Rideblock talks building a product in the UAE with a market in the US
“We weren't doing much and were skating around the corner when we had this argument,” Jose recounted. “The way we could measure [the ollie] was videotaping ourselves and then analyzing post trick. Though, I knew it was me who was better.”
Nair went a step further and attached a few electronic sensors and wires to the skateboard to measure the height of the jump. That was the first iteration of their invention followed by the launch of parent company Flipmotion, Inc.
Riding with the tech trend of quantifying physical movement while filling a gap in the extreme sports industry, Nair and Jose built a prototype and an accompanying app for Rideblock in 2014. The duo won the Next Big Ideas contest in Mumbai, but knew the market was limited in India. A niche skateboarding scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi attracted their interest, which led them to Flat6labs.
“When they came in, there was an angle of capability, a sizeable global market and the initial product was very innovative,” said Flat6labs managing director Victor Kiriakos. “The device also touched on a healthy lifestyle.”
A skateboard park near the Corniche was the main testing ground for Jose and Nair. Between 6-10pm everyday, the multicultural Abu Dhabi Skateboarding Crew would come in to attempt new tricks. Rideblock gave them a reason to track tricks and compete.
“What we understood from Abu Dhabi and Dubai was that people were so multicultural,” Jose told Wamda. “Each of them had different thoughts about skating and instead of going to each of these countries, we were [able] to get feedback from that single skatepark.”
For early stage startups, the risk appetite of the MENA region is often a contentious point. To Jose, however, being incubated in the UAE at that stage was the perfect launchpad.
“We were [learning] a lot of basics,” he said of his time at Flat6labs. “The mentors who came gave us building blocks to start thinking about the business and the business of building the hardware.” Add to that, Nair spent hours at New York University Abu Dhabi’s Engineering Lab building iterations of the device while working closely with mentors who had built products around the world.
After four months at Flat6labs, successful demo days and a $70,000 investment, Rideblock turned to the US. Jose and Nair needed to improve the device and for that they sought more feedback. Skateboarding was born on the streets of California and is a popular sport in the US. The move would bring the team closer to their target market as well as potential investors.
“It's always good to identify your key segment and go after it,” Kiriakos said. “In their case it was pretty easy to identify [it]. [Rideblock] is also very different because it’s a hardware company.”
As one of the top 10 cities for skateboarding, Los Angeles was an excellent fit for Jose and Nair. In late 2015, the entire team of eight joined Make in LA as one of their portfolio companies.
“The customer discovery stress testing early in the program was essential in identifying a gap between the product form factor and what customers wanted,” said Noramay Cadena, cofounder and general partner at the accelerator.
The testing allowed the team to expand on the Flat6labs experience. Their move to US not only allowed them to meet skating legend Tony Hawk, but also participate in the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016.
In a 10 by 10 feet booth, Rideblock invited skaters to test their product, giving them scores for each trick.
“People were trying to beat their own score, they would then get another person [to try],” Jose said. “When they see the tricks on the big screen, skaters are hooked. The competitive aspect of [Rideblock] was huge.”
“We intentionally recruit from a diverse pool of candidates because we know that talent is ubiquitous,” Cadena said. “ Our goal is to be the most helpful investors in a startup's cap table. It's inspiring to see the verticals and industries being tackled around the world.”
Rideblock graduated from Make in LA and are now gathering data from intermediate, beginner and pro skaters to prepare for in-store and online retail sales in US, Europe and Australia. Having raised $300,000 so far, Rideblock is looking to raise a round of $ 1 million.
“The [UAE] has changed in really good way,” Jose reflected on the UAE incubation. “There are a bunch of really good programs in terms of accelerators and incubators in the region which [entrepreneurs] should take advantage of … this is the best time to start working on a [new] product.”