Birth Name: Kevin Halsall
Hometown: Wellington, New Zealand
Company Name: Ogo Technology
Company Founding Year: 2015
What’s your professional background? Have you always been an entrepreneur or have you paid your dues working for “The Man” too?
I’ve never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur to tell you the truth. I’m more a born innovator. I’m an engineering patent maker by trade. Over the last 30 years I’ve been into product design and mold making for the plastics industry. I’ve been “self-employed” now for 30 years. I’ve always had two or three projects on the go at various stages of development.
I would just have customers come in for whom I would design a product, build a prototype, do the testing, then from there, I would make up the molds – my specialty is rotational molds for plastics…for products like trailers, tool boxes, water tanks. It also gets into some sports areas, recreational areas and all sorts of places.
Probably my most successful product out there would be the C-Tug, which is a collapsible kayak trolley.
You’ve been designing and managing other people’s products and projects for some time. What inspired you to become an “entrepreneur” and dedicate your time to developing your own product and turning it into a full blown company?
It started off when a mate of mine gave me a ring. He was getting a group of guys together to go off-road Segway riding. I’d never been on a Segway before, so I thought, “Ya, that sounds like a cool idea.” Then the first time I hopped on a Segway, the first thing I thought was, “Man, if I didn’t have my legs, this would be the perfect thing to get around places.” My good friend, Marcus is paraplegic, and I had him in mind. I approached him, floated the idea past him and he was quite keen to be involved and help us with some trials.
When you’re talking about paraplegics…they’re often the sort of people who wouldn’t be seen dead in an electric wheelchair. For them, that’s for people with “disabilities”. In comparison, they don’t see themselves as having that level of disability. But with a concept like the one we’re developing, it’s so much more dynamic and so much more exciting. That’s partly because of the speed, partly because of its versatility, and because of its ability to operate in small areas—because it uses a motor on each wheel, it can turn within a very tiny width. It just screams out a much more “fun” and “cool” thing to be on. Everything else out there that’s electric, it just screams out, “I’m disabled.” A lot of people in the space really need and really appreciate something like this.
We actually borrowed a Segway to start with and the first thing I did was fix a seat on it and shorten the joystick between your legs. And that’s what other competitors out there have done; fixed seat, short joystick. The fundamental problem with that is that you could lean forward and get your acceleration, but your breaking is how much weight you can throw backwards. If you have a fixed seat, there’s only a limited amount of weight you can throw backwards…so if you’re getting up to a speed of 20km/h, it takes a very long time to pull up and stop. I thought, ya that works, but it’s pretty dangerous. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a disabled person in that kind of machine.
How did you find the time, money and people to get your business off the ground?
We’re still looking for that (laughs). Up until now, I’ve been bankrolling this by myself. I’ve put everything into it. You know, mortgaged the house up to the limit, blah blah blah. I’m doing it full time. As well as that, we’ve had a lot of feedback from people and we’ve had some quite generous donations from people who have allowed us to take it the product through its final stage of development on which we’re working at the moment. That has been amazing.
A lot of people say, “Why don’t you get investment money?”…Listen, we’ve got no end of people who want to invest in us—Angel investors and what have you. The problem is, from a business perspective, at this stage, although we’ve got something with enormous potential, the actual “value” of the business isn’t a lot. To take an investment of what we need to get the whole thing off the ground, we run the risk of losing control of the business going forward. If that happens, the price is going to go up sky high.
The investment people I’ve talked to all think I’m crazy, wanting to keep the price down as low as we can. Their attitude is, “You’ve got something that’s ground-breaking and something that everyone is going to want because it’s such a life-changing thing, they’ll pay anything for it. Why charge $20,000 when you can charge $40,000 and people will still buy it?”
There are so many thousands of people out there for whom this would make a huge impact in their lives. They just wouldn’t be able to afford it if it was some totally high end, elite product. I have a passion to get this out to as many people as we can, and keep it as affordable as we possibly can, and change as many lives as we possibly can. In order to do that, I think we need to keep controlling shares as we go though the business. We need a viable business, no doubt about it, but not because of greed.
What is your company all about and why should everyone care?
It’s a two-wheel, self-balancing machine, operated completely hands free; it’s an intuitive, body-movement operation. Lean forward it goes forward, lean back it goes back, lean to the side, that’s where it goes.
