Mai-Li Hammargren is the CEO and co-founder of Mutewatch, a watch with a hidden touchscreen and silent, vibrating alarm.
I’m really into face-to-face meetings and direct contact with people – board members, retailers, business partners and customers alike. It’s an efficient way to attract interest and have fun at the same time!
Summer 2010 I bought an interrail ticket and went by train to 7 major cities in Europe. I asked the locals for advice and visited premium stores. The product was only a prototype (the battery was hanging outside) but many were excited about it and committed to a pre-order. On August 5th 2010, we unveiled the product and got about 1000 pre-orders through mutewatch.com. This was before crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter existed.
The biggest obstacle is to find capital to fund the development and production. To us, social media and our networks have been key. We closed the first round through a closed poker society of CEOs and founders. Other founders of Swedish startups part of that network are Spotify and Klarna.
I run. Physical activity is a great way to regroup. Or I call my Dad.
The Mutewatch team is a small bunch of different people aiming at the same goal. If I would surround myself with six “Mai-Lis”, I don’t think we would be where we are today. As a founder of an idea it’s important to know your blind spots and find the right people match you.
Focus on sales and on creating traction first of all. Pick your investors with the same caution you would pick a spouse ; it’s important that you really want to work together on a personal level and want the same thing, in our case, to create something great. “Ask for money and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice and you’ll get money” someone told me years ago and it’s a good advice. We managed to get a government innovation grant which covered the cost of the initial prototype development. My poker friends from the CEO and founder network supported us in the first capital round and funded the industrialization phase. We took pre-orders which then were matched by the bank, another institute and private investors, in order to fund the tooling and the first batch.
As a student at Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), I was in this ideation contest. The challenge was: “Solve an everyday problem.” My boyfriend at the time was a film maker and would get home late at night, whereas I would get up early every morning and involuntarily wake him up with my alarm clock. A personal, silent alarm clock would solve the problem I thought. The idea came in second but I was hooked on it and began working on making it happen.
I was still in school and it was never really about crossing over. It was just great, also for the company, to have one foot in a well-known institution, and the other in the “real world.”
One of the problems we faced was making people understand what we were working on. While they, in one way, could put Mutewatch in existing product categories, in other ways we didn’t match the description. Going back I would have given everyone we talked to the book “Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore” about marketing innovations.
As most founders having launched something on a minimal budget I have a few crazy stories. Once, when I arrived quite late at night to Amsterdam, my friend, whom I had planned to stay with, was out of town, my relatives were asleep (which was my Plan B) and due to a soccer final all hotels were full. I kept my calm while walking up and down the streets, and after a while a guy came up to be and asked me if I needed help. He ended up staying at his girlfriend’s flat while I stayed at his for the entire fashion week. We’re still friends today and he calls himself my Dutch brother. One of the coolest things about being an entrepreneur is that you get very strong ties to the ones helping you along the way.
See everything as assets- even fears, problems and hard times. If you can learn to live in the present – even if you are in pain – it’s easier to find solutions and also easier to be truly happy.
The single greatest marketing tactic has been to involve people around us in the process from the start. In the beginning, when we couldn’t tell anyone what Mutewatch was because of the patent-process, we threw parties to let people know that we were doing something, even if we couldn’t show it to anyone.
We are not afraid of working hard and we have a rather cheerful “go get ‘em” atmosphere in the office. We value freedom and are not afraid of reinventing things – like for example the way we work. We were recently voted one out of the 20 hottest, new innovations from Sweden. The saying “True innovation doesn’t have a market” indicates that creating something new can be quite challenging. The passion for creating something great has brought us together. When we launched there was no other touchscreen watch on the market and we are still the only one without buttons.
Since we sell to retailers in 27 countries I mostly work online. We use Basecamp for projects, Highrise to handle customer contact and SILK for orders, shipments and invoices. As much as I like physical meetings, our base is online and this is where we usually meet as a team.
The entrepreneur societies have meant a lot. I started playing poker in a CEO/Founder Society which turned out very helpful when we were raising capital. Sandbox Network has been a great help to go global on a shoestring, just to mention two.
In Sweden you get a loan and funding by the government which meant the world to us. The networks around our schools were key to recruiting talents and go global. I studied at Stockholm School of Economics and took a master in international management through CEMS. Co-founder Oscar studied at Royal Institute of Techonology through which we found the engineers to build the product.
We’ve had mentors from Acne, Cheap Monday, WeSC, Urbanears and Unitportable helping us building the brand. Stockholm is the home of many talented musicians and DJs and we have a following among that group, maybe because Mutewatch is easy to see in the dark.