iPhone Life magazine

TYPO Keyboard CEO Talks About BlackBerry Lawsuit Threats, Working With Ryan Seacrest, and More [Exclusive Interview]

I don't know about you, but if BlackBerry tried to sue me, I wouldn't remain as calm and collected as Laurence Hallier. I got the chance to chat with the veteran entrepreneur, who is currently the CEO of TYPO Keyboards, and I asked him about their new TYPO keyboard case (which many critics say looks like a BlackBerry keyboard—inlcuding BlackBerry itself), what it was like working with Ryan Seacrest, how he feels about BlackBerry, and what's next for this young product venture. Enjoy!

 

 

Interview Transcript

(Transcription done by Speechpad.com)

 

Alex Cequea: Hi there, everybody, my name is Alex Cequea. I'm the editor of
iPhone Life Magazine and Android Life Magazine. This is our mobile
interview series, where we interview the movers and shakers in the mobile
tech space. And our guest today certainly is a mover and shaker. His name
is Laurence Hallier. He's the founder and CEO of Typo cases. He's a serial
entrepreneur, with over 25 years of advertising and media experience. He's
also the CEO of Show Media, a three-time Inc. 500 fastest-growing companies
in America recipient, as well as Hallier Investments, a privately held
company that has developed over $1 billion in real estate over the last ten
years. Thank you so much for being here, Laurence.

Laurence Hallier: Thanks, thanks, nice to be here.

Alex: All right. Well, let's start by talking about the Typo case. This new
case that you have has gotten a lot of buzz. It's an external keyboard
case. It won one of our own awards, iPhone Life Magazine's best of CES
awards, among many other awards. Why don't you tell me what the inspiration
was for the case?

Laurence: Well, it was pretty simple. A good friend of mine is Ryan
Seacrest, and we've been friends for a long time. He and I both just came
to the idea that we needed physical keys on an iPhone, just could not type,
because we both live our life on our phone.

Alex: Right.

Laurence: So we just came to this idea, and, of course, I had technology
background, so I raised my hand and said, "All right, we'll go figure this
out," and Ryan and I partnered on this thing. There were a lot of keyboards
out there at that time, but none of them really achieved what we needed. We
needed a keyboard where you can type 60 words a minute, where it wouldn't
increase the size of the iPhone materially, and just a product that really
works, that solves...

Alex: Right.

Laurence: ...the problem of having to type on the screen. So it took a
little longer than we thought. We thought it would take three months and a
little bit of work. It took us almost two years to get this product fully
developed. It took us over 18 months to get real prototypes, working
prototypes, that we could get in the hands of 400 users, heavy users, to
test it. So it was a little more complicated than we thought. We had to
later...

Alex: Wow.

Laurence: ...re-engineer the whole concept. The keyboard array had to be
re-engineered to be much, much thinner. We had to design our own battery
that was less than millimeter thick, actually 0.8 millimeters. We had to
really go to the head piece industry to figure out how to miniaturize all
the components in here for a Bluetooth keyboard.

Alex: Wow.

Laurence: And then we had to program all the firmware ourselves. We're
actually the only Bluetooth that we know of, we're the only Bluetooth
keyboard that has, on the chip, a flash drive that actually has firmware
that has some intelligence to it, so when you, you know, space, space, puts
a period, and capitalize the next letter, hit return, it auto caps the
first letter. We correct some of the words, like can't, shouldn't,
wouldn't, space, I, space, capitalize I. So there were particular needs on
this type of typing that was different than a traditional keyboard that we
would use for an iPad or for a computer that was unique to our product. So
it was quite a feat to get this thing out.

Alex: Yeah. So for the people who don't know how it works exactly, can you
explain? It's Bluetooth. That's how it connects.

Laurence: Yeah, so very simple. It's a housing, just an iPhone housing.
It comes in two parts, you can see here...

Alex: Yeah.

Laurence: ...an upper and a lower. It's made for the iPhone 5 or the 5S,
and it does cover up the home buttons, so that is something that you can't
use the, I mean, you can, but you have to take it in and out every time,
but the thumbprint that Apple developed is covered up. So once it's in,
it's in. It's very, very small, so it adds about a half an inch to the
phone and about a quarter-inch thickness. Getting your call. And then once
it's in, you pair it. It's a Bluetooth keyboard. It's super easy. And once
it's paired, it's done, so it has automatic features, like it goes to sleep
automatically after a certain amount of time of non-use. There's no other
need to do anything. So your home button becomes this lower button here on
the corner here. You can see that there.

Alex: I see.

