Julian Chow - Forcite Helmets
Feed the Obsession
Making the shift from a joint university assignment to co-piloting one of the most anticipated developments in wearable technology, Julian Chow – Co-Founder of Forcite Helmet Systems, gives insight on the formative stages of Australia’s own head-turning startups.
Julian explains how the perfect combination of passion, obsession and dedication mixed with luck and timing led to a promising road filled with incredible opportunities.
See what one of Australia’s technological innovators, below the age of 25, has to say.
Being under the age of 30 and co-founding a company that is buzzing through the internet, particularly Gizmodo and Hypebeast, how does it feel to have such a hot start into the world of modern entrepreneurship and wearable tech?
It’s definitely far-fetched. While being so focused on the daily grind, I really lose track of what is being publicised about Forcite, but I feel incredibly encouraged seeing the positive things written about my company’s hard work.
The original concept of Forcite was developed from a major university assignment. When and how did it become something more?
It was originally the university project of Alfred Boyadgis, our glorious leader at Forcite. It began as a Smart helmet for the Motorcycling Police Force and the design challenge was to streamline all the communication systems and reduce reaction times of Motorcycle officers at an emergency scene. This would allow officers to handle emergency situations better and be able to live-stream video footage back to base for other emergency services to be better prepared at the scene. Alfred was attempting to commercialise this product at an earlier stage and after I joined him on this venture, we decided to create a consumer recreation version of the Police helmet; The Forcite Alpine Smart helmet for Snow sports.
What was the inspiration of such a revolutionary piece of technology?
As a recreational skiers and snowboarders ourselves, we often faced problems shared by fellow snow sports advocates. We lost action cams mounted to our helmets, we had to use walkie talkies to stay in touch, experienced really poor battery life from our gadgets due to cold shock and ultimately there was no fast solution to quickly edit and share your best video moments of the day without having to go through hours of footage – especially when all you’re after is that perfect five to ten seconds. The Forcite Alpine is an All-in-one solution that addresses these problems without impacting the safety of a normal helmet.
Where would you say your creative side comes from? Is there an event which led you to develop it?
I personally think creativity comes from two things; first is your accumulated knowledge and your attitude to learn new things. Second, is your Open mindedness and free thinking to mix and match what you have learned.
Being a designer means you’re constantly learning, not just in terms of skill sets for design, but also about topics that resonate to you or your field. For example, what is happening with the latest material science technology for impact protection? or even new manufacturing techniques to achieve better quality assurance.
How did you come up with the name Forcite? What does it mean?
The name Forcite was actually coined by Alfred himself during his Police helmet project. The main ingredients were the words Force as in police force, city for city police, to Foresee and Sight because of the live streaming camera capabilities. We kept the name with a refreshed branding and now we are Forcite Helmet Systems
What is the most career defining moment you have experienced so far? What made it so?
In the beginning it was actually a struggle for all of us, none of us were from business backgrounds so there was a steep learning curve for each step we took and the lessons we learnt were mainly from a lack of experience. When you own a hardware based company, it is already known to be a high risk business and it makes it even harder to raise money for your business – especially in Sydney – so Alfred and I had to do more than 40 to 50 pitches before we got any interest to support our project. When we finally raised the money to go forward we began to attract many bright minds to join the team. That was when things changed and we knew it was a dream to keep striving for.
Lets start from the beginning; whereabouts are you from and where were you born?
I was born in Kogarah, Sydney Australia. Makes me true blue Aussie right?
Where did you grow up? What school did you go to?
I grew up in the neighbourhoods of Penshurst and moved to the Hills District when I was younger, it felt like I was always moving and travelling all the time. I lived in the Hills throughout my High School life, attending a local school called Crestwood High School.
Growing up did you think that what you’re doing now was what you were going to be doing?
I always knew I was a creative kid with an inner artist
During High school I was quite driven towards the science subjects, so I thought I would be doing something like Architecture or Engineering and become an artist on the side. I never thought I would start my own company, till now I still don’t believe it.
Many spend years in and out of university trying to find their passion. What drove you towards your passion in industrial design?
My first career choice was actually in Architecture, but I quickly realised it didn’t offer me the type of creative freedom I wanted. Very soon after I found myself at a faculty open day and saw really high-tech and sci-fi looking student projects (what I thought at the time), which caught my interest. An Alumni student was kind enough to show me around the studio workshops and tell me about their diverse career opportunities. During my studies I began to realise Industrial Design was just a small outlet of what Design thinking can achieve and I grew very fond of it especially the powerful problem solving capabilities of design and I began to apply it toward different disciplines.
With the Forcite Alpine Range nearing production, what else have you got planned as a designer and entrepreneur? Is there anything you want to achieve in the upcoming years?
Apart from the snow sports range, we are also pursuing cycling and motorcycling versions of the helmet and currently we are trying to work within the B2B sector with larger companies to integrate our systems with their products.
You’ve achieved so much in your career. With all that time consuming hard work, what do you get up to in your down time? Any grand plans set for later on in the future?
I try to have a good separation between work and personal life, and having such an intense unpredictable work life I try to spend as much of my time with people close to me. As important as catching up with people around you is, it is also important to catch up with yourself and understand your own current standing ground. I’ve always surrounded myself with hobbies, cycling and motorbikes have always been my big obsession and lately it’s been a my mini garden of cooking herbs, I’m also planning to build a small off grid teahouse or greenhouse in my yard.
I think I will always be a very hands-on design entrepreneur and wearable tech helmets is just the beginning for Alfred and I. Perhaps the next project will have a less bumpy take off.
If you were going to be remembered for something what would it be?
Many businesses are encouraging the use of the design process to innovate their businesses and I aim to be a good example of a business minded designer who continues to be curious, experimental and has the right learning attitude. Hopefully one day I can inspire other entrepreneurial minded people of the importance of design.
What words of advice do you have for anyone aspiring to achieve success similar to your own?
Just like any career, the most sustainable is one that you are most passionate or even obsessed about day in day out. Starting your own business means you get to take control of that choice, but before you make that choice you should ask yourself, “Would I still love doing this if I’m not getting paid a cent? Would I still pursue it after failing many times?”.
You can also spend years reading about it, but doing business is the best way to learn it.
When you do business never take opportunities for granted, never make assumptions, always question.