Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Aditi Chadha is Founder and Chief Product Officer at DAZL, which builds connected devices for women that detects, communicates, documents and deters attacks on women, enhancing their safety and building their confidence. Seeded by Vodafone and the Government of India, in 2017 DAZL participated in HAX, an eight-week boot camp for hardware startups based in San Francisco and raised investment from SOS Ventures, the technology hardware venture capital firm. In 2017, Aditi won a merit scholarship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and was sponsored by the Westerwelle Foundation for the Young Founders Program in Berlin. She delivered a TEDx talk in January 2018. She spent more than a decade in the US, most recently in the Silicon Valley, where she was licensed as a Certified Public Accountant and worked in Mergers and Acquisitions Advisory (TAS) and financial audits covering technology / semiconductor companies for companies such as Deloitte and Grant Thornton.
What is the idea behind DAZL and how did you come up with it?
DAZL merges the worlds of fashion and IoT into a stylish smart device to intelligently manage user's busy lifestyle across work, social life, health and home while keeping them safe and connected. DAZL is a connected device that allows individuals to trigger a location based SOS alert to friends and family in an emergency, to get help, when their phone is not readily accessible. You can also opt to sound a loud alarm to diffuse an uncomfortable situation. Additionally, DAZL helps you locate your keychain and smartphone, as well as receive notifications from phone calls, messages and emails on the device. DAZL is modular in form factor, and can be attached to your keychain, handbag or pendant or simply put it in your pocket.
I was living and working in the Silicon Valley when I started hearing about Fitbit. I thought to myself, can I take inspiration from wearable tech and make something really gorgeous and stylish that is focused to serve women’s unique needs, in ways other than just how many steps they take in a day. That’s when the idea for DAZL emerged.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
Let me start by sharing with you some statistics from the UN. 35% of women experience assault at least once in their lifetime. Women’s safety is a massive problem all over the world. A lot of women find themselves in compromised and unsafe situations. And I am not okay with that. Think about all the women in your lives, embarking on a new adventure, whether it is to go to a new City for work or University or even traveling, as more women are becoming independent.
Our mission is to leverage technology to build a community of confident and fearless women. Note though that DAZL could be helpful in many kinds of emergencies. For example, when someone hurts themselves, falls, medical emergencies, accidents etc. And though our focus is on women at this time, really it can be used by men and senior citizens alike.
I built this technology as I came to the US as an international student and my safety was top priority for me and my family. We started researching the idea in late 2014 and R&D for DAZL started in 2015.
We are a mother-daughter team. My mother is a serial entrepreneur and led her first company to multimillion dollars in sales. She also won the Walmart account and became a registered vendor. She has a deep expertise in design, manufacturing and supply chain management.
We both are competitive, think strategically, and complement each other quite well, though she is quite strict with me, and continually motivates me to push my boundaries and grow.
We registered our company in May 2015. Our team is a mix of folks who have worked on M&A Advisory across Semiconductors and Cloud, European Fashion Accessories, Embedded Systems / Hardware and Software. Plus we have really smart advisors from the Silicon Valley and India. Our supply chain across Asia is also robust and lean. We have worked hard to establish a trustworthy and strong business relationships.
How is DAZL different from other similar products on the market?
- Amazing battery life – 45 days standby time on a single charge
- Aesthetically appealing
- Additional functionality – loud siren in the device, notifications, lost and found (for keychains and Smartphones)
- Competitive price point
- Long range for connecting the device to the Smartphone – greater than 100 feet
- Strong strategic alliances
- Modular in form factor, can be attached to anything
The devices are manufactured by a state of the art contract manufacturer in Malaysia, who is our strategic partner and advisor, and have very competitive price points, and technology.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
The total product development, across Embedded Systems / Hardware, Software, and Fashion Jewelry took over 1.5 years over several iterations, until the product became the right size, texture, looked aspirational enough for women to enjoy wearing and feel empowered, had an enduring battery, and functioned seamlessly so it could serve women really well.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I liquidated my 401K account to fund the product development because I believe in DAZL. This was a major decision. The product was developed in a very competitive budget after I convinced my engineers and designers about my vision and skills, and the unique needs of women that DAZL would serve. We also convinced a state-of-the-art and very reputed contract manufacturer (CM) to work with us, DAZL being the first startup they have worked with.
