Entrepreneur Jim Jannard has never stopped dreaming big, even when others told him his ideas wouldn't work.
That was the case when he brought fledgling company Oakley to life in the 1970s. At the time, the market was fairly stagnant and Jannard – tired with the options – invented something completely different. His first product was a motorcycle grip that wicked away sweat during long rides, devised out of his car in '75.
Needless to say, Oakley – which sold to Luxxotica in 2007 for $2.1 billion – was a success. But at the time of the company's launch, the mainstream market doubted the products would make it. Fast forward to today, and Jannard is also credited with building Red Cinema, which has risen in popularity with the film world due to its high-resolution digital cameras – used to shoot major films like "Avatar" and "The Hobbit," to name just a few.
In November, the company brought yet another innovation to the table in the form of the RED HYDROGEN, a first for the smart phone community. The pocket-sized high definition camera has a lot of the same capabilities of its full-size sibling, but has another big draw: the introduction of the company's 4-View (4V) screen. The screen allows viewers to watch film content in 3D without the aid of glasses, headsets or any other equipment. To top it off, they've even created a new social network for HYDROGEN users, Holopix, where 4V content lives and can be accessed by the community.
"[Jim] looked at the mobile space and saw a good opportunity because there hasn't been a whole lot of innovation in cell phones in many years," RED HYDROGEN Director of Marketing Shaun Moody told TransWorld Business.
Moody, a surf industry vet who worked for O'Neill for many years, is joined by an all-star industry team, which is unsurprising given Jannard's deep background and history in the space. Steve Ward – also formerly of O'Neill – has come on board as director of sales, and the team is supported by Graffy Inc.'s team, as well.
"This is the single most exciting thing I have ever worked on," says Jannard of the HYDROGEN One launch. "Everything can and will be made better. It's just a matter of when and by whom."
We recently caught up with Moody, on the cusp of some big moves for the company in early 2019, to understand the launch strategy behind the new HYDROGEN One, what's in store for the future and why despite the critics, Jannard's innovations seem to be on an upward trajectory.
What sets the HYDROGEN One apart from anything else out there at the moment?
The biggest differentiator is the 4-View (4V) content. It's like 3D content only better because you don't need glasses or headsets to see it. HYDROGEN has the capability to capture and display images and video in 4-View.
We have a couple different apps that we've custom developed for the phone. One is called HYDROGEN Network, and that's where all the studio content through our partnerships with the big studios live.
New titles are being dropped every couple of weeks, from Disney, Warner Brothers and Lion's Gate. You can purchase and watch those movies in 4V, with select titles offered as rentals. Currently the HYDROGEN Network includes titles such as "Ready Player One", "Wonder Woman", "Justice League", "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", "Brave" and "Frozen" for 4V viewing.
We'll also be adding in more short-form video content as well, like John John [Florence's] last edit, "Space." The short now lives in 4-View on the HYDROGEN Network. John is a RED guy and a HYDROGEN backer, and he’s excited to be a part of this.
The second big differentiator for us coming from the cinema side, is that we believe in sound. A lot of cell phone manufacturers are getting rid of their head phone jacks. We aren't. We are keeping that in play. We have created a spatial surround sound experience on the phone. You can actually hear it through the external speakers, but when you throw on a pair of headphones it's like sitting in a movie theater watching your favorite movie.
How do the phone's camera specs stack up?
There are many features we are proud of including manual settings and variable bokeh mode, which allows you to have more control over your content creation.
Recently there was a blind photo competition hosted by a reputable smartphone reviewer featuring images taken from multiple smartphone cameras. HYDROGEN topped several of the main players including iPhone, Pixel and Note 9.
What other big roll outs or improvements to the product we will see soon?
HYDROGEN One is not a final product. Unlike our competition, we are continually adding new features, upgrading the camera and image quality, and improving the overall performance of the phone. Not just fixing bugs.
In the near future, we will be releasing a cinema-grade camera module with the option for interchangeable lens mount, allowing the freedom to utilize a variety of lenses.
What will be the price point on the new lens module when it drops?
Final price point and launch date are coming soon…
Tell us a little about the strategy behind the roll out?
