On September 12, the four founding members of wearable technology company Recon Instruments will gather on the UBC campus—where it all began—to say farewell to the company they founded, which was recently bought by tech giant Intel.
“It’s meant to celebrate the family and people that have brought us to this point,” says Recon Instruments co-founder and former head of marketing, Darcy Hughes.
Founded in 2008, the Vancouver-based company created the first wearable heads-up display technology, initially used in ski and cycling eyewear, which shows its wearer measurements like temperature, speed and altitude.
But before there were buyout deals, there were four students with an idea—MBAs Dan Eisenhardt, Darcy Hughes, Fraser Hall and engineering student Hamid Abdollahi—and the Sauder School of Business helped bring it to life through innovation and incubation.
In 2006, they were students enrolled in Prof. Thomas Hellman’s technology entrepreneurship class and they came prepared with a class project idea Dan Eisenhardt had thought of years earlier as a competitive swimmer—swim goggles that could tell the wearer his or her speed, distance and time.
“We came together and really built upon an initial idea that was in Dan’s head,” explains Hughes.
There were problems with the original idea from the start: waterproofing the technology was at the top of the list. Finally, a patent pending on a similar head mounted goggle technology killed the original plan. But the classroom is a place for comfortable failure, so the team rethought their initial design and redeveloped it to suit skiers and snowboarders instead and two years after Prof. Hellman’s class the group formed Recon Instruments.
From the beginning, the Recon team demonstrated the innovative and entrepreneurial teachings found in Sauder’s classroom. “Don’t fall in love with the solutions, fall in love with the problem,” is something Prof. Paul Cubbon often tells his students. Being flexible enough to change the product to suit the buyer is something that students hear early on to avoid failures in the future marketplace.
“In the beginning, you almost certainly are wrong,” says Prof. Cubbon, adding that discovering these truths in a course is a productive step forward—and a much less painful lesson then it would be out in the business world. “You might be inspired, which is great because it gives you passion, but you’re going to be wrong, so find your pivot point early.”
It’s been a thrilling seven years for Recon Instruments and there has been a lot of excitement around the company’s technology and growth potential, but those starting years on the UBC campus were vital.
“People tend to skip over the 2006 through to 2008 years, but those were perhaps the most important for us,” says Hughes. They involved Sunday Skype calls between the founders in various time zones as several had left Vancouver to pursue their so-called “day jobs,” so the team could figure out how to get their business off the ground.
“It was like slow motion, trying to raise funds and get this project off the ground,” adds Hughes, “and then it got really exciting and things moved progressively faster.”
The 2010 Olympics marked a “gold mine” for Recon Instruments with Vancouver’s streets being full of high-performance athletes—just the clientele the team was looking to attract. “From a marketing standpoint, we did some really great work,” recalls Hughes.
It was also the year the Recon group moved off UBC’s campus into its current office space in downtown Vancouver. It was a sign that they were going to make it. “We’d survived through the downturn,” says Hughes. “We thought ‘we’re still raising money, we’ve got a physical space, and we’ve got a culture that is just insane full of people that want to build really cool stuff.’”
The interest had been built up for the wearable technology and in Fall 2012 it was announced that Oakley Airwave Goggles would use Recon’s heads-up display technology. And earlier this year, Recon’s wearable sunglasses for cyclists and outdoor recreation, Jet, arrived on the market.
So that brings us back to the company’s upcoming exit party. It’s been a vibrant journey for the four co-founders of Recon Instruments and now the company will have the financial and technological resources to develop even further.
But it’s clear from Hughes’s latest start-up company SKIO Music, a unique digital collaboration platform for music artists, as well as Hall’s online furniture business, Bryght, and Hall and Eisenhardt’s new Vancouver Founder Fund, a venture capital group focused on wearable tech and e-commerce, that this group is not done inventing yet.