Season 1, Episode 3
CES 19 Jeff Guard of Brilliant Sole
Founder and CEO of Brilliant Sole, Jeff Guard is attending CES 19 as part of the North Carolina Startup Pavilion. Brilliant Sole is the ultimate smart footwear platform for VR and creators and was developed to solve the locomotion problem in virtual reality.
About This Episode
Announcer: 00:00 You’re listening to Trade Show Live! On the Road featuring conversations with the people who bring trade shows to life, including attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and trade show, industry thought leaders. We attend trade shows around the country in a wide variety of industries from healthcare consumer products and everything in between. The podcast is a production of the trade show manager, a trade show, consulting firm, and now let’s go on the road with Trade Show Live!
Janet: 00:28 Welcome to Trade Show Live! On the Road. This podcast is a production of the trade show manager and features an in depth look at the people, companies, and organizations that bring trade shows to life. In January 2019, we are headed to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show with an amazing group of startups and business leaders will be in Eureka Park and displaying some of the best new ideas coming from the startup community in North Carolina. One of our really exciting companies is Brilliant Sole, spelled s-o-l-e. You’ll love this product company! Founder, Jeff Guard is with us to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and the launch of Brilliant Sole. Welcome to the podcast. Jeff,
Jeff: 01:11 Hi. Thank you. Thank you very much, Janet. Happy to be here speaking with you on this podcast. This is a phenomenal opportunity for us and we’re very thankful for the North Carolina Startup pavilion to be working with us and be included in this group and have your health also to working with us.
Janet: 01:30 Well, we did mention earlier that it is the North Carolina Startup pavilion and you represent one of the companies, not necessarily from the Raleigh area. You hail from Wilmington, I understand.
Jeff: 01:41 Yes. That is correct.
Janet: 01:43 And is that where the idea for Brilliant Sole was born and your team was formed?
Jeff: 01:48 It is, it is. Everyone on the team is from Wilmington. How one individual Andrew Keener, the CTO is, is temporarily in, in the Charlotte area for family reasons, but ultimately, once we achieve our goals, which is right now raising a seed round, we will be, be working out of Wilmington for the foreseeable future.
Janet: 02:10 So we mentioned that we’re going to be in Eureka Park, which is where brand new companies with exciting ideas in consumer electronics are looking for potential customers and potential partners, and investors. The name of your company is Brilliant Sole spelled S-o-l-e. It must have something to do with feet. So what is Brilliant Sole?
Jeff: 02:34 So Brilliant Sole is the ultimate smart footwear platform for VR and creators and Brilliant Sole was created ultimately to solve the locomotion problem in virtual reality. And that’s how do we control movement in virtual spaces and it’s grown a little bit. There’s a reason we have the end creators on the end of that. And to solve that problem, we had to create this really flexible system. So it’s a sensor embedded footwear system and it connects to mobile devices and PC devices and it streams data a really, really quickly to those devices. And we’re able to kind of calculate what we want them to do once that data gets there. It’s created kind of a big picture for us. We kind of don’t want to go too far down that road yet. We’re really focused on that one problem and we think it’s a big enough problem where this is a really great entry point for us.
Janet: 03:31 Ultimately it is a great, great product for creators, but, but we’re focused on VR, virtual reality for the time being. All right, so let’s talk about function might not be fully experienced in virtual reality. Maybe their whole experience is with a Wii or something like that. Why is your product going to be helpful to folks? I understand that it’s about small spaces,but it’s not like I’ve got a VR headset on and I’m going to go jog around the block.
Jeff: 04:00 So, so in, in virtual reality, we’re limited to a small space like you just just mentioned there, but we need to travel vast distances in VR. So when I said you can literally go visit the Grand Canyon, in VR, the space in virtual reality is unlimited. So how do you go about traveling 50 feet in a straight line now?
Jeff: 04:20 Well, you’re using a joystick a or there’s a method called teleportation, which you point to a direction 50 feet ahead of you and it teleports your body to that place. Again, in this virtual space. So let’s say I wanted to go down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, instantly you would point down to that space and it would teleport your body. Well, that’s a great feature to have, but it does a couple of things. So it breaks the user’s sense of immersion, which is the point of virtual reality is to make you, to trick your body into believing that you’re there. So it, it disrupts that. And then also for a traditional game play and then for, for simulation training experiences, it’s just not realistic. It again, it, it, it breaks the continuity of those experiences. So we needed a better way to travel 50 feet or 100 feet or a thousand feet in a straight line or any direction that you want to travel.
