Wisephone Origin Story: Q & A with Techless' Founder, Chris Kaspar

Wisephone Origin Story: Q & A with Techless' Founder, Chris Kaspar

Chris Kaspar comes from a long line of visionary entrepreneurs. His great grandfather August Kaspar, sparked their family's business by designing and selling wire baskets made from scrap smooth wire when barbed wire was invented. Like his great grandfather, Chris is shaping something new.

Kaspar’s company Techless is one of the few answering the outcry for healthy consumer tech by designing "the world's healthiest smartphone." Dubbed "Wisephone," it's a fresh revision of what a smartphone should be.

You come from this family history of entrepreneurs. How did your time with Kaspar Companies shape your vision for Techless and for Wisephone?

So Kaspar Companies has a rich 120-year history which birthed eight subsidiaries. For 6 years, I had the opportunity to work at the family business and lead Espresso, the company's ad agency, as President and Creative Director.

I was blessed to do some really cool things—you know, the best parts of a job. Overseeing the art direction, I created logos and some neat marketing pieces. My favorite project was designing a massive four-foot-tall wooly mammoth stuffed toy—we ordered a shipping container full of them.

And, I was able to drive positive change. I was highly involved in the 4th to 5th generation handoff of ownership and leadership in the company. I was one of a few family members to help lead that transition from a B2B to B2C model through internal marketing and cultural initiatives.

I had the chance to work with brands known for trust and quality and even launch three from the ground up. Texas Precious metals became one of the top five dealers of precious metals in the nation within five years, making it on the Inc. 500 list. This success was due mostly because we earned trust in an otherwise shady industry.

We earned trust “doing business the Texas Way.”

It seems like you loved your role there. Why the shift to launching Techless?

I loved my time at Kaspar Companies, and had the opportunity to learn some huge business lessons: Business takes grit. Also, you need a team of smart, talented, and passionate people.

I relished in making positive cultural changes for the 500 people we employed. But overtime, I felt my influence and effectiveness at Kaspar Companies leveled-off.

So, the switch flipped when I felt I could make a bigger difference in the world than I could within the company.

Was "Wisephone" in the picture right away?

Ha, no! Over a nine month decision-making process, I worked through 20 different business concepts, eventually focusing on three.

Can you share about some of those early-stage ideas?

Sure. One was multifamily housing...a safe & proven concept. Another was a flex co-working facility for light and luxury manufacturers, where small businesses would have a beautiful storefront paired with cool spaces for manufacturing, collaboration, and conferencing.

So, why did you pick to start Techless and to develop Wisephone?

Well, some of those other ideas were safer bets for a startup. But, I didn’t want safe. I already had security at the family business. I wanted to change the world. And I realized something huge about Wisephone: This concept had the potential to change the world, more than any other.

This concept had the potential to change the world, more than any other.

I had noticed all of the unhealthy parts of the tech world. So with Wisephone, I wanted these healthy and moral design considerations at the device level. I felt creating a smartphone designed to be healthy and safe as its main focus could change the lives of teens and families.

The family seems to be at the forefront for you. What inspired the idea of tech aligning with the family?

Our own family and foster care journey were the inspiration.

I realized the power of foster care when I was filming a Super Bowl commercial for Chick-fil-A with my film company. We were covering the impact of WinShape Homes, this world class foster care ministry established by Chick-fil-A's founder decades ago.

So, here we were filming these amazing group homes with dedicated, full time house parents. These homes were huge with two dishwashers, two fridges, vans—the works—to make sure the foster care was top-notch.

And I realized it wasn't just about the nice homes. I saw the caring house parents and the relationships established with these foster children. It was effective. It transformed lives.

All in all, we drove around and interviewed over twenty house parents, learning about decades of children's lives really being changed through this excellent program. It was a privilege to see it all and to document it! 

Hitting a spot on the Super Bowl was great. But, seeing these foster children’s lives changed made the greater impact. After that project, my wife and I could not let go of the idea of doing foster care ourselves. So, we dove in.

