For those of you who don’t know, Tzukuri glasses are where meticulous design, cutting edge technology and craftsmanship converge, with one clever trick – they are impossible to lose. Coming off the back of the Incubate program at the University of Sydney and multiple wins at start up competitions, Tzukuri have successfully completed their first pre-order sale and are gearing up for a full scale distribution next year. I got the chance to get coffee with co-founder Michael Sutton to get an insight into his entrepreneurial journey. Here’s how it went:
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 20, studying B.Com/Arts at Sydney. Dad’s a kiwi and mum’s Singaporean, spent my childhood hopping between countries in South East Asia before coming to Australia about 5 years ago.
What has lead you down the path of entrepreneurship?
Tzukuri is actually my second crack at being an entrepreneur. I guess the biggest factor that helped me develop into an entrepreneur, was learning to have a proactive mindset. There’s no manual for how to run a startup, there’s no manager you can ask. So everyday you come in and you need to think up your own list of tasks to do, and what is the smartest way to do it.
Your smart-sunglasses company Tzukuri is making waves around the world – Where did the idea come from? How did you get started?
Late last year, I realized on a blindingly bright summer day while squinting away the pain, that I hadn’t owned a pair of sunglasses in about 6 months since I lost my last pair. Looked up the stats and 1 in 2 people lose a pair of sunglasses in the first year they own them, and that’s about 28 kilotonnes of plastic waste. Everything on the market was ugly with limited functionality. We saw the opportunity to create an absolutely beautiful product using out of this world craftsmanship, and then discreetly turn it into a useful piece of technology as well.
We were accepted into USYD’s accelerator program Incubate, and after about 3-4 months of product development and prototyping, we announced the product at Google Australia, talked to a few journalists and before we knew it we were featured on Time Magazine, Elle, Huffington Post and were fielding calls from WSJ and NYTimes (all of course at 3am Sydney time). It’s been a pretty crazy ride.
What was it like travelling through Japan searching for the perfect craftsmen for Tzukuri?
It was freezing. We found out that over 95% of handmade Japanese eyewear comes from this small seaside prefecture on the West coast of Japan. So in blizzard conditions, I called up a friend in Tokyo who worked as a translator in another life, picked him up on the way and we flew over to Fukui.
We got there and it was incredible. A couple of the manufacturers tried to wine and dine me at fancy Soba houses like I was some hot shot client, I got to walk through century old manufacturing studios as they walked me through the 100 individual steps to hand make a single pair of frames. The whole journey made the start up experience so real.
What has been the hardest part of the Tzukuri journey?
The hardest part of Tzukuri is knowing when to call a quits on certain projects and move on. Since you end up doing everything yourselves, you can’t help but get emotionally attached to the work you create because you learnt how to do it over days and days of trial and error. Whether its the first draft design of our circuitry, or the first eyewear design you spent hours learning how to draw in CAD, sometimes you need to just say “I know this is the best I can do, but it’s not good enough if we are going to build an awesome company” and get some help. You take this mentality and you will be surprised by how many incredible people are willing to help you out if you display the enthusiasm to learn.
How did you feel when you sold out your entire pre-order stock?
We were ecstatic. I mean complete strangers had paid us just over $30,000 dollars in just 3 days to receive sunglasses they had never seen before, and they weren’t going to even get them until March. We saw ourselves trend on Reddit and HackerNews and watched as people argued over which was the coolest design. We got the nicest emails from people saying that we had created the most elegant technology they had ever seen, that our branding was incredible. It was nice to receive such great feedback after 10 months going through phases and phases of eyewear design, website design, app iterations and all the small tasks you don’t really notice.
Looking to the future – what’s next for Tzukuri?
Now that we have those funds from the campaign, and we know we have a diehard fan base, we plan on sending out three rounds of advanced prototypes between January and April to these customers, and incorporate them into the beta testing process. Who better to trial our first iterations than the people who already love Tzukuri and want to help us take off.
Tzukuri glasses are named after style icons such as Tom Ford, James Dean and Grace Kelly – out of all your Tzukuri icons who would you want to hang out with and why?
I want to say James Dean because the guy just seems like such a legend. But I don’t think I would seem that cool to a guy who alongside their international acting career considers semi-professional race car driving and bull-fighting as nice hobbies. I’d love to hang out with Tom Ford. A lot of Tzukuri’s branding was inspired by a very Tom Ford meets Apple look, and considering the guy totally reshaped the fashion industry in the 90s when he was at Gucci, I would kill to pick the brain of James Bond’s tailor.