Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

SmartThings, a Kickstarter Hit, Raises $3M More From VCs and Angels

SmartThings, a company that’s trying to wirelessly connect everyday devices and objects to the Internet, has raised $3 million led by First Round Capital.

That’s on top of $1.2 million committed by backers on Kickstarter, where SmartThings more than quadrupled its funding goal in September, plus a €100,000 prize for winning the Dublin Web Summit start-up competition.

Washington, D.C.-based SmartThings starts shipping its hubs later this month. (As with many oversubscribed Kickstarter projects, it’s a little behind schedule, and some backers will have to wait as late as February to receive their hubs — but only a couple of months.)

Out of the box, SmartThings kits come with a variety of motion sensors, open/closed sensors, presence fobs and an electrical-outlet overlay. These can be stuck onto everyday objects — so, say, an open-shut sensor could be pasted on a door with sticky tape. Or people who don’t carry smartphones can put presence tags on their keychains so their house will know when they’re home.

“We’re producing the hub and devices to literally ‘kickstart’ this, but it’s totally open,” said SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson in an interview on Monday.

Hawkinson said the impetus for SmartThings came last year, while he was chief product officer at ReachLocal, which acquired his last company. His extended family has a rustic house in Colorado, where the power went out, the heating went down, the pipes exploded and the basement flooded. But nobody knew about it for a month.

The frustrated Hawkinson thought to himself, “Sure, when the power goes out, the router goes out.” But there’s “plenty of bandwidth in the air,” he noted.

Soon his idea became more than home monitoring and busted pipes. “Once you connect everyday objects to the Internet, you can control them, but the bigger change is you can control them with software that any developer can write,” Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson described SmartThings as part of a broader effort to “hack the physical graph,” but contended that it was the most open, easy and intelligent option versus other competitors — say, Nest, Twine or Electric Imp. He said he looked at these other companies as potential partners, but added, “Consumers won’t tolerate a fragmented ecosystem; there’s going to have to be connective tissue.”

For instance, SmartThings promises to support a variety of connectivity options: Ethernet, Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth. It is made to be accessible to people who aren’t used to messing with hardware. It doesn’t have to be pre-built directly into home devices, but it works with devices that are already connected.

And it is open to outside developers. More than a thousand app ideas have been submitted already, and they are not all around home security and automation — for instance, Hawkinson mentioned that some ideas were suggested by parents of quadriplegic children for helping them with daily life, and there’s a variety of proposed party applications to dim lights, turn on music and more. Out of 5,600 Kickstarter backers, something like 750 said they are developers and device makers.

Today at the LeWeb conference in Paris — which is themed around the “Internet of things,” SmartThings is announcing both its funding and a $100,000 contest for software developers and device makers.

In addition to First Round Capital, the company’s round of funding came from SV Angel, Lerer Ventures, CrunchFund, Max Levchin, Yuri Milner/Start Fund, David Tisch, A-Grade Investments, Chris Dixon, Vivi Nevo, Alexis Ohanian, Loic Le Meur, Martin Varsavksy, Kal Vepuri, Ryan Sarver, Jared Hecht, Steve Martocci, Emil Michael, Aaron Levie, Zorik Gordon and Nathan Hanks.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald