About a year ago, Christina Mercando quit her job at eBay to focus fulltime on Ringly, her connected-jewelry startup opening up presales today for its first product.
The product in question is a ring that connects to the owner’s smartphone and alerts her (the current designs target women) when smartphone notifications of various kinds come in. The ring can both vibrate and emit a tiny flash from a small LED light discreetly located on the side of the ring. The ring’s electronics are concealed inside the ring’s stone, which are semi-precious and set on an 18-karat gold-plated ring.
Ringly’s whole concept came to Mercando after she caught herself constantly checking her phone during social moments she would rather not ruin.
“There was a moment when I was out, and I pulled out my phone and there [were] all these notifications. … There has to be a better way,” the Ringly cofounder and chief executive told me in interview. She was sitting at a conference room, dressed in a trendy black knit sweater and skinny jeans that complemented her slim figure, and of course a big stylish ring on one of her fingers.
Mercando has picked out whimsical names for each ring stone colors, inspired by “special moments:” Stargaze, Daydream, Wine Bar, and Into the Woods.
She added that mothers are a strong use case — from date nights that are nevertheless haunted by anxious fear of the babysitter calling because of a problem, to those precious mother-child bonding moments that should only be disturbed by particular emergencies.
On the software end, the ring connects to the smartphone’s notification center to pick up on the various notifications. Each notification type (email, text messages, Facebook, etc.) can be set to a specific light color and vibration pattern. That way, the owner can distinguish between the various notification levels and gauge whether an incoming call or message is important or not.
And breaking the tight grip on one’s phone is really Ringly’s significance. As I chatted with Mercando about Ringly’s origin, we quickly bemoaned how normal it’s become to have our phones on the table during a date. Ringly and other companies are now attempting to fight this — or at least tame it a bit.
Mercando graduated with degrees in human computer interaction and fine arts from Carnegie Mellon, and prior to founding Ringly, she was vice president of product at Hunch, a startup that aimed to build people’s “taste graphs.” eBay acquired Hunch in 2011, where Mercando remained for a couple more years. She was naturally attuned to the emotional discomfort of her phone’s constant presence, a problem she’s curing with Ringly.
Mercando also met cofounder Logan Munro through her Hunch and eBay colleagues after asking around for suggestions for “someone who could help her make jewelry.”
Her roots at Hunch had yet another impact on Ringly: Chris Dixon, her boss there and someone “huge on hardware” according to Mercando, strongly encouraged her to pursue Ringly out of her many ideas. Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, where Dixon is a partner, participated in Ringly’s seed round last summer.
The firm’s investment is somewhat interesting given its “software is eating the world” thesis. However it’s also in line with recent other investments in software-hardware companies, such as health-tech company Omada Health’s latest round, which the firm led.
Ringly raised its $1 million seed round last August, which First Round Capital led with additional participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Matt Wyndowe, The Social+Capital Partnership, MESA+, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and Serkan Piantino.