We are experiencing an influx of everything in the creative world. Bands, DJs, fashion designers, filmmakers, tech inventors, I could go on. Everyone wants to be someone but few can produce a song that sticks or an app that matters. Every now and then, you come across a gem. That gem is usually a combination of someone, their idea and a strong team who are a breath of fresh air amongst the ordinary and the copycats. Gabe Grifoni and his tech company, Rufus Labs are one of those gems. With their first tech venture, the Rufus Cuff, Gabe and his creative crew are more than just a positive influence, but also innovators in tech design.
They hope to revolutionize wrist-wear with an advanced wearable device and 3-inch wide screen. At first glance, I immediately thought of the Samsung Galaxy watch, but this is wrist-wear on a different level. The Rufus Cuff is certainly a competitor with its size, battery capacity and features: built-in mic, speaker, camera for video and voice calls, app access, etc. But what really struck my fancy is Rufus Labs "giving back" goals. Gabe sees this journey as an opportunity to share a percentage of Rufus Cuff profits with various charities. He has some truly heart-warming ideas, which many tech CEOs could learn from. As they continue on their path to fully realize the cuff for the market, they are campaigning on Indiegogo. I urge you to support in anyway that you can.
I had the opportunity to speak with Gabe about Rufus Labs, the cuff and their goals to change the way we see and wear technology.
How did you dream up Rufus Labs?
I came up with the idea just after CES in January of 2013. There were a few wearables there, but it hadn't really exploded yet. The one thing that stuck with me on the four hour ride back from Vegas to LA was that I really thought it was a cool area to be in but everyone was doing it wrong. They were working with a form factor that hadn't changed in over 200 years. If we could evolve the smartwatch into more of a wrist-born communication device (sci-fi predicts everything doesn't it?) it would solve many of the problems I had seen. Bigger screen means a real keyboard (I can barely type on the rubber buttons on my 1985 Casio watch - let alone a touchscreen the same tiny size). It means full apps. It means more internal room for battery. It means REAL two-way communication. There are a few other problems we see that we are working on solving in future generations as well. Our design and way of doing things opens a lot of doors. I started right away after CES and we have been working in secret for over a year.
How do you think the Rufus Cuff can change the face of portable gadgets/electronics?
We designed the Rufus Cuff differently from most wrist wear because it has to be done. We think with our design we can shift the mindset of users just a little bit. We can get them used to having something larger and more widescreen on the arm. The same way the first iPhone got people to start to give up the tactile keyboard (for instance) - many resisted, but now look at every smartphone around you. "Cuff" style wrist wear will eventually be the norm and we like to think we are leading the change. The Rufus Cuff you see today is just the beginning of things for us. We see a lot more potential as technologies evolve. Our end goal is to replace everything in your pockets (smartphone, keys, wallet). It'll take some time to make it all work seamlessly and beautifully but the Rufus Cuff is the beginning of that transformation of how people use their devices. There's an awesome freedom to walking around in a pair of cords with nothing in your pockets. We want that reality for everyone. We have an entire ecosystem of wearable devices that we want to build that will seamlessly integrate technology into our lives.
The Cuff has been compared to the Samsung Galaxy. What do you think sets your product a part and makes it more beneficial?
The Gear is interesting. It takes a classic form factor and stuffs in a custom OS and some sensors. It's like a color, touchscreen, pebble. it still has the inherent problems I see in almost all wrist wear: the screen is too small to be useful and its the form factor that won't allow it. A big differentiator for use is the usability our size affords us. In addition, we have a front facing camera for video calls. This is a no brainer for wrist wear - we actually dont know why Samsung didnt do this. It's everyone's dream to have video calls from their wrist - we are in the business of wish fulfillment. We also have about three times the space for battery. Battery life is a BIG challenge for small wearables. We solve that issue with our wider form factor. I think the final big difference for us are the apps. Pebble watch has about 1,000 custom apps and Samsung maybe a little over 100 or so. With our form factor we can have access to the entire Google Play store - giving our users a FULL app ecosystem from the start.
A big part of creating something innovative and successful is the team behind the invention. Who are the magic makers at Rufus Labs and how did you come to work with them?
Aside from myself, we have a great team handling ALL aspects of Rufus Labs. The first team member I brought in was one of my best friends from college, Travis LaBerge. We were both engineering students and ended up switching majors to other fields before graduating. He's someone I trust and he runs a BIG music school and non-profit - so he has great team building skills/organizational skills and non profit experience to help with our charitable mission at our company. Matt Goldman is a friend from my home town - we went to school together from 5th-12th grade. He's an MIT engineer and also runs a VC fund in NY/NJ. Rounding out the co-founders is Paula Odysseos-Panayiotou. She's a lawyer and handles our compliance. We have two great engineers on board as well that came through friends and they love to tinker with hardware. We have a great CTO, James Mitchell, who just happened to be my neighbor years ago and we became friends. When I needed a smart CTO consultant - he was an easy choice. We have a lot more support staff working on every element of design, press, customer service - you name it. It's a much bigger group than I could have imagined a year ago.
Where are you planning on distributing the Cuff? Will it be available to purchase online and in stores?
Right now we are on indiegogo to raise money to complete development. If we are successful in our campaign we will begin work on completing development and fulfilling all of the orders. Down the line, when we go to retail, we do plan on selling the Rufus Cuff through our website - www.rufuslabs.com - as well as through select retailers. We will have more information on that as we get to market.
In building your start-up, what challenges have you faced competing in the tech world?
This is my first start up. It feels as if we have faced every challenge imaginable. I'm sure we have many ahead of us - but none of them have deterred us from our path. I think the biggest challenge in competing is that most people tell you to give up before you even get a chance to compete! One of the first bits of advice I received from a friend of a friend in the tech world was 'little guys dont do hardware" - thats not advice - thats a waste of my time. The biggest challenge is continuing with your vision no matter who tells you not to and who says you're doing it wrong. As far as direct "competition" in other products, I don't really worry about them. We have a very driven purpose to build and design in a particular way so if someone out there is doing something else, it's interesting but it does me no good to stress or worry about it. They do their thing and we do ours.
Tell me about the Rufus Initiative and the non-profit foundations you are/will be working with.
A charitable element was something I wanted from the beginning. In my mind, technology is going to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, drivers of money in the world - very soon. If we could harness a portion of this and use it for good... imagine how much good we could do! We think it's important that our device benefits more than just our users - which is why we have made it part of our mission to do good with a portion of everything we sell (5% of all net profits). Imagine if a company like Apple gave 5% of every iPhone's net profit - their investors might not like it - but with 500 million iphones out there, they could have given 2 billion dollars to charity. We aren't Apple but we think we could do some good even at our size. We also have three select models/colors that donate a larger percentage of profits to specific charities. The models, CRIMSON, SKY, GOLD - each donate 25% to AIDS, Equality, Cancer charities respectively. We don't have select charities, just causes now - we will allocate the monies to each cause with the charities we think can do the most good with it.
Where would you like to see Rufus Labs go in the future? i.e. branch out into different tech departments, create different gadgets. Or would you prefer that it remains a small company?
We have big plans for Rufus Labs. We have some ideas in mind for future generations of the rufus cuff of course that will add some enhanced functionality as technology progresses to a level where it can be used and provide our users a great experience. We also have a few other areas on the body that could use a little tech help done right and we are actively exploring some new avenues and partners to assist with this.
By Pamela Price
For more info go to: www.rufuslabs.com