Laurence: So it does everything that the home button did before, so if
you hold it down, it goes to Suri. If you double-click it, it goes to your
apps. And then the keyboard really works when you're in a keyboard mode,
so, for example, if you're in an e-mail, once you click, you stop to use
the touch screen on the phone. People have this illusion that you don't
have to do that, but you certainly do. But basically, once you're in a text
field, whether it's an e-mail or a text or notes or text messages, you can
type 60, 70 words a minute, I mean, super fast.

Alex: That's amazing.

Laurence: I type between 55 and 60 words. We have this typing test that
we use, that people try out, and I think the fastest was 76, with 98
percent accuracy. So it's really cool.

Alex: That's amazing.

Laurence: You can type super fast on this keyboard.

Alex: That's fantastic. And tell me a little bit about working with Ryan
Seacrest. How did you bring him into the project?

Laurence: So Ryan is, first and foremost, a dear friend for a long time
and have been social friends, never really did any business together, but
he was actually my neighbor over ten years ago. That's how we met. It just
came about kind of funny, and we both had this passion for having an issue
of typing on the iPhone, so it was really just that.

So we kind of came up with the idea together, so I said, "Why don't we do
this together? You're Ryan Seacrest. Everybody knows who you are, so you'll
get the word out there for us, and we'll figure out the technology on how
to get this done." He's been our number one tester. He got prototype number
one, and I got prototype number two, and he gives us feedback. I just got a
text from him yesterday, so he's definitely been a great tester. When we
did the test with all these 400 units, we reached out to a bunch of
celebrities, and, of course, Ryan knows them all, so it just worked out
well. It was kind of a fun project for him, fun project for us, and it's
been quite interesting.

Alex: Yeah, that's great.

Laurence: Yeah.

Alex: That's great, and you can get the distribution out. I'm wondering
about that aspect of it. What is your plan for distribution? Are you trying
to sell it online? Are you putting it out in stores?

Laurence: Yeah. So we launched online on December 6th with pre-orders,
which we're shipping right now, and, to our surprise, we completely sold
out of the first run pretty quickly, and then we also sold out of the
second run, which is February. So our distribution is that we're doing
deals now for retail distribution. The big phone stores, we're talking to
all of them, and they're all wanting the product in their stores.

Alex: Like which ones? What are some of the ones?

Laurence: The ones I can tell you are AT&T. Brookstone is another chain.
[Edmost] is another

Alex: Great.

Laurence: ...is another. So all the other carriers, we are also talking
to. So everybody seems to think that there's a need for this product, for a
niche of the market that needs a physical keyboard on their iPhone.

Alex: Right, absolutely. One of the things, I was walking around CES, and I
was walking with a buddy, and he turns and he says, "Hey, look at these
guys. That looks like a BlackBerry keyboard case." And so you've gotten
some of that criticism. How do you respond to people that say like, "Hey,
you guys you guys just basically ripped off BlackBerry keyboard?"

Laurence: BlackBerry's a great product, it's a great company, and they
certainly have a lot of fans. A keyboard on a phone is going to be limited
on what you can or cannot do, and there are literally hundreds of phones
out there with keyboards throughout the world that are not BlackBerry. If
you look at them, they're all very similar.

So the design of the keys, we did a search on the patents and what was out
there, and we did our homework prior to launching this thing, and we felt
pretty comfortable with the layout and the design that we came out with. I
would argue that it's similar to a bunch of other keyboards that are out
there by major phone companies. They're no different. Everybody's focused
on BlackBerry, but the reality is there are lots of phones out there with
keyboards.

Alex: And how do you feel about BlackBerry trying to stop the sale of your
keyboard, or trying to claim that you guys are infringing on their product?

Laurence: Listen, I respect intellectual property. I think patents are an
important part of our free enterprise, but in this case, again, we've done
our homework, and we don't believe we violated any of their patents, and
we're going to fight it. It is what it is. They have one opinion, we have
another, and in the end, the courts will figure it out.

Alex: Yeah, totally. Now I want to take a broader view here. I'm wondering,
because you have an extensive background in entrepreneurship, and you've
done a lot of different things, how does this project compare to some of
the other things that you have done?

Laurence: That's interesting. Good question. It's interesting. Launching
a consumer electronic device is much more complicated than I thought. I
have a completely newfound respect for Steve Jobs. It's complicated because
it's... I would say it's interesting. It's different than the businesses
I've had before, right? So real estate was mostly managing construction and
getting good contractors. My history has been advertising and marketing, so
both on the agency side and on owning assets that are out-of-home assets,
like Taxi tips and all that, and that business is mostly execution, right?