Jeff: 05:19 And we thought the simplest way to do that would be controlling movement with your feet. Like we’re used to. It also lets you free up your hands to engage with that virtual worlds. And of course, when you think simulation training, we are in some discussions with US military as well. So you can think of different reasons why they would be interested in controlling movement with your feet like we do in the real world for the most part. So, that is what we’re trying to solve and we’re trying to solve that in the simplest possible way. So with a system that can be embedded in as small of a form factor as a shoe insole packed into that insole, we have multiple sensors that measure force underneath your feet. They measure pitch, acceleration and they also incorporate those vibration motors and they also charge wirelessly. So it’s this really simple system that, that does a whole lot.
Janet: 06:15 Okay? So a, you’re making virtual reality much more like reality. So that’s cool.
Jeff: 06:22 That is the ultimate goal. Yes. Of course there are, there are constraints. again, we are limited to that small space, but ultimately we’re trying to make it as real as possible in the most possible, the best cost effective way in simplest possible way. And we found that that’s with a footwear system that works really, really easily, but that allows you to use it while you’re sitting or use it while you’re standing or to be able to control motion from a number of different input methods, whether that be a walking in place or whether that be, I’m just leaning in the direction your intended direction that you want to go. So that’s one of the things that’s been found that in virtual reality, different people have different preferences for how they like to use it. So unlike traditional video games now, whether someone’s right handed or left handed, that actually comes into play again because we’re in this virtual space and it’s mimicking reality. So how we interact with that virtual world should mimic reality in the best way possible.
Janet: 07:32 Now I see lots of applications and I know as a new company you need to focus on probably the group that’s going to most easily adapt. And that is the gaming group. They’re the ones most interested in new and innovative products. They’re the ones who are going to give us the hardest test and you already mentioned a military applications, I can see that, but since my background is in healthcare, I automatically see some things that would be awesome for senior citizens of ways to do, you know, low impact exercise, low impact gaming. Also from the standpoint of just sensors that might have fall alert in them. There are just a million things you can do with this. This is awesome.
Jeff: 08:14 Oh, absolutely. This comes up, depending on who you’re talking to, they say, wow, you can do this with it. While you can do that with it. I mean, you could do, you could have just a simple of an application as telling you, hey buddy, you’ve been sitting too long today. Maybe you should get up because it’s unhealthy. There are a lot of practical applications and ultimately we want to solve this tough problem of VR locomotion. But again, we want creative people to take these things and run with them. We want to support that. So again, due to solve that problem for VR and then to work within the video gaming space, you to create a system that people can work with and customize to that experience that they’re working with. In order to do that, you have to have a system that they can, again, that other developers can work with really easily.
Jeff: 09:09 Those other developers might not be virtual reality or video game developers. So we realize that, and this is one of the reasons why we want to introduce the product and the right way, but we also do recognize the. We see the big picture here to thank that. We focus on very VR. We solve that problem really, really well. We give people a good enough reason to purchase them from the get go. And we think within that space, VR enthusiasts, people who really care about this problem, we think that there are a lot of highly capable of creatives. People that are good at, they’re gonna have those same opinions that you have, Janet and they’re going to really run with it and they and they may want to go after a solving additional problems and we want to encourage that too. That’s the great thing about what we’re making.
Jeff: 09:58 We think that there are real world problems that people could solve with these. We think that we’re, we’re targeting the best entry point to and, and, and this is what interests us to, and this is how we got it. This is why we got into it. And this is what excites us, but there are other things that excite other people too and, and we’re providing them with this really cool system that they might be able to work on other things with. So let’s talk about the Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest consumer electronic show in the world, taking place in Las Vegas, all of Las Vegas. It seems like in the second week of January you will be there with a demonstration of your product, which is really exciting. Now will you actually have like demos, shoes for people to put on or are you going to demonstrate the product for individuals there?
Jeff: 10:45 We are planning, we’re planning right now on having something that that other people can demo a, so I’m actually going to be making some some custom pairs of some flip flop versions of our footwear because ultimately it’s a system that can be embedded in than any type of footwear really, and we want something that people can take on and off really easily and actually try themselves now. That’s what we’re shooting for, but we’re gauging a day by day and we want to present them in the best possible way. We’re gauging that day by day. We do have some, some pretty significant people that are planning to visit the booth where we want to make sure that we show it to them in the best possible way to and some of these people. It’s a little bit terrifying because again, we are up until just a couple of weeks ago, we were a bootstrapped startup.
Jeff: 11:34 This has been a fun journey, but of course you can move a lot more with money and we ultimately are competent that we’ve, we’ve created something pretty powerful with, with pretty scant resources and we want to be able to show people, hey look, look, if we were able to do this with really a lot of just a lot of time and effort and expertise, we have a pretty strong team to give us a little bit of money and in and look what we’re going to deal with it. We’re going to run with this thing.
Janet: 12:07 Well, I understand you’ve had a little taste of CES in the recent past. You were actually at one of the CES unveiled events. You are one of the 10 startups that were invited to present there. What happened? How’d it go?
