Startup kisa creates innovative mobile phone for the elderly and disabled

Melbourne-based startup, kisa, is currently seeking field testers for an innovative mobile phone to assist the elderly and people living with disabilities. The kisa phone eliminates the complexities that make smartphones inaccessible – instead, featuring large tactile buttons, clear text and no screen, while allowing users to call family and friends with the push of a single button. The purpose of the phone is to make mobile communication accessible to everyone.

Co-Founders of kisa, Dmitry Levin, Dennis Volodomanov and Leon Kosher were inspired to create the world’s easiest-to-use phone after seeing their elderly grandparents struggle to make a simple call on a smartphone.

“Even the simplest mobile phones on the market assume something about the user; they assume that they already know how to or are capable of using digital menus, touch screen interfaces, audio commands, or even at the most basic level, they assume the user can read. We set out to make a mobile phone that assumes close to nothing,” said Levin.

The co-founders were all good friends before founding kisa; and after Levin expressed frustration about not being able to find an easy-to-use phone for his grandparents, they recognised an opportunity to fill a gap in the marketplace.

“We all had previous experience in the IT and business sector, and with our skills combined we were inspired us to create a mobile phone so simple to use it wouldn’t even need any instructions. We wanted a phone that could be used by the elderly, disabled and visually impaired, for whom modern technology presents an unnecessary challenge,” the kisa team said in a collective response.

“[As] dads, we were also receiving feedback that such a phone would have great appeal to parents worried about their kids and the dangers of modern open communication.”

The design of the kisa phone started by creating models using 3D printers, following extensive consultation with focus groups for the aged and vision-impaired. Their design methodology was not to dictate to the market what they needed, but to design kisa with direct input.

“Our first step was to conduct various workshops and run focus groups with associations such as those supporting the vision impaired to understand their needs and concerns. Using information gathered we then utilised CAD design and 3D printing to produce early non-functional prototypes,” the kisa team said.

“Next our engineers produced functional prototypes for stage one testing, and now we are about to issue early versions of the device for more widespread field-testing.”

Every kisa phone will be personalised before shipment with the customer’s critical medical information and up to ten dedicated contact buttons on the face of the phone with large text and pictures. The phone also has a large SOS button immediately dials emergency services if pressed.

Volodomanov believes the kisa phone will also appeal to parents: “In the eyes of many parents, young children don’t need a phone that has apps, internet access, takes photos or sends texts. The phone can simply just make calls to pre-set contacts.”

Based on their initial research, the kisa team believe the size of their market in Australia will be well over a million people – this includes seniors, young children, people with disabilities, as well as adults looking for a simple phone to use.

“Considering the lack of simple mobile phone choices available today, we would love to address the needs of the whole market. However, if the kisa phone were to make the lives of even one percent of those people easier, we would consider that a big success,” the kisa team said.

Business model

The team decided early on that the kisa phone would be less a product and more an end-to-end service. After establishing this, they designed the business model to be three-fold.

Firstly, they decided to undertake the very extensive process of becoming a mobile service provider – allowing them to provide their customers with simple plans with no lock in contracts, and being accountable for the user’s entire experience.

“Whilst other telcos continue to confuse mobile phone users with exclusions, flag falls and caps, our plans are simply expressed in minutes and have no lock in contracts,” said Kosher.

Secondly, the kisa team was mindful that their interaction with customers would affect their opinion of them as a company, and decided to establish Australian-based call centre support. They also chose to locate the most important part of their manufacturing – for instance, the customisation and personalisation of the kisa phone – in Australia.

Thirdly, they plan on consistently improving the kisa phone, taking on feedback and implementing those changes to make the experience better for the customer.

Marketing

Their marketing strategy at the moment is to generate awareness through their work with community associations – such as those supporting the disabled and visually impaired.

But their research as also established that a doorway to two of their biggest market segments is mothers.

“Not only are they looking after their own children, but as daughters they are often caring for parents or grandparents. Our goal is to engage with mums as much as possible,” the kisa team said.

Though marketing usually requires a hefty budget, the kisa team plans on bootstrapping the entire venture: “We are excited to see how far we can take kisa ourselves.”

Their biggest challenge thus far has been making sure not to lose momentum – and having the will, determination and energy to see their idea succeed.

“Creating an easy to use phone and becoming a service provider is anything but easy or simple,” said the kisa team.

“Our biggest lessons to date are ‘assume nothing’ and ‘don’t take no for an answer.”

Nevertheless, taking an idea through to a fully functional product and seeing the way it can improve people’s lives are something they’re very proud of, and the best is yet to come.

The kisa phone will be revealed and available for purchase shortly after they finish their field-testing, which is taking place right now through to March.

“We are keen to show the kisa phone to the world as soon as possible, however for us it is also important that the phone be tested comprehensively before we do so considering our market,” the kisa team said.

To participate in the field test, or for more information visit kisaphone.com.au.