Season 2, Episode 5

CES 2020 Jeff Guard of Brilliant Sole

Jeff Guard is the Founder and CEO of Brilliant Sole. They are returning to CES 2020 as part of the North Carolina Startup Pavilion at booth #52318.  Brilliant Sole is a smart footwear platform for VR with multiple applications from gaming to health care. 

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 to 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 Kennedy:                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. We are headed again to CES in 2020 the Trade Show Manager has an assembled an exciting group of North Carolina based startups and organizations. We’re going to be in Eureka park, the home of some of the most exciting ideas from around the globe. I am really excited to welcome Jeff Guard back to Trade Show Live. His company, Brilliant sole, was at CES in 2019, which was both his personal first time at CES and his company’s first time at CES and he is returning to the North Carolina startup pavilion in 2020. Super excited about that and I think for those of you who are interested in evolving your startup and getting to a giant sized trade show like CES, Jeff will have some words of wisdom for you. Jeff, welcome to the podcast.

Jeff Guard:                       01:28                   Hi Janet. Yeah, thank you for having me again. We’re really excited. It’s only a month away now. So we’re we’re full speed ahead. We’re, you know, head down, working really hard to really show off all the progress that we made since last year and we feel that we’ve come a long way since then so we have some really positive things to share.

Janet Kennedy:                01:46                   I have to wonder if your family was saying you did it again over the Christmas holidays twice.

Jeff Guard:                       01:53                   Yes. yeah, with a two year old side and well another son on the way too, it’s going to be a crazy year.

Janet Kennedy:                01:59                   Congratulations. Thank you. Hopefully not coming during CES because that’s a lot of snow.

Jeff Guard:                       02:05                   No, Nope. We have until May. So we have, we need to get a lot done between now and then though because my team’s expecting me to be slightly less productive over the summer.

Janet Kennedy:                02:17                   All right. I imagine so. All right, well let’s start with some of the basics. Tell me a little bit about Brilliant Sole and I’m very curious about your path to CES. So tell us a little bit about what happened for you in 2018 and then we’ll jump up to this year and into CES for 2020.

Jeff Guard:                       02:35                   Sure. So we had a really, really positive experience last year. We had a lot of attention. We had a lot of positive feedback and really, you know, our experience is really kind of driven our path over this past year significantly. So, you know, we built Brilliant Sole to serve the virtual reality market to solve a major problem, that space. And you know, problems exists; that’s really putting feet into VR, letting you control movement in the VR space. And you know, we actually have an active customer and an active pipeline of customers waiting for hardware to, you know, solve that specific problem. But you know, last year again we had a lot of attention to CES and our biggest takeaway from the show was that a lot of people wanted what we were building but for a lot of different reasons and that really helped us really see the potential of the platform and helped us see why we’re unique and why we have the ability to serve a lot of other verticals. The smart footwear systems that are out there now really don’t have the ability to serve and some other things have happened over the course of this past year or two and helped us see a lot of the value in some of the unique components that we have.

Janet Kennedy:                03:46                   All right. So describe for me what exactly is Brilliant Sole.

Jeff Guard:                       03:52                   So Brilliant Sole is intelligent footwear for our connected world. We are focusing on building a platform and of course, you know, we have to demonstrate some really compelling use cases for that platform. Then we have two early partners that we’re working with to create some of those compelling use cases and applications. Of course, again, we have the virtual reality use case, but that’s a very rapidly growing but slightly uncertain market. So we couldn’t have all our eggs in that one basket. But luckily we had two partners, one who actually created a dance instructional application with one of our early prototypes and they’d actually, it’s an app to teach it. You have to do the moonwalk. And this person has some other, other plans for utilizing our where in the future. And then there was another sports performance training application that we’re currently working on. I can’t really share the details on that quite yet, but if it, hopefully it CES will be able to share a little bit more on that.

Janet Kennedy:                04:49                   Right. So to clarify, you are not a shoe manufacturer?