So it does two things. First, it makes it very intuitive to use; the more you use it, the more you kind of become part of the machine. You don’t think about what you need to do to get wherever you want to go. You just automatically do it. The other big benefit is that you’re using your core and your upper body to do the movements. That’s inherently giving you exercise.
Absolutely, it’s fun. You even get able-bodied people hopping on it and you can’t get them out of it. There’s also the off-road usage of it; it will outperform most other off-road devices. Part of that is because it’s two-wheel-self-balancing. It’ll go up a 30 degree gradient, and will come down a 45 degree gradient, but the beauty of it is that the seat always stays level. So it doesn’t matter what sort of slope you’re on; the controls and seating position will feel exactly the same. There’s so little risk of actually tipping over.
Where do you hope to see your company 5 years from now? What are you going to do to make it happen?
How I see it is that there will be Ogo itself, but we’ll also have more of a development path—perhaps Ogo Development—which is just focused on innovation and improving lifestyles for the disabled.
At the moment, the Ogo is ideal for lower level paraplegics. With some of the changes we’re doing at the moment, with our new prototype, they will make it much more accessible for a much wider range of disabilities. From there though, we want to develop our products to even support high level quadriplegics. Eventually, it would just be a head movement that they could use to operate the machine. We would also make it so that there is a remote control interface with the base unit, so you could control movement from an app on your smartphone, with or without a rider.
There are just so many things we’re looking to do; change battery powers, gear ratios and wheel sizes. Even make an ultra-extreme off-road model; like a “Sports Chair” version. This opens up to quite a few sports areas that will change the way a lot of sports are being played at the moment in wheelchairs. They could be so much more dynamic—it opens up so many possibilities in the realm of sports. Marcus can vouch for that; he’s a wheelchair basketball player and has represented New Zealand around the world.
What has been your favorite part of founding and growing this business and technology?
Definitely, definitely the reactions we get from some people who use the device. There was one in particular…I had a phone call from a lady way at the other end of the country. She told me about her daughter, who as a baby had meningitis and as a result, lost all her limbs; they had to amputate her arms above the elbow, and legs below the knees. She’s now 13 years old. Her mother asked me if I thought the Ogo would be suitable for her. We had never tried anyone to that extreme; in my head I was thinking, “I really doubt it”. But I told her I was going up to Aukland to do a demonstration, and that I could met her there and give it a go.
We met up there and Charlotte, the young girl, we put her in the chair and she was just off. She was just flying around in this thing, had her arms in the air, had this huge smile on her face, and her mother was just in tears. Just to see things like that; you can’t feel any better than that. When you see things like that, you just know that you have to keep this thing going and get it out to people.
We even get reactions from people online who have seen some of our videos, and they’re in tears. They can instantly see the difference it can make in their own life. So that’s definitely the best part.
What has been the most frustrating part of this whole process?
We’ve got a bit of a small team around us and they’re working for nothing. And we’re working on this last development phase and it’s a little frustrating that we haven’t got a facility and the money to ensure that these people are all in one area in which we can communicate instantly about what’s actually happening at the moment.
There are time delays, and people need to work on this when they have the time—these people have their real jobs to carry on with as well. I’m running backwards and forwards from where I am to where they are, which is about an hour’s drive a way; not everything can be done over the phone or over computers. In general, just trying to get as much as we can for the dollars that we’re spending. It’s frustrating to be stretching out a little bit.
If you could be doing one other thing full-time, what would it be?
(laughs) I’d be working on another project. It’s what I love to do. I’ve got my workshop out of which I work—based at home—and I’ve been working out of it for some time. That’s where everyone finds me. I call it My Happy Place. This is the area in which I want to spend the rest of my life continually developing and making a difference.
What’s your motto? If you don’t have one, make it up right now…
I’m not big on mottos. I am who I am. I guess making people happy is my biggest passion. I’m more of a people person than I am a money person.
Ogo will have its latest prototype ready for testing in about 4 weeks and plan to be production-ready by end of 2016. The plan is to be full-swing into their first production run in early Q1 2017. They will be starting production in New Zealand, but they are already in talks with distributors and manufacturers around the world to ensure that they can deliver units to as many people as possible while maintaining the most affordable price tag possible.