The Future Is Now: Francois Kress of Feelmore Labs On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Mental Health
Cove is Feelmore Labs’ inaugural product powered by neuroscience. We noticed a gap in the wearable tech space and sought out to create a consumer device that helped people sleep better, reduce stress and ultimately improve resilience to stress. With this in mind, we found a way to activate a pre-existing pathway in the human body, naturally connecting the skin with the part of the brain that regulates stress and emotions.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Francois Kress, the Co-Founder and CEO of Feelmore Labs.
Since 2017, François Kress has been the Co-Founder & CEO of the Apex Neuro Holdings Group, a Series B group of companies developing innovative consumer and clinical neuromodulation technologies. Apex Neuro is backed by Arch Venture Partners, True Ventures and M13 among others.
Mr. Kress has held multiple leadership positions in the luxury industry over the past 25 years, most recently as President & CEO of Carolina Herrera, a global fashion brand headquartered in New York City. Prior to that, Mr. Kress held numerous positions within LVMH (Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton), the world leader in luxury as President of Louis Vuitton Thailand from 1998 to 2000, CEO of LVMH Fashion Group Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) from 2000 to 2002, and President of Fendi North America from 2002 to 2004. He then joined the Italian family-owned jewelry company Bulgari as CEO for North and South America from 2004 to 2009, after which he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Prada and Miu Miu USA from 2010to 2012, when he joined The Row, the American luxury brand founded by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as Global President & COO.
Finally, Mr. Kress served as Global President for Stuart Weitzman LLC, a global footwear company acquired by Coach in 2015. Mr. Kress currently serves as a Board Member of TrueFacet, Apex Neuro Holdings, Myndblue and of the Luxury Education Foundation in New York. He also sits on the Advisory Board of Modern Meadow, a leather biofabrication company. François Kress has also served as a member of the Board of Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (KYTH) since 2010 and until the company’s very successful acquisition by Allergan in September 2015.
Mr. Kress received a Master of Science from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, France and degrees in International Business and Civil Engineering from the Corps des Ponts et Chausseesin Paris, France. Mr. Kress provides an extensive background in branding, global sales, marketing, operational and strategic planning, as well as global executive and leadership expertise.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While working for prominent fashion and luxury brands for more than 20 years (LVMH, Bulgari, Prada, among others), I served as a board member for a promising VC-backed biotech company operating in the field of high-end cosmetic prescription injectables.
Having been educated as a scientist (mathematics mostly), this board tenure helped me bridge my experience in luxury with the world of science and technology. It appeared to me that there was a clear need out there for better understanding of customers’ needs and better branding, especially when it came to life sciences and biotechnologies. One thing led to another and building on all the relationships I forged in biopharmaceuticals, I was put in touch with a group of scientists based in Cambridge, MA, who were working on the assumption that you could stimulate targeted cranial nerves by vibrating on various parts of the body. Some preliminary studies coming out of Harvard Medical School and MIT showed great promise. This was the start of what soon became Feelmore Labs, which today, is a NYC- based wellness technology company led by myself and a diverse team of scientists, medical professionals, and business and technology executives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Back in 1996, while working for LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, #1 luxury group in the world), I was sent from Paris to Saipan (CNMI) for nearly a year to build and operate a French department store catering for Japanese tourists. At the time, I had no international experience, my command of the English language was average and I had absolutely no retail experience, nor any knowledge of Asian markets. Imagine being parachuted on a 12-mile long island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no staff or support team locally and building a store, hiring staff from Japan and the Philippines, creating and implementing a marketing plan to create traffic, etc. Retrospectively, this was a huge leap of faith from LVMH for which I am grateful as I learned so much during that assignment. It was a humbling leadership exercise and probably built the foundations for the next 25 years of my career of working outside of my home country and running extremely diverse teams all over the world. Being exposed and challenged early on by a great diversity of people, cultures and situations has made me a much stronger leader.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Cove is Feelmore Labs’ inaugural product powered by neuroscience. We noticed a gap in the wearable tech space and sought out to create a consumer device that helped people sleep better, reduce stress and ultimately improve resilience to stress. With this in mind, we found a way to activate a pre-existing pathway in the human body, naturally connecting the skin with the part of the brain that regulates stress and emotions. Our patented technology silently applies gentle vibrations behind the ears that initiate a natural biological pathway between the skin and the brain. By harnessing the skin-brain connection, Cove is able to activate the part of the brain that regulates anxiety, leading to a profound and durable sense of calm. Scientific studies show that consistent daily use of the device in 20-minute increments results in reduced stress and enhanced sleep, ultimately improving resilience to stress. As Cove doesn’t require dedicated time or effort, our goal is for users to seamlessly incorporate it into their daily routines, using it as a resource to find a healthy balance between stress and relaxation. Cove helps you put on peace of mind.
