Smartwatch FM interview with Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Pebble

This conversation is with Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky.  The conversation took place in July 2013.   

Full transcript

Smartwatch FM: So I have with me Eric Migicovsky the CEO of Pebble, welcome Eric.

Migicovsky: Hi

Smartwatch FM: You have been developing and creating smart watches well before the people heard about Pebble on Kickstarter, and it goes back to a company called Impulse.  Can you talk a little bit about how you started Impulse and kind of the backstory before Pebble even started. 

Migicovsky: Yeah, for sure.  So I started working on smartwatches back in 2008.  The first watch that I put together was this little circuit board in my dorm room.  I was studying abroad at the University of Delft in the Netherlands, and I built a little device that would allow me to see what was happening on my smartphone without having to take my phone out of my pocket.  And I really built it for one use case in particular.  It was commuting by bicycle. In Holland everyone bicycles pretty much every single day, and I think those people are kind of born with this innate ability to text and bike at the same time.  I didn't have that skill, I was constantly dropping my phone, and I wanted the ability to interact with my phone without having to take it out of my pocket. 

And I built the prototype back in 2008. I posted a YouTube video of it.  And I ended going back to finish my engineering degree at the University of Waterloo, I kept working on the product, recruited some of my friends to help out, and we started showing it to people and people said yea this is actually a product that I would consider buying. That's when we decided to you know make a company out of it and give it a go.

Smartwatch FM: So you tackled a use case. It wasn't that you were a watch fetishist or like really into this idea, it was really to tackle a personal problem of your's, but it ultimately found out they had a wider appeal.

Migicovsky: That's correct.  Yea, it's just something I wanted to make myself. Luckily I mean it was a shared

Smartwatch FM: And so you went out and eventually raised a little bit of funding for Impulse but the channels for traditional vendor funding was very limited for you and ultimately you decided to go to Kickstarter.  Can you talk a little about that transition?

Migicovsky: Yeah, so for, for us, we had a couple of things working against us.  At the beginning we were a small hardware company that we were making our product in our garage, the Impulse.  And we were also making a product that was specifically for Blackberry smartphones.  You might remember Blackberry... you know phones with the keyboard...

Smartwatch FM:  You it's as if they're museum pieces at this point.

Migicovsky: And then as soon as we, it took us you know two years to actually bring this first product Impulse to market and actually make something that we could ship to our customers.  And by the time we made that, you know IPhone and Android started taking off, so the number one question that we got was  when would this work with my iPhone?  And then in 2011, summer, when at WWDC Apple announced iOS 5, we were finally able to write an app that would be able to talk to a Bluetooth accessory in the background, and that's when we built the first prototype for what would become Pebble.

Smartwatch FM:  Ok, and how instrumental was, so that was kind of the instrumental thing from the apple side now was the Bluetooth working in the background?  Why was that so crucial?

Migicovsky:  Well it's pretty important. If you had to open the, open the Pebble app every time you wanted to communicate with Pebble, it would be kind of useless.

Smartwatch FM: And so when you put it on Kickstarter, you went well beyond your expectations I would imagine, and went to the I think at the time, most funded hardware device, or maybe the most successful campaign at the time, to $10 million or so.  Talk a little bit about it - did you very quickly have to rethink what you were planning to do there because the funding was much greater?

Migicovsky:  Yeah, we actually had a couple different plans in place when we went on Kickstarter. The bottom plan was just to do the same thing every day with Impulse, which was manufacture the product locally in small volumes.  But then when it took off, we kicked the second plan into gear which was to go overseas and manufacture the product in higher volumes.

Smartwatch FM: So if you were looking at the, at smartwatches if you were a consumer, and you were selling them the Pebble why would you, what's the pitch for Pebble over other smart watches?  You know, there's others out there like Metawatch, there's Martian, why would they by a Pebble?

Migicovsky: So Pebble is about the full experience.  You know, it's not only a hardware product that you wear on your wrist. So it has to be durable, it has to be waterproof, the battery has to last for 7 days, and I think above all, the screen has to be as readable as possible. And that's why we made a lot of the industrial design decisions that we did, to increase the battery life to seven days, to add this beautiful e-paper display that just shines in direct sunlight. So we took a lot of care to make sure that the hardware was the best hardware possible for a smartwatch. 

And then we combined it with software support on the phone that allows you to get instant notifications of messages like SMS, caller ID. But I think the really cool thing about Pebble is the ecosystem of apps that are popping up around Pebble, so you can get different types of notifications, you can do remote controls. There's even sports apps that you can use to monitor you know your run, your bike ride, your hike on your watch.

Smartwatch FM: With regards to the apps, you know it seems like smartwatches are very much and early tech enthusiast thing right now.  Can you talk a little bit about how you plan to evolve the app experience for consumers? How they can discover them.  Is there going to be  like a central location to get them?  How can you make it more I guess just like the Apple experience today with the app store?

Migicovsky: So I think our major goal over the next few months is to really focus our efforts on the developer experience - so making sure that everything we do is catering well towards developers who are writing apps on top of the Pebble platform. One of the key components about that is discoverability.  Making it so that after a developer writes an app for Pebble, like a killer app, there's a need to share their app with the entire Pebble user base, which is close to 100,000 people right now.  That's one of our number one goals right now.

Smartwatch FM:  How would you define a smartwatch and ultimately what do you think belongs on the watch?

Migicovsky: So I think Pebble's really cool because it's an accessory to your smartphone.  It doesn't replace your phone. I mean, people love their phones and they're sitting in their pockets, they're connected to the Internet, you know they run all those cool apps, so there's no way, there's no point in trying to eliminate that useful device that has a big spring and color and everything like that in your pocket.

What Pebble does is it provides the ability to unlock some of the information that's on your phone or on the Internet and bring it out into everyday life.  So when you're sitting in a meeting, or running for the bus or traveling with kids, you can just glance down at your wrist and instantly see without having to fumble with your phone all of the important stuff that you need at a glance.

Smartwatch FM:  What can we expect going forward, can you talk at all about your roadmap for what we can see from Pebble in the future.

Migicovsky:  Well as I mentioned, our focus is entirely on the developer experience right now. Our software team is working extremely hard to provide new features, new APIs, so that developers can create new apps that leverage you know the platform that is already out there on almost 100,000 wrists.  That's our number one goal right now.

Smartwatch FM: When you look at smartwatches in the broader universe of wearables, you look at things like Google glass, etc, there's all sorts of opinions about the life of the smartwatch.  Can you talk about the smartwatch versus other wearables, do you think it has a long life?  The watch in general?

Migicovsky: Yeah, definitely. Watches have been around for hundreds of years, and it's clear that people like having a little bit of technology attached to their wrist. What Pebble does is it just takes that classic position, that classic location for technology, and adds a whole bunch of smarts to it.

Smartwatch FM:  Well Eric Migicovsky thank you for taking time today.

Migicovsky: No problem. Thanks for the chat.