Pebble CEO Watching Google, Building on Early Mover Advantage
Eric Migicovsky is watching Google’s moves into wearables closely and hoping that his company’s open platform approach will be a key differentiator amid the growing excitement around wearable computing. That was one of many observations from the Pebble CEO at an event sponsored by ReadWrite at Say Media headquarters in San Francisco.
When Migicovksy first started working on his initial “InPulse” smartwatch in 2008 as a student at the University of Waterloo, not many people were talking about smartwatches or wearables. Today, analysts predict the market could grow into a $30 billion industry by 2018 (IHS), with Apple, Google, Intel and many others joining the fray.
Migicovsky, 27, named one of the 35 Innovators under 35 by Technology Review in 2013, initially marketed the “InPulse” device as “the world’s first smartwatch for Blackberries.” They sold about 1,500 devices, but it wasn’t enough to attract bigger investments. They changed the company name from Allerta to Pebble Technology and went looking for investors on Kickstarter, hoping to raise $100,000 to develop a new smartwatch.
The campaign took off. It raised $1 million in just a little over 24 hours and $10.2 million over thirty days. Two years later, Pebble has 70 employees, an estimated $60 million in revenue and suddenly a lot of attention and competition. With a focus on customization, a community of nearly 15,000 developers, an app store and partners like Mercedes, GoPro and Yelp, Pebble is an early mover in the wearable movement that is taking Silicon Valley by storm.
Migicovsky spoke to ReadWrite’s editor-in-chief Owen Thomas about the prospects for his company in what is increasingly a hot market. He also talked about open platforms and how to survive against competition from Apple and Google, and how even the BlackBerry played a role in informing his current product.
Fashion vs. Function
Early criticism of smartwatches has centered on their shortcomings as a stylish accessory. A Wall Street Journal review said it “still isn’t the Cartier of smartwatches” and included an image of an on-screen text from writer Joanna Stern where she wished “they made a Pebble Steel for ladies.” While wearables are still in their infancy, companies like Intel are already looking to fuse fashion with function in wearable computing.
When asked about the influence of fashion on wearables, Migicovsky acknowledged that it was a legitimate connection. “Fashion is very important,” he said, “the focus is valid.”
Thomas, who has expressed reservations as to the connection acknowledged after the event that he agreed with Migicovsky. “Fashion and function are going to be increasingly indistinguishable.”
Growing into More
Migicovsky does not dismiss the significance of the learning experience with InPulse, and he believes the early mover advantage will help sustain a key position in the market. “At that time no one was making watches,” he said. “The optimistic way of looking at it is we had no one else to dethrone.”
“We wanted to create a product that meshes into your life instead of making you conform…Pebble started as a product that offered notifications and alerts on apps, and grew into something so much more,” Migicovksy told the audience of developers and technologists. “We started the company for ourselves.”
Eventually, Migicovsky sees Pebble as a platform for couples to share information, where it “becomes a really cool intimate connection with your partner. Technology shouldn’t change your personal habits.”
With competition and speculation looming from big companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, and Intel, Migicovksy points to his team’s heritage and early work with developers as a differentiation point. “Our goal is to spread the Pebble OS far and wide,” he said. “People and products are customizing Pebble.”
“Google’s Android Wear platform is the more credible competitor,” he said. “This is Google’s first attempt at a smartwatch and we’re playing close attention.” He said Pebble’s prospects remain strong as they are “focused on being more open; they’re proceeding with a more closed platform.”
The young CEO from Vancouver, Canada who wore shorts and flip-flops at the San Francisco talk, has generated a lot of interest and doesn’t seem to be flinching at the prospect of Apple and Google entering the space. With a lot of buzz and a thriving developer community, Migicovsky thinks the open platform and focus on customizable technology will sustain the product. Rather than rely on glossy marketing and advertising campaigns, he said Pebble’s focus is on simplifying the smartwatch experience and delivering features people want.