Jeff: 12:19 Oh, that was exciting. So we met a lot of a really, really cool people, a handful of investors. So we’ve had some, some followup conversations with a and then a bunch of press people to. And that, that was really the first kind of out in the open public showing of, of our actual physical product. So we let people pick it up and hold it and they were able to see through, built on one of our SDKS, which is a software development kit for unity, which is the largest VR development platform in the world. So we have a system again, can, we could hand these to a developer now and they could start working with them to be able to show that data streaming through on a mobile device. So we did have a little area and as we weren’t able to bring a full VR setup and to show the demo, but we were able to show our physical product and how it works streaming that data through and, and we got a lot of positive feedback. They were excited by the product and of course we got the, the people saying, Oh, you could, how many medical applications you can try.
Jeff: 13:28 But, but ultimately that’s a space that it would require significant knowledge of to navigate. So, we’re hoping that some potential third party partners want to come in and help us navigate that space and in due time too. We’re just focused on producing something exciting to show and we’re focused on the problem and that is for virtual reality.
Janet: 13:51 So speaking of producing where and how are these going to get produced? Are you going to have to build them locally? Are you going to have to go international to get them developed?
Jeff: 14:03 Well, so, so we’re in the process of figuring that out. and there are going to be possibly can some constraints based on, on who the end users of the product are, at least initially, but we’re in the process of working with a professional footwear designer because I can tell you that I designed what we have myself so far and I think I did a pretty decent job with that, but it’s not my trade. We have something. I think it looks pretty cool. It’s impressive to show. I don’t mind showing these to anyone. whereas if you saw the first versions that I made myself a little bit embarrassed,
Jeff: 14:39 But of course I was proud of it. It was a lot of work, but now we really have something that you can see that wow, this is actually pretty close to an end product. We have our own custom circuit boards stuffed in, in there, can tell you the circuit boards right now are in the process of being redesigned a. So they actually fit perfectly. We weren’t initially going to have that, every everything embedded in the insole. So we’re in the process of redesigning that. But, but everything works. All of the circuits, the chips we’re working with are running on custom, a custom firmware. The software works, we’re refining that. There is still a long way to go. There’s, there’s, there is a very big picture to this. We did a lot of things wrong too.
Jeff: 15:22 I mean we’ve been working on this for, for a couple of years. We figured out a lot of what not to do and that that’s helpful though. I mean, I think anyone, when you create something that doesn’t exist, that that’s just part of the process. The good thing is is we know where we need to go right now. Yeah. It’s just trying to stay focused really because. Because there are so many things and I’m the. I’m the one that my business partners, the Co-founders telling me say focus Jeff’s. They Focus Jeff and I say, you guys, you’re right. You’re right. First first thing at hand. Let’s get something that works really, really well so that we can show it at CES and then let’s go from there. Yeah, it is. It is exciting. Have a lot of ideas myself, but I have to temper that.
Jeff: 16:05 No, I do have a design question because obviously we are talking about human beings where we could have feet from the size of a fifth grader have to have professional athletes who are going to want to wear these things and obviously if the sensors are like trying to tie into the ball of the foot, that’s going to be in a lot of different places depending on the size of the foot. So is this something that once you’ve got the prototype up and running, you’re actually going to have to create in sizes?
Jeff: 16:32 We do, and that’s only because the system works so much better, where the sensors do have to be placed in specific regions underneath the foot and there are a lot of good reasons why you have to have to have it that way and it’s just, it, it just makes for so much of a better, a more flexible system and in to solve the problem for, for virtual reality requires that, at least at least right now, there are some other ways to go about it. We are looking at those things too. But the best way to do it now is the way we’re doing it.
Janet: 17:06 How long is this journey taken you personally?
Jeff: 17:09 It’s when I made that observation, that controlling movement in VR right now is terrible. That was my observation. I said, wow, there has to be a better way to do this. That was, about three years ago. And at the time I was just, I refer to myself on the website is a hyper curious tinker. I mean that’s a little bit quirky, Corny, but trying to be a little bit humorous. I am a very curious person and I like to tinker with things and, and I was looking for an excuse to play around with some Arduino microprocessors. I thought, hey, I could possibly solve this problem. And it really was it casual. I didn’t really think about it like that. Like, okay, this could be a business the time. It started out as a simple experiment and it just worked really, really well. What I was able to do was put sensors that measure force underneath an insole and attached them to one of those Arduino microprocessors. Of course, there is a, some circuits that had to be built in so they can, can work properly.
