Startup Stories: On the Watch

Two brothers—and fathers—create a wearable device to connect parents with their kids.

Dallas Vasquez knows all about the importance of location. He and his brother, Anthony, previously owned a medical alert company that harnessed the power of GPS for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in need of assistance. Through that business, they worked with Medicare and Medicaid providers and caseworkers who often asked the same question: Do you have anything for kids?

Vasquez and his brother, who live in Fort Myers, each have two young children, so as parents themselves they could see the potential in this sector. A little bit of market research showed them that there weren’t a lot of wearable GPS-enabled products out there to help keep parents connected with their kids. “So we set out on a mission to go and make our own,” says Vasquez.

THE IDEA

Because of the experience and connections the brothers had, it wasn’t difficult to take their idea for a wearable device for kids and run with it. To add to their market research, they enlisted a few hundred customers to provide feedback on any related off-the-shelf wearable devices that were already available at that time.

“Then in parallel to that, we started designing our own device,” says Vasquez. They recruited software engineer Qais Alkurdi to build the software platform needed to operate the product, and he came on as the company’s third founder. Then they reached out to their medical alarm contacts for product designer recommendations and began working with a designer in Thailand on their smartwatch.

Once they had a completed design and the software needed to run it, they began an extensive certification process with entities like the FCC. “You have to go get all of these tests done, and once those are complete you can start,” says Vasquez.

It took about two years to get from idea to finished product, and the startup was funded with the founders’ own savings plus the proceeds from the 2016 sale of their medical alert company.

THE LAUNCH

Once they had a completed, certified product, the founders sent devices to a few hun-

dred customers for something of a beta testing period. Fort Myers-based iGPS officially launched in November 2017, offering a GPS-enabled smartwatch for kids that parents can control using iGPS’s secure mobile-phone app. Parents can track their child’s location, send them messages and even speak to them through the watch, which can also alert them if the child leaves a preset geographic perimeter.

One major hurdle that had to be overcome? How to integrate iGPS’ watch with the company’s U.S. carrier partners, T-Mobile and AT&T. Creating a way to conduct the activation process within its mobile app became an important differentiator for iGPS.

“Parents can download our app, select their service plan, enter their billing information, and activate the watch in a matter of 30 seconds,” says Vasquez.

The founders already had a good background in digital marketing from their previous company, so they focused on things like Google search and social media to launch the product. That led to relationships with contacts for distribution outside of the United States.

“Overall the launch went fantastic,” says Vasquez. “The need for the product and the problem we were solving is very important to parents, so that demand was more than what we even anticipated.”

In the United States, the smartwatch is sold through the company’s website (igpswatch. com) and Amazon. It’s launching in its first retail location in

the spring, a national retailer that hadn’t been announced as of press time. The product is also sold in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Colombia.

WHAT’S NEXT

iGPS has already been named one of the nation’s 15 most- promising wearable tech startups by StartUp City magazine and been chosen as a capstone project for EMBA students at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Year-over-year revenue growth has been more than 100 percent for two years in a row, and the company is forecasting 300 to 400 percent revenue growth for 2019.

Competition is starting to pop up, but it’s currently not a big concern. “They’re really just starting as hardware retailers, whereas we consider our- selves more of an overall operating system for our own device,” says Vasquez. “Our software platform is truly a piece of software that is proprietary to us.” They’ve been approached by smartwatch competitors about leasing out that platform but haven’t decided to do that at this point.

In summer 2019, iGPS plans to launch a similar wearable product for the senior market. The company is currently in

its first fundraising round, says Vasquez. There are investors who have expressed interest, but the founders have also seen that some tech investors are reluctant to invest outside of places like Silicon Valley.

iGPS currently employs eight people and expects to hire three to four additional employees before the end of 2019. “We’re hoping to be able to create some jobs,” says Vasquez.