In early 2022, social media was flooded with images of influencers discreetly flashing an UltraHuman Continuous Glucose Monitoring Monitor (CGM) – a black patch with the distinctive UltraHuman logo on it. These included well-known startup founders, cricketers, Bollywood stars and even a heart surgeon.
While there are other companies that offer CGMs, there is no denying the fact that it was fitness tech startup UltraHuman, who got non-diabetic Indians thinking about the relationship between their blood glucose and general fitness. Co-founder Mohit Kumar says that when they first put the idea out in public, 200,000 people signed up for the waitlist. When they finally used the device, many users were shocked to see that their ‘healthy meal of dal-chawal’ could result in a glucose spike.
Cut to 2023, the company has launched an Oura-like ring, which it claims is the lightest smart ring in the world. (The Ring Air weighs in at 2.2 gm versus Oura’s 3.4 gm). What has UltraHuman learnt from its journey so far and how is it applying this to the new ring?
Finding the Right Form Factor
“There are very few products you will wear 24×7,” says Kumar. “Our initial experience and our conversations with users showed that people were very interested in tracking health data, but sought a comfortable form factor. Watches and spectacles were bulky and typically taken off at night. Given the success of companies like Oura and Circular, the ring was clearly our best option.”
In April 2022, UltraHuman acquired a wearables company called LazyCo, bringing hardware design and manufacturing expertise in-house.
The company launched its first ring called R1 in 2022, followed by the Ring Air in 2023. The evolution between the two products was marked by significant design and engineering changes.
The Ring Air has an outer shell made of fighter jet-grade titanium and reinforced with a tungsten carbide carbon coating. The inside of the ring is lined with hypoallergenic epoxy resin.
A key insight from the R1 was that comfort – and therefore the weight of the ring – was key. “We re-engineered the ring from scratch,” says Kumar, “from curvature to PCB design and heat insulation.” The final Ring Air design includes an overlap between the battery and sensors to reduce surface area. A custom insulation system dissipates any excess heat that is generated.
Blend in or Stand Out
UltraHuman could have taken a jewellery-like approach to the ring and chosen to embellish it further. Instead they have taken the opposite route and tried to make the ring as unobtrusive as possible.
Most smart rings have a notch, so the ring is aligned correctly when worn. Feedback from users showed that they didn’t like the notch on the R1. The UltraHuman team removed the notch from Ring Air and increased the surface area covered by the sensors, so there was little chance of misalignment. A nudge via a notification serves as a warning if the ring is still misaligned.
Currently the Ring Air is available in two finishes – matt and glossy. Product extensions will follow the collaboration route and UltraHuman is tying up with brands and designers to launch co-branded rings.
Control the Process
The biggest surprise for us was to learn that the Ring Air is manufactured in India, at UltraHuman’s own facility. Kumar admits that a part of this decision was forced by the supply chain break downs after the pandemic, but ‘the big, risky step’ has given them complete control over the process, allowing them to experiment and evolve quickly.
UltraHuman’s products are complemented by a metabolic health tracking system called Cyborg. This tracks glucose (if you are wearing the CGM) and sleep/activity (in case of the ring), and provides nudges towards your wellness goals.
The company has chosen to take a DIY approach to their products, not augmenting them with nutritionists and coaches, like many competitors. Kumar explains that they want their product experience to feel like a “story instead of a textbook.” “Users should feel excited about discovering how their different bodily systems function,“ he says. “We want to equip them to be informed and aware, so can they take long-term decisions about their health. We want to educate them, but always within their individual contexts.” While the Ring Air essentially tracks circadian rhythms and sleep quality, UltraHuman also wants you to go down rabbit holes to understand other health variables like Movement Index and Heart Vitality Rate.
Different Distribution Approach
For the launch of its CGM, UltraHuman focused on creating buzz on social media, with a well-thought through influencer strategy. Kumar he says he personally went through 6000-8000 profiles to decide whom to grant early access to. The aim was not to find people with large followings, but to identify people who would explore the product deeply and share their feedback.
With the Ring Air, the company is taking an old-school, offline retail approach. “For a category like wearables, you need to be physically available and present,” says Kumar. While India continues to be a core target market, UltraHuman is opening counters in Virgin Mall in Dubai and Selfridges in London.
Which Ring Will Rule Them All?
The Ring Air is priced at ₹28,499 and a no-cost EMI option is available at ₹1,041.63/month. This is in contrast to Oura, which charges a flat fee of $300, plus a monthly subscription of $6.
The R1 has about 15,000 users in India and UAE, while the Ring Air is poised to cross 30,000 users by the end of 2023.
Boat and Noise have recently introduced rings at much lower price points of ₹3000 to ₹6000. While their products are aimed at a different, price-sensitive consumer, they could serve to educate and open up the market. Oura was last valued at $2.5 billion in April 2022, so there seems to be significant interest in the industry.
Kumar is clear about UltraHuman’s target user and their competitive advantage. “We are not going after the elite,“ he says “we are targeting the interested – people for whom details and data matter. They are not just buying a ring, they are buying into the promise that UltraHuman will help them understand – and improve – their health more effectively than anyone else.”
Advice for Founders from Mohit Kumar
Companies and people fail because they lose motivation. People first give up in their own mind, before they show signs that they have given up on their company.
The best way to keep motivated is to have deep love for what you are creating. If it doesn’t pass the filter of your teams, what’s the point of doing focus groups? At UltraHuman, our own teams use and obsess over our products. That’s what keeps us honest.
Interested in more hardware design stories? Read this great story on How Titan’s Sonata Improved Brand Perception Through Design