Jeff: 18:09 The first experiment was just seeing that data coming across and, the harder you push down on your feet, that data would change. in real time. I said, okay, here we go, and we may have something here. And then with actually the help of a friend, a really very talented friend, he helped me write a simple program that emulated the keyboard keys, that control movement in pc video games. It was one of those things that took a little bit of tweaking, but once we got it, it works surprisingly well. Really, really well, like better than how it’s, how it was being done. And we said, Whoa, wow, if something, this simple could be better than how this is being done now, we may have something and it’s just been a journey of steady progression. Then, that’s Kinda let us here. Ultimately I would have liked to have moved faster, but we also again figured out a lot of what not to do too.
Jeff: 19:05 So maybe it was better that we didn’t expand too much time and resources going down the wrong path. You kind of all happened at a certain time for a reason. And in VR, of course, you know how it was in a big hype cycle a couple of years ago and that’s cooled down significantly. Gartner who does market research, they took virtual reality off of the emerging technologies list because it’s here, it’s here. Now. The consumer side might not really see that tremendous growth, but the commercial side has. So where you see th innovation continuing in these really expensive headsets is on the commercial side. For instance, Audi just announced that they’re going to put VR headsets in 1000 of their dealerships. you have Walmart who is using virtual reality to train employees. And number of other big box stores are doing the same thing. You have professional sports teams, professional college teams, of course, they’ve been doing this for years to, of course the US military is doing this.
Jeff: 20:02 So it’s kind of creeping up. and I think it’s going to creep up on people. Of course there are, there are a lot of complex problems, so it needs to be solved and it needs to become better. But those are being addressed in. There are profitable companies within the VR space. So I think that the timing might be right for us because again, we’re not, we’re not quite there yet. We have work to do, we are in the startup pavilion for her reason, but we are pretty close to and we do have something that we think we can introduce to a community solving that, that simple problem for them and they’re going to make it better for us because they’re going to build the custom applications for their games and for their VR experiences for those training simulations and it’s gonna make the system. That’s just how, how this works,
Janet: 20:49 The more you talk, the more I get more ideas of how you could apply this. Forget the gaming sensors in shoes to analyze workflow process in hospitals, how far people are walking and is there a way that we could eliminate these steps if you redesigned these hallways or you redesigned these buildings where, this was here and that was there. And guess what, you’ve just saved somebody, a quarter of a mile of walking a day or whatever or this is cool.
Jeff: 21:19 There are systems that can do that kind of, we think we could actually interact with those. so we all know that for some reason I don’t have a smartwatch. I’m a tech Geek, but I don’t have a smartwatch yet. All my first thousand Brilliant Sole pairs I can celebrate by buying myself a smartwatch. There’s a goal, but everyone counts her steps. I think everyone knows that the step count isn’t that accurate? I mean, I think it’s accurate enough people, people will feel happy, I think no matter what, when they get to their 10,000 steps, but ultimately sure, integrating a sensor, a better footwear system with that, what would actually make it a lot more accurate. And then we’ll also open up again a range of other possibilities too.
Janet: 22:01 Let’s see. I liked to do Zumba for exercise and according to my watch, my smartwatch, I’m getting 7,000 steps in an hour of Zumba. If you blow that bubble, I’m going to be really upset at you. But on the other hand, I work my butt off at Zoomba and I think I deserve more than 7,000 steps. I’d be very interested to hear what my feet were telling my hands.
Jeff: 22:23 Maybe it’s not for everyone. This is too honest for me.
Janet: 22:32 Well, you are going to love your time at CES and I hope your Brilliant Soles are also comfortable and have a little Dr Shoal influence because it’s going to be a long day on your feet, especially with you using your fetus as much as you are. And I wish you a ton of luck. This is going to be, I think, a very exciting product. And I’m excited to say that I knew Jeff Guard when…
Jeff: 22:58 That’s slightly ahead of, ahead of where we are. But I, I’m, I’m certainly trying for that. I think we’re a ways off though.
Janet: 23:06 Well, good luck to you and I look forward to working with you in the CES booth as we celebrate ideas coming from the startup community in North Carolina. Again, we’re going to be at the Eureka Park at CES 2019 if you want to follow the action. Our hashtag is Hashtag #CES19NC for North Carolina, so everybody. Be sure to follow that Hashtag and you’ll see some of the exciting things going on in just our area where we are five of 800 booth locations and that is just one part of CES going to be an amazing week. So, we’ll see you all there. And in the second week of January, Jeff, I think you’re going to have a great show.
Jeff: 23:54 We’re really excited. Thank you very much, Janet.
Announcer: 23:57 We’re looking forward to seeing you there. Thanks for listening to Trade Show Live! On the Road production of the trade show manager portrayed show consulting firms. If you need innovative programs to engage attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, custom research or new solutions for your trade show, Contact the trade show manager on our website, thetradeshowmanager.com.
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