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ep#4 Typing at the speed of thought w/ CharaChorder

Welcome to the latest episode of our podcast! Today we're excited to introduce you to CharaChorder, a revolutionary new brand that is changing the way we interact with technology. CharaChorder specializes in chording devices that allow users to input text and commands using only a few keys.

Their devices are intuitive and easy to use, making them accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. In fact, CharaChorder recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring their latest product to market. Check out our podcast with CharaChorder's CEO Riley Keen, where we'll dive into their design philosophy, the challenges of running a Kickstarter campaign, and the future of chording technology.

Riley: [00:00:00] There was a casting producer that I actually met when I was at CES several years ago. And he had asked like, hey, have you ever thought about going on Shark Tank?

George: our guest today is Riley Keen. Riley is the CEO of CharaChorder, the keyboard that lets you type at the speed of thought. CharaChorder has seen an astronomical rise of the past few years from a device that was actually mostly used in courtrooms to launching a range of highly successful products through their website, Kickstarter and maybe through Shark Tank.

George: Riley has also risen through TikTok fame with his insane videos of him literally typing faster [00:01:00] than I can think. Riley, thank you so much and welcome to the show.

Riley: Yeah, thanks for having us. Happy to be here.

George: Before we dive into your company and your product, can you explain to folks listening who might not be familiar with chording, what chording is?

Riley: Yeah, absolutely. So the product that is our best seller, and I think what we're most famous for is called the CharaChorder one. And this is a device I'm holding up right now, which has three dimensional switches rather than one dimensional switches, and it's a total keyboard replacement.

Riley: So imagine that if instead of hitting letters like in a one dimensional motion, you're using all the muscles in your hands to wiggle your fingers around in different directions. But what's really powerful about it is in addition to that, it is also the first device that was ever designed for fluid chorded character entry.

Riley: That's the name of the technology that we developed, which powers all CharaChorder devices. And what that means is that in addition to hitting letters one at a time, you can also smash lots of letters simultaneously. [00:02:00] and there's a computer, there's a chip and internal intelligence inside the device, which will detect whenever you're trying to chord rather than character entry.

Riley: And then it's gonna output an entire word or even a phrase based on what letters you're hitting in that simultaneous rather than sequential order.

George: Like courtroom typists. Use this way of typing, right? To just keep up with a dialogue as it's happening in a courtroom.

Riley: I actually just put out a lecture titled The History of Chorded text Entry.

Riley: Where I talk about all the different types of chording and how they've all inspired each other over time. Cause the stenotypemachine is not the only chorded device that was ever invented. Like a keyboard. A stenomachine was invented before. We had computers and electricity and it was invented in order to transcribe human speech.

Riley: But it A CharaChorder is a device which combines the ultra high speed text entry that you might get with a like stenomachine.

Riley: With the flexibility of a keyboard. So it's if a, like a keyboard and a stenotype and actually a bunch of other devices like all got [00:03:00] together and had a baby. And created what we hope to be the new standard for the digital age. In addition to the the CharaChorder one, which a lot of people are really intimidated by we also have what's called a CharaChorder light.

Riley: So this takes the the same technology but ports it into the, a more familiar package that Chorder layout. Which obviously is not optimized for chording, but if you don't wanna relearn how to type and you wanna just start in integrating chords into your typing workflow at a, at whatever rate comfortable for you that's a great option cause it's immediately adamant.

George: How did this come to be a company and a business for you? You saw this somewhere, you got inspired, I know maybe you've been doing this for years, but then how did you decide to build a business around this?

Riley: So the original inspiration for CharaChorder actually was as an accessibility device.

Riley: My background is an accessible tech and there is a large group of people. that are not able to communicate or vocalize in the same way [00:04:00] that you and I might take for granted. And that was the inspiration for the people that are nonverbal to be able to connect with their loved ones and connect, even on a business field to be on a level playing field with their peers.

Riley: There's a video that we actually just put out of a new speech Synthesization software that we built, and along with the wearable attachment where you can walk around with a CharaChorder. Talking at the same speed as human output, and there's no other device that's ever been able to do that before because it's so fast to input.

Riley: Yeah. So it's combined, it's combining those multiple technologies together to create the first wearable entry device that can keep with human speech and human thought. We had a video that we posted maybe. A month ago that went viral, and then next week we're actually launching that as an official product that you can buy in our store.

George: Wow. So you started as an accessibility device, that's your background. But then your first product wasn't immediately a Kickstarter, right? You just launched the first product on [00:05:00] its own?

