Friendship bracelets have been around a long time, but never quite like this. Gemio has created an updated friendship bracelet that fuses fashion and tech for teens—with some really cool functions. We spoke with Michael Bettua, CEO and co-founder of wearable tech startup Gemio, to learn more.
Gemio is the first wearable for teens designed for the things that are important to them: self expression and connecting with friends. With Gemio, teens can personalize and change the look of their bracelet using swappable and tradeable Gemsets (sort of like snapping on a different iPhone case). Gemio lets them send beautiful light effects to each other’s bracelets enabling a new kind of communication—think of it as emoji in light!
What inspired you to start Gemio?
The idea came from our kids. We saw them growing up in two worlds–the real and the virtual. We appreciate the value of social media but wanted to bring some of the technological magic of the online world to the real world because we believe there’s no substitute for connecting with friends in real life.
Tell us about your Gemio smart friendship bracelet.
The friendship bracelet is the oldest wearable in history, but it’s barely changed since the 13th century. We thought it was time to bring some 21st century technology to create a friendship bracelet that promoted the oldest social network in history: the people you see in real life.
The bracelet can be personalized using swappable Gemsets which is unique among wearables. But even more exciting are the light effects which are integral to the designs and can be created from a palette of millions of colors. The real magic happens when friends pair their bracelets together, creating a network of real life friends. Light effects can be designed to communicate between friends to tell eachother when they are nearby or trying to reach them. Users can send messages to friends in the form of light effects that appear on their bracelets. Gemio lights up when user’s friends are nearby or want to reach them and it sparkles with the twist of a wrist. If teens point Gemio at an outfit it changes colors to match.
How do you differentiate yourself from existing/potential players in the wearable tech market?
Gemio is a new category of smart connected jewelry designed as a powerful way for teens to communicate and express identity and their personal relationships. Most wearables are either an extension of your phone to receive notifications to look at your phone or they are for fitness bands. They typically consist of a single, fixed design and for the most part fashion takes a back seat to functionality.
Gemio is different in so many ways: It was designed fashion-first and to be personalized–not just once, but constantly so that it can change to match an outfit or be appropriate to the setting (formal, informal, sporting, etc).
Gemio is about connecting and communicating with friends, so while we have traditional wearable technologies inside (accelerometer, gyrometer, etc.) we don’t use them to count steps, we use them to do things like recognize gestures such as a secret handshake or a high five. While other wearables use Bluetooth to simply connect to your phone, we use it to create connections between friends. Teens pair their bracelets in-person and then the bracelets create a mesh network that recognize when your friend are with you and responds to what you are doing.
We also have technology not typically seen in wearables like a color sensor so you can point your bracelet at your emerald shirt and have it change colors to match. There is also a microphone which allows us to change the look of the bracelet based on environments: if you’re at a party you can have it flash to the beat of the music.
What has been one of the most challenging parts of getting started? How did you overcome this and what did you learn?
Fashion technology is extraordinarily challenging. It requires an incredible breadth of expertise in areas not typically seen together. You have to build a diverse team if you want to create a great product. That means having people who understand: fashion, industrial design, hardware in the wearable domain, software, manufacturing and supply chain, and merchandising. And of course all the other people that make a great business like a CEO who is a force of nature, great customer service, and marketing chops.
We started with four co-founders, which is larger than the usual founding team, and quickly added a fifth key player with extensive experience in traditional “wearable” fashion from Nike and Crocs. We were exceptionally lucky to have built such an experienced team. Usually you have to be very large (e.g. Apple) or very naive (see the list of failures) to try something like this, but we have seasoned veterans who believe in what we’re doing and are excited to see it come to life.
Where can we buy the Gemio, when is it available, and what is the cost?
Pre-orders will start on November 30 on our website. Gemio bracelets start at $80, Pattern Gemsets are $20 and Gemstone Gemsets are $25. [Updated prices.]
What can we expect next from Gemio?
We started with the idea that there is no substitute for the kinds of relationships and interactions we have in person. Witness the fact that Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation sold out at Amazon. We’re going to continue to develop “Social Jewelery” that promotes the ideals we believe in and that we think our audience values. For all the talk about social media (and we are fans–we even have an ex-Facebook VP of Sales on our board) we feel that at the end of the day everyone values the friends they see in real life above all else and we want to celebrate those relationships, make them easier, and even more fun and rewarding.
To learn more about Gemio check out their website and watch the video below.