Melody Shiue has designed everything from rapid blood testing kits to wearable ultrasound belts for pregnant woman. But that’s nothing compared to her latest creation: the ‘mPod’, a device with 200,000 data points that will 3D map your body, using non-invasive infra-red technology.
The device is part of the business she cofounded with a couple of university friends called mPort, a unique startup enabling consumers to track their health and fitness with 3D body maps, and take home 3D avatars of their own body.
Now available at 20 locations nationally through Westfield, and having just expanded into the US after signing an $80 million deal with the world’s largest fitness chain, the startup says it’s the easiest way to track how your unique body transforms over time.
In our Q&A with Shiue below, the industrial designer tells us more about mPort and 3D mapping your own body, and what she believes makes a successful entrepreneur.
Who or what inspired this business, where did the idea come from?
My mPort co-founders, Dipra Ray and Andy Wu, had always wanted to start a business together. All businesses start with a consumer problem, so they saw an opportunity when Andy’s now wife was looking for a wedding dress and she was annoyed about having no idea what would fit her in the stores, let alone if she tried to buy a dress online. They spotted a missing link between online shopping and technology helping consumers to know what fit them. Dipra and Andy came to me with the problem (I was working for a medical design firm at the time). I remember clearly a visionary discussion the three of us had over coffee at The Rocks, and that’s when I decided to pursue the idea with them. For me, it was also exciting to imagine what designers could do with the unprecedented anthropometric (human measurement) information mPort provided them. Since then, everything has just worked out naturally.
Have you ever worked for anyone else, did you leave a corporate career behind?
Prior to launching mPort in 2013, I was a product developer for consumer, tech and medical devices design company, ide Group. While I was there I helped design an award-winning rapid blood test device. Prior to mPort I also designed PreVue, a wearable ultrasound belt concept for pregnant women. PreVue won a silver medal at the A’Prime Design Competition in 2011.
Tell us exactly what mPort is?
mPort was first created to help consumers buy fashion that fit without any hassle or guesswork, but as we developed the concept we saw the opportunity for it to empower people to manage their physical health. Our mPods use infra-red technology to map a person’s body at more than 200,000 data points, informing our customers of not only their height and weight, but their BMI, their fat and muscle mass, and their physical measurements from their forearms to their hips to their calves.
Can you name three major contributing factors that have led to your businesses’ success so far?
- People: mPort and our mPods are designed around people and solving a problem for consumers. We want people to use mPort to empower themselves because it enables them to know their body in a way they haven’t been able to previously. People also means the team at mPort; we invest heavily in our team, and we are passionate about finding people with the right talents and who are a great cultural fit.
- Passion: Dipra, Andy and I all believe wholeheartedly in mPort
- Perseverance: we never stop solving problems, overcoming hurdles and looking at how we can enhance what we offer to consumers
I should probably note here that we don’t see ourselves as successful yet, there’s still so much to do!
What do you believe is the number one trait that makes a successful entrepreneur?
Taking action and building your ideas. The earlier you find out what is wrong, the quicker you find a solution for it. You can have a million ideas, but if you don’t act on them you’ll never succeed.
As well as your business, what other priorities do you juggle?
There was a time a couple of years ago when I was prioritising work above everything else because so much was happening with mPort, as we were excited about being first-mover to market. But I ended up burnt out, so now I appreciate work life balance and when I get some time I love reading and exploring Sydney’s growing café scene with friends. I’m passionate about education, the environment and dancing (a personal hobby), so I’m currently researching ways I can create dance clips that are educational through movement. I also can’t wait for summer to take on a diving license course.
Can you describe an average day in your life?
I love sleep and I need seven to eight hours every night. I wake up and drink warm water with lemon because it sets up my body and mind for the day. I catch the train to work and my day usually starts off with meetings with my team so we can agree our priorities and goals for the week. This helps us stay focused and look back on what we’ve achieved; including latest design improvements or troubleshooting with our mPods. We’ve recently started a running club at mPort, so I might go for a lunchtime run with the group, otherwise I’ll eat at my desk and keep working. I finish the day when I feel ready (usually between 6 and 7pm). I value quality family time, so we all eat dinner together at home. Then it’s me time: I zone out with a good laugh at Youtube clips, trivial scientific findings in space, or I read up on watchmaking (another hobby of mine). I usually pick up on any work emails before bed so I can prepare for the next day. My pre-bed regimen consists of some quick exercises and a facial treatment. And then it’s lights out!
What books and online publications do you read to keep up with the news and advice relevant to what you do?
DesignBoom, PSFK – to keep updated on design, architecture, innovations and startups. I also look out for technology news across TechCrunch or CNet, especially anything related to 3D scanning. I subscribe to Bloomberg, and I try to keep up with financial news because it helps me understand the funding and P&L side of our business. I also love sifting through Designspiration for visual stimuli.
What (if anything) do you believe needs to change in Australia for us to see more successful female entrepreneurs in the future?
I think we should be ignoring the male versus female element more. People are people and I believe passionately that this should be the case in society. I think we can all be more accepting of differences between individuals, rather than looking at the differences between men and women. I’d like to see the focus move more towards respecting cultures, personalities, strengths and knowledge, rather than gender itself, which is simply a biological status. In Australia in general I think we’re very, very lucky and everyone has opportunity in front of them at one point or another.
If anything, I encourage people to be bold and unique with their propositions, but to do it with grace; and this goes for both men and women. Don’t be afraid of pushbacks and disapproving noise because people who tell you ‘no’ can’t see your vision as clearly as you do. Going out on a limb is the only way you’ll find out how close you are to success, and that’s what I did.
What are your future ambitions for the business? How big can it go?
At mPort we are focussed on making a personalised experience common to most consumers. Consumers are heading towards a time when everything they buy should be tailored to them, and with that in mind, we want consumers to learn about themselves like never before so they can make more informed decisions about their physical health. Ultimately, we want to empower people with the confidence to feel their best self from every angle. We also see potential for our 3D body mapping technology to be incorporate into lifestyle entertainment and mainstream culture, so for instance, in the future someone could be watching the football on TV and as a player runs onto the field their 3D avatar is shown on-screen profiling their physical information, from their muscle and fat percentages to their chest circumference. Or imagine ordering a car seat perfectly suited to your personal ergonomics!
From an expansion perspective, we just launched into the US through a partnership with the world’s largest fitness chain, LA Fitness. The US is our first international market and we have our sights set on the rest of the world, with a priority on expanding into the world’s largest economies first.
Which women inspire you?
My mum. If I have something I’m trying to work though I always seek my mum’s wise advice, or even just a lending ear for stress salvage.
I also admire the internationally renowned architect, Zaha Hadid. She passed away this year, but her designs broke long-standing traditions and that takes guts and following your creative instincts.
I generally find people inspiring and I try to look for the positive in people around me. If I see a good quality in someone and I think that quality is something I’d like to work with, I find that inspiring.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.