Heath Wilson is the co-founder of Aro Technology, Inc., a tech company that aims to help people put their phones down and live life uninterrupted. An entrepreneur, visionary, culture builder, and idea generator, Heath co-founded eVestment prior to Aro, and sold the company to NASDAQ in 2018. His experience in data-driven solutions coupled with his role as a husband and a father of four led Heath to help develop Aro.
As co-founder of Aro, he is committed to helping people, companies, and families create healthy relationships with their technology through passionate leadership and expertise.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About Aro Technology, Inc., and their product Aro
- Background and time at eVesment
- His experience in preparation for co-founding another tech start-up
- Product Aro in helping other entrepreneurs and business leaders
- Advice for other entrepreneurs and business leaders
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio, brought to you by on Pay Atlanta’s new standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:25] Lee Kantor here another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor on pay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on the Atlanta Business Radio, we have Heath Wilson and he is with ARO Technology. Welcome.
Heath Wilson: [00:00:45] Lee, good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:46] I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about Aro. How are you serving folks?
Heath Wilson: [00:00:52] Well, Aro is a technology company that helps make it easy for people to put down their phones and engage in real life.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:58] So putting down their phones is you need a device to help you put down your phone.
Heath Wilson: [00:01:04] Unfortunately, that’s the case. I can speak from many years of personal failure. So it was a product and a business born out of frustration with my inability to put down my devices. And I kind of grew up through, you know, through the first BlackBerry, through all the various versions of the iPhones. And I just found that in spite of my best intentions and in spite of having shoeboxes in drawers and baskets, I just wasn’t doing an effective job of disengaging from from from work primarily and engaging with those that are closest to me.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:35] So how does this work?
Heath Wilson: [00:01:37] Well, what we’ve done is basically a lot of this follows the science of habit formation. So if you think about habits, you know, typically starts with the visual cue. So as we thought about ARO, we said, look, we have places for most things in our lives. We put our clothes in the closet, we put our silverware in a drawer, our car in the garage, but we don’t really have a place to find our phone. So as a result, we put it in our pocket, we put it on the counter. And I don’t know about you, but if I had my phone on me, I’m going to use it. So really, it starts with the place. So we define this or built this beautiful container that lives in, in a home that serves as a visual cue. And then we gamified the whole experience to make it rewarding. So there’s an app. It’s really the center of the platform that as soon as you put your phone in, in the row, it starts tracking all your time away. And really that’s what we’re trying to to quantify and to encourage. Is time off your phone, not, you know, kind of the opposite of the weekly screen time report.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:33] Now, it’s primarily geared towards a family.
Heath Wilson: [00:02:37] You know, today it is, though, I will tell you this. This idea was born actually, you know, in an office context. So I had a company in Atlanta, actually, I love Atlanta. And I would have given anything to have something in our conference rooms that allowed us to better focus when we’re in meetings. You know, the still glances under the table where we’re frequent. So I do think there’s an element of or an aspect to this that could be very appropriate in a corporate context. Also, as an employee wellness benefit, we’ve also got inquiries from hospitality sectors. So there’s a bunch of different ways this could go.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:09] Yeah, to me the first thought was restaurants. I mean, what a better way to encourage conversation than a central place on the table where everybody just puts their phone on it. It’ll just be part of the. That’s how we do restaurants now.
Heath Wilson: [00:03:26] Yeah, and you’re right. And you know, we see it. I mean, you see it when you go to a restaurant. There’s there’s too many times where you see a couple or family or, you know, looking on their phones instead of looking at each other. So, yeah, I think there could be an application there as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:39] So now when you came up with the idea, was that initially just kind of that place and then evolved into, Hey, let’s make this a membership so that it is a, an ongoing gamified reminder that this is a best practice when it comes to just living a more mindful, more productive life.
Heath Wilson: [00:04:02] Yeah, you know, I started iterating on the idea back in 2016 and I had a bunch of life experiences that came together where it just dawned on me that, you know, in other areas of my life where I have created habits, you know, there was a system to to encourage those or to motivate me to keep doing those. And with RO, you know, the idea was, hey, can we outsmart the smartphone to a degree? Let’s take all the tech tips and tricks that they used to hook us and let’s use those to hook us to getting off our phone. But I quickly learned that you can’t put the solution inside of the problem. So it can’t be an app only system. You really need that place. You really need that that that calling. You know, when you walk into your house as an example, the RO, you know, in many ways kind of is personified and said, hey, look, this is the place where I go this to your phone and it serves as that reminder like this is, you know, if I want to live a life of best intentions, this is the place that it goes.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:58] And then so when did you when you had the concept, like were your was your family the first kind of beta testers of this or did when did you kind of bring it from concept idea to, Hey, let’s test this in the wild to see if this really works as we envision?
