By adaptive - October 22nd, 2015
Tech startup Tinsel looks to shine by creating wearables that marry function with fashion-forward form. Founder/CEO Aniyia Williams, who’s just entering her third decade, discusses the challenges of bootstrapping her business and tells OMM’s Robert Gray how she is utilizing her female fashion sense and tech skills to create personal tech products that won’t crimp a woman’s style.
OMM: Tinsel has gone from inception to Indiegogo campaign in less than two years, very impressive for any startup but as a minority, female-owned business led by an opera singer it’s hardly been a traditional route to market. How were you able to make it happen so quickly?
Williams: When I decided to start Tinsel, I was running the marketing team at Voxer but knew that I was ready for a new challenge after being there for over three years. I actually went to Tom Katis (who was CEO at the time) and told him that I had this idea and wanted to see if it had legs, and convinced him to invest.
I have a strong background in music as a classically trained singer, and in various aspects of business having grown up in a family business from a very young age. But at my core, I'm a creator. I love bringing together all the pieces I have around me to make something -- whether that's for music, creating marketing campaigns, making wigs, or bringing Tinsel to life.
OMM: Do you think it was any more difficult for you than other startups getting backing and getting off the ground as a young, African-American woman in Silicon Valley?
Williams: I was incredibly fortunate to know someone like Tom. He knew me well enough to see my potential—and had funds to invest in my dream. In the alternate scenario where I don't have him in my life, I have no doubt that it would have been much more difficult.
I've come to learn that endeavors like this are made possible by network and relationships, above all else. You need connections to money, to skills and knowledge, and to influencers... Most women and minority founders simply don't have access to these networks.
In addition to providing capital, Tom provided intros that were crucial for me in the beginning, then those people connected me with other people, and so on...
I'm still building my network, but have already started sharing it with others getting their start because I know it's how I've made it this far.
Tom's seed investment got us where we are today, but we are currently gearing up for another fundraise.
OMM: Women are huge consumers of personal technology, yet few of the final products are designed to cater to women. Given the sheer number of male designers, especially for tech, was your company created partly out of frustration to “get it right” for women?
Williams: Ha, the sheer number of male everything was what this company was created in part to address. But yes -- Tinsel is on a mission to end the "make it pink" mentality that's all too often applied to tech products for women.
Women think of utility differently than men and deserve more consideration when a company says they're making a product for us. We don't just think of how a product functions, we think of how it makes us feel and how it fits into our lives.
OMM: Why dress up headphones?
Williams: Starting Tinsel came from a need I realized many women have, including myself.
Headphones have become a modern-day essential for me and many others, but I have a love-hate relationship with them. I use them every day, but hate digging around for them in my black hole of a purse, untangling them, losing them, breaking them...
I realized that these problems are solved by wearing your headphones on the body, but don't care for the wannabe DJ look or the look of white wires hanging around my neck. I put too much effort choosing an outfit in the morning to have it downgraded by earbuds.
That's how Tinsel was born. I wanted to take something that people know is a necessity today and transform it into something stylish that also makes their lives easier.
OMM: What’s the functionality for “The Dipper”, Tinsel’s debut product launch? And what is it that Tinsel offers that other wearables will not?
Williams: For one thing, most wearables in the market today are designed for the wrist. There's really no "audio necklace" that's out in the market. Brands have tried to bedazzle headphones, or come up with better ways to organize the cables, or even make them into shapes that fit around the neck, but execution is still lacking.
You can talk on the phone, listen to music, summon Siri, etc. with The Dipper as you would any other pair of headphones -- we deliberately decided not to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. We wanted to make sure it can do everything that the earbuds you know and love can do, but transcends that experience by (1) dissolving common pain points, (2) keeping you stylish, and (3) sounding as good as it looks.
It's a not a wireless (Bluetooth) accessory. By sticking with the 3.5mm connector, we've made it so ladies don't have to charge their jewelry (charging has been a major hurdle for wearables). You just plug it in and play, and it works with anything that takes that standard audio connection. So it's device agnostic -- smartphone, tablet, laptop, mp3 player, etc.
OMM: I understand you haven’t worked in fashion, have some of your team members?
Williams: I haven't worked in fashion, but it's very important to me, and others involved with Tinsel have fashion industry experience.
Our product designer, Phnam Bagley, is one of the most impressive people I've ever met. She has designed everything from headphones to handbags to NASA spacecraft.
OMM: What’s your biggest hurdle?
Williams: Time. Specifically as it relates to manufacturing a hardware product. Developing a quality product takes months; years in some cases. Even something with simple technology like headphones involves many variables that you have to get right to produce a quality product.
We're fortunate to have veterans in making consumer electronics on our team and a manufacturing partner that we can trust. But even with all these stars aligned, there are so many facets of building a physical thing that takes time. We wish we could have necklaces around people’s necks tomorrow, but it will be closer to April 2016.
OMM: What’s next for distribution?
Williams: After our Indiegogo campaign ends, we'll kick off sales on our own site. We hope to start distributing through retail mid to late 2016.
For all the latest mobile trends, check out The Open Mobile Summit 2015 on November, 9-10, San Francisco