How A $3.4 Million (And Counting!) Kickstarter Project Could Save The Wristwatch [Update: Record Funds]

The wristwatch is dying, right? Nobody even wants a “smartwatch.” The startup Allerta raised $3 million in less than a week, and may yet prove all that wrong.



In about two hours last Wednesday, a small but energetic group of young entrepreneurs saw their Kickstarter project’s funding zoom from tens of thousands of dollars to over $100,000–their threshold for getting the project into production. Not bad for a funding window that still had 37 days to run!

And still the money kept coming. Just two hours later, they blew past $200,000. A million dollars came the next day, another million the next, and now the figure is over $3 million. It’s an astonishing growth curve, something that’s pretty rare on Kickstarter, and by any measure 21,000 customers in five days is a success. What are all these folks around the globe buying, though? A smartwatch that connects to iPhones and Android phones.

The device is called the Pebble, and it’s almost completely perfectly explained by the Allerta team’s Kickstarter promo video:


Essentially we’re all tired of fishing our phone out of our pockets or purses to glance at it to check our Twitter feed, see the time, work out who’s calling (resulting in an embarassingly loud burst of Lady Gaga ringtone as you grapple at the slab of glass and plastic in an effort to silence it quick-smart) or simply change the track on its music app. It’s a tiresome maneuver, it can result in clumsy fingers smattering your precious iPhone’s innards all over the floor, and it reveals eactly what digital hotness you’re carrying and where you’re carrying it–info that passing pickpockets love.

This scenario is precisely what smartwatches are designed to skirt. By adding a small screen to your wrist (yes, another screen in your life–what is this, the eighth now?), which syncs wirelessly to your phone, all of that important interaction can happen with a dab at the smartwatch.

It seems so brilliant. But why’ve they not taken off? We can guess it’s partly to do with the death of watch-wearing as a habit, and partly to do with poor performance from most of the examples made so far…bedeviled by poor battery life measured in hours due to their size, limited connectivity or functionality, a slightly hacker-ish appeal, or just over-expensive design. Sony’s not given up, mind you, and has just revealed its $150 SmartWatch for Android this week–slick, cheapish, and quite promising, it may be the best yet…and Android is the most ubiquitous smartphone OS.

But what about Apple? The iPhone is crying out for this sort of peripheral attention. That may have been the most brilliant move by the makers of Pebble…appealing to the (deeper-pocketed?) Apple user with a smartwatch that’s compatible and equally shiny in looks. As well as giving the device a low-energy e-paper display, which helps give it a seven-day battery life. The team’s no stranger to this tech, having also launched the InPulse smartwatch designed for BlackBerry phones–an admirable effort, but one that never really flew (and now may never do so).

“It’s definitely one of those four-year/overnight success stories,” Allerta founder Eric Migicovsky explains to Fast Company. (Ah, yes, the dirty little secret of overnight success.) “We’ve been working on smartwatches for years–I think they key was iteration. It’s a very personal device, as people wear a watch and it’s constantly in contact with them. You wear it to bed, you wear it when you’re eating and when you’re working.” Thus design was absolutely key to Pebble, and Migicovsky complimented his indistrial designer Steve Johns, who “spent a lot of time looking at what people wear on their wrists, and how we could make something that could be customizable, and beautiful and small and sleek.”


This design-led approach does indeed sound very Apple-esque, and places design as perhaps the most important feature…almost more than the device’s other innovations: “It’s the first one to support iPhone, it’s the first one with long battery life, it’s the first one with an e-paper display–a lot of firsts. But it’s also the evolution of our first product InPulse,” Migicovsky argues, something that was a “great product in its own right, but smartphone tech changes every two years–so accessories have to change as well.”

And that incredible feat of leaping from a partial fund pile to $2 million in just two days? “No, that’s a bit of a surprise” Migicovsky quietly agreed, placing a lot of emphasis on how buyers are “part of the project” thanks to the way Kickstarter’s funding mechanism works.

Now all his team has to do is get the device into mass production and in the mail by the September delivery date, which is a prety tight window. Maybe Migicovsky could quiz Tim Cook for help–supply chain finessing seems to be his forté.

Update: In the dark hours last night, the Pebble project broke the previous Kickstarter funding record of $3.3 million. And still the backers arrive. The project has 31 days left to run, and at the time of writing it has $3,428,933 in funds and nearly 24,000 backers. We’ll keep in touch with the team, and keep you posted on their progress. 

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)