Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Virpi Tuomivaara is the co-founder and Communications Manager of Oura Health. Virpi has international experience in communications development and company communications at Nokia, and in hands-on marketing, distributor and reseller communications and relationship development at NetHawk Asia, Hong Kong. Before becoming the founding partner of Oura Health, she was a wellness entrepreneur, providing wellness services and Yoga lessons for various groups from kids to adults. Virpi has an ability to understand and communicate with diverse groups of people in different cultural environments. She is a talented listener and respected discussion and negotiation partner.
What is the idea behind the Oura ring and how did you come up with it?
At first, there were just a bunch of people who all lived very hectic business and family lives. We understood that for healthier living, we really needed something to keep our lives in balance in the long run. So, it was our own need that sparked the idea.
We wanted to find an accurate and convenient way to learn how our bodies and minds respond to our lifestyle – the way we sleep, what we eat, and how we move for example. And we wanted to gain a long-term perspective, with insights into how we could retain the balance in case it would be shaken for some reason.
We first searched for ready-made solutions and products on the market. Quite soon we realized that there weren’t any devices available that would measure body reactions accurately, give us personal insights basing on the data, as well as look good and be comfortable to wear.
After extensive amounts of research and prototyping, my colleagues came into conclusion that you can accurately measure a comprehensive set of physiological data from a finger. That was when I got really excited and confident – we can make a ring! That marked the starting point for a period full of passion and discovery. We were creating something unique and revolutionary.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
Our company was established in 2013 in Oulu, Finland with five co-founders but we started working on the ideas and doing background studies already in 2011. At the moment we have over 30 awesome and talented people in our team - in seven cities and four countries.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
If we talk about the current company Oura Health, it took us around three years to develop the first product - the first Oura ring - we launched in March 2015 in the Launch Festival in San Francisco. After the Kickstarter campaign in autumn 2015 we have got active users in over 50 countries, majority of them in US. Since the launch of the first product we have been developing already the next generation and the new Oura ring was launched at Slush in November 2017.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Creating something no one has done before is a big challenge, but for me it has always been the best and most exciting part of the process. Learning and creating something new is really invigorating and rewarding. The shared passion for creating something very meaningful within our team has been one of the most important driver that has helped us pushing through all the obstacles along the way.
The first challenge was to create a desirable, fashionable, comfortable and ergonomic ring design. After all, electronic components, especially the battery, were quite big when we started. Product development required a lot of hardware, software and production excellence and out of the box thinking. Second big challenge was developing and validating the algorithms on the measured bio signals and interpreting different body responses in relation to daily mental and physical load and recovery. Finding the best investors who understand the full potential of this kind of a new innovation in this type of a niche area has been a big challenge as well. Fortunately in our team we have deep expertise and long experience in all these areas from previous businesses.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
On my personal journey the following achievements are highest in ranking:
- Establishing Nethawk Asia Ltd. (a subsidiary in telecom business) in Hong Kong with my husband in 2000 and building business with great partners all over South East Asia, China and Japan,
- Becoming a mother of two wonderful daughter,
- Co-founding Oura Health in 2013 and creating a new revolutionary solution with the best team,
- Launching the first Oura ring in San Francisco in March 2015,
- Launching the new Oura ring at Slush, Helsinki in November 2017
- And meeting so wonderful people along the way in multiple countries and cultures.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Wearable technology market is huge and crowded, so you need to be able to create something brand new and really meaningful, and you must find ways to get your message and voice out. Sometimes it’s a challenge to keep a tight focus in operations, because there are all these interesting possibilities available. For example at Oura, the science behind the ring and the rich data it provides pave the way to so many types of opportunities.
Personally, my biggest challenge has been to balance my daily life between my invigorating work and my family. There are so many things I would love to do for our company, but being a big part of my daughters’ everyday life and cooking healthy food for my family is close to my heart as well. Spending some free time together with my husband is empowering and very important for both of us, since he is the CEO and co-founder of Oura Health.
The great thing with the Oura ring is I can learn to optimize my rest, activity and diet. As a woman, there are some specific things I need to take into account, too. For us women, there’s this recent interesting study indicating that optimal strength training benefits can be achieved by scheduling highest training loads to pre-ovulatory period, and by avoiding overload during the latter half of the menstrual cycle. Since Oura measures my body temperature deviation during the night, it’s really interesting to follow up my menstrual cycle phases and take it into account when planning my training.
Luckily I have one daily routine that doesn’t need extra scheduling and is perfect for soothing my mind and activating my metabolism: a brisk walk in the nature from my home door.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, #WomenInTech movement inspires me and reminds me to dream big. I think women bring important and fruitful experiences and perspectives to the tech industry. It is important to continue setting a positive example for the next generation, and to honour different perspectives in all areas of work and life in spite of one’s gender.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Whatever you plan to accomplish, if you can see it ready in your mind, you can finish it. Don’t let others’ opinions silent your inner voice, because when you have the courage to trust your intuition, everything you need along the way comes to you when the time is right.
Remember to cherish your relationship with your family and friends, since in the end, they are the most valuable and precious things in your life.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
It has been great to see how the borders between wearable technology and fashion tech are finally blurring in many ways. As components are now smaller, the size of wearables will no longer differ from that of jewellery, and top designers can push the boundaries even further. Innovations in the fields of fashion and textile industries are very interesting, and I think that in five to ten years most people will wear clothes, footwear and accessories that have built in interactive technology. The use cases just need to be useful and meaningful so that they will succeed and gain good retentions.
As a woman, I’m really happy that revolutionary inventions in IoT and AI give totally new possibilities for girls and women to take care of their health with the help of wearable technology. Combining science, technology, design and ultimate wearing comfort with meaningful insights and health benefits will make it possible for us all to self-reflect and learn deeper how our unique body responds to our lifestyle and daily choices. This allows us also to serve individuals in a very personalised way. Wearables can become even more than your personal coach. Wouldn’t it be easier to make changes to your daily habits if you could see your personal daily progress and state of health? At least for me it would!
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
Anina Net, 360Fashion – She loves “Doing things that have never been done before.” - So do I.
Francesca Rosella, CuteCircuit – Introduced many ground-breaking ideas to the fashion world. In one interview she said: “Technology should be more personal, about human communication.” - I could not agree more.
Limor Fried, Adafruit – I Love the idea of DIY electronics and kits, I have planned to try them with my kids as well.
The Valentine Day Offer:
We have a special Valentine day discount, -25% off, for the Woman of Wearables community. Use the code WOW2018 when placing the order. This special offer is valid until February 17, excluding Balance Diamond.
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.