Riley: Yes. So we went to CES after we had announced our project and had a lot of interest.

Riley: We had a prototype that was like a rats nest of wires hooked up. Yeah. And then people would come by and they would just say Hey, what is that? And I'll just like type whatever they're saying and they're like, oh my God, that's so cool. And so people just started pre-ordering it, but without us even having a Kickstarter.

Riley: And we knew that there was a lot, we still had to figure out as far as like, how are we actually gonna mass produce and manufacture this thing? So we really only started shipping it about two years ago. And we had a big search. Again we didn't do any marketing or anything outside of me just answering people's questions on TikTok.

Riley: But we worked with a grassroots community that really helped us to build that quality into the product and scale responsibly. So this production facility that I'm standing in right now, We created this cause we knew that with our global supply chain, there's nobody that really we can trust other than ourselves to, to make a product that's this complex and this sophisticated.

Riley: Without handling that final assembly ourselves, [00:06:00] there's been all of these little micro adjustments of learning that we've had as we kinda ironed out the product to get it to where it's today. And finally, we're at that point where, After this year of full scale production, we finally have caught up with that demand and are shipping these products weekly for the first time.

George: So you did two Kickstarters the Light and the Dongle. So what made you do Kickstarter after you had successfully done pre-orders on your own? Why Kickstarter afterwards?

Riley: Kickstarter was a great way for us to not have to commit to buying molds and. Manufacturing PCBs without making sure that there's a significant amount of interest in the product first. We're a team of engineers, so we had to like, figure out what is marketing, how do we even do this?

Riley: We had this like 30 day sprint where we just tried a bunch of different stuff on the marketing side of things. And it was a learning experience, I think, for us more than anything to help us figure out how to build out that side of our business, which still is, is pretty pretty small.

George: And so what did you learn about Kickstarter marketing?

Riley: Through that campaign [00:07:00] we learned, so we partnered with an agency, the first campaign and not the second. . And we learned a lot from them. And we also learned enough to where we were comfortable doing it ourselves the next time.

Riley: So we have been taking steps to where we want to have our own like sales and marketing division. We just haven't had a need for it before. We've always been behind on production. So we've been really successful with making. , like viral organic videos. Whenever you're using something that's this unique and radical and whenever you're able to type it speeds that really nobody has ever really seen before, it's pretty easy to make a viral video.

Riley: Yeah. But we need to be able to consistently not only make viral videos for people that are already interested in this stuff. . But if we want to be a global company and we want to actually accomplish our mission of raising average human typing speed to 250 words per minute up from 40 where it's right now, then we eventually are gonna have to be somewhat aggressive in pushing into all these other industries that have expressed [00:08:00] interest.

Riley: And,

George: and so That's, a big difference between. Having viral videos that, go viral once in a while, even though you're really good at it, you've had multiple viral videos, versus just having a very decent advertising strategy that sort of consistently delivers the results that you need in a way that you can foresee maybe better than, than with viral videos, is what you're saying,

Riley: Yeah. I, as a CEO, I've been able to wear multiple hats and be the marketing person at the same time as managing the rest of the business. But eventually I don't wanna have to like, make new videos all the time.

Riley: We just started moving to long form content as well to try and take the people that are already know what CharaChorder is and build a deeper I guess more complex and intimate relationship. With the people that already have an idea of what, it's that, like the lecture that I post, it's 26 minutes long.

George: So you're basically building awareness through essentially a funnel where you have also of the lowest end, your short form, your TikTok, your social [00:09:00] media, and now you're building that out into longer form stuff for people who get hooked with a viral video.

George: And you also have a discord, right? ,

Riley: yes. Discord is like the heart of our online community right now. It has been since we started it maybe a year and a half ago.

Riley: It has been like our go-to place for working hand in hand with customers. it goes beyond just having an open door policy, right?

Riley: it's being boots on the ground. Whenever a customer has some sort of complaint or some sort of need for a support request. Like I see that we have roles specifically like to tag like your core quality team, like this person, these international orders. Like why are we getting 5% of them showing up broken in people's houses in this particular country?

Riley: Think so that we can continue to. Analyze that data that I have firsthand visibility of . I'm not hearing it, through three layers of chain of command. Any customer can reach out to me at any time, which as, as stressful as that can be, I think it's really important for a company like us, because I have to have a really close [00:10:00] pulse on.

Riley: The experience that people are having using the product, if we're gonna continue to improve and continue to come out with all these exciting new features and announcements .