Jeff Guard:                       04:54                   We’re not, but we are manufacturing an insole that’s embedded with sensors and haptic biofeedback motors that are embedded in the insole. So, so ultimately we’re not quite sure, you know, the direction that we’re going to go with as a manufacturer. But the reality was, again, this goes back to that, that VR, the virtual reality problem. We had to create a specific type of hardware to solve that problem. And that hardware didn’t exist. We didn’t have anything that we could use. So we had to make it ourselves. And that could actually end up how we go. But of course if a larger partner came in wanting to partner with us and they just wanted to license our technology, you know, that’s something that we would definitely look at right now. But, but we do have to create the hardware because it doesn’t exist. And there are some key components, some of those being the, the sensor layout and configuration, the type of sensor data and the way we’re able to capture that.

Jeff Guard:                       05:49                   We’re actually capturing analog sensor data and in very high resolution. And we’re also, we’ve also incorporated, again, those haptic motors for biofeedback. So we think really strong vibration motors that enable a range of other use cases. And you know, for instance, and again, this past year has really helped to see some of the additional value in load created. So we were actually in a contest through the national Institute of standards and technology to use our footwear really as a communication medium for first responders. So for firefighters to navigate through a smoky building where they can’t see in front of them for first responders to a live shooting scenario for police officers to be able to be directed to where the shooter is. And you know, all of this stuff is very much prototypes, but we created solutions within that contest. And again that demonstrated just additional capabilities for our footwear that we didn’t even know existed. So we think that there is, again that just kind of demonstrates that platform opportunity and we really want to help serve customers that have already existing customers and that they can utilize our footwear to create new opportunities for them.

Janet Kennedy:                06:59                   Well, you know, as you know I have healthcare experience and I was bugging you a little bit about have you considered the healthcare market, not just the gaming market, because there are issues with diabetic patients or with seniors who are having mobility issues that could help train their gait and that sort of thing. So have you had interest from healthcare?

Jeff Guard:                       07:20                   There are a couple of companies, yes. That are, that are waiting anxiously on hardware from us. So we’re working really hard.

Janet Kennedy:                07:27                   What are you doing talking to me?

Jeff Guard:                       07:30                   We’re working hard, but yes. Yeah, really, I’m more on the rehab side to rehab physical therapy. That’s kind of where we had some, some really early interest and some, some early customers that we’re looking to, you know, get, get prototypes into their hands and to work closely with them to help them develop unique applications.

Janet Kennedy:                07:47                   Okay. So now I actually want to talk about CES for a second. As you have experienced very big trade show, a lot of standing on your feet and a lot of people coming by over the course of three or four days because really it’s all about the trade show at CES. Yes, there are speakers, but they’re way over somewhere else in another building. So tell me a little bit about your experience last year as a brand new startup company at CES and Eureka par and what you think you’re going to do differently this year to maximize on that experience.

Jeff Guard:                       08:23                   And can, I think we have a really successful experience. Last year we had a lot of traffic. You know, part of that was just luck based on our, our placement being within the North Carolina startup pavilion, the people behind the Trade Show Manager, they work really, really hard to help capture leads for us from the visitors that actually stopped by our booth. And again, we’re really looking to utilize CES again as that kind of laboratory to see well day to showcase all the progress that we’ve made and to hopefully make contacts thinking that we’re going to have a similar experience as we did last year in that we’re, Hey, we’re much further along and we’re, we’re pretty darn close to being able to actually have a product on the market so we’re actually ready to talk. Whereas last year we were still a little bit early again, it was phenomenal feedback that we got and it helped really steer the course for this past year. Yeah, I’d say this year we’re probably looking to kind of start those conversations with potential customers, potential partners.

Janet Kennedy:                09:24                   All right. That sounds so exciting. And this is really the ideal situation. You learn from your first years experience as a company. You’ve done not so much a pivot, but you’re shifting a little to the left, little to the right, you know, looking for the best match up with potential partnerships and a use for your product. And that’s kind of the challenge you faced last year. Right? You, you really could do so many things with this smart insole.

