Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Curious Monica: Season 3

Design for Accessibility with Kevin H. Yoo

Curious Monica – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

The Curious Monica podcast features candid conversations with innovators in thriving organizations across various industries. In each episode, host & founder of InnovatorsBox, Monica Kang interviews her friends in diverse fields about what they do and why they love what they do. If you’re curious too, you’ll gain incredible insight into the workplace patterns that can change the way you think about work, no matter what industry you’re in or who you are.

Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your preferred platform of choice!

When Kevin H. Yoo learned of his friend Marcus’s impending blindness, he was inspired to make a difference. Drawing on his expertise in industrial and product design, Kevin embarked on a journey to address a crucial challenge in technology accessibility, revolutionizing navigation for the visually impaired. This journey led to the founding of Haptic (previously WearWorks), dedicated to crafting not only functional but visually-appealing products accessible to all.

Through his innovative use of touch and elegant design principles, Kevin reimagined accessible navigation. Today, Haptic (previously WearWorks) stand as a pioneer in the field, having transformed the lives of countless individuals by enabling greater independence in navigation. Their impact was highlighted in 2017 when their wearable smart device assisted a blind runner in completing the NYC marathon, a testament to the transformative power of their technology. As we honor Disability Pride this July, we are thrilled to dive into Kevin H. Yoo’s journey into becoming an accessibility tech innovator and ally for people with disabilities. 

Kevin Yoo

Kevin H Yoo, CEO and Founder of Haptic (formerly WearWorks)

Kevin Yoo is the CEO and Founder of WearWorks. Yoo has gained international recognition and awards for pushing sustainability, design and technical innovations forward. Winning competitions such as the Bauhaus Award, German Design Award, National Science Foundation and more. He focuses on social and positive impacts at large scale, yet working closely with the end users to generate long lasting, meaningful products. Yoo has patented several technologies and designs, which includes a novel software and wearable for precise navigation utilizing only the sense of touch called the Wayband and HapticNav.

Play Video

Episode Shownotes

1. Title of the Episode:
Design for Accessibility with Kevin H. Yoo

2. Host:
Monica H. Kang, Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox

3. Guest:
Kevin Yoo, Founder & CEO at Haptic (Formerly WearWorks)


4. Key Topics Covered:

  • Kevin Yoo’s journey as an entrepreneur
  • The role of innovation in business
  • Challenges and opportunities in the tech industry
  • The importance of community and networking


5. Highlights:

  • Kevin Yoo discusses the inception and growth of his company.
  • Insights on balancing creativity with business acumen.
  • Experiences of navigating the startup ecosystem.
  • Personal anecdotes about overcoming adversity.


6. Quotes from the guest:

  • “Innovation isn’t just about creating something new; it’s about making a real impact.”
  • “The tech industry is full of challenges, but each one is an opportunity to learn and grow.”

7. Some people suggested that we should learn from:

Henry Yoo – Professor, Pratt Institute

Shaun Stewart – CEO of ChargeLab

Maya Lin – Artist and Architect


8. Contact Information for the guest:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yoodesigned/


9. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Monica emphasizes the importance of staying curious and open to new ideas and encourages listeners to engage with their communities and seek out opportunities for growth.

10. Episode Length and Release Date:
Episode Length: Approximately 58 minutes
Release Date: July 9, 2024


00:00

Monica H. Kang
Kevin always grew up learning about the importance of being a good person. He shares in his reflection how his father would emphasize, thats great that you can create beautiful things, but how is that making a positive impact in the world and doing good? Are you making a difference? So with that at the heart, hes always had an interest in community development, inclusion, design. But it certainly became a turning point when he quickly found out one of his friend was becoming blind. Becoming blind meant that suddenly the world became inaccessible from the smallest thing. And that situation changed his life. To realize that, wow, why are we not creating enough things and more things that is inclusive and thought out for all audiences, especially for those who are blind and people with disabilities. 


00:58

Monica H. Kang
It became the start of Kevin wanting to dive into the importance of touch innovation and universal design and led him to becoming the CEO and founder of WearWorks, where his products that he built with his team received international recognitions and award for pushing sustainability, design and technical innovation forward. You see WearWorks and haptic. His work touches upon the science of touch. How often have you noticed how you access things with your eye, audio, but not with your touch? Right. If you think about it, a lot of the places touch becomes kind of a secondary thing because we often assume that you can see or hear, but that leaves out a large number of audience who cannot access an experience. This is the reason why a lot of voice recognition technology has developed, but that still leaves out for those who cant hear. 


01:54

Monica H. Kang
So WearWorks focuses on the touch science. If you wear their devices, the vibration and the direction helps you know which direction youre going. So it helps you navigate safely and accessibly without needing to lean on somebody. One of their success stories, which they have many that has become well known, is in 2017 in New York City, a blind visually impaired person has been able to successfully run a marathon without additional support. I mean, how amazing is that? And that’s just the start. They’ve had amazing and many collaborations. Kevin himself had received awards from competitions such as German Design Award, National Science foundation and much more. He’s focused on social and positive impact at large scales. Yet working closely with the end users has generated long lasting, meaningful products. 


02:50

Monica H. Kang
He has patented several technologies and designs, which includes a novel software and wearable for precise navigation, utilizing only the sense of touch called wayband and haptic navigation. He travels a lot and hes working a lot and he is not stopping to make the world more accessible. So tune in and let’s meet Kevin. How he’s rethinking innovation so very excited to have my friend Kevin here. Kevin, thanks so much for joining the show and diving into this conversation as we continue our celebration for disability Pride month. So important to also be an ally. And as we get into that conversation, foremost, we want to get to know you and your journey into innovation. I’m curious, like, if we meth young Kevin, who was he and what was he like growing up? 


