$7 million Pebble watch shatters Kickstarter records

@CNNMoneyTech May 2, 2012: 9:37 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- When Eric Migicovsky posted on Kickstarter his prototype for a sleek watch that integrates with iPhone and Android devices, he didn't anticipate the tidal wave of support it would receive.

Within hours of going live, the project hit its $100,000 funding goal. Then it kept going. Three weeks later, the Pebble watch has drawn $7.8 million from backers, shattering Kickstarter's previous $3.3 million fundraising record. More than 44,000 people have laid down at least $115 for a Pebble watch (an early-bird price: the planned minimum retail price is $150), and 15 backers have thrown down $10,000 for a "distributor pack" of 100 watches.

It's a sweet turnaround for a project that left Silicon Valley's venture capitalists cold.

Migicovsky' previous creation, a BlackBerry-linked watch called inPulse, got its start while he was still a student at the University of Waterloo. InPulse was promising enough to land him a spot last year in prestigious tech incubator Y-Combinator.

But hardware is a hard sell in San Francisco's software-obsessed startup scene. Migicovsky approached around 10 venture capitalists in February. None bit.

"It didn't go so well," he says. "They gave a bunch of reasons, mostly related to being a hardware business and the risk associated with that."

So Migicovsky turned to Kickstarter -- where Pebble almost instantly went viral.

The watch uses Bluetooth to link up with the wearer's smartphone. On an e-paper screen designed to be viewable even in bright sunlight, the watch displays phone data like incoming calls, e-mails and calendar alerts. It's also a platform for apps. One of the first lets cyclists use Pebble as a bike computer, accessing the GPS on their phone to display speed and distance data.

While the Pebble is far from the first "smart watch," Migicovsky credits his background in the field for its runaway success. That, and perfect timing.

"About four years ago, when the iPhone enabled people to write apps for their phone, it was a big change," Migicovsky says. "People started thinking about how the phone could replace other objects -- it could replace your video camera, it could replace your Web browser. Now, with the watch, we want to look at what apps you can run on the watch that would replace other things you carry around."

Kickstarter hosts projects in a wide variety of fields, but it's becoming an especially good launch pad for industrial designers.

One of the site's first runaway hits was another ahead-of-its-time watch: the TikTok, which turned iPod nanos into wristwatches. In late 2010, Scott Wilson, the founder of Chicago-based design company Minimal Inc., raised almost $1 million to launch the TikTok and its premium-version companion, the LunaTik.

"It's a very nice platform to gauge whether its a good idea or not," Wilson says of Kickstarter. "That's why good ideas resonate and get made."

After his breakout Kickstarter success, Wilson spun off the LunaTik brand as a separate company. Since then, Wilson says they've sold more than 250,000 watches, which are now available in Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) stores in Europe and Asia.

"It enabled a small idea to become a global brand overnight," he says.

Pebble is on that same trajectory. With millions more at his disposal than he expected -- and two more weeks to go before the Kickstarter campaign ends -- Migicovsky is ramping up the quantity and quality of his production plans.

"We want to give back and we want to make the product an excellent product." he says. "That includes quality materials, quality plastic and just making sure that it delivers the exact experience." To top of page

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