George: That is super interesting. And also it seems very stressful, or your days must be very full because again, yeah, you are the face of the company. It seems you're always on. Whenever I open TikTok, I see you typing something really fast, and then on Discord, you're also available to everyone.

George: But it's a really good strategy. I think it's, it's very close to the crowdfunding strategy, right? Where you present yourself as a creator. People can, interact with you as a creator versus with you as just a faceless brand.

George: So are there any other platforms or technologies that are particularly helpful for you? We've mentioned TikTok, other social media platforms, discord. Is there anything else?

Riley: I think that email is a great way to build a like a newsletter.. Rather than sending out a no reply, we have a dedicated email address so that whenever we send out a message to 10,000 plus people or [00:11:00] whatever anybody can just press, reply and ask a question whether it's related to that email or not.

Riley: which has led to a lot of opportunities for touchpoints that most companies I think are just passing up. Cause they see an email as a one-way communication.

George: when people do that. It's it's the stupidest thing ever because we also see that actually a lot of people reply to emails.

George: It's a very natural thing, right? To reply to an email and it often leads to very meaningful conversations and, and even conversions. Mm-hmm. . .

George: also saw something interesting. You're using this Shopify plugin called Purple dot. For your pre-orders , how is that working for you? Because I, I feel like that might be the future of crowdfunding or Kickstarter where people just skip Kickstarter and just have pre-orders on their Shopify.

Riley: There's definitely a lot of creators out there, myself included, who have thought about we really need to be giving 5% of all of our pledges to Kickstarter. For what? Like hosting our video? Yeah. What else are they really doing? It, It comes down to, especially for a new company, if it's your first campaign, I think it's the People Trust Kickstarter, right?

Riley: Even though [00:12:00] Kickstarter explicitly says you may just lose all your money. This person doesn't actually have to send you anything at the end of the day, like they might fail. Still, I think there's just a, there's people just trust it.

Riley: I think they were pioneers in crowdfunding. I think everything that we're seeing now as far as like crowdfunded equity even looking at like web three sort of technologies, I think Kickstarter was a major player. And sort of people realizing like, we don't need a bank. We don't need, all of these investors necessarily to back us.

Riley: We can just sell the product before we actually make it. All we need to do is just have a really good prototype step in front of our camera, make our face and like name known and step out there as a creator and be bold. If you can do all that, and if you can put all that on the line, and if you really believe in what you're building, people see that.

Riley: There's a lot of technologies out there that make it so you don't really need Kickstarter. I've seen tons of successful crowdfunding campaigns that happen outside of some sort of dedicated platform like that. So yeah, we use purple dot for pre-orders. It's not really a [00:13:00] Kickstarter replacement because it's not a campaign.

George: So what it does is it manages the payment structure, right? As you're having people on that waitlist and then updating them with times and they can get refunds as well through Purple dot.

Riley: Yeah. I would say that from the customer facing perspective, there's a lot less risk in contributing to a purple dot than there's a Kickstarter.

George: It's super interesting and I think to your earlier point where you said Kickstarter used to be, I have a prototype and I'm jumping in front of my camera and I'm presenting this to the world, essentially, people like you are still doing that, but now you're just doing it, distributed it, right? Like you're in front of a camera on TikTok and then driving people to your Shopify. So it's still the same thing of you showing a thing that you made and, getting a community around it, but you just don't need that one platform to host a video and take the payments because you can split that into sort of day and age of social media and way more e-commerce.

George: Um, we have spotted you in a [00:14:00] promo for Shark Tank we haven't seen the episode yet.

George: We don't know if and when it will air we also know that you can't really talk about much, right? Yes. The only reason I can even confirm that we were filmed as part of Shark Tank Season 14, is because they showed us in the season preview.

George: When they air it, it's like this season on Shark Tank. And then there's like a maybe a eight to ten second segment that has me typing a little bit and saying like, Type at the speed of thought or something. But um, yeah, yeah, we can't share anything about the outcome. We're under like 18 layers of NDAs, and you'll just have to, I also can't even guarantee that they're gonna air, they don't even know if they'll necessarily air this season.

George: They told us they'll let us know when we can share more and until my lips are sealed.

George: But how did you get on the show though? Can you talk about that?

Riley: I think so. There was a casting producer that I actually met when I was at CES [00:15:00] several years ago. And he had asked like, hey, have you ever thought about going on Shark Tank?