03:47

Kevin Yoo
All right. Wow. Hi, Monica. Great to be here. And starting with the hard questions, young me was actually very into art. So I started painting, oil painting at age six due to my mother and my aunt very interested in art and also pursuing it for a lot of their careers, so, or most of their career. And, yeah, I just got really into oil painting and sculptures. So majority of my youth, I was drawing trees for my other classmates and making a lot of animal like drawings. I first won an award amongst all the schoolmates, a fire truck drawing. So an actual fire truck came to our school, and we all sat and watched it do its water spewing thing, and I was like, wow, this is so cool. And then we all got to draw it. 


04:42

Kevin Yoo
And then they chose a winner of the art, and I was the winner of the school. So that kind of, like, pushed me and motivated me to pursue art as also a career. But all the way until high school and even college, I was very much into producing artwork. 


04:58

Monica H. Kang
And that’s unique because I think also growing up asian american art necessarily is not a career path. I think many parents might have been supportive. I’m curious what it was like for you and your upbringing. Were they appreciative, supportive, or, like, maybe you had other people in your family who liked art. 


05:16

Kevin Yoo
I was actually very fortunate. My parents were very open to the idea of me pursuing more creative fields. My mother was also a tennis player, and, you know, they loved sports. So I was born and raisins, Seoul in South Korea. So we had this more of a traditional sense of rooted grounds, and they had their community, their people, their friends. And I was able to be trained by tennis pros and also artists. So kind of my youth was very fortunate in that sense of a lot of creativity around. And then when I moved to the US, when I was ten years old, I pursued that journey. And that was kind of like the new tipping point for me because I took it a little bit more seriously. 


05:59

Kevin Yoo
It was like private tutors would come from the school and they’ll support me in the progressive art because a little inside info. Math is very high level in Korea or, I think, in Asia in general. So when I first moved to the US, I didn’t take math classes for the first, like, five, six years. So as I skipped math class, I would go to, like, a private art tutoring. And that’s where I was able to really pursue and hone in my skills a little bit. 


06:31

Monica H. Kang
And you got into a very specific niche called industrial design. For those who don’t know what that space is, tell us a little bit more. And how did you know this was something that would be interesting for you as a career? 


06:42

Kevin Yoo
Yes. Industrial design for me really came through a lot of different categories that I really wanted to pursue combined in one. So my first dream that I had was to become, of course, an artist and to become a sculptor and to make these ginormous pieces. Andy Goldsworthy, Maya Lynn. These were my heroes growing up. And then when reality started to set in and my parents were like, okay, you should be an engineer, or you should go to school for business, I started to think about these things as they were business people in the end, after all, even though they supported my creative art careers, they also obviously understood business mentality was the path forward for financial freedom, pretty much. So they pushed me into the category. 


07:38

Kevin Yoo
I was quite good at math still and quite good at science and physics, but it wasn’t my passion. So when I first went into the engineering and business colleges and I started to explore the option, I kind of took a step back. And when I first went to school for business as well, I started to realize early that I didn’t want to do a top bottom approach or even build a business at all, honestly. I just wanted to build products and kind of, you know, do things with my hands. And so that’s where industrial design became an option, to combine art, combine my drawing skills, combine my methods of kind of creativity, but put it towards an effort that could actually change people’s lives and or, you know, make some cool things like cars and yachts and stuff. Right. 


08:25

Kevin Yoo
So design encompass, like, a very large breadth of work that I could work on. 


08:31

Monica H. Kang
And I envision, for those who are in that space, it’s really important to find your kind of style, your niche, like, what helped you early on, what your voice would be, and any experiences that helped influence you in shaping that 100%. 


08:49

Kevin Yoo
So when I was in high school, I was going to an art school, like an art school after my normal school. So I would go to this extracurricular thing, but it was just as long as normal school, kind of like another whole endeavor. So as I went to this, it was called ECA. Educational center for the Arts in New Haven. So I made a whole new group of friends, whole new group of knowledge based on the new professors that I met, not just on the curriculums that you learn. And at one point, the professor I had, her name was honey. She told me, hey, you can be a sculptor. I can take you under my wing, and you can be my apprentice. 


09:35

Kevin Yoo
So we started to work very close together, and she taught me a lot of the ways of the artist and the artistry of sculptures and creativity and making it so that it’s actually sellable, making it so that it’s profitable, becoming a professional in the field. So as I was approaching that side, it made me realize, like, I really had the passion for creating things with my hands. And at the same time, she asked me the same question of my parents, how much do you care about money? And I said, well, I do like to have nice things. In the end of the day, I like to play tennis. I like to do these things, and they cost money. So, yes, I think that’s important. 


10:15

Kevin Yoo
So she kind of allowed me to get a bit of a balance, understanding not too far off to the right or left, like academic system does, right, where it’s all about financial maximum. In some ways, in business school, with art school, it wasn’t all just fluff and rainbows and sunshine. It was like, how do you actually succeed and become a professional artist in the modern world? So the influence of her in my life was very huge, and especially in college. I hate saying this, but my first drawing professor pretty much was the first one to, like, teach me the way of not drawing the way I wanted to draw. He said, I’m going to literally force you to stop your creativity and hold it into what we call industrial design production drawings. 


11:06

Kevin Yoo
So a lot of my abstraction, a lot of my, you know, understanding of art, the trainings had to kind of stop there, and I had to retrain myself to build my skill sets to become an asset for companies to say, okay, this guy knows how to understand products. This guy understands dimensions. He understands how to produce and manufacture something that he produces out of drawings, and that is valuable. So, and that reverts into modeling 3d software systems and so on. So the training really came from a stepping stone of having really great professors. But, yeah, from an early standpoint, having that understanding of what is art, what is a product, what is business, and how do you kind of combine these things into an ecosystem that’s really important. 


