By: Kat Bein By: Kat Bein | November 7, 2022 | People
Kwame Ferreira wearing a pair of Wires Glasses
Everyone loves Audrey Hepburn's quote; "nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible,’” but serial impact entrepreneur Kwame Ferreira takes that quote to heart and then some.
As the founder and CEO of the Impossible company, Ferreira helps create ethical and sustainable cell phones called Fairphones, eyewear products called Wires, and works directly with teams at major corporate players from Google to Samsung, Adidas and more on how they can improve their own products, approaches and designs.
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It’s a worthy cause in 2022, one that he believes is imperative to ensure the future of his young daughter and all our incoming generations, and much of this vision is driven by love.
His latest project, Bond Touch, puts that love at the center of its mission to create happier and healthier relationships between loved ones and families.
Bond Touch a bracelet that replicates the feel of human touch, connecting you with those you love most in a way that's more personal and comforting than a text message. This holiday season, the product line extends to include something even more personal: the human heartbeat.
We caught up with Ferreira via Zoom to hear more about his vision to bring folks closer together to themselves, their loved ones and our shared planet, and how he and his team are making the Impossible not only possible, but very real.
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How much has the experience of being a father inspired these companies and initiatives you're a part of?
A lot of it started before she was born, but having her does crystallize a lot of the thinking around future generations. We are borrowing the future, and once you have kids, it just brings it home.
What is a “serial impact entrepreneur?”
When we created Wires, I didn't want to create another eyewear company. I definitely wanted to have my own glasses, because I'm short sighted and I couldn't find glasses that really suited me, but I wanted to understand the industry and where it's actually lacking in terms of having a real impact.
When you dive a bit deeper into these industries, you realize there's just a lot of work to do. The incumbents are caught up in their own processes and usually don't have time to innovate. Impact means having fresh eyes to look at the problems at hand. Most of these industries were created in a time when we were putting the consumer at the center of the process. Right now, we can't afford that. Having impact means being a little more ambitious with bringing in the planet.
What does that really mean? If you look at the way eyewear is created, you're cutting out the negative, and all of that is waste. We decided to 3D print, use bioplastics, and use one wire without a hinge that you can keep forever and change. The problem we're trying to tackle is not just the aesthetic problem, but also a problem of waste, and that has an impact on future generations.
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When did you realize just how important these concepts were?
I was born in Angola, but I grew up in the south of Portugal. On one side of a mountain was our farm, and on the other side of the mountains was a huge quarry. Literally one half was being eaten away, and the other half was ours. I remember growing up with explosions as they’re mining this stone, a granite. I asked “why are they doing this? Do we need to really take such a deep hole in our mountain?” They were digging half of this mountain in order to clad these banks in Japan. It’s beautiful granite, but do we really need this?
To me, it was very present from an early age that whatever we d—even if we’re making a websit—somebody's having a little bit of their mountain excavated.
Fairphone is this ethical phone in Amsterdam. The boss, Tessa and the people behind it were really interested in transparency of the supply chain. It turns out a lot of what goes into a phone comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and going to the DRC and seeing those mines, and how this industry is actually financing that civil war—it's so far removed from anybody who goes and buys an iPhone or Samsung.
We were in Silicon Valley working with Samsung on its new operating systems, and at the same time, we were doing Fairphone in Europe. I remember Samsung coming over to us saying “I don't know if there's a conflict of interest here,” and we were like, “no, you guys sell more phones in one day than Fairphone will ever sell. It's just the movement.” There's a logic behind it. It's a very small business; let's call it a cottage industry, and it's really an open book for other people to copy.
What I like about impact investors, and there are many out there, is this underpinning set of values and transparency, because if you are unable to copy best practices, then we're never going to move forward. Fairphone was very important in my journey.
Tell me more about your company Impossible. How do all these impactful companies come together?
