Thomas Serval: The Innovation Interview

Thomas Serval, Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO of Kolibree shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the connected toothbrush.

An entrepreneur since 2001, Thomas Serval is one of the key pioneers in connected objects, having been instrumental in the Internet of things as far back as 1997. He is co-founder of Kolibree, Flaminem and Radioline and founder of Aleph1 a new accelerator concept that leverages companies across 3 continents. His latest innovation, Kolibree, the world’s first connected electric toothbrush, was named best of CES 2014 for Home by Digital Trends.

Prior to stepping out as an entrepreneur, he served as Managing Director of the Media and Platforms Group for Google Southern, Eastern Europe Middle East and Africa (SEEMEA) and was former Director of Platform and Ecosystem division at Microsoft France.

Before Microsoft and Google, he developed and grew his own venture Baracoda from $0 to $10m in revenue in 8 years, which has become a market leader in Bluetooth Automatic Identification devices and Internet Radio service.

As owner of more than ten patents on wireless technology, his inventions include the first Bluetooth barcode scanner, the first Bluetooth GPS, the first Bluetooth RFID scanner, the first wifi Internet Radio, the first radio application on the appstore (Liveradio), and the first electric connected toothbrush.

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

I am constantly thinking about ways to improve the world and from that vantage point, I think that Innovation is a way of life and a way to be curious about the world. Innovation means always staying ahead of the curve since you are not afraid to move forward with your ideas.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

All industries need innovation for without it, the industry itself doesn’t progress forward. People who live in fear is the very thing that stifles innovation. The opposite of innovation is the sentiment and fear that “I’m afraid of losing my job (while actually it is the contrary that is likely to happen), I’m afraid to fail, I’m afraid to contradict my boss). If employees can learn how to better master their fears, they can learn how to be more innovative.

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

Don’t try to be good in everything. Focus on what you know best and most importantly are passionate about. Then, try to find the people that are complementary to you and hire them.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I invented the world’s first connected electric toothbrush, which provides people with real time feedback on how well they brush their teeth, which is life changing for those who want to make a paradigm shift in dental care. It can transform how we brush, improving the health of our teeth and making us healthier overall.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Physical books, digital newspapers or all digital when I travel.

Why did you decide to design and develop the smart toothbrush?

18 months ago since I thought it would help my daughter better brush her teeth and allow me to know that she did and when.

As consumers start to use the Kolibree toothbrush and become comfortable with the product, will they be able to share their brushing habits with their dentist? If so, how will the dentist digest the data from all of their patients?

Customers will have all rights on their data, so they can agree to share this with their dentist or choose to keep it private. We will work with dentists so they can collect data by permission to help them better understand their patients, therefore providing better oral care.

Besides knowing that you have correctly brushed your teeth, why will consumers want to switch from electric toothbrushes such as Philips’ Sonicare?

Kolibree will help you brush your teeth better and while you learn and improve your brushing habits, you will have fun along the way. We are building an API that will let third parties develop new games based on our toothbrush. The possibilities here are endless.

Have you held discussions with any consumer discretionary companies about building on the Kolibree API? If so, what has the response been from consumer discretionary companies?

Very positive – Who doesn’t brush their teeth?

How do you envision the smart health market evolving and how will you position Kolibree for the segments future growth?

We believe that with connected objects the world of oral care will move from curation to prevention and Kolibree wants to become the platform to achieve this transition.