Aussie man's vision of unlosable glasses gets big-name backing
When Australian man Allen Liao was still at university, he borrowed a friend's expensive sunglasses and lost them.
"He wasn't very happy with me so that's how it all started," Liao says.
The 23-year-old dropped out of uni to start developing Tzukuri, a line of "unlosable" glasses which went on sale in Australia this week.
Tzukuri integrates hand-crafted glasses with Bluetooth technology.
The glasses are connected to an iOS app, which notifies the owner if they are left behind, records the last GPS location and shows proximity when searching for them indoors.
The range is manufactured in Sydney from cellulose acetate, which is a 100 per cent renewable and recyclable natural biopolymer manufactured from cotton and wood pulp.
Tzukuri creates both glasses and sunglasses priced at A$480 (NZ$914), including prescription lenses.
"If you look at technology like your phone, it is made from lots of different components," Liao says.
"But when you make a pair of glasses you only have three pieces to work with. We invented a new process to seal the electronics inside one piece of material which allows us to make a very light pair of glasses."
Liao chose to stick to a classic and simple design for the glasses in contrast to the sophisticated technology inside.
"There was a lot of work in [the] design, working out what materials to use and what lenses to use," he says.
Tzukuri has only produced a first run of 320 pairs as the glasses are all handmade in Australia.
"We want to continue to make them in Australia and we're currently searching for manufacturers," Liao says.
He's scored some big name backers with Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Australian cosmetics company Aesop, and Andrew Rothwell, the founder of Australian payment company Tyro, on board as directors of Tzukuri.
Liao won't reveal how much funding Tzukuri has received, but says "it's been a long process, raising capital is hard".
Liao travelled to the United States meeting anyone and everyone he could.
"Capital raising is really relationship building. For people to invest in a start-up, there is no proof of its success. Nearly every investor we have, we've had strong relationships with six to nine months before we have had a chat."
The one exception is Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Wordpress.
"We had a quick conversation when I was in the United States. I pitched him the company and he called me back the next day and said 'Allen it's absolutely crazy, but I think it might work'."
Other investors and advisers include actor Stephen Fry, Ron Johnson, who created Apple's retail arm and Bertrand Serlert, the former senior vice-president of software engineering at Apple.
Liao met Fry through a screenwriter in the United States who told him "Stephen would really love your glasses". It turned out Fry did.
He's now an adviser to Tzukuri, and Liao says Fry has made "many, many introductions". "He's very close to some Apple executives".
Alongside the Apple alumni Liao has secured the backing of Ilana Atlas a director at ANZ, Coca Cola and Westfield, and Chris Boshuizen the founder of Planet Labs.
Liao says he's nervous now his vision has become a reality.
"You've got to be nervous, you just don't know what people will expect," he says.
The signs are good so far, with Tzukuri breaking even the first day it started trading. Liao has plans to open three stores in the next six months and is aiming to sell 13,000 pairs of glasses in Australia, bringing in over A$6 million in revenue.
If his plans for international expansion come off, there are more commercial opportunities.
"We are looking first at New Zealand and Asia-Pacific and then looking very closely at the United States and Europe," Liao says.
But the process of developing Tzukuri has not been without its challenges for Liao. His initial co-founder left the business and went back to finish his university course.
"You have to love it," Liao says. "Starting a company where you are making the physical product, especially electronics, is so hard that you have to have a great passion for whatever you are doing otherwise you will give up."
- Sydney Morning Herald