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That Papa: Marcus Leung-Shea, Co-Founder of the Smart Ring, ORII

marcus leung-shea
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Our That Papa shares his invention to get all of us off our screens and talking again…

In this digital age, the majority of our time is spent in front of screens where we choose texting emojis and pouring over our social media platforms over speaking to one another. Trust me, I see the irony in that as I am Queen of Emojis and often prefer texting over making calls! However, I can’t deny that chatting over the phone with friends and family from overseas trumps texting any day.

In this edition of That Papa, we chat with Hong Kong-born, Marcus Leung-Shea, co-founder of Origami Labs and co-creator of ORII. One of the core missions of ORII is to put meaningful dialogue and conversation back into our lives. ORII is a sleek smart ring that uses voice activation and bone conduction (#socool) to makes calls, access a voice assistant, send and read messages and notifications. Not only is it a wearable smart tech that is visually-impaired friendly, you also look like a badass secret agent when using it. During its Kickstarter campaign, ORII raised over 10 times the proposed amount. Marcus shares about his journey into the tech space as an entrepreneur, his hopes for ORII creating authentic connections with people, what he admires the most about his daughter and why he simply loves being a dad.

marcus leung-shea

Tell us about yourself. What brought you to Hong Kong?

I was born in Hong Kong but spent half my life in the States, where I met my wife Melanie and where my daughter, Emmy was born.  We were pretty settled into our lives there and didn’t consider moving back until 2012 when I was invited to head up our family business here. It was a great chance to support my parents, let my daughter know her roots, and explore all that Hong Kong offers with my wife and my daughter! We heart Hong Kong.

Have you always been interested in entrepreneurship and technology?

Both my parents are successful entrepreneurs, but starting a company wasn’t something I considered until I returned to Hong Kong and met my co-founders.  At least for me, starting Origami Labs was as much about doing it with the right people as it is about the business idea itself. When it comes to the team I get to work with today, I’ve absolutely hit the jackpot. I’m honoured to get to work with them.

I’m a bit surprised to find myself in the tech space because I’m not a gadget or computer enthusiast. But growing up, I was infamous for dismantling my parent’s appliances and jumping at the chance to repair something that broke down.  This was pre-YouTube, so I amassed hours of obsessive tinkering through trial and error.  It was slow learning, but I couldn’t stop until I could figure out how things worked.  I suppose it’s this same obsession with problem solving that led me here.


Tell us about the story behind ORII and how that came about.

The short story is that we wanted to fix deficiencies/capture opportunity we saw in the wearables space for something that focused on a core human behaviour: communication.

The long story involves a camping trip, long debates about innovation, buying components off Taobao, using Starbucks coffee tables as our R&D lab, conducting hundreds of experiments to find the right technology for ORII, and building prototypes that miraculously worked. And lots of coffee.

How do you foresee ORII changing the way people communicate with one another?

Helping us make and maintain authentic connections to each other has always been at the heart of what we’ve wanted ORII to achieve.  One of those ways is to encourage more talking.  It’s the difference between texting your mum versus calling her to say a quick hello.  We see ORII as being a way to make talking fun, easy, and stylish again.

Where we also see ORII playing an important role is how it will change the way we use conversational interfaces such as Siri and Google Assistant.  Moving voice assistants from your phone to your hand makes them much more accessible and helpful.

marcus and daughter emmy

What is the future for wearable tech and what are your 3 must-haves for all dads?

Wearables are here to stay.  But, I think they haven’t quite found that “killer application” that makes us feel that they’re essential. I think ORII is closer to cracking the code because it comes alongside something that we’re already doing every day—talking and texting.  By making something easier and faster and more fun, I think it has staying power.