Jeff Guard:                       09:51                   It is. And we can’t be all over the map. We are really looking for that initial product market set. But really, again, we do have some that early interests. We have a working software, we’ve made some dramatic hardware improvements and we’re looking to show that off and, and I think that, you know, hopefully the way we’re looking to show it off, we’ll kind of help seed the ideas that people have. We talked to thousands of people at this point and showed it off to thousands of people. And it’s one of those products where people take a look at it and I say, wow, you know, I have an idea for how you can use this. And that’s great. That tells us, Hey, there’s so many different use cases for this. Yeah, we do need to be focused though. So we’re looking for that really you know that one or, or a few things to be focused on. And we’re hoping that the CES again will help us steer the course for 2020.

Janet Kennedy:                10:43                   How many members of your team are coming up to CES this year?

Jeff Guard:                       10:47                   I believe all four of us are going to be there. So that’s the plan unless something changes, that is the plan.

Janet Kennedy:                10:53                   And how about from your technology situation? Have you figured out what’s the best way to demonstrate it?

Jeff Guard:                       10:59                   Well, we’re getting close. We have ideas we’re working on in all honesty, a couple of different things right now and trying to figure that out. And it is a mad rush. We are slightly behind, but we have things working. Yeah, there’s a couple of things up in the air, let’s just say in all honesty. But we think we have something great to show in quite a bit more than we did last year too.

Janet Kennedy:                11:21                   Well, excellent. Last year. Some of it was still little bit of wire sticking out of the side. So I look forward to –

Jeff Guard:                       11:28                   Prototypes that I made myself. We are actually, we’re working with the footwear designer now you know, someone who’s a really talented person who’s worked in an industry professionally. We, we have partnered with an accelerator who made an investment in our company as well. So we have, you know, a few more resources put towards actually producing a scalable product. And that’s what we’re trying to get to right now. So I don’t know if we’re to be quite at that alpha prototype stage that we wanted to be for CES, but it’s going to be something significantly more impressive. We will be working with scalable hardware too. So that’s the exciting thing. We’re going to be able to have those serious conversations with people and say, look, we’re a few months out really from producing something for the market.

Janet Kennedy:                12:12                   Well, excellent. Now people are going to be listening to this podcast after CES is over. So if they happen to have missed CES in 2020, how can they reach you?

Jeff Guard:                       12:21                   They can go to our website, brilliantsole.com. That’s BRILLIANT SOLE – S O L E – of course. That would probably be the best way to reach us through our contact page there.

Janet Kennedy:                12:33                   Excellent. Well, I am so looking forward to not only having you back in the NC startup pavilion again this year at CES, but also hopefully making an exciting announcement with you during our live coverage of CES. So fingers are crossed that everything is all going to fall into place in about three weeks.

Jeff Guard:                       12:53                   It’s coming quickly. It is, but we’re we’re working hard and yeah, we’re confident that we’re going to have something impressive to show.

Janet Kennedy:                13:00                   Excellent. Well, is there anything else you want to share with the audience before we say goodbye, Jeff?

Jeff Guard:                       13:05                   No, I think we’re just looking forward to CES and we are again, looking forward to showing our progress in, in the progression of our company. We do have some really exciting developments. You know, we think we’re creating something that is a significant improvement from anything else that’s out there. So that’s what’s exciting is, you know, we’re taking a look and we’re seeing that there are some pretty cool technology in the smart but we’re space, but we think that they’re missing some key components and that’s stuff that gets us excited that we say, Hey, you know, we’re making something different and you think significantly better.

Janet Kennedy:                13:36                   And I love that ongoing constant innovation. I think that’s what will separate you from the other companies. So I wish you a whole lot of luck and I expect you to have an awesome CES 2020.

Jeff Guard:                       13:49                   Yeah. Thank you very much. We’re looking forward to seeing you there.

Announcer:                      13:53                   Thanks for listening to Trade Show Live On the Road, a production of the Trade Show Manager, a trade show consulting firm. 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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