From Sketching to Shipping: Keen’s Story

If you’ve been following the HabitAware/Keen journey then you know that reaching this milestone has been a long time coming. (If you haven’t been following, sign up here for our e-newsletter!)

What started as a fun side project for a husband and wife trying to solve her specific hair pulling (trichotillomania) problem is now a 4-founder company poised to help people around the world.

We are over the moon to have been able to grow our Minneapolis-based team and see our homegrown experiment turn into an international collaboration developing new, interesting products in the health and wellness space.

We know Keen has the power to unleash your awareness and take control, because we’ve seen it happen firsthand. And we’re excited to be supporting you through the journey, as many of you have supported us through today.


Homemade prototypes and hack-a-thons

It seems like yesterday we were working on early prototypes and testing if my crazy wish for “something that just notified me” would work.

After being caught without eyebrows and eyelashes, I confessed my hair pulling disorder. Sameer and I then began experimenting with super low tech prototypes to help me. In one option crafted from a shopping trip to Michael’s, I wore hello kitty snap bracelets, paperclips and jingle bells.  

Then there was the not-so-genius idea of using magnets near my ears and on a thumb ring. When the two got near each other I was painfully made aware of my attempt to pull my eyebrows, as the two magnetic pieces had such a powerful attraction, they would clamp my earlobe! Ouch.

As we realized we weren’t making progress, Sameer & I pulled back to focus on work and a new baby. But the spark was ignited and I began opening up for the first time about my pulling, finding it less shameful to share that I compulsively pull out my hair than I feared.

Once I shared that “I wanted to build something to make me aware” with friends in the Minneapolis tech community, we started seeing doors open. A friend told me about a hardware hack-a-thon and this is where the HabitAware team came together.

Fate worked in many ways to bring us together. But we also have hard work to thank for that hack-a-thon success.

The first device was a bulky, barebones prototype. To be honest, it was pretty ugly! But, it kinda worked! Very early in our testing we were excited to see that I was succeeding!

From there we experimented with 3D printed cases and off-the-shelf hardware to iterate quickly. We learned that if you want to make something right, you must take the time to build it from the ground up, rather than attempting to retrofit someone else’s product.

This goes for both hardware (the physical awareness bracelet) and software (the bracelet algorithm and training mobile app), which founders, John and Kirk have owned & rocked ever since that hack day!


A unique awareness device from the ground up

After much testing, we realized how important it was to address not just a few, but all the challenges involved in making a discreet, safe, reliable, and beautiful wearable product designed to empower positive behavior change.

To build an awareness wearable that facilitates behavior change, we had to ask fundamental questions and get to the heart of the problem. For us, it wasn’t “Here’s this cool tech we know how to develop, what can we do with it?” Instead, it was “Here’s this problem we have and need to solve…what’s the best possible way to solve it?”

This exploration took time, we are blessed and grateful to those of you who stuck with us, and are very excited to be providing one of the first truly second-generation wearables out there.

While there are cheap, off-the-shelf wearables out there that can quickly be tweaked to do some of the things Keen does, they couldn’t do everything to become an effective tool against hair pulling, skin picking, nail-biting and even thumb-sucking.

If HabitAware went “quick-n-dirty” with our production process we would not have been able to bring you a product that:

  • Can be used standalone from the phone, after training with the accompanying mobile app. This is perfect for kids without smart phone and for prolonging battery life.

  • Is fully customizable, so you can:

    • Train multiple gestures / areas, not just straight up to your face

    • Track detections and see your progress

    • Set your own vibration style

    • Nickname your bracelet for easy in-app identification

  • Incorporates replacement strategies, a core component of successful behavior change

  • Meets global safety certification standards

By striving for the best, we deepened our commitment to this cause that runs deep within us, and have raised nearly $3,000 for TLC Foundation for BFRBs so far! That commitment has been acknowledged again and again, each time we receive an order or accolade, and we are grateful for it.

While we know there is always room for improvement, we are proud to serve our BFRB community with the Keen we are NOW SHIPPING!!


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The Keen2 bracelet was created out of personal need. It's gesture-detection technology allows it to vibrate when it detects you doing your behavior, and sends you a signal to take care of yourself. Identify triggers, find patterns, and redirect urges with Keen2.

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