11:53

Monica H. Kang
And I appreciate you breaking that down. I mean, shout out to all the professors and educators out there early on, tapping into our students, giving the wisdom, but also the reality, as you have pointed out, especially for many who might be tuning in, knowing that, wait, how in the world did he got to. What do you do? I’m also interested in art and I care about art, but how you transform that skill and still continue to pursue art just in a very different way is really incredible. And so thank you for sharing that and also reflection. And what are the pieces that helped you building on that? I know there was a key moment that helped you realize that maybe there’s this particular gap that you want to address with your passion, with the skills you gained in addressing a gap for disability. 


12:35

Monica H. Kang
And I’m bringing us back to that moment with the incident that you’ve had, with your experience you had with your friend and what happened. And hence I how that translated into a whole business and journey that you are in now. 


12:50

Kevin Yoo
Yeah, this was quite much the turning point, I guess, of my life, of my adult life. So as I became a designer, I realized two things. One is everybody’s very excited about the newest, greatest thing, but it’s so far out that there’s really no reality mixed in with it, right? It’s like, oh, flying drone that doesn’t have any propellers, right. Or anything. And there’s like robots, but they have no engines or any kind of electronics. Sci-Fi and then there is the very practical stuff of, hey, how about like a prosthetic? 


13:26

Kevin Yoo
So if somebody loses their dominant hand, let’s say, for example, myself as an artist, and I always thought about this, if I lost my dominant hand, I would have to either retrain my non dominant hand how to draw and, or I would have to have some kind of new innovative technology or procidic that would mimic the tensegrity of my muscles and be able to replicate my muscle movements naturally, as I remember. And that should kind of help me perform how I used to. And I thought about that for an old architect, some designer that’s been designing their whole life, that’s such a traumatic experience. An artist that’s been just drawing with their right hand for their whole lives. So I got into prosthetic design. Actually, initially, that was my entry into what then was called universal design. 


14:18

Kevin Yoo
Apple was kind of beginning to talk about that, but still very new. And I was calling it inclusive design, which now what we consider it as a core value of our company. So when I first started creating prosthetics, it was a one by one impact that you can bring to another human being, right? Like this is for you, designed, and I then tailored, custom made for you. And that impact is literally life changing, but it requires a lot of one by one efforts, communication, design, specific needs, requirements. But it was so powerful that I really dove into it. And then I created a group, inclusive design group at Pratt that was a small group, about twelve people, but we cared about that specific thing, impact design that changed people’s lives. And my father was also very much into philanthropy. 


15:12

Kevin Yoo
He was always helping people, going out of his way, and he would always tell me, if you’re not going to design and put your skill sets to something that’s going to help people, you’re going to be wasting your life. So I took that very seriously and it was very dramatic, but I believed it to be true to this day. With that said, during this moment of understanding more about technology, about prosthetics, about impact that you can have on people’s lives, with design, with, you know, with products. My friend Marcus Engel came into my life and he became blind through a pretty traumatic car accident. So with that impact that he had in his life, he went through a year of rehabilitation. What came back? 


15:51

Kevin Yoo
And he identified the major challenges in his life that were taking away his freedom to get around higher stress levels, anxiety, you know, you name it, right? So he was a successful football player and also a writer. So he started to write books about healthcare that would help support other healthcare systems to elevate their treatment to patients, because it’s not always that great. So through this knowledge base that he had and through my understanding of products and technology, we started to talk. And I invited him to the inclusive design group where he spoke about his experience and what he wished he had, what kind of world that he wished that he was living in. And by speaking about that from his heart, were all very much touched by it. 


16:40

Kevin Yoo
And that’s when I just went straight in and said, hey, Marcus, let’s just do this thing. Whatever it is you can imagine, we can build it. So at that moment, I was already working with haptics prior to. For about two years. Haptic is the company that I’ve started, but it is an understanding of touch language. So I started to really develop a universal language through touch. That’s what Marcus was very impressed by. He said, if I can understand a lot of information, not just through, of course, visual and audio cues, but through a different sense like touch, that’s all I really need. This ability like this is really an information barrier, and if you can eliminate that I don’t have the same problem that I used to. So that’s when we started to get really serious with it. 


17:27

Monica H. Kang
That’s incredible. I mean, it’s not every day where we translate difficult moments into opportunities and hence amplifying opportunities to help more people, which you and your friends have done. So congratulations, and thank you for the work that you have set in motion. Now fast forward. I know where it works is in a lot of different places to make it accessible for those who have not been familiar with your products and service. Could you share us a little bit more what it is and now the different types of products? I know you were hinting also at branching into software, too, but maybe we’ll start with the hardware and what it can do so that they understand the beauty of the work that you do and where it connects back to your story with Marcus. 


18:10

Kevin Yoo
Yeah, well, where was all started with. With, honestly, Marcus, as I brought him early on, and he was my main consultant and advisor, and he also got me in contact with all the blind organizations in the US, like National Federation of Blind, American Federation, Lighthouses, you know, you name it. He had all the connections. So he just opened the doors and said, hey, you have a really awesome product. Array of products. Back then, I was just building a ton of things that I thought could be valuable. For example, like canes that had sensors and haptic vibrations on them, and a bunch of wearable devices for proximity detections. And the main one was the wayband, which I’ll show you right here. This is the OG of wearable devices that ever existed in the market even before Fitbit. 


18:57

Kevin Yoo
So this was really, like, first ever that kind of existed, all focused on haptics. So in the back, you can see there’s an isolation mold I, which was designed to output the vibration as best as possible without affecting the rest of the vibration of the housing. And so we really designed the wearable all around the vibration sensation, the best range of power possible that you can get the sense of direction and more with it. So, in the beginning, it was all about the wearable device because nothing existed in the market. Again, Apple Watch was far out of the spectrum here. We had to create our own device and phones. Back in the day, iPhones and such had higher limitations on haptic and vibrations in general. So there was nothing really we could do. 


