Oura Looks To Move Beyond Sleep

Working with partners as diverse as the House of Gucci and the U.S. Department of Defense, Oura wants to expand how people use its connected-health device. Dor Kilroy, a new hire and the company's first chief commercial officer, recently told attendees at MediaPost's Brand Insider Summit D2C how Oura hopes to grow.

D2C Insider: What drew you to Oura?

Dor Kilroy: I'm a long-time user of Oura. I've been wearing it for the last five years. When I found it, it was something I needed. We're all trying to juggle everything -- family, work, everything you're trying to do with your health and fitness. This device wasn't telling me to work out harder or do more, but to look after my health.

D2C Insider: Tell us about the company.

Kilroy: We started in Finland ten years ago. The Finns have this wonderful culture of really understanding health. The leadership team is now in California, but the hardware and software are in Finland.

The Oura ring started because most of us don't know whether we sleep well. It helps people understand sleep cycles as a foundation for good health. Because it's worn on the finger, not the wrist, it captures other biometrics, including heart rate and menstrual cycles. We feel we will deliver on women's empowerment around hormones, and I'm stoked about that.

D2C Insider: Many wearables, including the Apple Watch, track sleep. How do you stand out?

Kilroy: First, we invest in science and research. Credibility is so important, and as marketers, we've got to be able to stand behind what we say. Second, we have a medical board of advisors, including Matthew Walker, the well-known sleep expert at Berkeley. Third, we invest in content and education, keeping it fresh all the time.

D2C Insider: You've just announced a big move into physical retail, partnering with Best Buy. Why?

Kilroy: It's a big step. We know we have a product people love. And our retention rates are in the high nineties, which is unheard of. So what was the problem for growth? It comes down to awareness, which you can either spend your way out of, or be smarter about distributing to new people. We're not picking one lane only. We're planting seeds and seeing what we can learn from Best Buy.

D2C Insider: Partnerships are also important. Can you tell us about the collaboration with Gucci?

Kilroy: It's pretty exciting when you're a small start-up, and the House of Gucci comes knocking. It helped get us out of this "wearables are just for fitness" thinking and into fashion and lifestyle. And for Gucci, it helped that brand stay relevant with meaningful digital innovation. With just 10,000 rings [in the collaboration], it sold out in weeks. Gucci is used to that, but it was shocking to us. It's a different way to think about our brand. We think of ourselves as wearables; to them, we are in the jewelry business.

D2C Insider: Natural Cycles is another partnership. What's that led to?

Kilroy: Anyone who has been through a fertility journey knows it's not fun. It can be lonely and frustrating. Since our ring senses temperature, people can use it if they are trying to get pregnant or for birth control. And what was neat was we had no idea the growth that would come from this partnership. Suddenly, we realized we have this whole other market. Most of the users had never heard of Oura before.

D2C Insider: Oura is known for sleep. How hard is it to move into other areas?

Kilroy: It's pretty hard to advance past one feature. We are looking at the market size of other features, appealing to a group we call the Worried Well, and their concerns are much bigger than just sleep. They're trying to biohack their way to the next thing. We want to catch that tailwind, and one of the reasons we're trying to go into new channels is so we can lead with another message.

In retail, we're hoping to have a broader holistic message: What's your heart rate? How is your stress? What are your hormones doing?

D2C Insider: How do you evaluate potential partnerships?

Kilroy: I have this rudimentary exercise. I just divide a page in half and write down what we might get out of it and what they might get out of it. All good relationships are based on knowing what success looks like for both partners. It's not enough to say, "Hey, let's put these two cool brands together.'" Another helpful exercise is to say "Let's both write the newspaper headline we'd want to see."

D2C Insider: You're also building Oura's enterprise sales. What does that entail?

Kilroy: It's another kind of diversification. We have our D2C business, now our retail, and with enterprise, we're selling into corporations, too. The Department of Defense is one. It's incredibly innovative and wants to map and measure human performance with the greatest degree of accuracy. Frankly, they've shown us new features we weren't even considering, like using Oura for illness detection. And many employers are looking for new ways to support employee wellness. Corporate gifting is big, too.

D2C Insider: How are you building the Oura community?

Kilroy: Community building is hard, and it can feel expensive. So it calls for understanding how people use the product day to day, then deciding how to communicate to deepen the relationship. We've found opportunities to have better conversations with members every day. What are we pushing to them? What are we pulling? I know everyone is busy, but listening to members is so important. I spend many a late night going down the Reddit rabbit hole to see what people are saying, for example. It probably doesn't help my sleep score.

D2C Insider: Can you discuss any recent course corrections you've made?

Kilroy: Yes, which is why testing is so important. We did a small test before we made the Best Buy move, for example, and there are things we didn't get right on that test, including the resources we'd need to do it well, from legal and accounting to the end user experience. So test, test, test.

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