Inside Vibease is an Atmel ATTiny MCU, a Bluetooth module, lithium polymer battery, and vibration motor. Tio chose Bluetooth because it is low latency, does not require a Web connection, and is easier to set up than WiFi
"Once the phone is connected to the vibrator, the phone will no longer connect to the Internet," Tio said, describing one technique for preventing hacking.
Vibease comes in Bluetooth 2.1 and Bluetooth Low Energy versions for older and newer handsets "We didn't use Bluetooth dual mode (2.1 + 4.0) because it's still expensive at about $25."
The choice of a Bluetooth module doubled the cost of a five dollar Bluetooth chip. But it avoided the delay in designing a small board and getting it FCC and CE certified, Tio explained.
Tio bootstrapped the startup for the first year using his own savings and a personal loan. "I wouldn't recommend others to take a personal loan -- it's very risky."
Later Vibease got $80,000 from angel investors and the HAXLR8R incubator. It is raising a Series A round online now.
"One of the best decision we made is joining HAXLR8R, a hardware accelerator based in Shenzhen and San Francisco. In Shenzhen, making prototypes is cheap and fast, so we can do many iterations quickly. We can get a new printed circuit board in a day for $35 or in three days for $8.
"Our prototype before HAXLR8R was big, heavy, made in plastic, using AAA batteries and not waterproof, but within three months in the program, we managed to make a much better version."
The current 3.1-inch device is made in a silicone material and is rechargeable, waterproof, and wearable. "We also found a manufacturing partner, one of the top sex toys factories in China," says Tio.
Vibese got a rush of media attention when it was first formed, including an article in the Financial Times. "When I quit my job and told my bosses I was going to do a startup, they thought I was crazy, considering I had good pay, but when they saw me on the news I guess they flipped off their chairs."
But his fame is carefully managed. "While most of my friends know what I'm doing, my parents think I'm just developing a mobile app."