19:46

Kevin Yoo
We couldn’t just hack into the phones or improve these technology systems. We needed Apple to do that. So we started working with Apple for the marathon and so on. That was kind of more fast forward. But in the beginning, it was all about creating a wearable device that could give you vibrational feedback for navigation. So anybody, even your blind, deaf or elder populations, whatnot cited as well, can all use it the same way. It’s a universal language of navigation. So that’s how we really start to puncture the innovation for the world of haptic technology and wear works is how I started as a branch for all hardware technology components. But now I’ve built an umbrella company, the mother company, which is Haptic, which owns all of the universal language that we’re building now, the software side and also the hardware side. 


20:38

Monica H. Kang
Tell me a little bit more about the other branches. 


20:41

Kevin Yoo
So, Haptic is the umbrella, as I was just saying, the mother company, Haptic Lab, is a software sector. So haptic lab is where we build the sandboxes for all the different SDKs. And what SDK is the software development kit. And from there, we produce all the different types of vibration cues that we get to license to different companies for different reasons. So hapik Nav underneath haptic Lab, which is, again, the sandbox, is our main product, which is the orientation that you can feel through the vibrational cues. And that is the patent that I was able to achieve about eight years ago with the first investment from BMW and from our first endeavors of the marathon. The first marathon, the blind marathon runner that compete in the New York City making history. All of that utilizes our haptic navigation technology and patents. 


21:36

Kevin Yoo
And now we get to license that to the companies like Uber, Google, and so on, and to make humanity elevate in terms of how we move the world. So that’s the software sector. And wear works covers anything in the future of hardware. So we have taken a step back from that, as hardware is very difficult. But I do that disencourage future entrepreneurs from tackling it. It’s going to get only easier and easier as we go with the world being more connected. But it is a difficult industry, as were the first ones really making wearable devices in the market. It was very difficult times to compete with the Fitbits and everything else coming out with all the news and pebbles and the jawbones. 


22:17

Kevin Yoo
But now we have Apple Watch integrated, so now we partner with third party watches in order to make the distribution channel wider for us. 


22:27

Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing. And I believe that you started this chapter around 2015. So it’s already been like nine plus years that you’ve been doing it. I mean, that’s incredible. I mean, how does it feel, looking back, if you were speaking to Kevin back then versus knowing what you know now, what would you share? Advice, maybe inspiration, encouragement? What would you share to Kevin, who was starting off, oh, wow. 


22:57

Kevin Yoo
You know, I watched a lot of videos of, you know, founders, especially Nvidia. Right. Like, what a journey, you know, the CEO has gone through now from the very beginning, and he asked, he answered a similar question and he said, I will tell my old me to not do it because it’s just so hard. And a part of me agrees with that for sure. Like, the startup life is not for everyone. And a founder life may be glorified to some, but it is not the case in reality for majority of the time that you actually are in the journey of. 


23:34

Kevin Yoo
So, you know, you’re going to be in that position where you have to make hard decisions all the time and, you know, fires are happening every single day, and you just don’t have time to even have your own life for many years even. Right. You’re just constantly on the grind, constantly producing something and, or negotiating, and you actually don’t know whether it’s going to be successful or not. Right. Because in the end, you care if you work for a big conglomerate or, like, enterprise, technically speaking, you don’t really care that much whether the entire company is a successful journey or not. You care about your wages and who’s going to let go and so on. So with this weight on your shoulder and with the journey that you need to take, preparation is a lot. 


24:20

Kevin Yoo
And of course, you just kind of learn as you go. And part of the thing that I for sure had that most founders I think do need to have is inexperience. Because for sure, if you’re just so young coming out of college, starting a company, you don’t know, you don’t care. You don’t care about how much of a tough journey is going to be ahead of you. You’re just like, let’s go. Let’s put the fire or fuel in the fire and just, you know, and just run as fast as we can. So I think that motivated me a lot. And I started another company before this as well, which is a furniture company. So I knew the beauty of making something and making people joy, you know, joyful with it. 


25:03

Kevin Yoo
And I think with this specific technology, if it wasn’t what I’m doing now in order to help people with vision impairments. And that has been the mission for all the years that I’ve ever started this for almost a decade. And we had many different bytes or interest from military all the way down to automobile industries to pivot because the market is too small. Oh, it’s not going to be profitable revenue growth. Xyz, you hear everything up and above. But to focus on the mission and to be laser for yourself, for your true north and to keep going towards that has been the main reason why I felt the passion, because that’s never changed. And if you have that in you, then you can keep tracking. 


25:49

Kevin Yoo
But if you lose that burn somewhere along the line, most likely, you know, you’re going to have to either pivot and or have to just take a break or just step back and just call it quits. There’s no failure, and failure is great, right? Failure is part of the learning. I failed so many times during the trip, but, you know, to stick to that thing and just to go with it, the perseverance and everything, like, I’m proud of myself for that as a young me, but I would definitely encourage a lot more, I don’t know, a lot more hard, faster decision making earlier on, because you have the empathy, you have the heart, and you don’t want to, let’s say, for example, fire somebody that you’ve been working with for five plus years. 


26:37

Kevin Yoo
And the more you drag it on, the more burn it’s going to cost you, the more it’s going to be affecting your business and yourself mentally and the stress that you’ll get from it. So being able to make fast, hard decisions and to move on from it and then to build anew has been something that I think I would have liked to have flexed more as a. 


26:59

Monica H. Kang
Young entrepreneur that’s so important and appreciate your breaking that down, both from the reflective point, but also tangible, skill wise, why it’s so crucial that we build these and continue to hone these skills. One of the other skills that I think that becomes really crucial is the relationship building skills. Especially, as you have pointed out and have hinted in your story, reflection. As a founder, we’re always needing to build relationship with all these different stakeholders, but especially because of the type of work you do, I feel like I see you in different communities. You’ve already hinted a lot of different partnerships that you have, which means you’re probably at the intersection, both as a person who’s pitching, the person who’s convincing, the person who’s negotiating, the person who needs to build trust, the person who has to balance all of that. 


