Rhys Newman and Julian Bleecker, two former chief designers at Nokia, have gone against every single universal pull for us to become more connected and more reliant on data. OMATA is a timepiece. Created by two cycling fanatics in a Venice, CA garage, OMATA encourages the rider to experience the ride, rather than get wrapped up in a sea of numbers.


Black Sheep’s Creative Director, John Polson, sat down with Rhys Newman and Julian Bleecker, Founders of OMATA, to talk about life as a startup, the power of beautiful product design, and why sitting on a rooftop of an Airbnb can bring positive outcomes.


John Polson: A Kickstarter project that is fully funded in 48 hours. Was that beyond your expectations?


Rhys Newman: In a way we didn’t know. People have asked if it’s been a surprise? It hasn’t necessarily been a surprise because we were convinced by our product, but we just didn’t know how many people would share our way of seeing the world. That’s a relief, and then really exciting because you suddenly feel that you have allies.


JP: It must have taken some pressure off to have the end goal as validation rather than fundraising


Julian Bleecker: There was a time when we thought that we could raise $20m on Kickstarter. That was back when we had just a cool concept and a dream. Over the proceeding months, we learned more about what it would take to build this product, how we wanted to do it, how we wanted to approach it, and ultimately how much the business would cost to run. We also went back to our experience in product design. Knowing fully well that there’s money that you have to invest in actually developing a very advanced product.


JP: Rhys, you’re a Welshman, who has ended up in Los Angeles, based in the vegan capital of the world, Venice. You’ve come a long way?


RN: Yeah, you could say that. My wife and I had been in London for about 10 years. My wife got pregnant, and it was that simple question of do we want to be in London for another 10 years? I was offered a job in Nokia’s design studio in California. That was in 2001. So it’s like, oh fuck, there is a significant salary, a baby coming, and an exciting change. We could move to California, there’s good riding, it seems like a nice place to live, so why not? We told our parents we were pregnant and emigrated to the US in the same evening.


JP: What was the decision process around the four metrics: speed; ascent; distance; and time; and what did it take to include those, and omit others?


RN: It is very simple. You spend a lot of time riding and people mostly ask four questions: how far have we been, how high have we climbed, what’s my average speed, and how long is it until you get home? As you know, we are being ruthless by narrowing it to these metrics. But they’re the ones that really matter. The more you add, the more it interrupts the ride. Where does it stop? We want to be a brand that stands for something; that makes beautiful instruments for riding. The intruments are very advanced on the inside, really beautiful and cared for on the outside, and feel appropriate to your bike.


JP: So have you created the device as an artist or as a designer or as a cyclist?


RN: How can I distinguish whether I’m a designer, a cyclist, a father? We can make beautiful products and be informed by all those sensibilities. Being a designer and a technologist working within a brilliant corporation, there needs to be a huge amount of empathy, where you begin to understand how people think and feel, and what motivates them. Richard Seymour, a great designer from Seymour-Powell in London, said the greatest designers are both antennas and dictators. The antennas understand the world around them. The dictators have a strong point of view on how to make things fit into this world.

JP: Can you tell me a bit more about the timeline from now until actual production?

RN: There’s a shitload of work to do for the next nine months. The hope is that we’ll have the first 100 preproduction prototypes in August, we’ll test it, and we’ll break it, and we’ll re-test it, and we’ll refine that again, and then we’ll have another pre-production build in October. We’re doing a very systematic R&D ramp-up production process to get us to shipping the products in early 2017.

JP: What’s the ultimate plan for OMATA?

RN: I think it’s clear. We want to become an established brand that people love. There will be future generations of the OMATA Classic, and then we’ll start to add other products to the portfolio. We believe there’s a real opportunity to be a company which is recognised for building beautiful cycling instruments.