INTERVIEW | KATE UNSWORTH, CEO, VINAYA

INTERVIEW | KATE UNSWORTH, CEO, VINAYA

Kate Unsworth needs no introduction to the fashion tech community. Since 2013, she has been using technology to help people find digital balance. Back then, under the name Kovert Designs, Unsworth and her team unveiled a smart connected jewelry, Altruis, which is undoubtedly created with the fashion-conscious crowd in mind.

Last November, Kovert Desings rebranded to VINAYA and split the company into a Lab and a Studio. The researchers in the Lab look at academic papers and scientific articles, boil down the main findings and present them to the Studio product team, who use them as a guide for VINAYA’s upcoming products. And it looks like this approach has proven successful. When the startup announced the launch of its second product– the first emotion tracker – it smashed its crowdfunding goal of $100k in 41 hours.

We sat down with Kate to hear more about the inspiration behind Zenta and trends in fashion, tech and wellbeing.

What triggered the creation of Zenta?

Our first product, Altruis, was all about using technology to help you silence the noise and still stay connected to the most important things and people in your life. A year in, we started digging deeper and asking “Why are we doing this? Why do we care about helping people disconnect from their phones?” What it really came down was emotional wellbeing. So, for the past 18 months we’ve been diving deeper into that and what we’ve created is the first emotion tracker that comes to market. It’s really cutting edge technology and the reason it doesn’t exist yet is because the technology hasn’t been advanced enough yet.

People needed to get comfortable with step-, calorie- and sleep-tracking before they could get comfortable with more sensitive data

Zenta is about finding balance into your day-to-day life. The types of sensors that we have measure your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, movement, respiration, sound. So in addition to the things that you would expect from a wearable device like activity, fitness and sleep tracking, we also have general wellbeing tracking. Things that we focus on specifically include stress, happiness, tranquility, productivity and, in some ways, fulfillment.

Is there a need for such product?

We have been watching this trend for a while now and anticipating it. I think the consumer was not ready for this before. It’s this natural progression that needed to happen where people needed to get comfortable with step-, calorie- and sleep-tracking before they could get comfortable with more sensitive data. We predict that the biggest trend at CES 2017 will be emotion technology and we’ll be the first to bring this to market. It’s been spoken about before but nobody has managed to do it.

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Why do you think this is the case?

One of the most complex things about this is that it’s not just about the wearable and the sensors. It’s about building the whole backend and coming up with meaningful results. The really amazing thing that the team has created is the entire emotion model.

Because our Lab looks at the academic research before going to the product team, we’re not just making assumptions about products that maybe people will like. We start from the basics, understand people and aim to build products and features that make their lives better. There are a couple of great medical devices that have this technology but they are very big and only used in the medical field. There isn’t a consumer product like this with this sentiment in mind.

Does Zenta give you feedback based on the things that it tracks?

rose-gold-zenta-phone-2_k0nbyyWe’re trying to provide you with additional insights to your own life. We don’t want to tell you how to live your life, we’re not doctors, but we want to give you access to data about yourself that you might have not ordinarily have known.

Imagine you have a graph with an X, Y and Z axis. Let’s say the Y axis is arousal, as in elevated heart rate. A high arousal data point could mean many things. For example, that you’re really stressed, that you’re on a date just that you’re running to get the bus. That data point could be the same for all those three. To know what it is, we cross-reference that with the X axis which tells us if it’s positive or negative. So, positive high arousal could mean you’re on a date. Negative high arousal – that you’re stressed. Then you cross-reference that with the third axis, which is control, so are you in control of that emotion.

This means that we can begin to understand your physiological responses by plotting these data points. So you might get a notification saying ‘Your heart rate is high, do you want to log or dismiss”. And if you’re running to catch the bus, you can dismiss it because this is not an emotional reaction. But if you’re in a meeting with someone you might want to log it because that person makes you feel something.

Over time the technology will spot patterns and idea is to empower people to understand how certain things make them feel. We talk about life design a lot and so we want to help you design your life in a way that allows you to be the best version of yourself.

 

So how do you know whether the heart rate and stress is positive or negative?

We use machine-learning algorithm and the technology learns about your response to that trigger. So for someone like you stress might not be that much of a negative thing. For others, it might, so the algorithms could be different.

There’s an initial profiling stage when you use Zenta the first time where it will ask you about your life and your habits but over time it will learn about you and you’ll end up inputting less.

On the consumer side there’s an interesting undertone about using this technology to spot early signs for things like depression, eating disorders or other conditions that exhibit patterns in your life before they come into full effect. If we can help people stay on the right track early enough before conditions like these become a problem, that’s great.

Let’s talk about privacy. Do you collect and analyse the consumer data?

We have a really strict data privacy policy. Everything you share with us is ‘opt-in’ because we want to be absolutely transparent about how your data is used and stored. And that’s not only for the first time when you log in. We’ve designed the UI in such a way that you can always see how the data is used and it’s always opt-in or opt-out. This means that you choose what you want to share with us.

We want people to know that we will keep their data protected but also that if they choose to opt in this will help us improve the product and make it better for them. This is so important because for such a long time companies and brands have pulled a veil on people so we want to let users decide how their data is shared and we want them to be in control.

Can you tell me more about the other features?

When we launched Altruis, we decided not to include any sort of fitness or sleep tracking because that had already been done before. However, we learnt that people still wanted to track their fitness and calories but they didn’t want to wear two wearables. That’s why we built all these features that the consumer expect, plus the ones that make us unique.

How much will the retail price be?

I’m so excited about this because we’ve got to the point where we’ve scaled our supply chain and learnt how to produce these products. We managed to reduce our production costs, which means we can lower the retail price. So, Zenta will be £149. This makes it much more accessible. And, you know, we don’t want it to feel like an exclusive product – the more people we can reach and help, the better.

You can support Zenta’s crowdfunding campaign here

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