We worked alongside our CM to get to a superior Bill of Material, after doing intense supply chain studies, while working on a tight startup budget.
We established trust and a superior working relationship while going through multiple iterations on IoT module and jewelry designs.
Tech and fashion is hard to do and we have done it. We overcame difficulties in synergizing the IoT module designs with the jewelry designs, while ensuring the jewelry looks aspirational. Difficulties arose due to structural and material limitations, antennae positioning, and because technology and fashion do not talk to each other
Finding talented engineers especially for hardware was particularly difficult. This is an international level product and has to look, feel and work that way.
Finding a competitively priced and high calibre contract manufacturing partner was hard. I travelled across Asia and finally with the help of my advisors from the Silicon Valley and strength of the concept and mission behind DAZL, we were able to build a strong strategic relationship with our contract manufacturer, who is also our advisor. I also had to convince my contract manufacturer that I had what it takes to lead a venture of this size and complexity, lead product management, and earn their trust.
The challenges that remain are traversing the regulatory compliances required for the different countries we work with. But I am confident that with the assistance of our collaborators that would work out.
How has the company progressed in terms of number of users, traction etc.?
We are following a B2B2C strategy internationally and not India at this time. There is work going on strategic alliances internationally and we are under NDA for that as we progress through the deal.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
The challenge is that the product development cycle is long, and you can’t sell it unless it all fits in together as someone would be paying for this beautiful IoT enabled smart jewelry. It has to look aspirational and function seamlessly for women to derive the most benefit from it.
Secondly, the funds required for product development have to be gathered, and it’s not as easy to raise funds from outside investors just based on an idea, if you are not a first time entrepreneur. So that meant for me to take a 100% risk and liquidate my savings.
Thirdly, contract manufacturers are overseas, and that means transcending cultural and language barriers, and empathizing with them, and building a strong and trusting relationship. This requires skills. Also, identifying the most reliable contract manufacturer takes a lot of hard work and patience. It is a very important relationship.
Being a woman in this field is not very common. Almost everyone I work with is a male, with the exception of myself and my co-founder, Anu Chadha. We are a 100% women led company and we hope we can inspire other women to take the plunge into wearable tech and IoT.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
We raised seed funding in August 2016 from Vodafone and Zone Startups and won the Vodafone Startup Award. This was very encouraging to our team that a big company like Vodafone gave us the seal of credibility.
Building the product into one that looks aspirational and functions seamlessly on a limited budget, working across cultural differences, and having a team spread across country boundaries, gives us the confidence that we are smart, resourceful and hustlers. Yes, women can also hustle.
Fashion and IoT / tech are strange bedfellows and it’s hard to merge them. It was hard for us too initially, but we finally achieved our goal with a lot of persistence, user interviews, and cutting edge online and offline research. Plus, my cofounder, Anu Chadha, brings cutting-edge work experience across European fashion accessories. We worked hard to incorporate the voice of women into DAZL from concept through completion.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Longer battery life, ability to transmit voice through Bluetooth Low Energy, smaller form factors. Per Gartner, wearables generated $29 Billion in 2016 and are forecasted to generate $62 Billion by 2020. Emerging value propositions go beyond fitness: mobile payments, access, safety, wellness and health.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
I didn’t really have role models in my field when I started working on IoT and wearable tech. Plus, I didn’t go to MIT or Harvard or Stanford. So, now that I have successfully launched DAZL, I want to be able to inspire other women who have a great idea to follow their dreams with courage and share knowledge, tips and tricks on how I did it.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
If you want to work on your own ventures, make sure to first work for a bit and save some money that can support your necessary expenses while you build out your company. It takes time and perseverance so don’t expect quick results. Just continue along even if you don’t have the confidence, fake it, eventually when results start showing, you will gain the confidence too. This was actually a quotation from Princess Leia and it definitely guides me.
Make sure to recruit smart people. It’s hard to do it alone. They don’t need to have name brand degrees, but should have passion for the project, should be resourceful, respectful to you, and hustlers. Some can work for equity or even part time initially if it’s hard to pay them a market rate in the beginning. Network a lot initially so you find your tribe. Read a lot about the tech world from publications such as TechCrunch.
Who are your inspirational women in wearable tech?
The Cofounder of Ringly, Christina Mercando d'Avignon
The Founder of Cuff, Deepa Sood
LinkedIn: Aditi Chadha
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.