27:46

Monica H. Kang
Remember all of it. I’m curious, what’s been your secret? What has helped you not only build these amazing partnership relationship, which is not easy to not only find and build and cultivate, but also then hence find the time, find more people who like, recognize because I think there’s also probably other folks tuning in who’s like, wait, I also have like a disability tech or like accessibility tech, but like I couldn’t, I haven’t been able to figure out what Kevin has done to hack and tap into those relationship and people connections. So I know you’ve also built everything from scratch too. What helped you and what are skills also perhaps that continue to help you building these relationships and opportunities. 


28:28

Kevin Yoo
Wow, that’s, you know, my mind went through such a flashback of like, you know, of movies as you’re asking me this. And there’s not one single answer, of course. Right. There’s just so much that comes through with it. The one that goes all the way back, which I was just speaking to a gentleman about yesterday who I’m also onboarding, is back in the day when I did propose the prototypes and all the products to the blind and vision care organizations. The feedback, you really need to listen to them initially. You need to work with the people that you are trying to help and or trying to build for your customers and build with them. This is rule number one for me. There was no other way. So as a product designer, that was the main value that I got out of it, right. 


29:20

Kevin Yoo
To be able to communicate with somebody that is going through something, understand the challenges and the nitpicky problems, combine them together and produce something that’s really a holistic solution. And I think that’s what it’s all about. But beyond that, if you want to actually have a successful business, you need to have a floodgate, you need to have a door that opens up to pretty much everybody. And that’s when I showcase the prototypes, the blind and decided individuals that were in the board of the National Federation of Blind that said, well, we’ve seen some of these before, we’ve felt some of these prototypes before with the proximity detection XYZ, they’re not out yet, but we know that they’re going to come out because we have meetings with Samsung, Apple and so on. 


30:03

Kevin Yoo
What we have never felt before is this navigation through the vibration that was new and that also from their. And they were right. And that’s why we’re doing this in a large scale. Everybody can use it, long as it’s not a niche, targeted market where it feels to also the end user like it’s designed for accessibility. It’s designed for people with blindness because they also don’t like that. Right. They don’t want to be having the connotation of having an accessibility tool because they need it. They want to have a smartphone like this that everybody is using but has capability of Siri has capability of voice over activation features and haptics that can help everybody that feels more inclusive, that feels like a universal product, and you feel more comfortable to use it all together with people around you. 


30:56

Kevin Yoo
So that was the first kind of input that put me on the path of like, okay, we can do this thing for the community. We’re going to build it with everybody in mind here. This is a mission, but we have the opportunity to really blow this out into mass scale. And that opportunity is what also investors are looking for. That’s what business entrepreneurs and other founders and other partners want to chime into, right? They want to say, hey, I want to chime in here for these other reasons, and you have to say no. You say, not right now. I’m going to focus on this mission for now, and we’re going to really support this. And that’s a great sign. You get to learn to say no. You get to also choose your battles. 


31:38

Kevin Yoo
You get to also focus and win some things and really help people that are in your first category of stepping stone. And that could still take ten years, but in the midst of it, people will know as soon as you say, hey, this device helped the first blind runner in the New York City marathon made history. Everybody will come to you and say, oh, my God, this would be great for me when I’m hiking. This would be great for me when I’m running. This would be great for me when I’m, like, traveling to different countries. I say, yeah, exactly. But this is what we’re focusing on now. You can do that for your own time if you wish to. If you want to use it, try it out. It’s all available for free. It’s all free for the world. 


32:19

Kevin Yoo
But in the end of the day, how do you also make the money? And that’s what comes to enterprise, partnerships and the relationship that you were asking about. And that just takes time. That just takes a lot of time. And throughout the ten years, I’ve met incredible people through the journeys of random side quests. You know, everything is a straight path forward. I would go to, like, a party, or I would go to, like, an event that I didn’t want to go to. All of a sudden, I’ll meet, like, a board member of Uber. All of a sudden, I’ll meet, like, you know, for example, just last week, I met the co founder of Google, Sergey Brin. And that was actually part of my mission to meet him. 


32:57

Kevin Yoo
But things like this finally begin to stack up, and over time, you meet somebody five, six times, and you sit down and maybe they won’t screw you over. Maybe they won’t say, we have a bigger company, we have a bigger bank account. We can just out sue you, out legal battle you. Maybe that’s not even necessary anymore. Maybe now it’s a negotiation. Maybe that was a partnership, and now it’s a relationship, and that’s the direction that we want to go to. So having the relationship with powerful individuals, of course, that’s been in the industry for 20, 30, 40 years, and then to learn as much as you can to showcase the value proposition of how this can change humanity and the mission that you’ve been doing for so long, that’s valuable, right? 


33:39

Kevin Yoo
I always used to say, and it’s the last thing I’ll say about the topic. For entrepreneurs, there is no, like, magic trick, right? Like, literally, I met one of the most amazing magicians when I was with Sergey on this boat, and he’s the founder of the mentalist. Literally, like, changing objects in thin air, like, taking photos out of his sleeve of, like, people’s, like, clock in their bedrooms, like, just insane stuff, right? And that moment, I was like, wow. That is true magic. But magic is very instantaneous. It’s a wow factor that happens in a second. But with entrepreneurs, our magic trick is truly perseverance. At this point, it’s survival perseverance. 


34:26

Kevin Yoo
And once after you get to that level, you have the respect of other founders, but you also have the respect of other enterprise partners that haven’t also been in the industry for generations. And they say, okay, you survived the first tranches. You’ve developed an amazing technology. Obviously, with AI, things are shifting completely into different directions. But this is back when I was starting the company, right? Ten years ago, this is how it was. 90% or more of companies fail now because more and more are being produced. And in the midst of it, the ones that do succeed just practically made it out the tranches and have hit some really lucky and or very skillful sets of goals that have spun them around and made them successful. So you just have to make it through the hard parts and, you know, take the rewards. 


