Meet Akis Evangelidis, a seasoned marketing professional with over a decade of experience in the technology industry. As the Co-Founder and Head of Marketing for Nothing, a vibrant consumer tech brand based in London, Akis is at the forefront of a remarkable journey to redefine technology and make it fun again. Under his leadership, Nothing has achieved extraordinary milestones, selling over 1.5 million products in less than two years. The company’s innovative Phone (1) received recognition as the Times’ best invention of the year and was honored with the Red Dot Design award.
Can you tell us more about your journey from VP of France at OnePlus to becoming the co-founder and head of marketing at Nothing? What motivated you to make this transition?
I began my career at [previous company], where I was responsible for launching products in Sony’s smartphone category during a time when the company had a thriving business. However, early in my career, I realized that the traditional nine-to-five work routine wasn’t a fit for me. That’s when I made the decision to join OnePlus, a company that was just starting in Shenzhen, China. What caught my attention was their innovative approach to marketing, as they sold their products through an invitation system. I became part of OnePlus in Shenzhen, and as the company expanded into the European market, I played a role in launching the brand in Europe and establishing the business in France.
During this period, I witnessed a shift in the tech industry. We, the co-founding team at Nothing, had grown up during the launch of the first iPod and the first iPhone. Back then, technology felt like an empowering and exciting force, and we eagerly watched keynotes. However, we’ve noticed a change in our relationship with technology. The excitement and optimism have waned, replaced by negative connotations. Issues such as smartphone overuse, data privacy concerns, and a lack of innovation in the industry have emerged. It was a moment of realization for us.
At that time, I had just turned 30, along with some of our co-founders, and we believed it was the right moment to take a chance. We were fortunate to have the support of renowned tech leaders who trusted our vision. With their backing, we secured a seed round that included prominent figures like Tony Fadell, the inventor of the iPod, Casey Neistat, a figure we admired, Steve Hoffman, and Kevin Lin, the founder of Twitch. They resonated with our analysis of the technology landscape, even though we didn’t have all the solutions at that point. Fast forward three years, and we are about to announce that we’ve sold over 2 million products, indicating that we are moving in the right direction.
This journey has been a testament to our belief that technology can be reimagined and reinvigorated, and we’re determined to bring back the excitement and optimism that we once had about it.
Nothing has achieved remarkable success selling over 1.5, almost 2 million products in less than two years. What unique strategies and approaches did you employ to achieve this rapid growth in the customer tech industry?
Initially, our approach was relatively straightforward. When we entered the industry, everything seemed remarkably similar. Today, if you place ten different smartphones in front of people, they might identify the latest iPhone, but beyond that, if you conceal the logos, it becomes challenging to discern which brand each one represents because they all share a striking resemblance. Therefore, our initial strategy revolved around setting ourselves apart through design differentiation.
Our endeavor to introduce design as a distinguishing factor garnered a fair share of skepticism. Many believed our aspiration was nothing short of audacious, and success seemed like a distant possibility. However, a select few investors placed their faith in our team’s capabilities. We are an extensive team of eight co-founders, each contributing their unique expertise. In an industry like this, there’s no grace period for startups. From day one, you’re in competition with the world’s biggest brands. The end-users, in the grand scheme of things, don’t concern themselves with the age of a company; they decide based on the product’s appeal compared to established giants like Apple or Samsung.
We initiated our journey with a focus on design differentiation and emphasizing a product’s core functionalities. Remarkably, we rapidly gained traction, primarily within the creative and design communities. Surprisingly, even lifestyle publications that typically don’t delve into tech, such as Highsnobiety and Nobility, took an interest in our innovative approach. Our first product launch occurred through StockX, a platform primarily associated with sneakers, and the product retailed for over $1,000. The limited stock initially constrained us. However, our product’s distinctive design, featuring a semi-transparent design, enabled us to break through the market, resulting in the sale of half a million units of our first-generation products. This success, in turn, enabled us to secure more investments, ultimately bringing us closer to realizing the dream of launching our smartphone.
In 2022, we introduced our first smartphone, which received an encouraging response with the sale of over 600,000 units. Following this achievement, we launched a second smartphone. In the interim, we raised additional funds, allowing us to establish our in-house software team. With this addition, our focus expanded beyond design differentiation to include what we refer to as “design innovation.” This is particularly evident when considering the smartphone’s user interface, as we aim to encourage more intentional and meaningful usage. We recognize the common experience of unlocking one’s smartphone with a specific task in mind, only to get lost in mindless scrolling for an extended period. Therefore, we are committed to reimagining the overall user experience by minimizing such distractions and fostering a more purposeful interaction with the smartphone. It’s an exciting journey.
Q 3. Nothing phone One received significant recognition, including being awarded the best innovation of 2022 by Time Magazine. What inspired the design and concept behind Phone One and how did it contribute to the brand success?