Three tech must-haves would definitely be:

  1. Google Chromecast: Hook this up to your TV and cast your Spotify playlist on there. My daughter loves being able to see the song names and album cover art.  It instantly upgrades your living room dance parties.
  2. Polaroid camera. If you haven’t seen a Polaroid photo recently, you’d be surprised at how beautifully they come out. It’s great for capturing silly faces, and my daughter loves snapping pictures during vacations and when we have guests over.  Film refills can be pricey, but Wan Chai Computer Center consistently offers the best deals.
  3. ORII smart ring. You can stay connected without needing to look at your screen and getting distracted with everything happening on your phone. And what dad doesn’t want to look and feel like a secret agent?

What has been your biggest lesson learned as an entrepreneur? What would you do differently?

Coming from ten years as a management consultant, methodical and data-driven decision making is still a habit I carry with me. These are helpful tools, but I’m also learning to value the power of pure gut instinct. This is one of Kevin’s (my co-founder) greatest strengths and at critical junctures his instincts have proven spot on time and again.

Another lesson is how much it pays to be curious about many things and to be willing to ask lots of open ended (maybe stupid) questions.  Especially in the early stages when you’re wearing so many hats that there’s simply too much new knowledge to acquire.  To try to climb that learning curve alone and not lean on others’ expertise just makes your life harder.

leung-shea family

Switching gears… What was your reaction to the news of your wife’s pregnancy?

Of course I was delighted, and excited to start the journey as a parents.  Although it would bring about a lot of change in our lives, I knew it would be amazing.  Being Emmy’s dad is such a privilege and I love every moment.

How did you choose your daughter’s name?

Before we knew if we were having a boy or a girl, we each drew up lists of names and whittled it down to our favourite ones. If you know me and Melanie at all, you know it was a very systematic process. My wife got to pick the first name, and I got to pick the middle name.

emmy and marcus eating strawberries

What was your experience like changing the first diaper?

My daughter asked me not to answer this question, and I think I’m going to oblige. And to be honest, I can’t recall many details except that we were in the hospital still and I remember thinking, “This little human is depending on me.”

marcus and emmy hug

How hands-on were you during the birth process?

Melanie underwent an emergency C-section, so I think we’re all glad I wasn’t too hands-on in the operating theatre!  But I definitely did the best I could to offer encouragement and comfort to my brave and nauseated wife.  This scenario wasn’t covered in any of our birthing classes!

Who do you think Emmy looks like more?

We joke that Emmy gets my appearance but she gets her mom’s brains.  Emmy has always looked more Chinese than American.

marcus and emmy silly face

What’s your favourite part of your parenting routine?

It’s not easy to pick just one routine. For weekdays, its bedtime when I have a quiet moment with Emmy to ask her about her day and see if there’s anything funny, sad, or interesting she wants to tell me about. We usually pray for our family members, her friends at school, and for parts of the world that are experiencing some suffering.  On the weekends, it’s a lot of fun making breakfast with Emmy.  We’re usually spontaneous about what we end up making, and it can be as varied as Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes to omelettes with ricotta cheese.

Who plays good cop and bad cop between you and your wife?

I’m generally pretty laid back as a dad.  I’d say I’m usually wearing the good cop badge, except when it comes to eating and homework.  That’s usually when our roles get reversed and I’m bad cop.

emmy and marcus soccer

What is your favourite thing to do with your daughter on the weekend?

Emmy is always up for something sporty, and I love teaching her new things, so we’re usually doing something outdoors such as surfing in Shek O, biking in Ma On Shan, or playing football in Tai Hang Tung. We both enjoy building things too, so we’ll often go down to Sham Shui Po’s Ap Liu Street to buy some bits and pieces to make something, such as a DIY drum set or a window cleaning gadget.

Read more: Best Outdoor Parks and Playgrounds in Hong Kong

Favourite kid-friendly places and activities in Hong Kong?

Hammer Hill Swimming Pool in Diamond Hill.  A good indoor/outdoor mix.  I like it because it has a regular swimming pool with lanes where we can practice swimming, and then a ton of fun bridges/slides/water cannons to play with afterwards.

