The smartphone whisperer who invented a portable wireless charger

Yoolox cofounder David Photien wanted a better way to deal with the 'low-battery' warning when he was on the go

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

Picture yourself alone at a bar, waiting for a friend who’s running late. You scroll through Instagram, answer emails, refresh Twitter. Then your phone dies.

It’s a nightmare scenario for which David Photien has a solution: Yoolox, a line of portable, wireless charging devices that work on all Qi compatible phones, including the Apple iPhone XS, Google Pixel 3, and Samsung Galaxy Fold. (Qi is the approved interface standard for wireless charging.)

Photien came up with the idea at the Hong Kong International Airport a year and a half ago, over drinks with his friend Pascal Bosten. “I wanted to do something new; he wanted to do something new,” Photien says, and they both happened to be low on battery during their conversation. “We said, ‘Let’s do something in this area.’” They brought on a third cofounder, Ralf Soukup, started scouting suppliers in China, and, within six months, rolled out the Power Bank, a wireless, portable charger that, unlike its competitors, features suction cups that keep your phone from sliding around when it’s in, say, your pocket or purse. (“It’s solved the problem of wireless charging on the go,” Gizmodo wrote.)

But the Power Bank (which has been profitable “more or less from the beginning”) is merely a launchpad for the company. “The next step is ‘How can we create an infrastructure around wireless charging?’” Photien says. “We believe in a world that is completely free of cables and cords. At some point, you will just have wireless charging all around you… in your nightstand, your dinner table, in your desk at work, maybe even in your public transportation.”

Yoolox recently launched its wireless charging spot, which can be seamlessly retrofitted into tabletops, and they’re piloting it at hotels, coffee shops, and WeWork 70 Wilson St in London, where Photien is a WeWork Labs member. (Yoolox is a German company, but Photien travels between homes in London, where his boyfriend lives, and Munich.) They’re also seeking seed funding to develop the Yoolox Air 2.0, a smart version of the charging spot that can communicate with your phone. “When you get close to a spot, there will be a pop-up message saying something like, ‘Welcome. Are you satisfied with the service today?’” Photien explains. Below, he shares his diary of a recent workweek.

“We believe in a world that is completely free of cables and cords,” says Photien. “At some point, you will just have wireless charging all around you.”

Monday

7:30 a.m. Wake up (in Munich) and check email. Good news: Our U.S. distributor has placed another order for our portable wireless chargers.

8 a.m. Check in for tonight’s flight to London, send a good-morning message to my boyfriend, and get ready for the day.

9 a.m. Pick up my passport at the Chinese Visa Center for my trip to Shanghai on Saturday. I’m going to meet with our supplier, who invited us to CES Asia. It’s quite challenging to find one—you can end up having a product that isn’t right for the market or doesn’t meet your quality expectations. We were able to avoid this pitfall because of my experience with Chinese suppliers at my previous job.

10 a.m. Call Pascal. More good news: Two investors are interested in meeting with us. This is our first fundraising round—the company is so far completely bootstrapped.

11 a.m. Call with a German investor. We agree to meet in Berlin next week.

12:30 p.m. Meet my sports buddy Jan at the open-air gym at the Isar River. It’s very sunny, and after 1.5 hours, I’m ready for a shower.

3 p.m. Start preparing for our meetings in China next week. I’ve blocked out an hour for this, but calls, emails, and text messages constantly interrupt me, so I decide to continue later tonight.

4:30 p.m. Leave for the airport. My flight boards at 8 p.m.

5 p.m. I receive a call about a strategic partnership. Can’t say much, but we’ve been waiting for this particular opportunity for a long time. It’s so rewarding when the work pays off.

6:30 p.m. Eat dinner at the airport lounge while working on the presentation for next week.

8 p.m. Board the two-hour flight from Munich to London. I continue working on the presentation, and prep our pitch deck for an investor. I also watch a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

11:30 p.m. Have a beer with my boyfriend, check my emails and Whatsapp, and go to bed.

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. Check my calendar. No important meetings today, so I put on my uniform: T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. When I worked for corporations, my standard uniform was a suit. Watching my boyfriend put on a dress shirt, I realize I am not missing that at all.

8 a.m. Leave the house. Pascal calls. He’s on his way to a hotel near Düsseldorf to install charging spots in their bar and restaurant for a pilot. This hotel is part of a global chain, so the collaboration is very important for us.

8:30 a.m. Get off the bus and get a granola muesli.

