Today (April 11) is the 10th anniversary of Pebble’s Kickstarter debut. To mark the occasion, founder Eric Migicovsky published an explainer on what went wrong over the startup’s 5.5-year history.
The blog post was originally written in 2017 — a year or so after Fitbit acquired key IP (operating system, patents, etc.) — to chronicle both the business and product decisions that led to failure. Of particular note is the bet that Pebble made in 2015 with its version/generation 2.0 in response to competition and a broadening market:
Around this time Apple came out with the Apple Watch and we thought the smartwatch market was about to explode. So in a quest for big sales growth, we figured our 2015 strategy would need to shift focus to a broader market, away from our core early adopter market positioning.
The Pebble Time had the goal of targeting a market beyond what Migicovsky refers to as the “geek core” of the original Kickstarter product. It focused on “efficiency and productivity” use cases with a “timeline-based operating system that let you perform short, quick interactions (checking weather, calendar, sports, Uber).”
We figured this would give us competitive differentiation from sports focused wearables and be useful for a broader set of users. While this software was certainly useful and made sense in the context of a watch, it was exceedingly difficult to explain why customers should care. It failed the ‘make something people want’ test. It was cool and some people used it a lot, but ‘I want my smartwatch to be more efficient’ was not a widespread hair on fire problem.
Left: Pebble | Center: Pebble Time | Right: Pebble 2, Time 2, Core
At the time, Migicovsky was hesitant to make a health wearable because Pebble wasn’t a “fitness company at [its] core” and could not differentiate. In retrospect, that’s where the Fitbit and Apple Watch — which was able to shift the entire product to fitness/health after the initial 2015 launch — found success.
We eventually got there as well with Pebble 2 and Pebble Core but it was too late for us.
Another interesting point is how Migicovsky wishes Pebble wasn’t on an annual consumer electronics release cycle:
We had to launch new products each year in order to make money. Instead, we could have charged a subscription or created enduring product lines that could be sold year-over-year.
The full post is an interesting read, especially for founders. There’s also a companion Twitter thread:
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