35:17

Monica H. Kang
That’s incredible. No, thank you for sharing that, both in the reflection and the specific journeys that you look back. I mean, it’s so key as you reflect, as you were sharing it. I mean, just a reminder of that. At the end of the day, we often glorify what a foundered entrepreneurship journey looks like. But as you have pointed out, one of the most glorified thing is actually just preserving and continuing to show up again and standing back up. I’m curious now that it’s been about ten plus years under your belt, to both this company and the other experiences that you’ve had as a founder, what would you say has been one of your most important skills that helped you be a better leader and a founder in the work that you do? 


36:02

Kevin Yoo
Wow. I would say I’m still learning a lot of it, and that’s surprising to me. The fact that I thought my ego was so much bigger back than I think it is now. And that’s just from knowing more and knowing what you don’t know. And I think keeping humble is the number one thing, especially in the industry, where you are trying to work with the giants, with the metas and the Googles, naps and so on. But to really hold dear and grip the passion that you feel inside, like that’s the thing that most people don’t have. That’s even the most CEO’s in the world right now still don’t have, because they’ve lost a lot of it in the cloud of politics, the cloud of back and forth negotiation, co founder breakups. 


36:50

Kevin Yoo
I’ve been through it all myself, and I think in the end of the day, you know, there is still something that keeps you going and keeps me going. And it kind of feels cheesy to say, honestly at this point after so many years. But, yeah, I think I still do feel this passion of developing and pushing the technology forward because I know that it’s going to be a small gear, but it’s a necessity. It’s a necessary gear in the bigger picture of humanity, where right now we can finally have every single person get around freely using your technology before you could not. So just the fact that there is this clear yes and no, and we are just pushing the fair battle that makes me, I think, feel good about just doing this till forever. 


37:40

Monica H. Kang
Well, I love it. And speaking of forever, I know you ventured out to a new space, capturing perhaps these stories in a unique way. Tell me a little bit more about your documentary work that you’re doing and what that’s all about and how you first got into that idea. 


37:56

Kevin Yoo
Yeah. So, you know, I’m not a. I’m not a documentary. I don’t know, director and or a video producer of any source maybe yet. 


38:06

Monica H. Kang
In the future we’ll be. Remember, Kevin, way back when. 


38:10

Kevin Yoo
I know, right? That’d be great. And I think it would be like that, right? Like you put your mind to it and you just keep working on it little bit by little bit, and eventually it just happens. And that’s how the life is. So with this, I’ve just noticed that over the course of time we’ve done so much, right? Like making history and stuff like that is one thing, but truly impacting people in their homes, in their countries, in their, like, villages and in their cities has been really meaningful for myself to see, right. And to feel and to feel the empathy and the emotion. So when this started to really happen in my brain was when I went to Kenya for the first time. There was a talk that I gave for Google, Microsoft and Uber. They were sponsoring this event. 


39:00

Kevin Yoo
So I flew out to Kenya in Nairobi. I was like, why am I going all this way? That’s crazy. But hey, you know this. Let’s do it. So it was a long journey. I made it out there, gave the talk, and the director of Uber for policy and accessibility moderated my talk. And with the whole audience of Google accessibility team and Microsoft Accessibility team, it was actually a fantastic event. And so as I gave the talk, it hit me that all of these enterprise leaders were kind of like also being mind blown, right? It was exciting to see that as I was on stage. I’ve been doing this for many years. But as they’re looking at each other, right, Uber’s looking at Google’s looking at Microsoft and they’re all understanding like, wow, this could actually be a life changing technology. 


39:49

Kevin Yoo
So that kind of definitely motivated me to understand, like, oh, this is still very new, even for technicians, even for the leaders in the biggest companies in the world, this is still a new thing that still requires a bit of adaption. And that adaption is exciting to me, that human adaption into a new technological advancement, how we are also adapting to AI. These are all exciting times. Some may see it as danger, some may see it as the future, some may see it as ideal scenario, we’ll all find out. But this, for example, simple technology, just a navigation tool, information to task, unifying how we converse amongst humans, to each other. That’s very real. That’s like something you can touch, literally. 


40:31

Kevin Yoo
So that organization was entirely sponsored by inclusive Africa, which is literally, most of the people in the audience were blind or visually impaired, so it was phenomenal. To have them first try happy Nafta. Literally the first time ever, being able to get around using touch, feeling the freedom to not be able to ask people for directions or feeling confused or stressed. So, like, observing that scenario at mass was like, amazing, obviously, you know, again with marathon, like, singular people helping individuals and change lives. Like, that’s amazing. The documentary around it is amazing, but at mass scale, it was something completely different. So I started to think about, okay, let’s like, document this stuff. You know, this. This is a true evolution of humanity. 


41:24

Kevin Yoo
That can be a message for the future entrepreneurs to think about products differently, not how do we make the fastest money, how do we make the most advanced technology just for the hell of it? How do we make something that’s really impactful for people? Because it’s required, it’s needed, it’s necessary. I think we miss a lot of that in our world today. You go on Netflix, you go on these channels, you see the. We crash, you see the awesome spectacle, destruction of a company and or like Uber, where it’s like, you need to be mean in order to succeed, right? You see these kind of messagings of founders and way companies must be constructed to peers through innovation. Which is partly true. It is definitely true. 


42:07

Kevin Yoo
The world is designed to keep a lot of people down and you need to have a lot of grit, but also power to punch through, and that brings something out in you. But there’s also this other message where the people can speak for it and say, we love this product. And we are unifyingly saying, hey, this is like changing our lives and it’s going to be amazing for my kids, my future people, Xyz, for everyone eventually. And then that’s the change that we aspire to. At least I do. So I went to Nairobi after that. Sorry, I went to Ghana after that. And that’s when we started to partner with Google more seriously. They provided about 150 ish of pixel phones where I gifted all of them to the Ghana blind union and they were able to create an amazing event for us. 