Biking from Ma On Shan to Science Park.  It’s one of the lesser known bike paths which means it’s rarely crowded even on beautiful weekends.  The path is nice and straight and good for a kid that’s learning to ride.  There’s a small shop opposite the baseball field that rents out bikes.

playing frisbee

Favourite travel destination for your family?

We recently returned from Chiang Mai which has a great mix of activities for everyone in the family (and Uber recently started operating there making the city even easier to navigate).  Now that Emmy is eight, she’s taking more interest in different cultures, so Chiang Mai’s temples were definitely a plus.

How do you keep the romance alive after having a kid?

Carving out regular time for connecting, whether that’s over a nice dinner or watching an episode of ‘This Is Us’.  But I also think it’s about making sure that we as parents have identities and lives outside of being parents.  This way when my wife and I come together, we aren’t just talking about our daughter (which would be easy to do) but can connect on multiple levels.

Favourite date night spots with just your wife?

Hong Kong’s date night scene blows away the options we had in the States. We love finding obscure, quiet spots hidden away inside buildings, like Tenohira Sushi in an old warehouse in Kwun Tong. We also love the Thai food you can get in Kowloon City and how you can stroll the streets after dinner and find Hong Kong dessert shops offering up some mango treats.

emmy playing soccer

What’s the hardest part of being a dad?

I can say that there’s nothing in the day-to-day that I find hard. I think I’m too busy enjoying being Emmy’s dad.  Perhaps more philosophically, the hardest part is knowing that my daughter is growing quickly, and her world is going to start getting more complicated very soon.  As a dad, there’s this strong desire to protect your daughter as much as you can, while also knowing that challenging experiences can foster grit and wisdom that will serve her well through her life.

emmy and marcus eating strawberries

What’s the best part of being a dad?

Watching Emmy grow and observe her personality develop is absolutely my favourite thing.  Especially her sense of humour.  She’s got a wit and charm that surprises me and easily gets me cracking up.

What’s your favourite characteristic of your daughter?

This evolves as Emmy grows up, but one thing that’s stayed consistent is how much she enjoys being around people and thinks the best of people.  Both my wife and I lean quite heavily towards introversion, so having this daughter who can go full-tilt extrovert for days can leave us in shock, but I’m so glad she’s this way.  Plus, she’s got a great laugh.

marcus and emmy

What do you hope Emmy gets from you and what do you hope she doesn’t get?

I hope Emmy can cultivate a strong sense of curiosity about many things and find beauty in the way different people live their lives.  I hope that learning will be her ultimately hobby.  What I hope she doesn’t get from me is the tendency to think too far into the future all the time which sometimes brings unnecessary worry!

emmy and marcus at the park

If there was one trait Emmy could take from you and your wife, what would it be?

One trait from me would be my love for trying new sports, foods, school subjects.  But what I really hope is that she can get Mel’s incredible organisational and planning skills.  So far so good: when Emmy was 4 years old, she was already leaving Post-It note reminders for herself and making packing lists before vacations.

What do you know now that you wish you knew before becoming a dad? Biggest lesson learned?

I wish I knew how to make a bracelet using that rubber band loom.  I spent so many hours on YouTube videos trying to figure it out.  In seriousness, I wish I was better prepared to appreciate the different parenting philosophies that my wife and I shared, and taken more time to communicate and understand each other so we could blend them together.

marcus and emmy sitting on steps

Do you have any tips for soon-to-be dads?

I set up an email account for Emmy which I’ll give her access to when she turns 18.  I use this account to occasionally send her emails that are intended for her to read when she’s older, so she can have some memories of different stages of her life. I might attach some photos, or recount a day that we spent together, or just write a quote of something funny that just happened.  I hope that when she gets older, these small glimpses into her childhood will let her know how much we love her and offer her a strong self identity.

Thanks to the talented Janelle from By Janelle Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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