Henri-Nicolas Olivier: The Innovation Interview

Henri-Nicolas Olivier, CEO of CONNECTEDEVICE Ltd shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of smartwatches.

Mr. Olivier has over twenty-four years of experience in the telecom industry in marketing and management positions with key industry players like Barphone, AT&T, Inventel, and ModeLabs in his native France, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

From 2003 to 2009, Mr. Olivier served as board member in charge of product strategy and international development at ModeLabs Group — a high-end mobile handset manufacturer and mobile accessories distributor that he co-founded. ModeLabs’s subsequent IPO on Paris Stock Exchange NYSE-Euronext was a great success in 2006.

Prior to founding ModeLabs, Mr. Olivier was the CEO at Inventel, — a French wireless product design house and wireless access point and broadband router equipment manufacturer, including not least the development of LiveBox for Orange. The popularity of LiveBox and its subsequent versions led to the company’s successful sale to Thomson S.A.

Since 2009, Mr. OLIVIER has been the CEO of Bluetrek Technologies Ltd., a Hong Kong-based multiple award-winning mobile accessories developer and manufacturer with presence in China, Europe, and U.S.A.

Riding on the advent of Bluetooth Smart (Low Energy) technology, together with his solid experience in Bluetooth, Mr. Olivier started CONNECTEDEVICE in 2011 to enter the fast growing market of wearable technology and Internet of Things. The first product is the COOKOO connected watch, a stylish analog watch that connects to smart devices via an App.

Mr. Olivier’s natural leadership and his ability to bring in the right people have made CONNECTEDEVICE a strong global team. His vision, business acumen and lean start-up experience all help drive the strategic direction of the company. His ability to innovate and hands-on and down-to-earth approach also make the team nimble and efficient in meeting the dynamic needs of the market.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

I would use a simple and broad definition — innovation is about creating something that doesn’t already exist. In technology, it’s about creating a product or delivering a service that was not possible in the same way before.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The watch industry has a rich tradition of innovation. From complex mechanisms to quartz technology and digital displays, it’s always been a great application field for innovators. The next step for watchmakers is connectivity. It’s the new frontier.

In the coming years, the world will benefit from more innovation in products and services related to health and aging. We have to find better solutions to address this important need for the next generation. I believe technology can help us better manage the social costs and personal challenges of caring for an aging population. Wearable tech, like embedded sensors in clothing, will play a big role in this next wave of innovation.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

It’s not necessarily the most profound words that I remember, but rather the daily interaction with intelligent and talented people. Their actions and examples have had a more positive impact than any single piece of advice I have received.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

The next one. The past is known, but the future, that’s where you put your heart and energy today. When you look forward, it is those achievements still to come that are really the most rewarding.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both. I do a lot of digital reading, like most people in business today, but I would not give up my Sunday-edition print newspaper or a big book. I’m reading now a biography of Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Sometimes it’s just more satisfying to turn the pages of a heavy book.

COOKOO has a simple design that appeals more so to watch connoisseurs than an early technology adopters. Was this the goal that you had in mind when you designed, marketed and launched the COOKOO smartwatch?

Absolutely. We believe a watch should be — first and foremost — a fashion accessory, not simply a digital display on your wrist. Most devices you carry, like phones, have standard form factors. But when it comes to a device you wear, the one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Consumers expect something that reflects their tastes and personality.

For this reason, we believe COOKOO’s look is just as important as its functions and features. We worked with award-winning designer Xavier Houy to create a watch that consumers would want to wear, a timepiece that blends an attractive analog face with a digital display. Everyone is free to express their own style through a variety of color choices and, soon, a choice of silicon, leather or steel wrist straps.

With the recent launch of the Samsung GALAXY Gear Smartwatch there seems to be an increased consumer demand for Smartwatches. How are you positioning COOKOO for the perceived consumer demand?

The trend is very clear — everywhere COOKOO was sold alongside Samsung Gear, we saw our sales increase after the launch. Wearable Tech is a relatively new category, so as much as Samsung promotes their own product, they also promote the entire world of smartwatches. COOKOO stands to benefit as our competitors explain the value of smartwatches to the consumer, and as we explain our unique position.

Unlike other smartwatches, COOKOO was designed to be an extension of the phone, not a duplication of it. This is an important distinction. When linked with the app, COOKOO allows users to customize settings based on their priorities and select which notifications they want to appear on the watch face. Less is more. Most users do not want, or need, full phone functionality on their wrists.

Our approach to battery life is also quite different. We don’t believe users will accept another power-hungry device that requires a nightly recharge with bulky power cords, so we designed COOKOO to run on a conventional button-cell battery. You can use COOKOO for up to one year without a charge and, when necessary, the battery can be replaced easily by the user.

Since COOKOO can support multiple devices, have you explored any marketing partnerships with OEM’s or Wireless carriers to create exclusive enhanced versions of the COOKOO smartwatch?

Yes, we have deals in place with wireless carriers today where we bundle a phone, the COOKOO watch and the service. We will do more of this in the future, and we know that services will be a critically important part of any offering.

Was making the COOKOO Smartwatch waterproof always a priority when you were developing the concept? If so, why?

Waterproofing was always a priority. Think of all those wet situations when you can’t carry your phone: in the shower, on the beach, in the pool, under the rain. The COOKOO watch is a wearable extension of the phone, especially helpful when your phone cannot be in your hands.

Wearing a smartwatch should be as natural as wearing a conventional watch — features like waterproofing, and the fact that COOKOO does not require a recharge, allow us to add connectivity without changing the user’s behavior. It’s a normal, comfortable experience. Our next generation watch will have enhanced water resistance, up to 10 ATM.

How do you envision the wearable technology market evolving over the coming years?

Wearable tech will be an evolution, not a revolution. Much of the development now is technology-driven, where manufacturers pack every possible feature on the device simply because it’s possible to do so. But does the consumer want it all? Does it really make sense to wear it? Wearable devices are so close to the body, so personal, that future development will have to be usage-driven. It’s not about the technology itself, but the benefits and experience it delivers to the user.