42:58

Kevin Yoo
They were so thankful and they were like, wow, we get to now have the state of the art technology and also have this haptic navigation tool for the first time ever to get around and like, whoa, what’s going on? Right? It was like this double whammy. So it was very exciting. So I hired a video crew that was local in the community that was also part of our friend group. They came in, did an amazing job with the production, and were able to document for the first time ever, a giant community of people in Ghana being given smartphones and also trying out the technology for the first time, finding friends, finding their families, connecting entirely through touch, literally for the first time in their lives. And that was it. So as we produced that production, I just documented it. 


43:47

Kevin Yoo
Now we have so much in our reservoir of how the technology was birthed, how Marcus taught me a lot about the communities in the US, the organizations that exist now, Helen Keller Institution, we’re giving a talk there and we’re partnering with them as well. And all these initial base of the board members, the people that control who gets what technology in the US, they were giving us the vetted out thumbs up. And then from there all the way to making history and then all the way to this long years and years of grind of making hardware devices, making SDKs and software and keep on updating, partnering with Apple and Google and to push haptics forward, rebranding XYZ and then to actually start making large impact that we are able to do now. 


44:32

Kevin Yoo
And putting the money where our mouth is, all the investment that we’re getting, we’re putting it right to the people, we’re putting it right to the investments of improving our technology and also going out and changing people’s lives. And that has been the mission. So just to do that, actually it’s been really rewarding. So that’s what I want to show the world. 


44:53

Monica H. Kang
That’s incredible. When would it be out? 


44:55

Kevin Yoo
I think we are going to start production by mid of this year. So June, July. And then we should be able to release it within a year or so. So next year, 2025. 


45:11

Monica H. Kang
Okay, got it. Got it. We’ll be on the lookout. No, I love especially kind of your why behind wanting to highlight it. I mean, I was, one of my earlier sessions, I’ve done a workshop in Korea. One of my participants asked a very genuine question out of curiosity, which is Monica, like, we’re talking about leadership and entrepreneurship in this session. But I feel like honestly, everyone who is, quote, successful on the news are kind of bad people. They are really horrible to work with. They have a bad reputation. And to your point, so much of that is glamorized. And so her thought after seeing the way that founders was marketed was the impression that she was not successful because she was too kind. And so she felt like she had to be a bad person to be successful. 


46:01

Monica H. Kang
And she was asking the question out of sincerity of like, Monica, you seem like a nice person and like pretty decent. Like, can you tell me what’s am I thinking incorrectly? And so she was asking out of sincerity. And everyone, of course, in their room, we had like hundreds. It was a room of 800 people. And everyone nodded their head of like, yeah, we want the answer, too, because we’re kind of confused. And so I think it’s so exciting, I think, to have more founders like you, but also the heart of you, not only highlighting your success, but how do we amplify more stories like this? 


46:31

Monica H. Kang
Because we’re not seeing that enough in the mass market and normalizing that, yes, there are some people who have a bit of personality who has quite made a mark, but that is not the only reason of how we have good founders. And there’s many other values that are so important. And so thank you, Kevin, for doing the work and look forward to seeing it out. We will make sure that folks follow and learn more about it. And speaking of which, I mean, where else are you taking the work, and what else are you working on that you would wish our listeners and others could learn more about? 


47:05

Kevin Yoo
When I say the words like, you know, as of now, a universal language, right, period. That’s kind of a tricky topic, right? And I just say universal language through touch. And this is kind of like, you know, really up there deep stuff, and maybe perhaps, like, may disconnect, but it does connect back to a lot of our evolvement as a humanity in AI, right? Because that’s all we’re going to be listening to. That’s all we’re going to be seeing for the next x amount of years. And it is very real. I used to give talks on AI back in the day, and the Discovery Channel documentary was actually called this is AI. And I was part of it because I was giving talks about AI back in the day. That’s like ten plus years ago. 


47:48

Kevin Yoo
So I was very involved in the interest of technology advancements, in machine learning, and how it kind of tricked over into AI. And that was like I was just trying to predict it for the world, and I made art about it, AI, society and all that stuff. That was my biggest interest in creation. So when I was combining art and technology at the time, and I think, you know, I would impose this, right? So I’m always connecting the two dots of how do we create this very human like experience of a universal language that we get to share with each other? And that is through touch. That’s the only thing that AI will not be able to really mimic fully as we can, and that’s what we have to really hold onto. 


48:30

Kevin Yoo
And the fact that we’ve invested most of our resources as humans into visual and audio cues for technology, has impacted us, has changed the way that we also talk to technology, but also understand and advance our language of touch. So that’s one of our biggest mission, is to create this universal language through touch. That’s why we are haptic. We are literally pushing that entire movement forward and in the best way possible for humanity, of course. But in the future, we want to unlock the doors for everything. Health, VR, ar systems, whatever, gaming, XYz. That’s going to be a lot more prominent and with, you know, again with AI topic. Yes, involve yourself with it. Yes. Learn as much as you can about it. 


49:22

Kevin Yoo
Use it as a tool to really sharpen your tool, other tools, and your company, your business and your values, but also understand that there is this ginormous element of human societal connectivity that still has not been unlocked. And I think the way that we can do that together for the future entrepreneurs and for the future endeavors of the people is going to help us connect ourselves at the same time of AI, connecting amongst our data and their data, etcetera. So let’s understand ourselves more to that, hopefully. 


49:59

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Thank you for sharing that. As we are celebrating, of course, disability pride month, we want to continue to educate ourselves and meet other innovators around there who happen to be person of disability or working in the work of disability innovation, who are at least three people that you would shout out that we should learn from, who happens to be in that space, who are an innovator. 


50:21

Kevin Yoo
Oh, wow. Innovators. 


50:23

Monica H. Kang
Okay, well, and they don’t have to be founders, right? Innovators can be somebody who’s like innovating and doing something different, but somebody that we should learn from and that you’re inspired by. 


