Shareholder Newsletter January 2018
Andrew Chepaitis - January 16, 2018
In 2017, we shifted gears from research and development to outreach and communications. We began efforts to engage our community so as to launch the ELIA Frames alphabet and our toolbox of assistive technologies. Now we have the foundation from which we can begin to serve our community, launch successful products, and communicate our approach to improving lives. As we begin commercialization of our products and services, we'd like to share with you our team’s upcoming 2018 efforts.
ELIA Frames Pilot Program (January to December 2018 and beyond)
In November 2017, we initiated a pilot program through which people are learning and reading ELIA Frames, and helping us develop our offerings. In 2018 we will expand the pilot to include as many participants as our staff can serve. Through the pilot, we will also gather testimonials from readers. It is one thing for us to say that ELIA Frames is great. It will be much more effective to share a video of actual readers describing their experiences.
Cooper Hewitt Museum Exhibition (April - October 2018)
As part of our ongoing outreach and our residency at NEW INC (a design incubator associated with the New Museum) we've been building relationships with members of the design community. As a result, Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum invited us to exhibit both the ELIA Frames Alphabet and our innovative TouchPrinter. The exhibit will span April 2018 to October 2018 and will feature a dedicated space where people can learn the alphabet, and discover why and how it was developed. ELIA's new TouchPrinter will not only be featured, it will be used to create materials for our and several others’ exhibits. The Cooper Hewitt enjoys an international reputation and is the nation’s preeminent design museum.
Kickstarter (April / May 2018)
A Kickstarter will begin just prior to the start of the Cooper Hewitt exhibit. Through the Kickstarter, ELIA can leverage the exhibit to drive product sales and alphabet adoption. The Kickstarter design team and a leading Kickstarter consultant (Alex Daly) have agreed to collaborate with ELIA to make the campaign a success. Our Kickstarter rewards will consist of starter kits that customers can use to learn the ELIA Frames alphabet and immediately use it to gain greater literacy and independence.
The goal of the Kickstarter is two-fold: 1) To launch the ELIA Frames Font™ and drive early adoption and awareness of the alphabet, and 2) to generate funds which can be used to grow the company and serve more people. Kickstarter is an outstanding way to launch the alphabet because it is a hub for early adopter communities. It serves as a platform to inform and energize them and the general public, and launch a business through that engagement. Through our expanded team and collaborations, ELIA Life now has the bandwidth and opportunity to execute an effective campaign.
TouchPrinter Presales and Final Prototyping (Beginning June 2018)
Before and during the Cooper Hewitt exhibit, we may solicit printer pre-sales of the TouchPrinter. Thus far, there has been strong interest from schools, families, and museums our new tactile device. Once capital is raised for the printer's development ($250K), we will integrate the new printer chassis for which HP has given us an exclusive license. Once the printer chassis is integrated and gains UL consumer safety certification, we can sell manufactured units. The printer could be ready as early as July, while the Cooper Hewitt exhibit is underway and helping to build ELIA brand awareness and press.
Keyboard (March 2018)
We are prototyping an ELIA Frames keyboard. Currently, most people who use a computer use a laptop. As such, we are prototyping options for a low-profile ELIA Frames keyboard that can be applied to a laptop. We are testing a silicone film with tactile characters molded onto it that fits over the user's existing keyboard. We are also testing adhesive membranes that will produce individual tactile characters that can be applied to any keyboard key. Either low-cost solution could be seamlessly integrated into any user's computing routine. The initial keyboard prototypes will be sold as a beta product and can be created in-house. Customers, both visually impaired and sighted, will be able to type faster and more accurately with the ELIA Keyboard. And they may choose to sharpen their skills with the ELIA Frame Game (see below).
ELIA Frame Game (February 2018)
Research has demonstrated that games are a great resource for teaching people new skills. We have contracted with game developer James Folk to create an ELIA Frames Alphabet game (aka ELIA Frame Game). Playing the game will enable users to learn and apply the alphabet. We believe the game will be a very powerful tool for our stakeholders' community learning. Over the course of a week, month, or year, the ELIA Frame Game community could surpass braille usage rates across the globe. The game will be launched first as a downloadable computer game, hosted on a user's computer, and then as a server-hosted game with a competitive leader board. The first version will cost $5k, the server hosted version will cost $25K. ELIA aims to release the server-based version by April.
Fundraising (January to April 2018)
I spent much of 2017 working with my team to develop the company's products and services. While this is exciting, gratifying, and important work, I've neglected one of the more important duties as CEO: raising capital. The upside is that the company is well positioned to successfully introduce the ELIA Frames alphabet and TouchPrinter in 2018, gain alphabet adoption, and begin generating revenues. The resulting challenge is that we are in short supply of capital, which threatens to jeopardize these hard-won efforts. We are full steam ahead towards launching our Kickstarter campaign but, despite working with a seasoned Kickstarter team, these campaigns are not a guarantee of funds. Needless to say, funding is needed for ELIA to continue development of our products and services. As such, the company will raise a convertible note this winter and spring that will convert into a Series A round of institutional financing in the fall.
Communications with Stakeholders (Ongoing)
A number of stakeholders have noted that there have been long stretches of time when we haven’t shared information, and that we need to be better at communicating with our community. It’s very true. Talking about ELIA Life’s potential or struggles or failures, without hard dates or measured expectations, seemed an inefficient use of time. In other words, don’t bore people with unremarkable corporate minutia, only report in when something has been accomplished.
The road thus far has been uncertain and we have always been of the mind that, as Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said," and that "results are the only thing that matters" (Vince Lombardi). Many of the people with whom we’ve spoken are dear friends and mentors, and their advice has not been lost on us - an informed community is an involved community, and our group participation and mutual support will help ensure ELIA Life's success. We will endeavor to provide our community with more frequent ELIA updates in the future. Our team and I are looking forward to it.
Hopefully you are as excited as the ELIA Team is about our prospects for this new year.
If we execute according to plan, our pilot program will establish the foundation for a great Kickstarter campaign and ongoing community building, and the exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt will be a months-long opportunity for us to continue the conversation that we began in 2017 about ELIA Frames and Braille. It will thereby drive awareness and adoption. The ELIA Frame Game and the ELIA Keyboard will be useful tools in this area as well, as the more sighted and blind people who can have a meaningful engagement with our ELIA Frames font, the greater our adoption prospects.
In 2017, we laid the foundation for more productive and predictable efforts. We made progress towards commercializing products and establishing a framework for ELIA Frames adoption (through the pilot, Kickstarter, game, and keyboard). We will share our progress at least quarterly, and I suspect more frequently, in 2018. We will be posting regular updates to our newsletter blog: http://www.theeliaidea.com/new-blog/. For those who wish to review our 2017 efforts and milestones, summaries of our efforts can be found there. They can be found below in summary form, or please review our newsletters of the past year for additional details.