James King – Founder and CEO of PowaBand

I think it was James Joyce that said: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” You make a whole load of mistakes, learn loads, and get ready to make a whole load of new ones.

James King is the founder and CEO of PowaBand. Previously a UX Designer, Digital Strategist and Planner, he has project managed global projects for Speedo and Proctor & Gamble, advised and guided startups and corporations on Gamification, consulted on evolving mobile paths-to-purchase for GlaxoSmithKline, and led the strategic proposition for creative agencies and a motion-tracking internet television startup.

It’s immediately obvious to anyone in the know that he “gets” digital and is unquestionably creative. It’s all in the pensive, 100-yard stare and achingly trendy tattoos. And the beard. You’d probably assume he live in Shoreditch. Or Portland.

He doesn’t. He lives in Clapham. In South West London. It has trees and parks and unicorns.

Shoreditch has no mythical creatures. Only fixi-bikes. Lots and lots of fixi-bikes.

When not gazing on horned horses, he’s trying to change the way that kids play and pay using wearable technology.

Where did the idea for PowaBand come from?

I’d love to be able to say that PowaBand came about in a moment of inspiration – but it really came about as a result of analysis of the key weaknesses and underserved segments within the “wearable” ecosystem.

I’d been consulting on various Wearable projects for a number of companies, and one key thing that kept coming up was that current “wearables” – both fitness trackers and smart watches – were outputting incomplete use-cases. There’s this dirty little secret in the Wearable industry that 50% of users abandon their device after 6 months. What we’re finding is that activity trackers and smart watches aren’t actually creating any unique experiences – we’re all aware on some level of how much we’ve been moving, and serving me some variation of an infographic on that data, or in the case of a smart watch some “glance-able” extension of a smartphone’s feature set – these aren’t use cases that are going to disrupt consumer habits on a large scale. The iPhone completely reinvented the “in-hand” experience – for Wearables to become mainstream we need to do something completely new with the “on-body” experience.

At the same time, no Wearable has successfully gained traction in the kid’s market. That’s largely down to a fundamental misunderstanding of how kids engage with technology. A kid doesn’t care about arbitrary metrics like step count, heart rate and calories burnt. They’re hungry for amazing interactive experiences, and they’re incredibly sophisticated gamers. Watch a kid play Minecraft – Minecraft is a game about gaming. In many ways it’s meta-gaming. You see a couple of companies try and serve variations around a kind of Tamagotchi game linked to a wearable. Tamagotchi is nearly 20 years old now – kids gaming has evolved way beyond that.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There are two things that I really couldn’t, or if I’m not doing them – shouldn’t, live without.

The first is meditation – I only notice the extraordinary difference it makes to my focus and output when I’m not doing it.

The second is my Kanban board. It’s something I picked up from my UX days and I just can’t operate without it. I need to categorise and visualise my outputs, and see how they relate to the outputs and tasks of the rest of my team, and I need to see those fill an actual physical space in order to garner clarity and strategic and tactical perspective.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Action. Focus and Very Clever People (VCPs). Without those three things ideas remain just that, intangible ideas. I used to be a very frustrated “wantrepreneur” – I think the most important of those are the VCPs. Without those around me my ideas and I would be nothing.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Without question it’s what the first agency I ever worked at, Fjord, is calling Living Services. It’s how we use the Internet of Things and powerful data analytics to create services that come to life; predicting and reacting to consumers’ changing needs and circumstances. In other words, branded services that are personalized and change in real-time for every individual wherever they are and whatever they are doing.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Talking to VCPs. As I get older I’m (hopefully) getting that little bit more humble and ready to ask questions. If you surround yourself with people you respect and can collaborate with, you really can achieve anything.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was brought on to head up the digital department of a pretty successful marketing agency full of awesomely talented people. I was super excited to do amazing things and “make a difference”, but through both failings on my part and a structure that wasn’t conducive to innovation, I fell flat on my face. The most interesting part of the whole thing was the fact that you couldn’t point your finger at any specific part of the process and say where the fault lay.

It fostered an absolute passion for organisational psychology, and the theory that you can have a collection of extraordinarily talented individuals who on paper should be able to achieve anything, but that the wrong organisational structure can stifle progress.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Nothing. Every mistake I’ve made has led me to the place I am today. I think it was James Joyce that said: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”. You make a whole load of mistakes, learn loads, and get ready to make a whole load of new ones.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Hire Very Clever People.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Keeping my mouth shut for 5 seconds longer than I think I should. There’s an extraordinarily powerful energy that you find in pretty much every entrepreneur, and it’s that energy that pushes you to action and execute on your vision. However, it has a habit of manifesting itself in a desire to broadcast your opinion above and over everyone else’s. It’s amazing what happens when you just sit and listen to those around you.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I was 21 I started a digital design agency with an incredibly talented friend of mine, Jacob Beckett. We had a huge amount of energy, bags of vision, but literally no idea what we were doing. We also both wanted to drive strategy, and when you get two young guys just wanting to strategise all the time you end up with a lot of inter-company meetings and zero clients. It needed one of us to walk away so the other could build an amazing business, and Jacob’s done just that. I couldn’t be happier for the success he’s had, and we still talk every week.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

As the Internet of Things and Living Services become more mainstream we’re going to see a huge problem with “schizophrenic” user indexing. As we interface with an ever increasing number of data touch-points, we’re going to need a way for these systems to recognise us and serve us experiences that are relevant and organised. We already have “account overload” – we’re signed up for too many distinct services using too many distinct portals.

There’s a huge opportunity to own that “indexing” process, while also “cleaning” and managing the data that we share with those touch-points. Facebook and Google are strategically positioning themselves to grab this space, but if someone can break that monopoly and build something that’s built on ease of use and trust, they’ll totally smash it.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The fee for the Registry Office (the UK version of City Hall) for my wedding.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Slack. It rocks in so many ways and they’re just smashing it at the moment. We also use GlassFrog at PowaBand – we’re currently implementing Halocracy and it’s just a great piece of transformative organisational software.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’m going to break the rules here and recommend two. The first is ‘Halocracy: The Revolutionary Management System That Abolishes Hierachy‘. It’s well written and just resonates.

The second is ‘100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s the single most beautifully written book I’ve ever read, and has the greatest line ever written: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…”

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Mark Curtis -Founder and CCO of Fjord @FjordMark
Clay Shirky – Just the greatest thinker in terms of social and economic effects of Internet technologies.
Noam Chomsky – Everything he writes is compelling, particularly his work on linguistic.


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