The hottest new product on the web: Canadian high-tech watch-maker raises $4.5M

TORONTO – Of the more than 50,000 ideas that have been pitched on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, seeking financial support for a new product, none have struck a chord with the web community more than the born-in-Canada Pebble.

It’s a sleek, futuristic-looking wristwatch that wirelessly connects to the smartphone in your pocket — either an iPhone or Android device — and displays Caller ID information for incoming calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter messages, or calendar and weather alerts. And, of course, the watch also displays the time, with a number of digital faces to choose from.

Vancouver-born Eric Migicovsky and the rest of the team behind Pebble hoped to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to help launch the watch commercially. They sought pledges ranging from a minimum of $99 for one of the very first watches off the production line, up to a contribution of $10,000 for a “mega distributor pack” of 100 watches.

The team had a little over a month to raise the money before their Kickstarter pitch expired. To Migicovsky’s complete shock, $100,000 was raised in just two hours. It took 28 hours to exceed their target by 10 times, hitting the million-dollar milestone, and interest in Pebble hasn’t slowed since. Just over a week into the campaign, the Pebble has attracted interest from more than 31,000 backers for a total of more than $4.5 million raised (as of Wednesday afternoon) — a new Kickstarter record. And just about every minute of the day, new orders continue to pour in.

Migicovsky says he’s trying to restrain himself from constantly refreshing the order page with the growing total of sales.

“We try to limit that during the day now. Last week it was nuts,” says Migicovsky, who studied at the University of Waterloo, where he started developing the first version of the smartphone-connected watch.

“Everything’s a bit crazy, but in a good way.”

He got the inspiration for Pebble several years ago while cycling in the Netherlands.

“I wanted to see what was happening on my phone while it was in my pocket, without dropping it in a canal, I wanted to see who was calling just by looking at my wrist,” Migicovsky recalls.

School projects helped get the first prototype developed but the team had a hard time raising money to finance the watch in Waterloo, Ont. The project moved down south to Silicon Valley, Calif., where last summer the Pebble team was welcomed into the Y Combinator tech program, which helps new companies get off the ground.

It was there that Migicovsky started working on the version of the watch being sold on Kickstarter, which is due for delivery in September. The watch uses e-paper technology, similar to what’s used for ebook readers, which is very battery efficient and is clearly visible even in bright sunlight. The connection between watch and phone is powered by Bluetooth.

“We had to build prototypes, we had to find out how much components cost, talk to factories,” Migicovsky says.

“The benefit we have is we’ve been doing it for four years so we know what people want and I think that’s what we proved with Kickstarter.”

While some might think the Pebble team would be overwhelmed with all the sales to deal with, Migicovsky says it just means he’ll have a bigger production order, which will drive down costs and make the product better.

“Hardware is one of those crazy things where it gets easier as it gets bigger. In particular, the way the cost breaks down for a hardware project is there’s the cost of goods, the materials, and those go down as you scale your volume. And what that’s doing for us is now we have a little bit more money to spend and we can reinvest that in the quality of the build process and the quality assurance and testing.”

The Pebble team still has a big surprise in store for supporters if sales continue and a secret milestone is hit.

“If we crack that milestone we’ll announce something really, really cool — but we’re just working on it now,” Migicovsky hints, adding the surprise could be revealed in the coming days.


Pebble’s Kickstarter page: