AssiStep is an award-winning stair walker that makes it easier and safer to climb stairs and enables people to live in their own homes as long as possible. The company delivers the product to 19 countries now, including many European countries, and even Japan. We have talked to Halvor Wold, one of the founders and the CEO of Assitech AS.
6AM: Tell us about your team?
HW: I’m very lucky to lead a dynamic and execution-oriented team, covering competency areas within exports, online marketing, production and product development. We’re situated in Fossegrenda, Trondheim and are handling administration, marketing, product assembly, product development and warehousing under one roof. Assitech AS was founded by myself, Eirik Medbø and Ingrid Lonar while we were finishing our master's degrees at NTNU.
6AM: Do you remember how you got the idea for the product?
HW: It all started with a problem statement actually, not a specific product idea. During our studies at the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, we contacted many research institutions to get inspiration on business ideas to work on. One of these research facilities had done a project on fall prevention and said that many people are having massive problems climbing stairs in their homes. This resonated well with me, as my grandmother at the same time was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and was starting to have trouble climbing the stairs in her own home. After digging deep into the problem of stair climbing among the elderly, we started working on concepts that could provide a solution to this.
6AM: I’ve heard a lot (and, of course, seen it personally) about you, guys, being featured on Tech Insider, Daily Mail, 9GAG, etc. Tell us about how this happened: did these platforms contact you first or you contacted them personally in order to be on their SoMe? Did you “wake up famous" when you saw your product going viral?
HW: We started ramping up our export initiatives in 2018 as the product was mature enough to allow us to “go global” at that point. Prior to launching our new website in August 2018, I thought it would be a good idea to roll out a massive marketing campaign through social media. Simone and I did a lot of research on how we could be included in the biggest SoMe-channels in English speaking countries as well as in France and Italy. We made a suitable 60-second video which we thought had the potential to “go viral” and translated it into English, French and Italian. We then contacted about 40-50 of the largest SoMe-channels which publish “viral” content in these countries. Most of them didn’t reply, but when we started getting traction on some of the channels, then suddenly all sorts of SoMe-channels started to contact us and publish news about the AssiStep, including Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, Tech Insider, etc. In 2018 and 2019 this single video we made reached over 50 million people globally, without spending a single dime in marketing costs. In 2019, France was the country where sold the highest number of AssiSteps, and this all goes back to the SoMe-campaign we did in the fall of 2018 in France.
6AM: AssiStep is an award-winning stair assistant. What are some of the awards?
HW: In 2019 we won the award for “Best Solution” by the renowned SilverEco organization that is working on topics of aging in place. We were flown to the award ceremony in Tokyo, Japan, and met a Japanese company named Daido Kogyo, who is today selling the AssiStep throughout Japan. In 2016 we won 2nd place (out of >300 companies) for “Best Innovation” by the Nordic Independent Living Challenge.
6AM: What are some challenges that you faced along the way? (unreliable supplier, irresponsible business partner, maybe even someone stealing your idea)
HW: I think that a large part of what defines you as an entrepreneur, is your ability to handle uncertainty and get yourself and your team up from the deep emotional valleys most of us pass on the way from starting a company until it reaches a more mature state. We had a big setback in 2014, two years after the company was founded, because the product failed an important strength test, which we had worked towards for 6 months. Our cash balance was running low, and we were still in the pre-revenue phase. We could have chosen to say “ok, that was it. We gave it our best shot”. Luckily we had just secured investor backing at that point, so we felt obligated to do everything in our power to get through that difficult time. 9 months later the product completed the necessary strength test of 180 kg, and we rolled out our product launch in Norway.
6AM: You have done an impressive number of international meetings. Can you give some advice on how to prepare for negotiations with a representative of another culture? (f.ex. have you ever googled “how to negotiate with people from Germany/Japan/Canada”?)
HW: We’re delivering the AssiStep through distribution partners in 19 countries now, including many European countries, as well as Japan. One of my biggest regrets is actually that I didn’t choose to learn German in high-school. I’ve learned a lot about how people from different countries communicate and negotiate, and some of the stereotypes I’ve had, have been confirmed through that. For example, in Japan, all the people I’ve met have been extremely respectful, even when negotiating, which I think we can learn a lot from. One of the important aspects, when you negotiate with someone from a different cultural background, is to understand that their ways of communication are to a large extent connected to their culture. So you shouldn’t necessarily take things personally if someone from France, for example, shows more emotions during a discussion compared to someone from Japan.
6AM: What is the most challenging about the situation right now?
HW: Since we’re producing and installing an accessibility aid for a COVID-19 risk group (mostly seniors 60+), we have not been able to carry out installations in normal fashion the last couple of months. In addition to that, our export sales have grown significantly during the last few years. In our biggest export markets, our distribution partners have not been allowed to install the AssiStep or do long-distance traveling within their country either. This effectively means that our sales volume has gone down the last few months, and we, therefore, need to reduce our short-term investments and cash spending until we can operate as normal. Luckily, things seem to be opening up gradually in Norway now, but we expect export sales to still be significantly down in the coming months.
In the picture: AssiTech team
In the picture: AssiStep
Photocredit: Assitech AS