Heath Wilson: [00:05:16] Well, that’s exactly it. So again, I said on a personal front, I failed many times over and I have four children. Three of them were in middle school at the time and they were approaching that age where you give them infinity in your pocket. And I just thought to myself, Wow, you know, if I’m failing and I’m fairly disciplined, then I haven’t taught them well, I haven’t modeled well, I haven’t really given them the tools to be successful with this. Again, infinitely powerful device. So yeah, that’s where it started. Actually, I first got a shoebox, cut a hole in the back and put some cords in it charging cables. And I said, Hey, I just want to see if like intuitively, if we start putting our phones there almost like a very basic charging station. And that worked. But what I noticed was, you know, you didn’t get any credit for doing so. And that’s where the whole idea of gamifying the experience came into play. So then we started running betas with other families and, you know, the box got a little bit nicer along the way. But yeah, that’s where I initially started was with my family.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:13] And then the gamification. How does that work? Like what is the reward for having a more robust conversation with your family?
Heath Wilson: [00:06:23] And ultimately, we do say that the reward is what you do when you’re off your phone, but from a from a from an app standpoint, you know, everything from streaks to nudges to encouragement to to keep going, even the interaction between the app and the box, We have this beautiful piano sound when you connect and when you disconnect. So we’ve gamified even the experience of putting it into, putting it into the own or moving it and really just trying to make sure that it creates a sustainable lifestyle and makes it fun. You know, it’s easy to fill every bored moment, every waking moment with, you know, another scroll through through the phone. And we just think if we can make it fun to actually put it down for periods of time, that you may actually engage in that conversation with your spouse or your child that you you’ve been putting off, you might actually have a family dinner where you’re not looking at your devices, even if you just watch TV without a second screen. We think that’s a win as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:20] Now, when you came up with the idea, you decide to make it kind of a nicer box than a shoe box and more elevated experience as part of the membership, how did you land on the pricing and when did you realize? Hey, this pricing can work. We can build a business around all of this.
Heath Wilson: [00:07:41] Yeah, well, we didn’t want to transaction. You know, this is this is a lifestyle. We always say, you know, it’s going to get easier to put down your phone, but it’s never easy. So we knew that we needed to create a kind of a lifetime relationship with our customers. And that’s why we we built a subscription model. But the tech and I mentioned earlier, you know, we’re a tech company. You know, the tech is pretty complicated. You know, to be able to recognize a phone in this small contained area and to connect and disconnect reliably. You know, it took us quite a while to pinpoint. So we patented that technology. And, you know, that makes it a bit more expensive to create these things. But we also knew that it did have to be beautiful. You know, this needed to be something that that lived in someone’s home. It needed to blend in, but also stand out. So everything from material wise, from the bamboo lid to the fabrics were well thought out. And we even worked with interior designers to make sure that this is something that could fit within the normal design layout of most homes.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:40] Now, this isn’t your first rodeo. Can you talk about how that maybe impacted the way you went about doing this adventure?
Heath Wilson: [00:08:52] Yeah. So my first rodeo was in Atlanta. Love Atlanta. I was there for 23 years. Started a company back in 2000. Very different company. It was a software and a data company. But what you learn in that experience, the underpinnings or the foundation of of starting a company and building a company are certainly applicable to the next one. Probably what I took from that experience more than anything is that it can be done. Risk is worth it, especially if you have the appetite for risk, which I do. Also kind of leaned into hiring people that had different skill sets, and I did so making sure that as we interview folks that we we fill in gaps of, you know, deficiencies that I have and others on the team have. So just really be more strategic about building out the team. And, you know, in some ways, you you gain a little bit of confidence. You know, you’ve done it before and you feel like you could do it again. So that helps you kind of push forward when things get a little bit more difficult.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:55] Now, what about your co-founder? How did that come about? Were you both on the same struggling with the same thing? How did your co-founder get into this?
Heath Wilson: [00:10:07] Well, I would argue that most of us are struggling with that, but I assumed he was for that reason. I called Joey, Joey Odum, because I knew that his values were aligned with mine. And ultimately, this is a values business. You know, what we are trying to encourage is somewhat countercultural. What we’re trying to motivate people to do is to look at each other, to look up to to be more relationally oriented. Look, the reality is technology has made almost every part of our life better, more convenient, easier, faster. But I would say the one area of our lives where it’s been detrimental is with relationships. So we’re kind of leaning into that. And we believe that everything that’s been created in this marketplace now is all about rules and regulations and restrictions. And we feel like we’re the first provider that’s actually addressing the relationship with the device, which is most important.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:56] And you’re encouraging more real life, real time face to face conversations.
