One of the most successful Kickstarter projects to date, the Pebble smart watch, has set a record on the crowdfunding site as the start-up rallies support ahead of tough competition from the Apple Watch.
Pebble became the fastest Kickstarter campaign to raise $1m in the site’s six-year history on Tuesday, hitting the benchmark in just over half an hour after it launched an updated version of its device with a new colour screen, redesigned software and a microphone. In under four hours, Pebble Time had raised more than $6.2m from 30,000 people.
The record follows Pebble’s $10.3m campaign in 2012, which for two years was the most funded Kickstarter project until the Coolest Cooler, a chill box with integrated blender and Bluetooth speaker, topped it last summer by raising $13.3m.
Even after the initial spurt, Pebble’s latest fundraising drive was pulling in around $10,000 per minute — putting it on track to regain its crown as the most lucrative Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to date.
However, Eric Migicovsky, Pebble’s founder and chief executive, said the campaign was “not even about the money”, but provided a “little bit of validation” for the start-up’s technology as it readies for battle with Apple.
“The community that supported us first was Kickstarter. They backed us when we were five dudes in a living room in Palo Alto when we had a vision for what wearables would become,” he told the FT. Pebble went on to raise $15m in venture capital funding in 2013 and is now profitable, he added.
Since Pebble’s success, Kickstarter has become a popular venue for hardware start-ups including the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and Hello’s Sense sleep tracker to raise funds, demonstrate that their ideas have support and receive feedback from potential customers.
“Why we went back to Kickstarter was to go directly back to the community,” Mr Migicovsky said. “We are going up against one of the biggest competitors in the world and it helps to have the community on our side.”
Pebble has so far withstood competition from Samsung, LG and Motorola, which released smart watches based on Google’s Android Wear software last year. Mr Migicovsky said that he had sold 1m Pebbles since releasing the original version in 2013 and cited figures from market researcher NPD as evidence that it had sold more devices than all of the Android Wear watches combined in the US last year.
Nonetheless, analysts warn that the market for wearable devices that show notifications from a tethered smartphone and track exercise remains in its early days.
“You can’t ignore Pebble because they are one of the pioneers of the smart watch category,” said Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight. “If you look at the volumes of wearables, they have a massive stake in the ground. But the world is going to change forever in April when the Apple Watch launches.”
Mr Migicovsky argued that the latest device offered several advantages over Apple’s rival, including a retail price that at $200 is at least $150 cheaper.
“We offer a really distinctive alternative from some of the other products available in the space,” he said. “We believe a smart watch should be a damn good watch to start with — always on, with a long battery life and readable in daylight. I don’t think that perspective is shared with all our competitors.”
He noted that Pebble could be used with either iPhones or Androids, while Apple and Samsung tied their watches to their own devices and were part of a large portfolio of products. “We are laser-focused on smart watches; we don’t have any distractions,” he said.
Mr Wood said that Pebble’s decision to launch its Kickstarter campaign ahead of Apple’s launch was an “astute move” and added that its large community of app developers would help to retain its momentum.
“They captured the zeitgeist at a time when everyone knew smart watches were at a tipping point,” Mr Wood said of the start-up’s early success. “They also got that geek chic coolness factor — it was the device of the moment in [Silicon] Valley.”
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