It's just being able to deliver for the clients, but in the end, you build
something and then you go out and sell it. It's different. This is
different. You have to really dedicate yourself to the mechanical, the
electrical, the industrial design. It's all got to work perfectly. You've
got to figure out to do the manufacturing properly and testing, QA, and
then you have to constantly really get feedback from active users, and,
"Here's what the problem is, here's what's up." So it's a different
business. It's, in a way, a tougher business, but then when you get there,
and you've got a product that's been well-tested and ready to ship, it's
pretty cool. And in this case, it was easy to find the energy to just keep
on going, because I wanted this product myself.

Alex: Right.

Laurence: So I've had this on my phone for just over a year, and, forget
whether we're successful or not, I can't live without it, and Ryan's the
same way.

Alex: Right.

Laurence: But, I will tell you, it's not a simple industry, and you've
really got to be passionate and be willing to put the money, and then
double the money and triple the money, and then five times the money. The
process of developing a product is awfully complicated, way more than I
thought.

Alex: Right. What were some surprising things that you encountered when you
had people test the product and give you feedback?

Laurence: Just the manufacturing process to make sure of the consistency
of the manufacturing. The keyboard is an awfully complicated thing to do,
to get it right, to allow for that super fast typing, so we had to re-
engineer really the guts of this keyboard several times and test it a
number of times to get to that point where we can type super fast. There's
a lot of complexity to this little keyboard on how the keys move up and
down.

The firmware, again, we were doing things that nobody had done in years in
Bluetooth, so most Bluetooth keyboard firmware was developed probably 15
years ago for the first Bluetooth keyboards for Windows, and that hasn't
changed, right? It's just a keystroke, right? K, and it shows up K, and
that's pretty much key mapping, so it communicates that way back and forth.
Learning all about Bluetooth and writing the firmware, and rewriting it and
testing it, those were learning experiences. Miniaturization, nobody wants
to ship you a smaller chip. So, there was just a bunch of different things
we had to deal with.

Alex: And what about your plans for the future? Obviously, you're trying to
get retail distribution. Any ideas for expanding into other lines? What do
you have in mind for the future?

Laurence: Yeah, I think we're working on a couple products that we want
to get out by May that are related to the tablet market.

Alex: Okay.

Laurence: We're only going to come out with a product if it really
improves the user's usability of the product, so there are keyboards out
there for the iPads already. But we've got a few concepts that are
different, that are unique, so, again, we're only going to come out with a
product if it really changes the life of the user, for the people that want
it.

Alex: You're not just going to make that bigger?

Laurence: No, we're not just going to make that bigger, no, correct. No,
it won't work.

Alex: Well, I think it's a great model, using your own experience and
feeling like, you know, "If it works for me, then it can work for a lot of
people."

Laurence: Sure. Did you get a chance to try it out when you were at CES?

Alex: Very briefly. Very briefly, yeah. CES, as you know, is madness. Were
you there?

Laurence: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, we were there.

Alex: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Laurence: Yeah, good time.

Alex: Yeah.

Laurence: A great show. It was a wonderful show. Got lots of awards, had
lots of press and publicity. It went really well.

Alex: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. We had a lot of bloggers roaming around
and combing all the booths and stuff, so it was great. So anything else
that you want to share with our readers? Where can they go to buy the case?

Laurence: So it's still available on pre-order, by now we're quoting mid-
March delivery, so it's TypoKeyboards.com, or TypoKeyboard.com, and they
can come to that website, and hopefully we'll be in stores by the end of
March.

Alex: Oh, great, it's pretty quick.

Laurence: Yeah.

Alex: Great. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me here.

Laurence: Thank you.

Alex: And have a great day.

Laurence: All right, cool. Thank you very much.

Alex: All right. Yeah, no problem. Bye.

 

This is the first in a new series of exclusive interviews we'll be doing with the movers and shakers in the mobile space. If you have suggestions for people to interview, or ideas about making the interview series better, please shoot me an email at alex@iphonelife.com We'll post a new interview every Monday, in both video and text transcript form.

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Alex Cequea's picture
Alex is the host of The A-List with Alex Cequea, a YouTube interview series highlighting innovators who are making the world a better place. He's the former owner and Editor in Chief of iPhone Life magazine and Android Life magazine. He writes and speaks about mobile technology, personal branding, and social good at alexcequea.com and iPhonelife.com. His work and projects have been featured on TIME.com, Discovery Tech, NBC, ABC, Univision, and CBS.