Heath Wilson: [00:11:02] Absolutely. And we look, we all crave connection. I crave connection. You crave connection. In fact, that was the that was the promise of social media when it was first created. But we also know that face to face connection is way better than behind a screen.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:19] Yeah. And going through a pandemic, everybody’s hungry for it. You know, why is it broke? You can see that people were just kind of going out of their way to hug people. It was a big deal. They were sharing that on social media. How big of a deal was That’s how big of a deal.
Heath Wilson: [00:11:33] Yeah. I mean, you think, you know, at one point they said we’ll never shake hands again for, you know, this this this fear factor. And I mean, that went away almost immediately. We were shaking hands and hugging and which is great. I’m so thankful we’ve we’ve kind of moved to more of a steady state there.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:47] Now, talk a little bit about your experience with the Atlanta technology ecosystem. How have you found that to be? Have you enjoyed it? Has it been as far as you’d like it to be, and what would you like more of in it?
Heath Wilson: [00:12:04] Well, L.A. was amazing city. You know, I met my wife there, I got married there, raised my kids, started a business there. So I can’t say enough good things about Atlanta. I do believe Atlanta is the technology center of the southeast. As we were building our business in particular, you know, there’s a lot of competition for for talent. And that just speaks to the level of innovation that’s happening in the marketplace. So I think Atlanta, you know, continues to be, you know, kind of the tech epicenter. And we were just happy to be a part of it.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:35] Now, is there anything that it’s lacking? Is there something you’d like to see more of?
Heath Wilson: [00:12:44] I think you’re starting to see more institutional investors enter the marketplace. You know, a lot of times from a venture capital or a private equity perspective, you were having to go out west or to the northeast. And it feels like and it seems like some of those players have even opened regional offices and others have, you know, headquartered in Atlanta. So it feels like Atlanta is on the up and up when it comes to having, you know, the right base of investors, you know, in your own backyard.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:11] Now, do you have any advice for the maybe the people that are in a more corporate role but have this kind of idea that’s been back? Bernard And it might be kind of similar to yours with Arrow in that, hey, I got this idea. There’s this problem. I think it could work. How do how do you get encourage them to, you know, take action on it and to, you know, even at the minimum just, you know, put that shoebox together with a bunch of cords hanging out the back, like to scratch that itch a little bit and maybe expand what a career could be for them.
Heath Wilson: [00:13:47] Yeah. You know, the one thing I would say, and I’m actually not that good at this, but I for whatever reason, I did it this time around. Write it down. You know, Aro started, as I call it, the Jerry Maguire manifesto moment. And I realized some people may not know who Jerry Maguire or the movie was, but I basically went home one night and I had a job, right? I was building a company, but I went home one night and just wrote a couple three pages of all the things, all the problems that I saw with with our relationship with devices and in particular my relationship, and then all the things I thought that I could could, you know, create a solution for. And it was a bunch of ramblings and musings. But at the end of it, it it kind of coalesced into a to a concept and maybe even a quasi business plan. And then I put it away and I put it in an email email folder and I forgot about it for three or four years and then dug it out when when some life circumstances kind of aligned. And there it was, you know, it it changed certainly from that initial manifesto, but a lot of the foundational stuff in that document that night became part of the business. So, yeah, first and foremost, if you have an idea, write it down, sketch it down. And yeah, if you can do a beta test, whatever that beta test looks like, if it’s a shoebox, even better.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:00] But you have to at some point take action. It’s, you know, those kind of back burner things can live and die on the back burner if you don’t take action.
Heath Wilson: [00:15:10] Yeah. So I. Completely agree. And and on that front, I would say fail quickly. Do do small tests. You know, don’t don’t bet the house on it. You know, talk to some friends about it, even see what they think. Now, you will have to get a couple standard deviations outside of your network to make sure you get unfiltered feedback. But yeah, I would I would test it in conversations. You know, if you can’t test the thing, if it is a thing, you know, do that as well. So, yeah, you can’t just you can’t just sit around and think that it’s just going to happen. You have to, like you said, take some action.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:47] So if somebody wants to learn more, maybe check one out. Are they available in stores? Is the only online. How can someone get an arrow and bring it to their home or their office?
Heath Wilson: [00:15:58] Yeah, we are selling direct to consumer online. It’s go rogue. Oh. Ah. Oh. We actually just started shipping this week. So, you know, it’s been three years in the making and we’re we’re happy to happy to finally get them in customers hands.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:14] Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the success and thank you for doing what you’re doing and we really appreciate it.
Heath Wilson: [00:16:21] Yeah. Thank you, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:22] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
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