We launched in Verizon and AT&T with about 2,500 stores nationwide, and we also launched in Mexico with Telcel. Unlocked versions of our phone are also available on our site.
If someone buys the HYDROGEN One from a store like Verizon or AT&T, do they get special incentive, like a discount?
From a brand level we are positioning ourselves as a premium brand with no discount. That doesn't meant that if Verizon or AT&T have a holiday or other type of blanket promotion that HYDROGEN wouldn't be included.
Are you considering Android and other smart phones as your direct competition?
We entered into a market that we are calling a "sea of sameness." HYDROGEN One is completely different from the competition. It's a Media Machine which includes a new industrial design look, 4V capturing and viewing capabilities, A3D multi-dimensional super spatial sound, and a modularity component. The innovation in this phone is just the start of HYDROGEN forging our own path within the mobile space.
What ways are you trying to get that message across to a broad consumer base? What strategies are you putting in place now that the initial launch has happened?
The mindset from Jim – from the days of Oakley, on to Red and now to HYDROGEN – has always been to build a community through word of mouth and from the ground up. So we aren't going to go out there and just blanket market with commercials, billboards, etc. We are going to build a community.
And the way we are doing that is through three different touch points. First, we have the RED army, "the RED Heads," our production consumers who are loyal to RED products. We’ve used the pre-order phase to engage with them and use their input to help develop this device for launch.
Second are the relationship-driven initiatives within sports and entertainment marketing – directors in Hollywood, celebrities, musicians and influential action sports figures like John John [Florence], Julian, Carmichael, Eric Koston – that hit on every category. Influencers who have relationships with us are excited about the device because it’s something innovative and it’s something they believe in – it’s not a pay-to-play deal. We are also working with our carrier partners to create brand advocates at the store floor level to help tell the HYDROGEN story to the general consumer.
Finally, from an experience perspective, the main focus is getting HYDROGEN in the hands of people. The in-hand experience is necessary to understand the innovation. The experience is the way we are going to create brand advocates. We are doing that by attending large audience events with our “War Wagons” or Sprinter vans that provide the ideal setting for viewing 4V content. There are movie-type seats built into the vans, where you walk in and are provided with a nice darkout space to view 4V content, which also include headphones for the surround sound experience.
We are taking these around the country to mainstream events. For launch we were at ComicCon in New York, ComplexCon in Long Beach, Battle at the Berrics in LA, and at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge. We are hitting many different markets and verticals with the goal of a hands-on experience for the public.
You mentioned your advocates like John John. How much of what you are doing is speaking to the action sports space versus a wider consumer?
Our strategy is taking a 360-approach in all the verticals.
The first is within the photography market. Obviously we came from a cinema background and want to capitalize on a user base who are familiar with RED cameras.
The second would be entertainment and lifestyle. This space includes celebrities, musicians, and fans of movie content. We also will target traditional sports and action sports. The 360-approach is brought to life by touching each vertical with influence, events, collaborations and media all tied together.
An example of this execution was our partnership with the Berrics. Eric Koston is a backer of HYDROGEN and we partnered with him on the Battle of the Berrics with an on-site activation and social media contest.
Finally, we highly value our carrier partnerships. We will be collaborating on events and sales programs with them to push the HYDROGEN message.
Is there any discussion of working on a partnership level with brands in the action sports space, beyond just the branded events you mentioned?
It's pretty early on. We are getting a lot of interest from many markets, not just action sports. What we need to do first is just establish the brand. It’s new and establishing a loyal community base is imperative to the success of HYDROGEN. The next phase is about what can we do in a relevant way to grow our business by working with brands that align with our goals.
What does Jim's involvement look like within the day to day and moving this strategy along?
Jim is involved in the company hands down. He is 100% all-in on the product side. He is on HYDROGEN every hour, every day. There is a forum called H4Vusers.net where the die-hard HYDROGEN community is active – he will reply to any question that comes in. If you ask a question, he is answering your question directly.
The thing is, when Jim launched Oakley the market was telling him he was crazy, the company was never going to be successful. With RED again, the feedback was this is crazy, you are wasting your time, this will never work. 4-View is different. The chapter in this journey is still yet to be written, but he has heard this same feedback before. Obviously there is a track record there: We have credibility from a guy who has done it twice.
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