Well, with Nothing Phone One, our primary focus was on design innovation, but we also wanted to introduce a functional element to the equation. That’s when we came up with the idea of incorporating what we call the “elephant face” on the back of the phone. This unique feature serves to minimize screen time by providing visual cues about your phone’s activity. The goal was to reduce the constant need to glance at the screen and prevent distractions from other apps. This approach allowed us to maintain our commitment to design differentiation while ensuring that the core user functionalities remained at the forefront.
We consciously avoided diving into the specs race that’s quite prevalent in the industry. You see devices with exaggerated specifications like 100x zoom, five camera modules, and other flashy elements. For us, this was not the path to follow. We were more interested in delivering a meaningful user experience by focusing on the essential features. Our design philosophy set us apart without the need for flashy, unnecessary elements. This proved to be sufficient for us to break through the market.
Since then, we’ve continually expanded our product capabilities. When we launched Phone One, we had to outsource the software development because we realized relatively late in the process that we didn’t have the time to build an internal team from scratch. This posed a significant challenge, but we successfully navigated it for Phone One. However, for Phone Two, we took a different approach and built an in-house software team. Now, we have a team of over 100 professionals dedicated to software development. The software experience with Phone Two has been a significant improvement, and it’s now considered one of the best in the market.
Our operating system is developed in-house, and while it’s based on Android, the entire interaction is tailored to our unique approach. We’ve introduced a widget system designed to minimize the need to navigate through your app drawer and dive into individual apps. The user experience revolves around priority notifications, which are indicated by a distinctive icon, ensuring that you focus on what’s truly important as soon as you unlock your phone. The widgets provide essential information without the need to delve deeply into the apps.
Additionally, we’ve collaborated with Google to introduce a monochrome mode, a feature unique to our brand. This mode eliminates the use of color tactics that many apps employ to grab your attention and serve as distractions. By implementing this mode, we encourage users to focus more on what they’re searching for, rather than being sidetracked by the myriad of colorful distractions while navigating their smartphones.
Nothing aims to bring artistry and fashion back to tech industry. Can you elaborate on that?
For us, it represented the easily attainable aspect of addressing our growing sense of dissatisfaction with the existing options in the market. We felt that the landscape lacked excitement, and that’s when we began focusing on what we like to call “technical warmth.” This concept is all about celebrating the craftsmanship behind the product, and it involves an incredible level of attention to detail that breathes life into our designs. Our approach extends beyond the surface, even within our earbuds. We consider not only the external aesthetics but also the internals, which are often overlooked by other brands because they remain hidden beneath the surface. However, for us, each internal component is part of the design, and it’s treated with the same level of care and customization. It’s a form of artistry, where everything is exposed, but we also carefully maintain a delicate balance.
We pay a great deal of attention to achieving the right equilibrium, ensuring that the product maintains what we like to refer to as “human warmth.” You might notice a little elephant emblem, which is more pronounced on Phone One. This design was inspired by the work of an artist named Enzo Mari, who used to create intricate animal kingdom puzzles. Additionally, our initial inspiration was to introduce more curves into the printed flexible circuits (FPCs). Typically, smartphones are built with a primary motherboard and straight connections. To achieve a more inviting and less sterile appearance, we incorporated curves, acknowledging that some connections could be compromised slightly without impacting data transmission. This design element comes to life when the phone is turned on and is linked to the SIM tray.
The aim is to infuse the product with more human warmth, making design decisions that reflect a sense of humanity rather than purely being driven by rigid product optimization. This approach also adds layers to the product, allowing users to continually discover new details and textures. An immense amount of effort has gone into the product’s creation, and it extends far beyond mere industrial design. It’s a form of true artistry.
The phone one features innovative technologies such as the transparent back with 900 Led lights. How does these features redefine user experience and communicate in the tech savvy world?
You’ve touched upon this, but I’d like to delve a bit deeper. When we develop our products, we adhere to three key principles that define our brand’s differentiation strategy. Let me elaborate:
The first pillar centers around design innovation. This encompasses not only design differentiation but also what we term “joyful interaction.” It involves adding elements that bring a sense of delight and surprise to the user experience. For instance, consider our earbuds. While we could have employed small pins on the inside to secure them, we chose a different path. We introduced a larger dip that doubles as a “Widget Fidget,” allowing users to play with it using their fingers. These are small, unexpected moments of joy, not necessarily rooted in user data or explicit requests, but rather a touch of humanity that we infuse into our products.
The second pillar focuses on creating a positive-sum game in our interactions with technology. As I mentioned earlier, technology has often been associated with value extraction, leading to concerning rates of depression, especially among the younger generation. Instead of dictating how people should live their lives, we aim to provide a more considered approach to technology usage. We want to encourage a more intentional user experience that doesn’t trick users into becoming absorbed in a digital world they never intended to enter.