Tell me more about your foster care journey.

At one point we had seven kids in our home with four under the age of five—it was crazy! Our second bio child was born the day after a sibling group of three had left our home. One of our foster kids was severely autistic with a never-ending appetite. It was a wild ride, but we loved caring for all our kids.

One day, a pair of siblings arrived. They were ten and thirteen. When the case worker came in, she had us sign all the paperwork. And as she left, she had one word of encouragement: “Don’t let these girls near anything that even looks like a phone…they’ve gotten themselves into serious trouble in the past.”

These sisters changed how we viewed tech. We couldn't just hand them an iPhone, knowing their dangers. So instead, we got them an Amazon Alexa. They mainly used it for music, belting out Whitney Houston tunes. They loved it. They had some control over something of their own.

this is what I wanted with Wisephone, to offer something freeing, healthy, and safe at the device level

Then it hit me...the Alexa speaker had device-level restrictions. With no screen or full access to the internet, there was only so much we had to worry about as parents. We were able to offer them some freedom and fun without the hassle of constant arguments over smartphone restrictions.

So, this is what I wanted with Wisephone, to offer something freeing, healthy, and safe at the device level for anyone to use.

What do you mean at the device level?

Well, no tech company is building products that empower our will or promote our true wellness. Case in point: Android. No matter the apps you strip from the OS or the settings you change, you're still going to have the Google search bar. 

And we realized there's a reason why Android is free: To collect user search data and sell it off to third parties. But, we didn’t want to be status-quo. We didn't want to sell ads to kids or violate their personal information.

And there’s other hidden dangers in smartphones.Things like pornography can slip in, even for the most well-intentioned. It's a Pandora's Box. Even with "parental controls," young people can easily work around them due to these weaknesses at the device level. In the end, there is no simple and trustworthy solution in the market right now.

So we knew Wisephone had to be from the ground-up, applying some lean manufacturing mojo at the device level.

Can you explain a little about that?

Sure. Lean manufacturing is all about the error-proofing of processes. For instance, you know the speed bumps in neighborhood roads? Well, by design they're error-proof. Their shape forces a car to slow down. There's really no way to altar the reality that a speed bump will slow you down.

I wanted this error-proofing with a smartphone. I pictured a healthier family dynamic where parents could just hand a safe smartphone to their teens and not have to worry about parental controls, hidden apps, and other dangers. As well, having an error-proofed smartphone eliminates the normal tug-o-war between parents and teens over what's allowed.

Are people looking for this kind of phone? 

So, in a market viability test we found 91% of parents are "greatly concerned" about their kids' smartphones.

Then, we checked the top filtering apps common on smartphones. We broke them all. We found easy workarounds just by Googling around—it’s no wonder teens outsmart these phones.

What we discovered was this huge need for a truly safe, minimalist phone that kids and teens wouldn’t be ashamed to carry (you know, like a flip phone). There's something to be said about dignity and pride in the device you carry.

Anything else you want to share about your vision for Wisephone?

Sure, I'd like to share something close to my heart about tech. There's an obvious lack of companies that have any morality built into their devices. Kinda like how fast food used to be. Nobody questioned if it was bad for you.

Then, Whole Foods came along.

And the first adopters were weird. They didn’t wear deodorant. They loved organic things and cared about ethically grown products. 

Then, society came along. The weirdness label dropped, and our culture knew the value in ethically-sourced food and healthier alternatives. They bought into it—like “the weirdos.”

Tech is going through this same transformation, and we’re at the forefront of defining what healthy tech should be. And we know that redefining the smartphone can greatly affect our quality of life.

we believe we can have a sustainable business that puts people ahead of profit.

What makes Techless stand apart? 

Everyone’s complaining, but nobody is creating. We’re working to solve a real problem. 

Big tech’s goal is profit. Plain and simple. But, we have ethical boundaries for our product. We have a guiding moral compass to make the world a better place. We care about your mental health. Other companies prioritize profit over health, and we believe we can have a sustainable business that puts people ahead of profit.