Riley: We didn't even have like a look alike prototype or anything manufacturered or shipping in So I felt that it was premature, so we told 'em like, hey, like, maybe not quite yet, because whenever I've seen the few instances where a company comes on pre-revenue with just a prototype they get eaten alive. Yeah. And I feel like Shark Tank as great as it can be for your business, there's a big risk in going on Shark Tank. Oh yeah. It can totally destroy your reputation So we wanted to make sure that we were ready and that we had some numbers to back us up outside of just the tech cause that, I mean, that's what the, the Sharks care about. Yeah. They don't care about how cool your tech is. They care about how much money that you're making.

Riley: Do you feel like there's a piece of advice that you could give to creators and founders wanting to get a Shark Tank ?

Riley: Whenever you're in the application process, keep in mind that the goal of the show is to make entertaining television. So you wanna be someone that has a lot of character that can put on a show.

Riley: That's what it is it's entertainment and then that the motive of [00:16:00] the sharks is totally separate and like they're different entities, right? Yeah. You have these entrepreneurs, you have these investors, and then you also have the show. So you have to balance the interest of all the parties involved throughout the application process, I would say is the best advice I can give So be entertaining for the TV show and be investible for the sharks, and that's like the golden combo. Yep. Okay. I'm not gonna press you any further. I'm not gonna get you into any legal trouble. Um, but I just have to ask these things back to your business.

George: What's next for CharaChorder? What are you releasing that you can't talk about right now?

Riley: Yeah, so we had, cause since we, we quit and went full-time. This past year we've been working on so many different simultaneous initiatives cause we're so excited about so many things and we noticed this point where they're all like converging and they're all like about to be finished at the same time.

Riley: For instance, we just launched last week a new operating system, the first ever operating system for [00:17:00] intelligent peripherals.

Riley: And this was a development that started last year when we were putting out the CharaChorder engine.

Riley: So it's a chip module that anyone can design into a keyboard pcb, which will give that keyboard to capabilities of a chord enabled device of aboard device.

George: That's so cool.

Riley: And there are no commercial limitations on that. So it can be used for DIY or for people to make their own keyboard brands. Cause it also comes with a perpetual license to all of our intellectual property.

Riley: When we were creating the engine, whenever we created the X and we realized, wow our portfolio product is growing pretty fast.

Riley: . So we took a big step back and we said, all right we're gonna develop like something that nobody has ever done before.

Riley: We're gonna take on this ambitious undertaking of building the world's first operating system for peripheral devices because the line between what is a computer and what is a keyboard has been blurred.

Riley: But right now we just launched, is now available for all CharaChorder devices and the big I guess the most impactful thing for us as a company [00:18:00] in addition to some of the new capabilities that we're introducing is that whenever we fix a bug, whenever we add a new feature, it goes out to every device that is all CharaChorder Ones all CharaChorder X and all devices powered by CharaChorder Engine, regardless of their brand.

Riley: So that is very powerful cause we're a small team. We're a very small team. Yeah. So that allows us to operate a lot more efficient. And it also allows us, the new architecture allows for thing like dynamic key remapping. Before the chords were based on switch locations, but now they're based on, we have over 500 unique action codes

Riley: so we have some free tools that allows people to dynamically build chord libraries based on any unique layout. that will be a really powerful as we start to see new chording theories emerge and new layouts emerge

George: so we might actually see future products, Kickstarters, shark Tank pitches of people building new keyboards and new layouts on your technology.

Riley: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There's a there's already a growing DIY [00:19:00] community for the CharaChorder engine. And you can white label it, so they can choose whether or not they wanna stay powered by CharaChorder engine, but you could see another chording enabled keyboard, like you could even see a big company.

Riley: I I don't wanna say any names but you could see a major keyboard brand come out with the super typer 6,000 like ultra high speed chording keyboard that could be powered by CharaChorder engine, but you wouldn't even know until you like crack it open inside.

George: That's amazing. Where do people go if they want one, if they wanna follow along, if they wanna see your announcements, where should we send them?

Riley: So there's, I say TikTok is good. That's why I usually post first. Discord is also good. Actually I usually do post on Discord first, and then LinkedIn, Instagram those are all good options.

George: Riley thank you so much. This has been inspiring. It has been such an astronomical journey that you've been on. so much for your time. Riley Keen but find him on TikTok is really funny and thank you so much.

Riley: Thanks for having me and it's a pleasure to be here. I'm really excited to see your company [00:20:00] grow as well. I'll be following your podcast and your marketing agency and we're always happy to to come on and talk. Thanks for having us.

George: Awesome. Thank you.

Check out CharaChorder's Kickstarter here and their website here.