Bellabeat Leaf
Me and my Leaf

I am drawn to leaves. In patterns on things I love, enjoyed on walks outside, or unfurling in hot water. I saw an ad for Bellabeat’s Leaf activity tracker, and I fell in love. It isn’t plastic. I can wear it in several ways – around my wrist, as a necklace, and clipped to my clothes. Bellabeat is a start-up (Y Combinator, folks), and I’m a sucker for a start-up. And of course, it’s a leaf.

So for me, this is tech that flaunts my love for tea. Sure, it’s a stretch, I understand.

Find their marketing pitch here. Long story short: Pretty for the ladies, tracks steps, sleep, cycles and breathing. And horses. Because horses.

I received my Leaf about a month ago, give or take. I was in the last stage of a second-round release and waited for about a month before I was told it had shipped. Add an additional week after the label was printed in California and the company swore that it had shipped but USPS wasn’t tracking, information appeared in the tracking showing that it had shipped a week later than promised by the company.

The rest of this review pretty much serves as a metaphor for my recent experiences being involved in a start-up. For years I’ve been happily consuming inspiration from technology leaders and visionaries who have set a couple of themes for me and my professional work – transparency being the strongest. Based on the amount of data that is available to just about any person, a company that can’t be transparent will have a hard time building trust and loyalty. I thought most companies had received this message. Not the case.

This small shipping issue was simply a symptom of a bigger problem.

Soon I found out that inactivity alerts and alarms were either not sounding or vibrating so low that they were undetectable. I’d reach out to customer service and receive a “wait 24 hours” message, only to receive a non-answer 3-4 days later. Messages back and forth on Facebook involved bright canned sentences and emoticons. No solutions. A couple weeks went by, and an Android update was sent, which solved my issues with the alarms, but not the inactivity alerts.

But it monitors my steps and sleep all right. It does not monitor breathing, as is advertised. Instead it leads you through breathing exercises initiated by the wearer, and monitors how well you breath along. And I can add in my cycle information, but I wouldn’t call that “tracking” the way it does for steps and sleep (I wondered how that would work. Wonder no more!)

There are simple steps Bellabeat could have taken to keep me as a fan instead of a disgruntled customer.

  1. When the product ships, let me know at that time. Apologize if it’s late. Don’t lie about it.
  2. Answer an email in 48 hours if you say 48 hours. Answering me several days later with a new email address to contact (add an additional 48+ hour wait) is a fail. Period.
  3. If they had said the Leaf tracked steps and sleep, and allowed users to enter cycle information which the app would then use to alert for future cycles, I think that would have been enough for me to purchase it. Tell me the app has breathing exercises I can access any time to stay focused, and I’d think “what a great bonus!” Sold. Done.
  4. Tell us when a product update is happening, and let us know when it’s running late. Tell us what’s in the update, and what’s on the roadmap. Then make it happen.

It all comes down to one word: Transparency. You’re good enough as you are, Bellabeat. Stop beating around the bush (see what I did there? Leaf? Bush? Don’t forget to tip the bartender).

And that’s where I am with start-ups in general. I’m tired of seeing many promise more than what they are. It’s exhausting and disappointing to have to cut through what is real and what is smoke and mirrors. Be what you are. Make sure you can share information on what you do and how you do it, because if you can’t or don’t, someone else will. Someone else will tell your story. Today that someone is me.

Additional accessories are supposed to ship in a week or so for the second-rounders, as a thanks for our patience. I’m not holding my breath. I hope they prove me wrong.

A sigh, a headshake, and a microphone drop.

Someone make me a cup of tea.