We are the leading creators in this space by pioneering what good, healthy tech should look like. Techless is reshaping the smartphone landscape like how Whole Foods redefined food for the public.

It seems you’ve thought a lot about the current offerings from the world of tech.

Despite thousands of new products and innovation at CES 2020, the show rang hollow.

For sure. One year I had attended CES, the pinnacle of tech innovation worldwide. Over the course of three days, I probably walked at least 60 miles, viewing tons of products at the show. I saw a lot of flashy things, but they all rang hollow. Lots of hype, but resoundingly empty. I witnessed the heart of tech, and saw how its beating, bleeding heart was just off

I felt empty looking at all of it and saw an opportunity to create something of substance. Something that could profoundly affect people with deeper relationships...instead of a dog bowl that you can control from your iPhone.

 

How is Wisephone different from these other products?

We’ve put a lot of heart and thought into Wisephone’s UI, typography, and everything in between. We wanted a poetic quality in the minimalism of the product. A subtle beauty in the details.

You know how we love to show-off our favorite art pieces? Humans connect with beauty. And we believe art changes culture. It’s the tip of the spear.

the power of art has shaped how we approached Wisephone as a product.

I have a M.A. in Studio Art and Theory and have always wanted to change the world through art. What I’ve learned about the power of art has shaped how we approached Wisephone as a product. Typically, you don’t see a phone as art, right? But, we wanted to change that.

There’s beauty in minimalism. Steve Jobs showed us how good design doesn’t draw attention to itself. With Wisephone, we wanted the experience to fade into the background of your life. To be a tool. 

When I think of tools, I don’t usually think of beauty and art. How do these overlap for you?

With beautiful minimalism, it complements your life. It doesn’t detract from it. Like good art offering you some respite, good tools also help you. 

Tools also shape us. Use a shovel long enough, and it gives you calluses. We’re the first smartphone company that leads with the question, “How does this tool shape us?” We’re questioning assumptions about how these tech tools change our lives. We want to dig up some bad foundations and replace it with something useful and beautiful.

I remember this amazing college internship in China. No internet—thanks to the great firewall of China—and no social media. Oh, and no friends (I couldn’t speak Chinese). I lived with a house family, but I had all this time to myself at the end of the day.

I remember spending two hours each day after work in a hammock, swaying in a bamboo forest outside my apartment.

Now, I’m lucky if I have five minutes of free time! Right? That time of rest became one of my sweetest seasons of life. Time. Quiet space. Enjoying what’s immediate. It shaped my philosophy on what the pace of life should look like.

Art brings meaning. It brings rest. So, we wanted to infuse these traits into our brand.

Everyone, I think, wants this idealistic time in a bamboo forest away from things. This planted a seed in me. 

With Wisephone, we’re selling something romantic. It’s functional and poetic. This is a big part of our brand. 

Microsoft does what you want it to do. But, Apple does it in a beautiful way. It’s fun. Beauty marks the brand.

Art brings meaning. It brings rest. So, we wanted to infuse these traits into our brand.

Are you using a Wisephone?

Most of the time I use it during the work week. I’ll also pop my sim card into my other smartphone on the weekends or when I do a work trip away.

No way! It seems most people would cling to their normal smartphone during the work week to multitask, right?

During the week I need focus. Focus is the great commodity we don’t realize we’re missing. And everything I need for work is on my computer. Everything I need. So when I come and eat dinner with my family, I don’t want to be checking emails. I got my Wisephone, fading into the background. 

During the work week I’m just as or more productive than I used to be with an Android. But connecting is on my terms, not theirs. On Wisephone, I never miss anything. It’s an automatic control mechanism. If I need to work, I go to my computer. If I want to do social media, I go and do it on my computer. In the end, I don’t have my pocket buzzing at me for my attention when I want to connect with people.

When I travel, I do need some extras like checking email on a plane. It’s a slight shift. It’s not less connection. It’s connecting on my terms. And that’s what Wisephone is all about. It allows us to shape the smartphone into our lives, on our terms.

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