How do you think this might change the world?
We certainly think it will help the world and see this as an important component in the future of self-care. We have scientifically proven that our technology can naturally and safely harness the skin-brain connection to durably improve your ability to manage a critical aspect of your life: your stress response as well as your long-term resilience to stress.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Given the extensive rigor of the research and development of our breakthrough technology (over 4 years in the making) I can confidently say that we don’t have any concern at this stage. Large safety trials combined with strong efficacy studies for both stress and sleep, give us great confidence there is no drawback associated with our technology. If anything, I wish we could have brought it to market even sooner.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
As often when doing research in uncharted territory, we weren’t sure originally of what the mechanism of action would be when Cove vibrates on the skin. Were we going to hit nerves directly? By vibrating on the head could we maybe impact the brain directly through bone conduction? We had many questions. Then, through thorough investigation of existing scientific literature, we realized that the skin is “pre-wired” to differentiate different types of mechanical interaction with the outside world, and that these specific receptors are respectively triggered by very different types of vibrations. This gave us the impetus to design specific signals which proved in thorough brain imaging studies, to modulate the parts of the brain we wanted to reach.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
As with any new technology, credibility matters a lot. We have gone to great lengths to test our technology on thousands of volunteers, studying the science behind it, and to get prominent scientists and medical doctors in the field from leading institutions to validate all of our work. We also made Cove and its companion app as easy to use and effortless as possible. We believe that adoption will come as our technology produces tangible results AND fits seamlessly into each person’s life.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We are focused on creating a brand for the long term, grounded in science and community. This requires educating the consumer about our technology, sharing our scientific proof points and bringing our story to life with impeccable execution — be it press or social media. We are leveraging state-of-the-art marketing tools, content creation alongside thought leadership in the wellness space. We believe that putting out a pristine brand alongside scientific validation is the right marketing mix to success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I attribute my attention to detail and work ethic to my great professors and mentors at Ecole Polytechnique in France. I was educated by some of the most prominent scientists in their fields and will always be grateful for the sense of curiosity and the scientific rigor they instilled in me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think that leaving traditional fashion behind in order to bring a beautifully-made technology and self-care tool to the world, that’s based on science and which can concretely make life better for so many, answers the question! Everything I learned through my career in such different fields is now converging to bring to life a product which will potentially help millions of people to lead better lives.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
“Hardware is hard.” It may sound cliché but there’s truth to it. Developing hardware and moreover a wearable takes an orchestrated effort between industrial design, engineering, data, and manufacturing. It takes time, money and great effort to get it right. Add a global pandemic on top of it, and you get the idea!
Everything takes more time than expected. I think we all make plans based on best-case scenarios and tend to underestimate the delays we may encounter. We all make plans and think that they are not so optimistic, but they always are! Our project is no exception. We could have launched sooner but were committed to scientific rigor, safety and exceptional design. This has taken extra time, only extended by a worldwide pandemic.
Everything takes more money than expected. Particularly when you’re bringing a breakthrough technology to market. And it is linked to the timing aspect. My advice to all entrepreneurs out there: yes you need to show a very scalable business plan to investors to get a chance to raise money at a decent valuation, but bear in mind that — with exceptions — most of the time you will come up short. You need the cash runway to stay in the game while you iterate to get the best possible MVP to market.
Hard work pays back but luck matters. There is no doubt that hard work is critical to success but timing and getting lucky with an opportunity make a difference as well. I’ve seen brands do everything right and have the wrong timing and others succeed with far less carefulness , by simply being in the right place at the right time.
Nothing is more important than a great team. I’ve worked with some of the world’s best brands, and by far, the quality of the team has been critical to success. In fashion, the creative director matters enormously but all the people implementing the vision matter just as much. Success is not ensured by an amazing CEO or even the work of a few star employees — but rather it’s about the collective talent and effort behind the brand. This is why it was important in my role to assemble a diverse and multi-disciplinary team that worked well together to bring a singular vision to life. You are only as good as your weakest link.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be around education. Never stop learning! There is so much to know and so much to understand. I believe that knowledge has been the sole driver of betterment of humanity and that universal access to continuous education is key to keep us going in a virtuous cycle!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health” -Voltaire.
Life happiness is all about perspective and the way you analyze situations. I am very realistic by nature which often leads to pessimism. So I consciously make the effort to find the silver lining in everything and it works!
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Having the ability to positively impact the human brain using simple, safe and elegant wearables is now possible with the creation of Cove. This is a huge shift from decades of “trackers” to a new generation of effortless devices which have the potential to improve life. You should invest!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram & Twitter: @feel_cove
The Future Is Now: Francois Kress of Feelmore Labs On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.