Gadgets

Pebble founder talks about what it takes to 'win' wearables

SAN FRANCISCO — Pebble‘s smartwatch was one of the first and most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history. 

Today founder Eric Migicovsky talked about the state of Pebble, smartwatches, and wearables.

“The hardware needs to flow into the background,” Migicovsky said. “The reason you should put a wearable on your body is because its useful and solves a problem, and you should appreciate it in your everyday life.”

Pebble could be credited with kicking off the latest smartwatch phase. The watch integrates with your smartphone and uses an E-Ink display to show information like call data, calendar entires, and social media updates. There are also 1,000 apps (and counting) that bring more customization and capabilities to Pebble.

Migicovsky started working on the device five years ago, with a prototype involving Arduino boards and “zap straps.” Pebble participated in Y Combinator, but struggled to raise venture capital funding. The team then turned to Kickstarter and racked up an astonishing $10 million, with 85,000 orders and 66,000 backers. 

Clearly there was demand.

“We were down to the last $50 or $60 left in the bank,” Migicovsky said. “The real value of Kickstarter in my mind is that it’s a single landing page. If you can tell the story and explain why someone should back your project, there is a single green button on the right for people to hit.”

Once the campaign ended, Pebble had to settle down to the difficult task of manufacturing and shipping the watches. The team purchased the component parts on the Internet and the watches were assembled in China. The campaign closed in May 2012 and was supposed to ship that fall, but the process took much longer than Migicovsky anticipated and shipments were delayed. They started shipping in January 2013, but many backers had to wait months longer to receive their Pebbles.

“The hard part was assembling,” said Migicovsky. “A lot of the problems we ran into were related to things like water proofing. We tried to convey to our backers that it was a hard problem we were solving, and it took longer than we expected.”

To speed up the manufacturing process, Pebble raised $15 million from Charles Rivers Ventures to scale for demand, expand its software engineering team, and grow its open development platform. The watches then hit the shelves at Best Buy where they were sold out for the first month.

“It was a whirlwind from shipping 85,000 units to Kickstarter backers to shipping to a major retail store,” Migicovsky said.

Last week Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Gear smartwatch to much fanfare and hype, and Nissan launched its smartwatch yesterday. Motorola and Sony have smartwatches as well. Migicovsky said there has always been competition in this space, and the key is to create a product that doesn’t get “annoying” and instead just “meshes.”

“Pebble needs to be [the] platform that other people can bring micro-interactions to,” he said. “Maybe you can control your thermostat, maybe you are using the new SF bikeshare and want to find out where the nearest location is. It’s about having Pebble change to suit the activity you’re doing at that given time, using a little bit of information suited to display on the wrist.”

Pebble 2.0 will be about software and bringing more apps to the platform. The company is based in Palo Alto and now has 30 employees.

More information:

Pebble is the first watch built for the 21st century. It's infinitely customizable, with beautiful downloadable watchfaces and useful internet-connected apps. Pebble connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth, alerting ... read more »

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