Ben Parr (President of Octane AI)
Ben Parr is President and Co-Founder of Octane AI, the author of "Captivology: The Science of Capturing People's Attention" and a board director of the non-profit Samasource. Previously, Ben was the Co-Editor of Mashable, a columnist for CNET, and a venture capitalist. He has sat on the advisor boards of Lufthansa Airlines and various startups. He is a member of Forbes 30 Under 30.
Oct 22, 2019
Interview with Tim Fleschner of Eone
Octane AI President Ben Parr interviews Co-Founder Tim Fleschner on Eone's story, mission, and what's going on in the world of ecommerce.
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Part of our ongoing efforts to engage with and learn what’s going on in the ecommerce community includes sitting down and talking one-on-one with industry names. One of those names is Tim Fleschner, Co-Founder of Eone, a design firm that aims to create a world that is more beautiful, equitable, and sustainable for everyone. They believe that “good design” often excludes many people on the basis of ability, and they’ve set out to solve that problem by building beautiful watches that are accessible for one.
Octane AI President Ben Parr recently got on a call with Fleschner to discuss Eone’s story, their mission, and what’s going on in the world of ecommerce.
How did Eone get started?
I moved to Boston because my sister had lost her vision during her first year at Harvard Law. My sister was connected to my co-founder, Hyungsoo, who had identified a problem during one of his business school classes at MIT, where one of his classmates was also blind and had trouble telling time during class. Hyungsoo started working on developing a braille watch, which is how I got in touch with him. We worked with a few different focus groups and ultimately ended up pivoting towards a timepiece with universal design. When we were developing this, it was really just a side project for me and a school project for him, but we ended up launching it on Kickstarter. We had a goal of around $50,000 and ended up raising close to $600,000, which allowed us to enter the first round of production.
What’s the biggest thing that’s changed between when you first started the company and now in terms of customer experience and how customers view you?
When we first started, we were really focusing on the functionality of the product. We were working with people who had lost their vision and anticipated that a lot of the questions were going to be about how the watch works and how to tell time on it. But really, all of the questions were about the material, and if it was a cool, fashionable product.

I would say one of our first biggest pivots was to focus on materials and developing something with a really nice aesthetic, so that it could be a watch for anyone.

It’s been about six years now, and we’ve really pushed on the materials side as well as the functionality. We’re testing out new materials like silicon, and also different case designs and sizes because people have different preferences there, too.

Have you changed anything about how your customers shop?
One aspect we’ve focused on is our website. With our watch, we focused on accessibility first and then thought about the design after. With the website, it was quite the opposite. When we launched our website, it really wasn’t accessible at all, which turned out to be a huge problem because our target market wasn’t able to purchase watches through it. That’s one area that we’ve improved on as a company. We’ve completely redone our website so that, just like our products, it’s completely accessible for everyone.
What do you think is the value of community and what tactic or platforms are you focused on for engaging your customers and communities?
I would say our biggest platform where we spend a lot of time is Instagram. We really want to showcase the brand’s aesthetic, and Instagram is a great platform for that as a large portion of our community has some sort of vision loss. It was an interesting challenge when we were building our community on Instagram, which is a very visual platform, but we got creative with each of our posts by including photo descriptions. That way, if you’re sighted, you’re able to enjoy the posts and the photo descriptions might even provide some extra background, but they’re also accessible.

Right now, around 40% of our sales are generated by word of mouth. I think it is a really good thing that shows that those who purchase our product really enjoy their experience with it and want to share it with others. We encourage anyone who makes a purchase to both share it with their friends through email and also post about it on social media to increase our exposure in their networks.

What differentiates Eone from the marketplace?
The Bradley, Eone’s flagship model, is a completely different way to tell time. It allows wearers to not only tell time by sight, but also by touch, and features raised markers and two magnetized ball bearings to display the time. Outside of that, there is also a storytelling component about not only how our brand was started, but also our mission to create products with inclusivity. We’re hoping that our product will inspire other brands and companies to be more inclusive in not only their designs, but rather all of their practices.
What’s your general marketing philosophy when you’re communicating your product to your customers?
I would say storytelling is the core of our marketing strategy, both from the design side as well as our spokesperson Brad Snyder. Brad originally lost his vision while serving in Afghanistan and later became a Paralympic athlete. We tell his story on how he’s breaking down barriers through our Instagram and Facebook as well as our email marketing. In our emails, we provide much more background Brad, as well as the brand. We share additional information about how we’re creating the products, their evolution, as well as the different ways that we’re giving back and focusing both on inclusivity and sustainability.
So what’s next for Eone?
We’re super excited to be developing a desk clock, which will be our first step out of the realm of wristwatches. Moving in that direction and creating other products that also leverage inclusive design is our long-term vision. We definitely want to continue focusing on developing wristwatches, but also aspire to become a design company that creates a wide range of products that focuses on minority groups that are left out of the design process.

Within wristwatches, we’ve only had one sized case and are excited to be releasing a new, smaller watch in December. I think that’s going to open up a lot of different ways to innovate on what we’ve already created.

Do you have a piece of advice for the eCommerce entrepreneurs out there?
My advice goes back to building community and talking with customers. With wristwatches, it’s a very saturated and competitive market, and storytelling has been a way for us to differentiate ourselves and build our community. Finding your story and learning how to best communicate that to central customer is probably the best piece of advice I have for anyone building their own ecommerce business.
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Topics: Ecommerce, Interviews