For instance, our LED system at the back of our devices is fully customizable and provides users with a way to understand what’s happening on their phones without constantly glancing at the screen. We’ve introduced a “priority one” feature that identifies and signals important notifications, prompting users to check their screens for crucial updates. This approach aims to streamline the user experience, allowing users to access notifications directly via our Widget system and home page without the need to sift through numerous apps and potentially get distracted by unrelated content.
What role does your personalization play in Nothing’s approach, in product design and the user experience? How does it set you apart from the competitive tech market?
Indeed, self-expression has become an increasingly vital aspect of our lives. The need for a product that stands out and deviates from the norm was long overdue. This essentially boils down to the fundamental principle of design differentiation. We recognized the significance of offering a product that allows individuals to break free from the uniformity of the masses. Not everyone desires the same cookie-cutter experience. This concept of individuality is perhaps the most evident aspect of our approach.
When we dive into personalization, we find that it’s a multifaceted topic that begins with enabling users to fully customize their homepages based on their preferences. This feature serves as a guide, assisting users in organizing their digital space according to their unique tastes. However, the real breakthrough in personalization will come with the integration of artificial intelligence (AI). AI has already made its mark, with platforms like Chat GPT demonstrating its vast potential to a broad audience. Nevertheless, there’s a crucial training aspect to AI that involves teaching it to truly understand individual behaviors and preferences. This training process will help AI anticipate users’ needs and present information in a way that aligns with their desires.
Ultimately, AI will play a pivotal role in personalization, surpassing our understanding of what users want and how they want it. This is a field we are actively exploring, and the potential for AI-driven personalization is immense.
Could you tell us more about the Nothing ecosystem of iconic and connected tech products? How does this ecosystem reflect the brand’s vision and strategy?
Absolutely, our approach to the product ecosystem is a long-term, gradual journey. Currently, our primary focus is on expanding into the realm of music. When we envision the ultimate user experience, it’s a state where technology seamlessly integrates into your life, becoming almost imperceptible. You don’t have to actively think about it; it just works harmoniously. This represents the ultimate goal of our long-term ecosystem vision.
However, it’s important to recognize that this vision will be realized step by step, and it’s a long-term endeavor. Right now, our immediate focus lies on perfecting the smartphone and enhancing the overall software experience. From there, we will gradually introduce various products that complement and surround the smartphone. What sets our approach apart is our commitment to maintaining an open ecosystem. While Apple is renowned for its integration, it operates within a closed and controlled environment. We want to empower users with the ability to choose which products they wish to include in their personal ecosystem while ensuring they enjoy an optimal and seamless experience. This is the direction we are working diligently towards.
What can you share about Nothing first retail space, nothing store, soho in London. How does this physical presence enhance your relationship with your customers?
Our decision to open the store in Soho came shortly after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The location was strategically chosen, nestled in the heart of Soho, right next to Supreme, and it resonated well with our brand’s close association with the lifestyle segment. We saw an opportunity and decided to seize it, as the timing felt right. We had an exceptional design team, led by a talented designer, and we thought, “Why not give it a shot?” The outcome has been nothing short of remarkable.
Our store’s launch, featuring the Phone Two, drew an impressive crowd of nearly 300 people, with queues stretching all around the block. Media outlets, including prominent street culture publications like Highsnobiety, even commented on the fact that our queues rivaled those of Supreme. In a striking image, our store had lines of people while the Supreme store next door was comparatively deserted.
Recently, we also introduced the CMF brand under Nothing, and it’s gaining substantial traction. The store has seen a substantial amount of foot traffic, with many people coming in to explore our offerings and engage with us. The store has two floors, allowing us to host a variety of events. Thus far, it’s proven to be a successful venture for us, and while we contemplate the possibility of opening more stores, the initial move into the retail space has been quite promising. In the highly competitive and rapidly evolving tech industry, this step has been a notable achievement.
How do you anticipate the future of nothing and the tech industry as a whole over the next few years?
Nothing is committed to enhancing our product capabilities and extending our presence to new markets. Presently, we have a strong foothold in the Middle East with over 1000 stores, and we aim to sustain this growth. However, we also recognize that the future of personal computing may not be centered around smartphones and conventional apps due to inherent limitations. These limitations include the inconvenience of traditional smartphone use, privacy concerns, and other issues.
We are actively exploring various avenues to address these challenges. These avenues include innovations like smart glasses and voice assistance technologies, which have shown promise. However, we understand that these solutions may not be suitable for everyone, given their intrusiveness and cost. We are also aware of the growing concerns about privacy in technology.
Our pursuit of the next significant breakthrough in personal computing has led us to consider a hybrid experience, potentially involving mixed reality. We envision a future where technology seamlessly integrates into our lives without the need for screens that block our interactions with the world. While existing solutions tend to be heavy and costly, we anticipate that ongoing developments will lead to more lightweight and affordable options.
We are enthusiastic about the potential for a more convenient and seamless experience in personal computing. In our view, there will be a substantial shift away from conventional smartphones to address the limitations that society currently faces in its interaction with technology.