Posted: 9:40 a.m. Monday, July 22, 2013
By John Brandon
Drew Martin, founder of the life-logging device MeCam, explains how his product evolved with the help of some early fans.
The MeCam is not your average digital device. The button-shaped gadget clips to your shirt so you can take photos all day and record video. You reach down to snap a shot, "life-logging" your day and syncing the media at night. You end up with a record of activities, a kind of "digital urn" you can keep forever.
Recently, I talked to Drew Martin, the founder of MeCam, about how his company, based in New York, handled early feedback on its debut camera and used it to make a better product. A new version is already in the works that will snap better images and even work in the water.
Tell me how you got started.
This is my first consumer electronic device, and I developed and bootstrapped it myself. So I didn't have the convenience of a large company's resources. I had to basically launch it, hope that people bought it, and then see how they reacted to it. Luckily people have been buying them and from there I have been able to get their reaction. Because I kept my price point low ($50-$70) people were generally happy with the overall quality and ability of the MeCam. Would I ever claim it is flawless and the perfect product? Of course not.
What kind of advice did customers give you early on?
The size of the buttons. Because of the small size of the MeCam--a little less than 2 inches in diameter--the PCB board (electrical board that makes everything work) is also small and hence the buttons are small. Some people with bigger fingers or arthritis were having issues with the small size and close placement together of the buttons.
Ability to see what you are filming. To keep the price low, I made MeCam without an LCD screen. It has a wide-angle, 65-degree lens that captures mostly everything in front of you. However, people today want to be instantaneously gratified. So there has to be some way to see what you are taping to see if you have positioned the MeCam correctly on your clothes and are capturing what you intended.
Battery life. People always want longer battery life no matter what. This even affects the largest electronics companies in the world like Apple.
Better connectivity. People don't always want to plug the MeCam into a USB on a computer to get their footage.
How did you decide which advice was worth following?
What sets me apart from competitors is my price point. There is nothing quite like MeCam. Any product you might consider a competitor is $180 or more. Also, the small size of the MeCam determines what is doable and what is not. The technology that's available dictates a lot. If it was possible within a certain price point and the technology was there, then I implemented it.
Was it a little painful to hear that customers wanted more from your device?
Nobody likes being told that something you spent a year of your life developing is lacking in certain areas. That's human nature. At the same time, I knew that this was far from a perfect product. It is my first offering, and I want to improve it. The only way this is possible is to listen to feedback, both good and bad.
What would you have done differently in terms of collecting customer feedback?
As a small start-up that is bootstrapped, my time is at a premium. If I could have afforded to hire someone from the launch to focus solely on customer service and keeping in contact with my users, then that would have been amazing. Six months later I can afford to have a person like that but it would have been nice in the beginning.
Do you get frustrated when someone reviews your product and compares your $50 dollar camera against a $300 GoPro?
Of course. It's not really a fair comparison but this is the nature of business. You can't control everything--even though, as an entrepreneur, you do your best to control everything, at least I do. All you can do is accept the feedback and use it to make a better product and hope your customer sees and appreciates the attempt to give them a better product. Even since my launch in January I've been making small tweaks here and there to MeCam, so that every batch I get is better than the previous one. The MeCam is now far superior to the ones I sold when I first launched.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
If you choose to be in business for yourself, then you have to be ready to always receive feedback. The hardest thing to do is take any criticism in a positive way, because your first reaction will be to defend yourself. I could have always replied, "Well, hey, this is a $50 video camera, what do you expect?" But then you risk losing that customer forever and your product and service will never improve. If you instead acknowledge the shortcomings and then actually go out and improve on them, then you might have a customer for life. Steve Jobs always undersold his Apple products rather than overselling. It's a good lesson.