Hello and welcome to the first episode of Byte Size Pieces.
I’m your host Craig and over the holiday season we will be releasing a series of
of additional short shows along with our normal podcast
released every other Monday.
On our first episode, I’m pleased to share with you
an interview with Brandon Ho, the CEO of Helium Cine.
Let’s join in the conversation.
- Hi Craig, how are you?
- Not bad, thank you.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak to us today.
That’s really helpful.
- No, it’s my absolute pleasure.
My name is Brandon Ho,
And I am the owner and founder and sole proprietor
at Helium Cine, which is a company that I started
about five years ago with the goal of producing
the world’s best camera support equipment for the iPhone.
And our flagship product is the Helium Core cage.
It was something that I first imagined
on a flight back from San Francisco,
maybe about seven years ago.
During the trip, I had an entire think tank backpack filled with digital SLR equipment.
I never took my SLR out a single time while I was there, just because it was so unwieldy
and I didn’t want to carry it around with me.
My backpack stayed in the hotel room the entire time.
On the flight back, I realised that there had to be a point in time when the camera
technology and software got so good on smartphones that it would be all we would ever need as
far as capturing most of the scenarios and moments that we wanted to in our lives, whether
there was with photography or with video.
I realised that the points of deficiency, at least at that point in time with that, phones
were getting smaller and slimmer and they were getting a bit challenging to hold in
hand properly. And I thought that in the fact that there was no way of securely attaching
an external lens to augment your creative vision with meant that there was a space in the marketplace
for some sort of accessories. And of course, at that period in time, there were companies that made
these like, I guess, cases that came off cheap that they would sell cheap lenses to a company,
the cases with. But I wanted to set my ambitions on something a bit higher end and a bit higher
quality. Helium Genesis was really in the Kickstarter campaign that I launched in April of 2016.
So I was successful with that Kickstarter campaign and managed to start producing the
Helium cores and then later on adapters for both the Moondog Labs and Amorphic lenses as well as
as the Zeiss Exo lenses, both of which I still sell today.
- Why did you choose to make an accessory for an iPhone
over some of the other products
that were out on the market at the time?
- I was an iPhone user myself,
and I didn’t really didn’t know any of the other smartphones.
I wasn’t familiar with the market.
And I also understood that it would be easier
to just limit my attention and the investment
in creating a product to just one platform
or the biggest single smartphone platform is still the iPhone,
even though there are multiple iterations of the iPhone.
I also knew that for the most part,
Mac users have this, what do you call it,
the reputation of being more creative
and being more inclined towards producing visual work.
It’s into the company’s DNA.
And I felt like it was the perfect fit.
- That’s brilliant.
Why would you say it’s more important or the reasoning behind using an external lens rather
than some of the built-in lenses that come with the phone?
So I don’t really have a good answer for that anymore since Apple has really extended the
focal length range on their iPhones.
I don’t even know what it is on the wide end.
I know it’s ultra-wide right now in the teens probably of millimetres up to I think on the
new iPhones it’s 62 millimetres.
So that’s a fairly broad range.
But when I produced the original Helium Core, all iPhones only had a single camera.
I think it was a 28mm camera.
So there was a lot of opportunity to both widen the field of view as well as zoom, not
I shouldn’t say zoom in, but have a longer focal length as well for people who are more
interested in taking shots that would benefit from 56mm or an up-millimeter focal length.
Again, those were the main advantages at the time.
The other advantage was that if you want a speciality lens, like an anamorphic lens for
the iPhone, the only way of mounting the, at the time, the only ways of mounting them
were either to get a custom fit anamorphic lens from Moondog Labs that you physically had
to fit onto your iPhone and put over its camera, or you use an external case that you then
screw the lens onto either using a screw mount or some sort of bare net mechanism.
So again, at that point in time, there was, I felt like there was an opportunity to do
something that would allow people the freedom to express themselves creatively using all
the different tools that were available on the market.
Do you say that some of the accessories that you produce are based for one particular type
of person or is it open to all?
By virtue of their price point, and really it’s, you know, the price point was driven
primarily by my costs and the cost of being a really an almost one person manufacturer
I think it limited the total available market that I had as a company.
And if I had either the capital or if I was less averse to risk, I would probably have
been able to design and manufacture and produce something that came in at a lower price point
that would be more appealing to a broader section of the market.
I’ve had a number of customers who buy the helium core and use them in situations where
they are doing professional work and making money from their iPhones.
It’s very easy to justify that investment. But for the average person for whom,
I think the original price was $169, that’s a pretty steep price.
And I’ll admit that it’s just that the economics as a small manufacturer making products in very
small batches just didn’t work out in a way that would allow me to lower the cost or lower
the price to the market.
How did you find the whole process about going from just an idea to a manufacturing basis?
It was scary to say the least.
My wife and I funded the entire development process ourselves.
She is not actively involved in the business at all, but she loves me, I guess, and was
willing to invest some money into it, and was a relatively small investment.
That process of putting that money in and then finding a way to just make everything
happen more so with creativity, with just pure hard work and gumption, it was both scary
and exhilarating, or the thing that scared me the most, I guess, was, in a sense, you
know, whenever someone, you develop something that could even be remotely construed as
creative and you put it out in the marketplace or put it out in the world for all to inspect
and to criticize and critique.
And it’s scary to think what people think about your idea.
And there was no shortage of people who thought it was really stupid when I launched the campaign.
But also there were a fairly large number of people that accepted the idea and thought
that it was a good one, at least good enough to invest their money in.
