It’s been nearly a year since Japanese tech company Bonx, headed up by entrepreneur and snowboarder Takahiro Miyasaka, first launched into the North American Market.
The product, which has been through years of R&D and frequent meticulous upgrades by Miyasaka and team, allows for full connectivity – almost like having a walk talky – while in the mountains or any other far-flung destination. For those who understand what it’s like to get separated from your group during a day out on the hill or trail, Bonx’s newly imagined communication tool takes staying connected a level beyond the spotty-at-best cell service at most off-the-grid locations.
“It was a continuous trial-and-error process, especially since we were exploring an untracked path,” Miyasaka admits. “For example, there was nobody who could teach us how to develop a VoIP (or voice over internet protocol) system that works with unstable networks; I guess nobody had seriously tried to make VoIP work when snowboarding. So we developed a program, went up to the mountain with engineers to field-test, got slapped in the face because it got disconnected every 10 seconds, and then went back to the office to rework, and repeat...”
For Miyasaka, that long, painstaking process paid off; the success of the product in Japan and throughout Asia was clear upon its initial launch, and was a litmus test for how it would be received in the States and Canada.
“We are still an unknown brand, but as soon as people understand what the product has to offer, we get identical amazed expressions,” Miyasaka says.
Beyond its VoIP technology, there are many other tech elements that make up Bonx, including a voice-detection algorithm, wind-noise reduction and a recently-released feature that allows users to take a video in the app and mix their conversation into the clip. “This is a very new kind of content and it’s so much fun,” Miyasaka says of his latest roll out. “I have lots of fun beta-testing it myself.”
It took nearly 3 years for the company to develop the product to a standard Miyasaka felt comfortable with bringing to market, he says.
“BONX is not something anybody can build overnight, even if it’s a gigantic company,” he says. “And what truly sets us apart is the team. Our team is a unique mixture of people who have authentic passion for these sports and who have top-notch engineering/design skills.”
We recently caught up with Miyasaka to understand how Bonx has been received in North America so far, and what’s to come for this forward-thinking brand.
Why does it feel like a good time to introduce Bonx to the North American market?
We are getting lots of positive feedback from Japanese users. If you search #bonx on Instagram, you’ll find many users posting positive things about us, although they will be predominantly Japanese.
Some users are apparently unable to go skiing again without BONX! This gives us enough confidence to enter the North American market, especially because we know Japan is one of the most demanding markets when it comes to the quality of the product or the service.
Can you discuss some of the research done when expanding a company like Bonx? The brand has a good following in Asia but how do you make the transition to other countries – does that include retooling marketing, the product itself and its capabilities, etc.?
The biggest issue for us would be the cell reception. BONX offers a revolutionary communication experience, but only when you have a cell signal. And different countries have different levels of coverage.
Japan is pretty good. Some Northern European countries, like the Nordics or Benelux, are great. North America can be tough, as the land is huge and there are apparently not enough cell towers. But still, things are definitely getting better. For example, many ski resorts are investing in better cell reception because it’s important for everybody. Apart from that, I don’t see a major issue.
How do you define and continue to push innovation with tech?
We are always telling ourselves that technology shouldn’t come first. Rather, it should be user experience that we really care about. Nowadays there are so many things you can do with technology, but what good does it do if it doesn’t make the sport more fun? It’s easy to lose the direction with so many “tech seeds” with which you can possibly create a “revolutionary” product or service. So we stick to creating what we want as a doer. That’s why we should never stop doing what we love.
What is your advice to someone trying to come into this market for the first time?
If you are talking about the action-sports/outdoor-sports market, I think it’s a market where authenticity is still important. People see if you are real or not. One of our best hires is this ex-Burton manager who applied after seeing some of our YouTube content. He could tell that we are not some corporate people who try to exploit sports to make money. It’s also the reason why we can collaborate with people like Terje Haakonsen or Brandon Semenuk. They only deal with real people.
How would you describe the current state of the tech market as it relates to adventure sports and outdoor?
What changed the way we experience our daily lives in the last couple of decades is predominantly information technology. But adventure and outdoor sports have been left more or less intact because you don’t have the internet there. That situation is finally changing. Now you are always carrying smartphones or wearables or IoT (internet of things) gadgets, and the LTE network is expanding, so they are always connected. That opens up a big space for technology to come in and contribute to the evolution of the sports.
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