Happy Birthday to ion

Note: I no longer work with IonLab since Nov 12 of 2009.

One year ago, on this day, we launched ion, the ipod
charger. The launch was just one blog
That’s it. Within two hours, Atul Chitnis bought the first ion in our
online store. We celebrated.

But hold on, let’s rewind the story a bit.

As people might have heard in our recent running
talk, it all
started when Vikram,
Niara and myself started training
together for the 2006 Bangalore

During one of our runs, Vikram told us that he had created his own
charger circuit and came up with this wacky idea of manufacturing and
selling them. I never took it seriously
but Niara did. She convinced Vikram to take the idea forward. Nearly
six months later, the idea had taken wings.

The prototype looked nothing like something we could sell.

Picture 253
Picture 252

Later, I was planning to attend the first
proto.in. Vikram and Niara
joined in and we went together. I was totally floored by the energy of
the people there and the fire in the eyes of these startup guys.
I told those two that they should talk to this guy called Arif
Vakil of “Vakil Housing” fame and how he was
looking to fund interesting ideas. Immediately, Vikram swung into
action, approached Vakil and started explaining the idea.
Surprisingly, he showed interest!

Luckily, Vikram had brought his prototype and went to fetch it from
his bag. Then Vikram started searching for his iPod when Arif said
“Let’s try with my iPod”. Wow. That moment. Imagine if your VC is
a would-be customer and the product solves a problem that he himself
faces. Nothing like it.

We connected Arif’s iPod to the charger and the charger to a power
socket. The blue LED came on. The iPod was showing the charging
symbol. We all had smiles on our faces. Arif was impressed and went on
to even ask us where we live and so on. That means he really was

After that incident, it was time to head back. Vikram was on an
all-time high. That was when we were all convinced that we were on to
something. And throughout the bus journey from Chennai to Bangalore,
those two convinced me to join ion. I wasn’t so sure. Yeah, it was
a Saturdays-only part-time thing. Yeah, Vikram and me had discussed
about such things endlessly. But still, I wasn’t sure.

I thought about it the next day and thought “Why not?” I don’t lose
much if it bombs and it was a good excuse for us three to keep meeting

For various reasons, we didn’t approach Vakil for funding and put in
the initial investment ourselves. And we went from shopping for
running shoes to shopping for resistors and capacitors and modifying
Drupal code.

Picture 053

Then there was the countless decision-making sessions like coming up
with poster ideas and then the stories about how we decided the logo
for ion, how we
landed in trouble with the
cops, and
finally the launch of ion.

We sent an email to friends asking them to forward to their company
internal groups and anybody who would be interested. We also gave
posters to put up on their company notice boards. That was pretty much
our ‘marketing strategy’. The idea was that we marketed it as an iPod
charger and our target audience was the techie crowd.

We marketed it as an iPod charger even though it will work with
anything that can be charged with USB right from mobile phones to
battery chargers. We use the term iPod charger because that’s what
people have most demand for. The second part about targeting techies
was because they will be the ones who will look to finding a solution
that is cheaper than the official charger which costs 2000 rupees but
still is reliable. Ours was one-fifth that price.

The most humbling experience for me was trying to sell ion outside the
Aerosmith concert. That was such a good example of a wrong person (me)
in the right place doing the job not suited for him. But yet Niara and
me did it for ion.

Then came the amazing customer
feedback and our highest
point – getting featured in a half-page article in Economic

ion in economic times

And yes, Arif congratulated

But you want to know what’s the craziest part? We made just 200
pieces of ion. Yes, that’s it. 200 ions. Crazy. And see how far it

After that ET article happened, we ran out of stock. That was six
months ago. Many people have asked me why we’re not selling more
ions. So I thought I’ll tell the hidden part of the story today – We
never intended ion to live longer than those 200 pieces. It was just
a business experiment for us, nothing more. Why? To learn what it
takes to convert an idea to a reliable quality product and take it to

We never called ourselves a startup back then. That has happened only
in hindsight. In fact, I was in it because I thought I could help
since I had some experience in maintaining my own websites and maybe
I can learn a thing or two in running an ecommerce store.

After we managed to the finish selling the batch of 200 pieces and
made decent profit, Vikram moved to USA, Niara moved on to other
things in life and so did I.

But the response hasn’t stopped. Even last Thursday (Apr 17), we got
emails from four different people in a single day asking when we’ll be
back in stock. Crazy, I tell you.

I have had so many personal failures and failed projects in the past
few years that it seemed stupid to kill a successful project of ours.
So Vikram and myself have been working on reviving ion. We hope to be
back with a batch of second generation ions in the next month.

The experiment continues.

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Jamie Larson