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For Assaf Wand, a serial entrepreneur, the creation of Sabi has been marked by a fascinating journey from the high-tech to low-tech world.
Having first established a solid online e-commerce presence, Assaf is now moving the business offline into the retail market – a fascinating and challenging transition.
Sabi is a new creator of uniquely designed health and wellness products. Their products are inspired by an ideal: that life’s regular, day-to-day tasks deserve to be elevated. Sabi’s mission is to create products that are intuitively and beautifully designed in order to infuse life’s daily rituals with delight.
MO: Can you explain how the creation of Sabi has been marked by a fascinating journey from the high-tech to low-tech world? Where did the initial inspiration for the company come from?
Assaf: The journey from high-tech to low-tech has been all mine. Prior to founding Sabi in 2009, I worked as Senior VP of Finance and Business Development at Fore-Group, a private holding and investment company dedicated primarily to high-tech startups in Israel. I also gained experience in start-up investment and management as Strategic Investment Associate at Intel Capital in Israel, Intel’s strategic investment program and one of the world’s largest corporate venture programs; and at McKinsey & Co. in New York, as Senior Associate, focusing on media and financial institutions. Prior to this, I co-founded Foris Telecom in 2007, a global operations company that builds and operates wireless broadband networks in developing countries. We brought fast, reliable, and affordable Internet communication to Ghana, Congo, Mali, and Kazakhstan.
With the founding of Sabi, I took things in an entirely different direction, creating actual tool-and-dye products for retail sale was a paradigm shift for me. The creation of the company was inspired what I perceived as a genuine (and fairly untouched) white space; namely, a huge an ever-expanding, not to mention thirsty market of Baby Boomers whose aging-related product needs were not being sufficiently fulfilled by existing companies. Sabi was a response to that white space – a flagship brand for Boomers.
MO: Where were some of the main challenges you faced in fully commercializing 7 products with a very limited budget? Did you ever feel overwhelmed during the process?
Assaf: Sabi’s first line of products is the Vitality Line. It’s a series of high-functioning and well-designed pill and vitamin organizers and accessories (designed by fuseproject’s Yves Behar). This stylish series represents a big cut above the sterile, geriatric-looking alternatives that exist out there on the market today, and fulfill Sabi’s goal of providing Boomers with stylish aging-related products that cater to their needs and make them feel good about taking their daily pills and supplements, rather than feel old/embarrassed/ashamed of this common daily routine.
It was not easy to get these products onto the market. The process was a unexpectedly lengthy one, involving several design iterations, tool and dye creations, materials issues, manufacturing setbacks, packaging issues, assembly and shipping issues – not to even get started on the simultaneous creation of an e-commerce site, as well as retail outreach efforts. What’s more unbelievable to me than everything that is involved in the process of getting products created and to market from scratch is the fact that we succeeded to do it for our first line with a tiny (but very dedicated) 5-member team, on what amounted to a very tiny start-up budget.
MO: Where does your strong entrepreneurial streak come from?
Assaf: This is a good question. I am from Israel and I think entrepreneurialism is a very big part of Israeli culture and mentality. Israelis don’t accept anything as a given. I am also highly independent and have a strong wish to take my future into my own hands and carve it out by myself.
MO: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Assaf: I think the biggest risk I have ever taken was starting Sabi. Although its founding was based on a lot of solid market research and I’m confident that the business will be a wild success, it is always a big gamble to start something this big, from scratch. This is particularly true in the case of Sabi, since I started it right when we moved from Tel Aviv to Boston. There were a lot of unknowns, and I had been offered several very lucrative positions, but instead decided to start building Sabi.
MO: Can you talk about your impending move into retail and what that process has entailed so far? Have you had to pivot your business model as you scale the business?
Assaf: Happily. We are very excited about our impending move to the retail environment (up until now we have been on sale exclusively online – on our website and on other sites – Fab.com, Gilt.com, Amazon, Ebay, etc.) It is the next logical move, and one that we are confident will bring our company onto the next level in terms of buzz-generation and sales. Gearing up to move to retail has been a tough but exciting journey so far. To start, it’s not easy to get into retail. We’ve had to do a lot of pitching. Retailers don’t want to waste an inch of shelf space and want to know that they are getting the greatest return possible per inch. Several retailers have shown great interest in carrying our products, with some provisos. We have not had to pivot our business model per se, but we have to make some big changes – for instance, we’ve have had to tailor our packaging for the retail environment – to make it both “pop on the shelf” (not a consideration when you sell online), and to make the products more sturdy for the much rougher shipping and handling that they endure in retail.
MO: Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your upcoming line, the Agility Line?
Assaf: Certainly. Our next upcoming line (being designed by London-based design firm Barber & Osgerby) is the Agility Line – a series of super-sturdy, super-stylish helping devices to make lifting, reaching, carrying, and organizing household items easier and more joyful. Agility Line products, like all of Sabi’s products, are inspired by an ideal – to provide those who need household helping devices with functional but beautiful alternatives to the sterile, geriatric, hospital-style products that exist out there on the market today. We are dedicated to re-inventing day-to-day products with an eye to improving people’s day-to-day lives, and helping them lead a healthier lifestyle. We believe that if well designed, the small things in life can effect big change – in attitude, in happiness, and in quality of life. Boomers are not aging like any other generation before them, and many are opting to stay at home over moving to an assisted living facility. Agility Line products will enable them to do just that, and at the same time continue to feel comfortable and at home in their own homes (rather than embarrassed or ashamed about turning their homes into “elderly facilities”).
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