Think of Impossible as a holding company. I was part of a company that sold to Accenture, so I’ve done a lot of consulting. This was pre iPhone, and we were betting heavily on mobility. I left the company; started something called the Vinyl Factory, and I was doing other things when I said “I really want to go back into tech.” I wanted a different culture, and I wanted a culture of makers, so I surrounded myself with a whole bunch of engineers as opposed to just designers. We were consulting for the Googles, the Samsungs, and at the same time, we were saving a bit of money and putting it in our own startups and learning.
Impossible is a home for all of these startups and this planet-centric design methodology. Out of Impossible, we have a number of companies, and the most interesting right now to talk about is Bond Touch.
What is Bond Touch?
We were literally living, pre-pandemic, in airplanes, and we wanted a more emotional way to keep connected with our loved ones. You send a text message and you run out of things to say, and we were like, “can we replicate and send human touch?” We all need cuddles, and you're far away.
In the beginning it was just a little buzz. Now with Bond Touch More, we call it “multidimensional touch.” It's really this beautiful caress; and with Bond Heart, the idea is to explore another emotional language, which is the heartbeat.
We have about 2.5 billion heartbeats each, and when you run out of those 2.5 billion, your life is expired. My grandmother died, and she was kind of the pillar of my family. One of my earliest memories is of putting my head against her chest and hearing that heartbeat. I just wanted to capture that and have a place where I could store it, and whenever I miss her, I can hold that and feel that heartbeat.
I started traveling and capturing heartbeats of endangered animals. I just did a little podcast where I went with Wyld to Kenya, and we captured the heartbeats of the last two great northern white rhinos. I think there is something here in terms of trying to connect with these mammals just like us, and to connect with our families--not through text, not through video, but through touch, and a heartbeat is a form of touch; and Bond Heart will be available for Christmas.
And people are able to capture the heart beats of those that they love?
Yeah, exactly. So you have an app, and through the app, you can capture the heartbeat and then upload it, and you can feel that heartbeat whenever you miss that person.
Coming from Fairphone, Wires or stuff we're doing with AI; Bond Touch can feel like an outlier. I really want Bond Touch to be a mission-driven company, and what we believe in is a world with happier and healthier relationships. How can we add value to that mission? I think we're starting with the happy and we very soon will go more towards the healthy.
At first it’s “don't look at your phone all the time.” You can be connected in a way where you don't, and we must ensure we convey touch properly. Now the heartbeat is done in a very considerate and beautiful way, but having said that, is there something we can do about these intimate relationships? Can we bring in more on the mental health front, for example? During the pandemic, we saw our device being used to really calm people down and soothe. A lot of people were giving Bond Touch to their relatives in the hospital or who just needed to be isolated. You need that connection, and having that touch really helped a whole bunch of people.
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Folks who find themselves working in companies that are too big to change, can they incorporate some of these planet-centric ideas into what they do?
We are working with some pretty big companies who are changing, and who have taken their responsibility very seriously. The question falls, “what methodologies are actually going to get you more impact?” We still have to have the users there if it's gonna be a viable business, but we can't just talk about usability, and viability. We don't “go to market,” we “go to planet.” That mindset shift helps create planet-fit solutions rather than just market-fit solutions, and it requires an extra degree of ambition on the part of the creator or the teams that are actually responsible for these projects.
About 80 percent of the impact of a product is created at the design phase. If we're able to change that, you're going to have a massive impact. That's what we would do with large corporations and with ourselves. We take our own medicine, and we've realized it's really hard to have the planet in the room with you. Imagine you're creating something new, but the planet is with you saying “no, you really need to change that. This is going to burn an extra forest or two; this is going to go into landfill, I can't recycle that; and the screen should be black because it consumes less energy.”
You don't have the planet in the room, you have a sustainability officer with their team and it's all kind of segmented, so I'm spending 50 percent of my time on an AI; these general pre-trained transformer models you're starting to see pop up all over the place with the funny pictures and text to image. We believe those transformer models can unlock a lot of potential in the creative process; having them as companions.
Learn more about Impossible, its lineup of companies and its planet-centric methodology online; and shop the full lineup of Bond Touch products at bond-touch.com. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy of Kwame Ferreira