Have you ever lost your wallet? Or maybe you’ve been late for a meeting because you had to search your house for it? A Kraków-based start-up is looking to make such inconveniences a thing of the past.
Woolet is a young company – its founders, led by serial entrepreneur and tech businessman Marek Cieśla – came up with the idea only last November. In March they launched a campaign on crowdfunding website Kickstarter with a goal of raising $15,000. The company crushed that goal by over 2,000%, earning nearly a third of a million dollars in just a month. Woolet, evidently, has struck a nerve.
The technology connects your wallet to your smartphone, notifying you if you’ve left your wallet behind (or if your wallet is moving away from you – potentially in a pickpocket’s hands) by signalling your phone when you exceed a certain distance from it. The technology also works in the opposite direction, with your wallet letting you know if you’ve left your phone behind.
The idea, in itself, isn’t terribly new. Companies have been working on such notification technologies for years. But Woolet differentiates itself with several features. First is a distinctive sound, instead of simple buzzing or beeping, so you don’t mistake the notification for a text message. Second, the telephone application informs you just how far away your wallet is, and shows you when you are getting closer or farther away. Finally, the wallet’s battery is ultra-thin and self-charging.
Technology is easy to replicate though, and in some places, where intellectual property isn’t always well respected, it can be copied and produced more cheaply. That’s why Cieśla and his team decided to make Woolet a wallet-maker, rather than just a tech firm. The wallets are hand-crafted using ecological, high quality materials and are thinner than your typical wallet. The combination of innovative technology with quality design and clever branding has obviously excited potential customers.
The Woolet team is working on creating an entire ‘ecosystem’ of such products, including key chains and phone covers. Eventually, the company hopes to fully integrate these products into the ‘internet of things’ allowing them to help you with other everyday necessities, such as opening your garage door or turning off the iron.
Apart from the batteries, all of the parts are made in Poland. The firm has signed distribution agreements in several markets across the globe, where Woolet will be available soon. Cieśla told Poland Today that the company has signed an agreement with a major European retailer, though it isn’t ready to reveal which one just yet.
Poland Today talks with Marek Cieśla, CEO and founder of Woolet
You shattered your initial Kickstarter funding goal of $15,000, finally raising more than $330,000. Why do you think the response was so enthusiastic?
My team is not new to this. We learned how to do it in previous campaigns. It isn’t as simple as just setting up the website and waiting for the money to roll in. There is a lot that needs to be done ahead of time, including promotion. But we also focused on design. We actually turned the philosophy of the internet of things on its head. Companies like Apple, they create hardware and then hope people begin using it. We did the opposite. We took something that people already make use of every day and solved a problem people have with it.
How will you use all of that extra capital?
What has happened is that the users have demanded features that we didn’t plan on initially, and we are working on those. One is wireless charging, where we have two types of technologies planned. First, you will be able put the wallet on your charging pad and it will charge there. Second, we are working on photogenic charging: using artificial light to power the battery. You can put it close to your lamp and it turns the energy from its light into electricity. With these technologies, the battery will last years. I think the leather on the wallet will wear out quicker than the battery.
Won’t the app be a drain on the battery in users’ phones?
No, the technology uses Bluetooth low energy – it’s always on. You don’t have to turn on the regular Bluetooth on your phone, which helps save energy.
The idea isn’t particularly original. How do you differentiate yourselves?
There are some other gadgets out there that help people find things. But the major issue with those devices is the battery and the sound. Usually, such products are encased inside plastic. There is a small hole where the sound emits from. That has some serious limits: it is often hard to hear, and you can’t tell exactly how far away it is. Imagine trying to find your keys when you’re next to a busy street. Moreover, most of these technologies’ batteries last just two or three months. Plus, if someone steals your wallet, you are better off just seeing where the wallet is than having it set off some kind of alarm – the thief could easily block out the sound.
Why make a wallet too? Why not just the technology, and sell that to wallet makers?
Because the technology can be made anywhere. So the first thing is the branding. The other thing is the cloud – if we create a product where users set up accounts, then we can use that data to help create all sorts of solutions. Imagine that you are approaching your house in your car. Your Woolet key chain could notify the garage door and open it automatically. We’re also working on technology that would, for example, allow you to cancel your credit cards automatically if someone steals your wallet. There are many such possibilities with an integrated product.
What are the next steps for the company?
In June we will ship the early bird products, and by July we’ll have the first retail products from the factory. We have already signed 12 distribution agreements, in the US , UK, Canada, Brazil, Germany and some other markets. Of course, it will also be available on our website. Geographically, we have covered all of the markets we wanted to.