50:35

Kevin Yoo
I would say the first person is my mentor from college who has provided me so much opportunities and incredible support. His name is Henry Yu. I’m not just saying that because we have the same last name, but we do. The joke was that he was like my college father, but he is a fantastic designer, industrial designer. He’s done incredible work in the space of art, creating new type of instruments, all the way to architectural structures, to food and everything. He got me opportunity at the exhibition at the Met. Also partnered with Harshi for amazing stuff and pavilion space design at GE. He’s really has been such a prominent member and mentor for me. And the second person I would give a shout out to is he’s more of a, I would say just a sharpshooter in terms of the way for business. 


51:38

Kevin Yoo
So business and innovation comes hand in hand together. And you need to have a great mind that can fuse the two if you want to guide a great team. And Sean Stewart is my current mentor. And he was CEO of new lab just before he joined Chargelab. And he was also the chief business officer at Waymo. And he moderated my talk at south by Southwest with also Brianna, who was the director level at Uber, who was an amazing person that supports us in the endeavor of making transportation better for humanity. And so these two I will give a shout out to as a unison, but Sean has been an amazing mentor, great figure. The third person, she’s an architect. I mentioned her in the beginning, but she has been such an incredible artist, but also an architect. Right. 


52:32

Kevin Yoo
But had that passion that I gravitated towards as a young child when I learned about all of her work. So she is Maya Lin and she designed the Vietnam memorial in DC. She has made incredible memorials and architecture structures that have meaning, that have a deep, deep sense of historical meaning that has value to her. And those are the only things that she produces. She doesn’t just do it for the money. She doesn’t do it for the reputation. She does it for the passion and the true value that she feels for herself. So I have deep respect for Maya Lin. And if you have not seen her work, Monica, I suggest checking out Storm King. She has a beautiful mound of landscape that she has produced, and I call it the soul of Storm King. And it’s beautiful. 


53:22

Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing. Well, we’ll make sure that we add the notes so that way folks get to learn and check it out. Thank you for highlighting that, Kevin, you shared so many different insights and stories in our conversation. I guess as we wrap up, which I don’t know how, the time flew by. Thank you so much. Two final questions. One, any final wisdom you want to share with your innovators out there, no matter where they are in their journey. 


53:47

Kevin Yoo
This specific message be coming out on the documentary. So please, any feedback from anyone that sees this or hears this, I would love to work with you and hear your message as well. But I’m still working on it. I’m still on the journey. And just keep going forward and don’t let anybody what they tell you to stop you because I was just listening today of the founder of Airbnb and he was like reading out a rejection letter email printed out from an investor saying, your market’s too small. You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that they’re like, you’re working to help the blind division impaired community. The market’s too small. They don’t have financial, they don’t have blah. This is a bad market. We’re out. And how many times I’ve heard that in the course of ten years and still do. 


54:34

Kevin Yoo
It’s unbelievable. And don’t obviously rely on the kind hearted people in the world. There’s little to very few of them, unfortunately. And as you said, there’s way too many people at the top that have been achieving the success through some of the wrong reasons. So obviously keep sharp. But if you do find the ones, they’re the good ones. Keep them close and partner with them. That’s my message. 


55:02

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Thank you. Thank you. And then final question is, what’s the best way folks can stay in touch with you? 


55:09

Kevin Yoo
Yeah, please just email me, you know, you can email me directly at Kevin Haptic Dot works or you can email us on our support channel at helloptic works or just go to our website and you can just type in whatever you want. And we have our team just like looking at it and I’ll get to the trickled questions and I would love to answer any of them. So yeah, please reach out. 


55:31

Monica H. Kang
And folks, you know the drill. We put those notes in the show notes. So find [email protected]. And again, we’ll make sure we tag him on LinkedIn so that you can find him if you’re on LinkedIn and to continue the learning. But Kevin, thank you so much. Congratulations again for everything that you and your team has done and what you will continue to do, making this world more accessible and design friendly with universal design that is normalized, as you have said. 


55:59

Kevin Yoo
Thank you. Be normalized. And thank you, Monica, so much. What you’re doing here, this is amazing. And the fact that we get to speak like this and have an amazing audience is going to grow over time and to be impacted by what you have to say and what you’re doing and to gather people that they’re impacting lives and stuff. This is the real stuff. So thank you so much. 


56:22

Monica H. Kang
Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate it. Folks, again, please stay tuned. We’ll be back again with another story next week, but please stay check out, reach out and we will see you soon. So have a good one. Thank you all. 


56:34

Kevin Yoo
Thank you. 


56:37

Monica H. Kang
Thank you, Kevin, again for sharing your story. It’s so important to take a moment how we can be a better ally. And I loved how your journey into disability advocacy and accessible innovation has been so profound. Using your strength as industrial design. So as folks are tuning in, I hope this encourages you to tap into your strengths. How we become a better ally and advocate for accessibility for all might look different and I think thats great and important. Were going to continue our learning as we celebrate disability Pride month. So next week come again because were going to learn about another way, how others are being an advocate and how you can make a difference in others. Have a great week and I’ll see you very soon. 


57:24

Monica H. Kang
This is Monica Kang, your host and you’re tuning into curious Monica, thanks so much for tuning into today’s episode. Your support means the world to us so we’re so glad you’re here. Want to do a little shout out for those in the team who made this possible. Thank you to everyone at InnovatorsBox Studios. Audio Engineering and production is done by Sam Lehmart, Audio Engineering assistants by Ravi Lad, website and marketing support by Kree Pandey, Graphic Support by Lea Orsini, Christine Eribal, original music by InnovatorsBox Studios, and executive producing, directing, writing, researching and hosting by me, Monica Kang, a founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox. Thank you for continuing on the journey of how to build a better workplace and thrive with creativity. Visit us at innovatorsbox.com and get some free resources at innovatorsbox.com/free. We look forward to seeing you at the next episode. 


58:33

Monica H. Kang
Thank you and have a wonderful day. 

Related Posts