10 a.m. Meeting with Kim, my WeWork Labs manager. Yoolox has started a small pilot of our charging spots with five desks at WeWork Labs, and the early results are quite positive. My WeWork coworkers love them.

11 a.m. Call with a London-based marketing agency. We’ve recently started looking into marketing opportunities apart from our PR work, which was our focus in the beginning.

12:30 p.m. Update call with Ralf.

1 p.m. Head to the gym for a 1.5-hour workout session. I’m feeling energized! Grab sushi and call Pascal on my way back to the office.

2:30 p.m. We got approved to install another 80 charging spots at WeWork Labs.

3 p.m. Meet with Nate, a community lead from WeWork Waterloo, which will open later in 2019. He’s heard about our WeWork Labs pilot and wants to learn more.

5 p.m. Write emails and complete some admin tasks… busy work, but it needs to be done.

6:30 p.m. Grab a salad at Tesco and eat it while writing emails.

8:30 p.m. Leave the office. Pascal calls—we’re excited about the extension of our WeWork Labs pilot. It’s too bad he is not in London tonight. Good times should be spent celebrating with everyone.

11:30 p.m. Bed.

They’re also seeking seed funding to develop the Yoolox Air 2.0, a smart version of the charging spot that can communicate with your phone.

Wednesday

7 a.m. My alarm goes off and I’m tired, but I need to get up because I have a call with our Chinese partners at 8 a.m. I get ready, grab a yogurt from the fridge, and run for the bus.

8 a.m. Call with Ralf and our Chinese partners to discuss the agenda for next week.

10 a.m. Call with Amazon Europe. They want to make us a vendor. We’re currently a seller, which means when an order comes in, we send it out. Being a vendor is totally different: Amazon buys the product, then resells it to their customers.

11:30 a.m. Head to the gym.

12:30 p.m. Grab lunch at a Vietnamese place.

3 p.m. Call with the Labs manager of WeWork 9 Devonshire Square to get her advice on a VC fund that’s interested in investing.

4 p.m. Lunch made me tired, so I take a walk outside and grab a coffee.  

5 p.m. Follow up on sales leads.

6:30 p.m. Leave the office to go to a networking event hosted by Unbound London.

7:30 p.m. The venue has a stunning view of London from the 28th floor. I grab a beer, mingle, and meet fellow entrepreneurs. Networking is challenging for me, to be honest, but it’s good to meet new people, so I always try.

9 p.m. I’m about to leave when I run into a friend from the WeWork Labs community. We have a couple of drinks and talk about our lives as entrepreneurs. There are challenges every day, and it feels good to connect with people who understand.

11 p.m. Grab a burger and mac-and-cheese at Byron Burger. It’s been a long day and I can feel it.

Thursday

8:30 a.m. Grab a yogurt from the fridge, head out, and squeeze onto the Northern line to London Bridge. Too many people commute in this town.

9 a.m. Arrive at Central Hall Westminster for the Startup Grind Europe Conference and stroll around the startup booths.

12 p.m. Grab lunch with fellow WeWork Labs members.

3 p.m. Attend an inspirational session on Accelerating Underestimated Founders with Arlan Hamilton, who built a venture-capital fund, Backstage Capital, while homeless.

6 p.m. Meet a friend for an early dinner. He got us tickets for the Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5 and we have a fabulous time.

11 p.m. Arrive home and pack my bag for an early flight back to Munich.

Friday

5 a.m. Alarm goes off. Surprisingly, I’m not too tired. I jump in the shower and request an Uber.

6:30 a.m. The flight is supposed to board in 30 minutes, so I grab a bowl of muesli in the airport lounge, then we’re delayed due to a sick passenger. These things happen when you travel a lot.

12 p.m. Arrive in Munich.

1 p.m. Meet my gym buddy Jan for a run along the Isar River.

4 p.m. Follow up on sales leads. Notice that a lot of people added me on LinkedIn after the London Unbound reception and Startup Grind Conference. Networking works!

7 p.m. Meet an old friend for a beer and dinner. It feels good to touch base.

9 p.m. Unpack and then repack my suitcase for my trip to Shanghai tomorrow morning. Sometimes I feel like I live out of a suitcase.

11 p.m. I’m tired, but I watch an episode of Designated Survivor on Netflix before going to sleep. Looking back on this diary, I’m really surprised to see that I work all the time, every single hour. When I was working for someone else it felt bad; I was always thinking, I need a break. Why do I do this? With Yoolox, the work is rewarding. At the end of the day, I know what I do this for.


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