that complexity. Did you know that one device actually has a screen the shows a map of all the GPS satellites circling the globe? Like, who cares? I just wanted to run. Clearly we could do something better and make a training watch you could love as much as your sport.
What motivates us though is something bigger than the site and the watch. Both Sylvia and I have seen the effect of endurance sports on our lives. Achieving new athletic firsts, no matter how big or small, makes you more powerful, and more bad@ss in all aspects of your life. This is what drives us. We want to provide products and a community--our site is a evolving combination of Daily Mile, Pintrest and Training Peaks--to help more women kick butt…and look awesome while doing it.
How do you find the energy to launch a business, raise a family, train for half-Ironmans?
I am one of those crazy hypo-manic types. I have a lot of energy and I think I would be bored with any less on my plate. It makes it easier that my life is full of things I love...and that they sell 30-packs of ZippFizz at Costco.
More importantly, how do you give each the concentration they deserve without letting everything overlap and feeling overwhelmed?
Oh trust me, I feel overwhelmed plenty of the time. Actually most of the time lately! The fact that things overlap actually helps. Workouts double as market research. My kids are getting into running. My husband just started doing triathlon. So family time and training are often one and the same.
Still, something always has to give. I don’t beat myself up about it. Don’t come to my house if you want your laundry done for you. Right now the Vineman PR I had my sights set on is taking a backseat to Bia. And showering? I decided a long time ago that it was overrated.
Honestly, the key to making it all work is my husband. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook said a women’s most important career decision is her choice of a partner. She’s right.
I’ll be honest: when I first heard of Bia, I thought, we female athletes don’t need our own GPS. But then I saw your video on Kickstarter and was definitely much more open to the idea. What makes this different than another GPS?
Women need our own GPS watch for the same reason we need women-specific running shoes, running shorts (or skirts!) and bikes: Our bodies are sized and shaped different. Our style is different.
A lot of women hear “for women” and they immediately assume it’s another insulting “shrink it and pink it” dumbed down product. Why would we do that? This is a product Sylvia and I are going to use. More importantly, our friends are going to use it. That’s high stakes! We haven’t dumbed the product down. We’ve made it smarter.
What we heard repeatedly from the hundreds of women we talked to, was, “I love the data but I don’t have time for technology that gets in the way of my workout.” For women, getting technology out of the way includes the smaller size and lighter weight. But it also involves ease of use, which isn’t female specific.
No one wants to spend time futzing with their watch when they could be working out. So we did a few other really smart things, like:
- One button instead of seven
- Data automatically sent to your online training log without the need to “sync” it
- GPS that connects quickly even on a cloudy day in the city.
- Ability to track swimming.
I feel like the alarm is really the distinguishing feature. Really smart. Was that the biggest request from the women you talked to?
Thanks. Everyone seems really excited about it. For those who haven’t seen the video yet, the watch has a built-in safety alert system for peace of mind on solo workouts. If you feel threatened or are hurt, holding down the button for 3-seconds triggers an audible alarm and then automatically sends your location date to a loved one and emergency services so they know you need help.
This idea didn’t come from a direct request though. It came from listening to women. No one said “I want a safety alert system”. But we heard things like “I would love to run early before work, but there is no one to go with me. It’s dark and I don’t feel safe going alone.” Or “My husband gets worried when I’m out for 5 hours on the bike but I get bored always sticking so close to home.”
And we had an ah-ha moment, not about providing peace of mind, but about enabling freedom.
What price points do you see Bia Sport coming in at? And can you explain the GPS GO stick? The watch is one thing but you have to get the stick to track mileage?
So Bia is a two-piece device. When you are just starting out you can use the watch on it’s own. It works like any other heart rate sports watch: Stopwatch, intervals, heart rate, calorie …and a special walk/run mode for the Jeff Galloway crowd.
When you are ready to track distance and pace or are starting to train for a triathlon, you just add the separate GPS Go Stick to the mix. The GPS Go Stick does the tracking and the watch displays the information from it. An easy upgrade.
We expect the watch + GPS Go stick to retail between $249-$299. If you back us through Kickstarter you can get it all for $199. That’s $150 cheaper than the Garmin 310 and about the same price as an entry level run-only watches! It’s a pretty sweet deal. A one-of-a-kind product, a crazy price, and you are helping ensure a by women/for women company becomes successful.
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome thus far, prior to Kickstarter?
Wow. The whole journey has been tough. We built an amazing team and we’ve bootstrapped, begged and borrowed to get to this point. Amex has me on their most wanted list. It’s been a big sacrifice for our families financially and time-wise. But you have to go “all in” to make really great things happen.
The biggest hurdle has been with investors. I’ve worked in technology my whole career and this is the first time I’ve felt the gender effect. Babies? Beauty? Fine. But sports? No way! At one investor meeting they pulled out a ShakeWeight for us to try. At another they asked me what I thought of the OhMiBod (yes, really!).
It boils down to many don’t believe there is a market for what we are doing. We’ve heard things like:
- Women don’t care about performance. They would rather go to the spa.
- Women don’t care about technology. They just buy what men tell them to.
- Many of the women at the start line of a marathon don’t look like real athletes.
I am not sure the right word for it: frustrating, infuriating, or comical. But I know there is no better way to prove them wrong than to show them. Which is why we went to Kickstarter.
Let’s talk about raising $400,000. That feels Everest-esque to me. How do you see it?
Let me take a minute to explain Kickstarter because it’s new to most people. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform that let’s people help projects and products they are passionate about get to market. It’s linked to your Amazon account, which makes it easy and trustworthy to use. We have until July 13th to meet our $400K fundraising goal. People that like what we are doing pledge money to the project. Based on the amount of their pledge, they can be the first to get a Bia watch or other reward. If we reach our goal by the 13th, everyone is charged and receives their rewards as promised. If we don’t reach our goal, no one is charged, but we also don’t get any money and aren’t able to get the product to market.
So yes, $400K is a crazy aggressive goal. It’s aggressive because we only have 30ish days to hit it AND because we have so much education to do about Kickstarter. The good news is we have a killer product and a market full of women fed up with the existing alternatives. Now we just need to spread the word and get people to back the project. FAST.
Many people advised us to set our Kickstarter goal lower and then hope to exceed it. I am great at taking risks, but I won’t risk the trust of our customers. We need $400K to get this product to market. I wasn’t going to risk setting a lower goal, successfully fund the project, but then not have enough funds to actually deliver what we promised.
What happens if the money doesn’t come through Kickstarter? Do you have a plan B (or C or D….)
There are 26 letters in the alphabet. We are pretty tenacious and Kickstarter was not our Plan A. I have no doubt we will create the first iconic sports brand built around style and technology and women. I have no doubt that we will help millions of women achieve new athletic firsts and totally kick butt. But how we get there will change if Kickstarter falls short.
In that case, we will have to put the watch on hold, indefinitely, and focus solely on our online site and re-bootstrap from there.
The plea: We need to spread the word and get every mother runner out there to help make this happen. Even if you are not ready to commit to the whole watch, you can pledge a lesser amount, get a smoking hot Bia tech shirt, and be part of supporting a woman-run business. Every backer at any amount gets us closer to our goal. Pledge here.