Raf and Lee – founders of Sealz glasses

Sealz glasses are sunglasses that instantly convert to goggles at the click of a button. This patented military-based technology will have uses in outdoor sports, for health & safety applications, and in the military, construction, energy and emergency services industries. We spoke to co-founder Raf to find out more about the product and how they made the idea happen.

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Who came up with the idea, and how?

Lee Batey, the inventor behind the Sealz glasses, is an Australian soldier who came up with the idea following a Black Hawk helicopter crash in 2006 off the coast of Fiji, in which two Defence Force members died. He was inspired to invent a pair of convertible sunglasses which may have saved their lives.  In a testament to his ingenuity, Lee bought his own 3D printer and taught himself how to use CAD (computer-aided design) software, and now almost a decade later has a fully functioning prototype. Several times Lee was approached by other sunglasses manufacturers with offers to buy or licence the technology – but he declined.

How are you involved in the business, and what is your background?

I am Lee’s co-founder. My background is more corporate (in finance), and therefore I complement Lee’s skillset with a business focus. I’ve always been very active in the Perth start-up ecosystem: I’m a business mentor and an angel investor; I also write a blog on investing in startups; and I advise universities on how to commercialise innovations. I’ve been nominated for innovation awards at Rio Tinto and P&N Bank.

How did you guys meet?

We met last year at Ignition, a five and a half day intensive program to help inventors and entrepreneurs, run by the Curtin Centre for Entrepreneurship, where I was volunteering as a facilitator. Within a week of the program, we decided to go into business together, and later launched under the Sealz brand.

Tell us a little bit about the product

The glasses can be converted to sealed goggles at the push of a button, enabling the wearer to quickly activate them in an emergency and gain visibility under water. They can also be used in any environment where you may need to protect your eyes from the elements: sand, wind, snow, surf, dust etc. So they are a cross between sunnies and goggles.

What’s the level of interest you’ve had so far?

The product has gained quite a bit of traction as a result of the kickstarter campaign. We’re currently the all-time highest ranked product on both Producthoist.com.au and Gadgethunter.club. We were featured on the front page of trendhunter.com earlier this month, as the 16th highest trending product in the world. We’ve been approached by the Discovery Channel Canada who want to feature us on their flagship Daily Planet show. We’re very proud of the attention we’ve gained in the first 10 days of being in the public eye, and of being able to promote Australian innovation on a global stage.

Please explain your business model

We are still working on this! The Kickstarter campaign allows us to achieve some initial pre-sales and gather market validation and feedback on the product. Beyond that, we need to further explore our distribution options, and ascertain whether we’re better off looking at licensing options or manufacturing the product ourselves.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

Obviously the current focus is the Kickstarter campaign, and as soon as that completes we will need to focus on the manufacturing and fulfilment processes. In parallel, we are starting to have conversations about longer term distribution options. Interestingly, as a result of the crowdfunding campaign we’ve already been approached by three different parties enquiring about distribution rights for their respective countries.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

Being based in Perth has its challenges, due to the remoteness and the smaller scale of markets and networks. It does however have its advantages for a product like ours, because the lifestyle factors make it a great testing ground for an outdoor / water sports product, and in addition the health & safety applications of the glasses can be quite relevant to the resources sector which is so prevalent in WA.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

People who are most enthusiastic about your idea at first may not end up not being that helpful to you in the longer run. A bit of a generalisation I know, but people who are easily enthused tend to get excited by every shiny thing and have poor follow through and focus as a result. Instead, focus on people who are cautiously interested in your idea.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

I believe both as individuals and business owners we all have a responsibility to make a net positive impact on society. It can often be more difficult as a startup, as compared to a more established business, but it should always be possible. We can do that at the macro level, by partnering with not-for-profits, making charitable donations, etc, but also in our day-to-day decision-making, how we deal with our stakeholders, how we treat our employees, etc.

With Sealz we have committed to donating 1% of all Kickstarter funds, as well as 1% of all profits, to a charity called Soldier On. This Australian charity supports returning Australian soldiers who are physically or psychologically wounded, working to enhance their recovery and rehabilitate them into the community.

Separately, I’m also involved in One Percent Pledge, a charity I set up to encourage individuals to commit 1% of their income to charity. It’s similar to Pledge 1%, an organisation the founders of Atlassian and Salesforce set up recently, but which focusses more on the corporate side. In fact we were approached by Atlassian last year to discuss a potential partnership between the two organisations.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

macrobusiness.com.au not startup related, but recommended for a different (contrarian) perspective on all things economics

fiverr.com

startupmelbourne.comuseful resources for startups (not just for Melbourne despite the name)

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Always! We’re pretty approachable so the best thing is to email me at [email protected] and we’ll probably end up having a coffee…

Editors Note: They are currently in the last days of their Kickstarter campaign so you’ll have to get in quick to back, and be one of the first to own, this cool Aussie product. You can also vote for your favourite style on their Facebook page here (design most liked will be made first).

 

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