1Sheeld is an ambitious product by the Egyptian startup Integreight that won The People’s Choice Award at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in Berlin. The product got international recognition after a staggeringly successful campaign on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, when the company achieved their target fund of $10,000 in less than six hours.
We talked with Amr Saleh, the CEO of Integreight, for the scoop on 1Sheeld, how it all started and where it’s going next.
Give us a little background about the company and the team.
We started as a team of eight engineers with a background of electrical and computer engineering. We graduated from Helwan University in 2011 and we started our company, Integreight, in 2012. We knew each other from our graduation project, which led to our first product, Smart BreadBoard. We won several local competitions with our graduation project. We even got first place in an international competition. So we decided to commercialize the idea instead of just putting the project aside and looking for normal day jobs.
When did 1Sheeld come along?
As we tried to commercialize Smart BreadBoard, we had many technical problems that eventually led to financial problems. We needed to do more research and development to get the product where we wanted it to be. As we had limited resources, we thought that it wasn’t a wise decision to consume all the budget in R&D only. So we started thinking about a different product that would drive profit to us and that’s when 1Sheeld came along.
So what is 1Sheeld? And what inspired you to do it?
We are computer geeks. We love to play with hardware and gadgets, so we used to play with Arduino all the time… so ahh…
Sorry, what’s Arduino?
Arduino is an open source board that people use to create projects with. For example, you can attach a sensor to Arduino so when you clap your hands, the lights go on or off. You can attach Arduino to your door lock, so you can unlock it using an application on your phone instead of using keys. The possibilities are unlimited!
Ok, let’s get back to 1Sheeld…
To enable Arduino to do many different tasks, you need to attach different accessories to it, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. and that will cost you a lot of money.
So Islam Mostafa, who serves as CTO, in mid-2013 came up with the idea to create a shield that you can attach to Arduino and connect to your phone through an app. With 1Sheeld you can access all the different sensors you already have on your phone without having to pay for extra accessories.
You told me you had limited resources, so how did the team bring 1Sheeld to life?
We had seed fund from Flat6 Labs to start with and then we had another funding round from Cairo Angels. We dedicated some of that fund to R&D and we started building 1Sheeld. After some time, we needed more money so we turned to Kickstarter.
Why Kickstarter? Why didn’t you go for another round of funding?
People turn to crowdfunding platforms for many reasons – obviously to get money. Another reason is to get exposure and most importantly to test your product popularity. We turned to Kickstarter for all of these three reasons but the main reason for us was to get early adapters. Kickstarter was a great marketing platform for us; it helped us get wide exposure because it has much more technology and hardware projects than any other crowd funding platform.
Did it work?
It went great. Funding campaigns on Kickstarter last for 30 days. We launched our campaign with a goal to get $10,000 by the end of the campaign. We achieved our $10,000 in the first six hours! And by the end of the campaign, we achieved 852% of our target fund. 1480 people backed us with $85,210!
So what are you guys up to now?
Now we are working around the clock to deliver 1Sheeld to those who ordered it. We get the product samples from our manufacturer to test the product and its quality before delivering it to our customers as we promised next May.
Does that mean 1Sheeld isn’t manufactured in Egypt?
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find someone to make 1Sheeld the way we wanted. We had to find a manufacturer out of Egypt to make it. We partnered with a manufacturer in China who we send the product designs to that we create here in Egypt.
So 1Sheeld will hit shelves next May?
Currently we are targeting customers in the U.S., England and some of the European countries like Holland and Germany. You might ask me why we targeted those countries first? We did because they have a strong maker community. However, we are in discussion with distributors to make 1Sheeld available here in Egypt. The product will be available on Amazon.com as well.
How much will 1Sheeld cost?
We are expecting the retail price to be around $55.
After you got funded, what are the challenges you face now?
Sure, the biggest challenge now is the prototyping of the product. The cycle is too long as we make 1Sheeld in China and then have it delivered here to us in Egypt to test it. We have to go through another whole process of permissions and bureaucratic paperwork required by the Egyptian law.
Just last month we were testing two things – the new design and the quality of the manufacturer – but according to Egyptian law you can’t have more than five pieces to test, so we had to get the components from different countries and just order five pieces from the factory in China to test it! We have to go through all of this just to test the product, which, as I said, is the biggest challenge we face now.
Do you think 1 Sheeld will be a commercial success in the Middle East?
I hope so. The culture in the U.S. and Europe is a “Making Culture” and people there spend time in their weekends trying to fix something or make something with tools and material available. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same culture in the Middles East. But we are planning some workshops to spread this culture and push them to discover the creator inside them.
Do you think 1Sheeld will appeal to all customers?
1Sheeld needs some technical background of course, but it’s not that hard. Currently, there’s a learning curve gap needed to start using 1Sheeld and we are working on that. Just last month we did a workshop at The District in Maadi.
What do you want 1Sheeld to achieve? When will you consider it a success?
Our mission is to turn everyone into a maker. We hope 1Sheeld will enable as many people to start making and innovating. When we spread Making Culture and lead people to discover their true potential to innovate and build, then 1Sheeld has achieved its goal.
Any advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in the Middle East?
We are still figuring things out ourselves, but I will say this: If you want a successful business you need three things – you need a cooperative team, you need a well-made prototype of your product and, most importantly, don’t celebrate success too early!
WE SAID THIS: Check out “Crowdfunding for the Oscars” about another cool project coming out of the Middle East looking for community support.