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Colleen Wong speaks about how she set up her tech company and its first product, My Gator Watch.
The 2019 FDM everywoman in Tech Awards winners have just been announced. The finalists for the entrepreneur award, sponsored by IBM IX, include Colleen Wong, the Founder of My Gator Watch – a mobile phone and GPS/WIFI tracker made for children between the ages of five and 11.
Colleen used to work in financial services, but she knew it was not something she wanted to do for a long time. So one day she just upped and left and went travelling. Soon after she fell pregnant and had two children in quick succession.
Three years ago when her second son was four months old she visited a farm in Surrey and saw a mum struggling to find her son. “I thought I could be her when my children were older and I wondered how I would find them,” says Colleen. She started thinking about how she could call her children. She googled to see if there was a wearable phone available with no camera or Internet connection and no social media or games, with all the safety issues that brings for young children. She found there were some being made in China, but there was no market leading brand. Colleen rang the suppliers and asked them to send her samples, but she had no plan to set up a company and sell them. At the most she thought she might buy and sell a few on eBay.
Since then she has set up her company, Techsixtyfour, and learnt a lot about mobile networks, GPS, business plans, service plans, business networks, security checks, accountancy, insurance and a whole lot more. “I have Googled my way through the last three years,” she says, adding that she has not been afraid to reach out to experts to ask for their advice and help.
She has found people like the idea of the watch phone. The various media reports about Internet scares have also helped her to market the phone. “There are so many reasons why young people should not have access to the Internet,” she says. “Older children can differentiate between good and bad content on social media, but eight year olds can’t.”
To create her product, Colleen looked at how she could customise the samples she received to make them better, for instance, through selling the watch with a Sim and service plan. To do so, she invested the £20K she got when she left her job.
She did her market research, speaking to mums at networking events and getting their feedback. She changed the colours of the phone from just blue and pink to include black as a more gender neutral colour.
Working around her children and from home, she launched My Gator Watch officially a year after she started work on it, selling her first watch in the summer of 2016. Business grew slowly. Initially she was only selling around five to 10 watches a month. She then did a crowdfunding round in July 2017 and raised nearly £220k with the support of 220 investors. This gave her the funds to be able to take on staff. She now has a team of 13, several of whom are based abroad – in Canada, India and France.
Everyone works flexibly. Colleen says it works very well having people working for the business in different time zones. The two people who work in Canada work on customer services and can handle out of hours calls.”People think we have a big team,” she says.
Almost all of her hires are mums with young children and flexibility is important to them. Colleen has set up the business so that everyone can work on their phones and be mobile. “They can work, for instance, while they are waiting for their kids’ swimming lessons to finish,” she says. She leaves her employees’ working hours to them. She only asks that they answer customer queries within an hour.
That approach, based on trust, has gained the company an excellent reputation for customer care. Colleen adds that she thinks it is important for her to lead by example and to show that she is also balancing work and family issues.
Colleen, who has appeared on Dragon’s Den, is now working on a second crowdfunding campaign and is looking to develop an affordable product for the over 65 market to help them stay connected. She says this market is double the size of the children’s market. The company won an AXA competition last year for a wearable communications device for over 65s. The new product builds on the existing My Gator Watch and includes a fall detector, a larger SOS button and louder volume. Just like the kids’ version, it is worn on the wrist as a standalone phone and people make a call by pressing one button. The phone has its own Sim card. Colleen says AXA is supportive of her journey and she is fundraising to build a new brand for the over 65s market, to add new features and to increase marketing efforts in both markets.
One of her main focuses this year is on marketing her products more, for instance, talking to healthcare organisations about the new product. After a few months of being sold in Selfridges, My Gator Watch is now sold mainly on Amazon and the reviews have helped to boost sales. Around 40% of sales are from referrals.
Being selected as a finalist for the FDM everywoman in Tech Awards is one way of raising her profile and she is delighted to have won recognition. The award is for the owner of a technology business “whose vision and talent will inspire others to start their own technology-related venture”.