Zach Vorhies loved working for Google. After five and a half years as an engineer in the Google Earth division, he saw it as a great company full of brilliant people. And the food? "Fantastic," he said.
"But everything that I made was not mine," he added. "It was somebody else's product. I really wanted to start a business, so when I saw these gloves, I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime idea that I couldn't allow to pass from my hands."
That's the only hands/gloves pun he allows himself when talking about Zackees, the electronic turn signal gloves that he and co-founder Murat Ozkan invented. Zackees is also the name of the company the two have formed with the help of a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
The two had a month to meet their goal of $35,000. They hit that mark in 12 days.
"At this point we're a viable company," Vorhies said. "We're going to be a revenue-generating product with our first inventory shipment," which is expected in April.
Zackees mix fashion and technology. The stylish gloves have LED-powered arrows that allow cyclists, runners and skateboarders to let others know which way they are turning. The gloves have embedded electronic circuitry but are still washable and use contact pads instead of buttons. They come with either disposable or rechargeable batteries. Prices vary from $69 to $99.
The FAQ section of Zackees' Kickstarter page mentions that turn signal equipment for bikes can be expensive and susceptible to theft, hence the need for less-expensive alternatives. Previous attempts at electronic signals on gloves proved too bulky and ugly for cyclists' tastes.
The Kickstarter video details the development process for Zackees, which started in 2010 as a pair of light-up vests and gloves that Vorhies and a fashion designer friend put together on a lark. They drew some interest after wearing them to a fashion show, and Vorhies immediately saw the potential applications for sports and cycling.
Vorhies, a University of Oregon graduate, credits friend/Zackees co-founder and robotics/electronics specialist Ozkan with coming up with a more fashionable alternative to embedding circuitry into clothing. He also says Ozkan was the one who helped convince him to quit his job and follow his entrepreneurial dreams. "A good company is founded by good people. I found the right person to do my electronics and he was really motivated and believed the idea. He, beyond anything else, caused me to take the leap of faith and start a business."
Vorhies also has plenty of praise for Kickstarter, which gave the cycling community a chance to make suggestions on the angle of the arrows. That design tweak resulted in a better product and provided him with Lesson #1 from the Big Entrepreneurial Playbook.
"You really want to test something first and listen to your customers. That is what will sink or float your product. It's been valuable," he said.
But Zackees wouldn't have had that chance at developing a prototype for early testing and review without crowdfunding and Kickstarter.
"That lowers the barrier to entry," he said. "You're seeing a hardware renaissance right now that's allowing entrepreneurs to bring an idea to market."
Software startups are relatively cheap to get underway, Vorhies said, since he believes everybody involved is working from the same skill set.
"With hardware, you have a lot of different people with different skill sets - business strategy, the hardware guy, the web developer and so on," he said. "It can be super expensive. Historically only big companies could make hardware. But now, for the first time, a small startup like ours can say, 'here's a prototype.' We can check demand and then build supply. That's the inverse of what it (the hardware development process) has typically been."