So the entire process was, I guess, really plumbed the depths of all my emotions, I guess.
And I guess taught me a lot about myself and about what humankind is capable of if they
are willing to take the risk and put in the effort.
Would you recommend people using crowdfunding?
Oh, very much so.
I don’t know what the crowdfunding environment today is like.
I can only imagine that it’s crowded with a lot of factories and manufacturers and brand
names that use it as a way of testing the market if you will.
And to be very honest, as a very small entity with very limited finances, I viewed the crowdfunding
platform as two primary things.
One, as a form of a limited slice of the entire marketplace, to validate the idea that I had.
I felt that if I could not convince the typical crowdfunding investor that the idea had merit
and that it was worth investing in,
that I should just give up
because the larger marketplace
would likely not be interested in a product like it.
Also use it of course as a mechanism
to fund the production of the first batch of products.
So I do recommend crowdfunding as a tool or mechanism
for accomplishing those two goals.
But I would also caution anyone who thinks
that crowdfunding is a matter of like best idea wins.
There are a lot of things that go into a successful crowdfunding campaign.
And I think when I launched my campaign, I think something like in the order of like
two-thirds of all crowdfunding campaigns were not successful.
And among those that were successful, there was a pretty high percentage of companies
that didn’t deliver what they said they were going to deliver.
And certainly a larger number yet that didn’t deliver when they said they would deliver.
Those are all things to keep in mind.
And I don’t know if people have soured on the idea of crowdfunding campaigns.
I’m not actively involved in any right now.
I used to support a fair number.
But those are things to consider.
No, the reason I asked that is I was an early adopter to the whole Kickstarter
projects of different things.
And I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s been like a cultural
shift with Kickstarter.
There seem to be a lot of companies on there that are very successful in the
past and now they’re using that as a promotion platform rather than to develop something new.
Do you have any thoughts on the new iPhone lineup and in particular some of the features that they’ve
introduced? So we’ve now seen the camera raw and if you have any thoughts on the 10-bit video output?
I think what you know seven years ago when I thought about what the future might hold,
Certainly, there’s been a slow and creeping evolution in that direction of the ubiquity of smartphones
and how they could replace larger, you know, mirrorless and SLR cameras. I think that day is
already here now and I don’t know when that inflexion point when the switch was very clear,
but having LiDAR on board, having 10-bit with Filmic Pro’s, you know, log feature,
having raw support directly from Apple themselves. I mean, these are all signals that the era of
the smartphone as the only camera you’ll need is well and truly here. And when I saw the footage
from the Apple announcement for the iPhone, I was completely blown away. I mean, you would have to be
someone who’s truly a stickler for image quality, who really pixel peeps and wants to dissect every
possible deficiency in the footage. Most people, it’s just incredible. I mean, this is a device,
its primary intention was to be a phone and then to run apps. And now it’s doing everything that
you need creatively. We are living in a, you know, in a gilded time and environment. I mean,
it’s amazing. It’s interesting because I think the pandemic has also changed our perception of how
and when we do things and we’ve come far more digital. There’s now the facility to use your phone
as a webcam, so there’s lots of how to use Zoom on iPhone and how I can do a tutorial online.
I don’t know if you’ve seen, there was an extra video for the Disney Mandalorian,
the Star Wars saga that’s currently being shown. There’s an interview with some of the production
team there. And they’ve literally explained that they are so shocked in such a short time
how quickly an entire production unit has become into a phone and that you can now make an entire
broadcastable production. It really amazed me about three years ago was discovering Luma Fusion
and how powerful an editor it is. It’s completely self-contained, mobile, media production house.
I mean, everything is there.
Yeah, that’s true indeed.
I had one last question.
This was just for you to explain a little bit about how our listeners can find out more
about yourself or your products.
It’s very averse to talking about myself, but I’ll share a little bit about what I do.
I, Helium, went from my sole pursuit for about 18 months to, because of some personal reasons,
to less more of a side project, if you will. And I discovered over a period of time that
being under-capitalised and not having the adequate resources to
turn it into anything more than that, it was just from a financial perspective,
just wasn’t worth the time anymore. My products are still available and I think
what’s most pertinent for people is anyone with a Zeiss XO lens that is sitting in a draw
unused because you have no way of mounting it to your current iPhone. We sell an adapter
that allows you to attach your Zeiss XO lens to any 37mm mount. So if you have like a beast
cage or as long as it has a 37mm screw mount, you can continue to use your Zeiss XO lenses.
And I still have a small number of Zeiss XO lenses for sale. I think I only have the
wide angles left them. So those are available on the website too, in case you miss them for
nostalgic reasons. Or you just want to see what I still believe is the best
glass ever made specifically for mobile phones, bar none.
It’s interesting you say that because I can add a little bit of insight into the quality of the
the glass behind those as well.
Guys that filmed the video or promotional material for Regent Street and Covent Garden, Apple
store used iPhone 6s, I believe, at the time, with the Exos lenses and a mount to actually
film their own productions.
I had the opportunity to meet a guy named John who works as a creative director at Apple
here in Durham, North Carolina, where I live. And he was out and about shooting.
But he’s part of the team responsible for producing and directing the content for
Apple shows how effective and powerful iPhones are in production.
No, it’s been my pleasure, Craig. Yeah, thank you for reaching out.
Brilliant. Thank you. I appreciate that. I shall let you get on with the rest of your day.
Well, thank you again for your time, Craig. And I wish you all the best. Welcome, Craig. Thank you.
Right. Take care.[Music]