Jet-lag-beating, sleep-training alarm clock Kello goes live on Kickstarter


Hong-Kong based Kello launched a crowdfunding campaign Tuesday morning for its First Start Alarm Clock, designed to teach you better sleeping habits and wake you up in tandem with your regular sleep schedule.

“We are in the business of training your body clock for better sleep. No one does that right. Sleep trackers aren’t really training your body clock to forming better habits to sleep better and wake up better,” Kello CEO Founder and CEO Antoine Markarian told Geektime at the IoT hub Brinc accelerator in Hong Kong, where the company is a participant. “We target two kinds of people: people who hate waking up and people who have trouble sleeping. We have programs that will get you to sleep, breathing techniques, focusing, etc.”

Kello is coming from a very lofty philosophical pedestal in rolling out their alarm. Markarian retells his experience of tossing and turning and all the things he did to try to mitigate his bad sleeping. He stopped drinking caffeine (in his case, he dropped Coca-Cola), he stopped oversleeping on weekends (which might be an emotional experience for some readers, including yours truly), and he proverbially got rid of his phone, as in he put it far away from his bedside table to avoid the temptation to use it on the pillow.

The primary goals here are to train your body to 1) fall asleep faster and 2) wake up earlier. You sync the screen’s light patterns with your breathing pattern, Kello’s way of digitizing sheep-counting. When you wake up, you’re discouraged from hitting the snooze button.  Snooze isn’t completely eliminated, though. The clock is designed to wean you off snooze, not force you off cold turkey. It limits hitting the snooze to only three times a week, which will either force you to reserve those precious extra lives or hit you with a rude awakening if you burn those three treats.

Markarian and crew going over designs at the Brinc IoT hub at PMQ in Hong Kong (screenshot, Vimeo)
Markarian and crew going over designs at the Brinc IoT hub at PMQ in Hong Kong (screenshot, Vimeo)

Markarian grew up in Leon and found himself working for five years at Microsoft and then three years at Deezer. His co-founders are brother Greg Markarian, who serves as COO, and fellow Deezer alum Fred Germain who is CTO. The team is solid in terms of software, but building a device meant they needed help. Through a few connections they got in touch with the Brinc accelerator, which has offices in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Their pitch to recruits is to come to Hong Kong for the global connections and the quick ride over to the world’s most cost-effective manufacturing center.

“We were in the market for hardware expertise. Because we’re software people we knew we had a gap to fill. So we had five meetings on Skype. Each interview was a different subject about general [issues], validation, technical, marketing. In the end we got accepted. It was intense. It went very fast and we loved it.”

Kello (courtesy)
Kello (courtesy)

There are some surface-level moves here to help the modern sleeper get control of her or his cycle. While one can glean Markarian’s definite willingness to detach the phone from the clock altogether, the machine is still tethered for a few reasons. One of them is to integrate with your respective Spotify, Deezer, Soundcloud or radio lists to set your wake up tunes. But that’s just for initial setup. You don’t actually need the phone to activate the list.

Kello's app is meant for set up, but please leave the phone out of reach when you go to sleep (courtesy)
Kello’s app is meant for set up, but please leave the phone out of reach when you go to sleep (courtesy)

It comes with smart home integration that will turn off your lights via IFTTT (If This Then That), automatically dimming screens and powers via a USB cable. Those integrations can also include tie-ins with a smart coffeemaker if you want. It also has a power naps program built in and mechanisms to fight off jet lag. Kello computes a customized sleep schedule based on destination and travel times. That includes adjustments based on how soon you are traveling.

“I’d say though our biggest competitor is apathy,” Markarian told me as I jotted down my notes with a ‘not-bad’ grin in response to his answer. “Some of them are happy with their phone. Some of them want to program their body clock to be more efficient. This is the one we target.”

The Kello team in Brinc's Hong Kong offices (screenshot, Vimeo)
The Kello team in Brinc’s Hong Kong offices (screenshot, Vimeo)

Teams that choose to push their products by crowdfunding typically say it is to have direct access to user feedback (and funding, but let’s focus on the former for a second). Building a consumer-focused alarm clock, as if there were any other kind, really requires input from potential customers, Markarian tells Geektime. That is especially true when you are trying to slightly rework an established concept. What Markarian and co. did was sign people up on an email list of about 7,000 potential buyers, then surveyed them on what would be especially interesting to have in the Kello concept. It ended saving the team a lot of development work because while some important things were build into the device, others were left out.

“It was actually very hard because it was very personal stuff about how to improve their mornings and nights. Everyone who subscribed was questioned.”

And of everyone who signed up, a decent sampling of 4,000 sent back answers, he says that, “The top-ranked features are going in. Voice recognition for instance we dropped because there wasn’t a lot of interest in it.”

The Kello will be available starting at $89 and will be offered in blue, grey and green. For $199, you can get that color in a custom Pantone tone.

Check out the campaign on Kickstarter.



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