• Heads Up: Navdy Raises $20 Million Series A Round

    Navdy-Projectin-HUD4Navdy, a 20-person, San Francisco-based company, has spent the last two years working on a head-up display that can be installed on the dashboard of any car and aims to make driving safer by getting people to look ahead at the road, rather than down at their phones.

    Its vision is about to be fulfilled, too. After taking more than 17,000 pre-orders for the product on its site, amounting to more than $6 million in sales, the company says it’s ready to start shipping the first version of the Navdy to customers in the second half of this year. (Pre-orders cost $299; the device will retail for $499.) In fact, investors are so excited about the company’s future that they’ve just given the company $20 million in Series A funding.

    Earlier this week, we spoke with Navdy founder and CEO Doug Simpson to learn more. Our chat has been edited for length.

    You’ve sold a lot of a product that hasn’t shipped yet. Did we miss your Kickstarter campaign, or did Navdy do this exclusively through its site?

    It was all done on our own site. We wanted to have more control over the user experience, and we have a [fun, product demonstration] video that’s done well, with more than 1.4 million views – that’s a big success factor. It’s a problem that people can identify with, and it’s an experience that feels magical, and I think that came across in the video and people got excited about it.

    How will big will the product run be, and did you always intend to begin shipping in the second half of this year?

    It was not always the plan. We were targeting the first half the year, but the preorder campaign was way more successful than we thought it would be, which made things more difficult, including [regarding] the supply chain. We’ve also continued to [integrate feedback] from a lot of usability testing and made iterations that have taken longer than we expected, but the result is that we’ve made some great improvements in the product. It was a difficult decision to disappoint people with a delay, but it would be worst to disappoint them with the product itself.

    As for production capacity, it will take less than a month to get through the orders we have now; after that, we’ll be producing between 20,000 to 30,000 units per month.

    And where will they sell?

    From a channel perspective, we’ll be able to take orders online this year, and next year, we’ll roll out to other channels, including traditional consumer retailers like Best Buy. We don’t have anything to announce, but the number of retailers and distributors who’ve [reached out out to us] is over 2,000.

    You’ve probably gotten a lot of feedback regarding which apps people want Navdy to include and those they don’t. Have you made any big changes based on that feedback?

    Not really. Our original plan was to focus on three use case: navigation; communication – meaning call control and text messages; and music control, and the feedback we’ve had is that those are the categories that are important to customers. Music control is a lower priority than the first two, so that’s helped us prioritize our development efforts.

    The obvious concern with Navdy is that it will be rendered obsolete by newer cars that have this kind of technology baked in.

    One of the surprises of the pre-order campaign is that lots of OEMS have already started contacting us about partnering. That’s always been our strategy, though we thought it would take time to get their interest. It will be a long process, but either way, we always plan to offer a direct-to-consumer product, too.

    What proof you have that your product will make driving safer?

    As part of user testing, we’ve taken a look at cognitive upload, the distraction of interacting with our product versus the phone. We’re also working with insurance companies and car companies on some of those aspects as well. There’s a lot of evidence to support that head-up display technology itself — developed by the military and used now by all commercial airlines – is safer.

    What’s next? Is there a product line in the pipeline?

    Yes, we really want to focus on making the in-car experience great, and we think we can expand beyond just this initial product, but right now, we’re very focused on [the first version] and the second version will build on that. I can’t really share more than that right now, though.

  • Richard Wolpert’s Big Idea: Tech Support for Your Parents

    richard wolpert“I’m no spring chicken,” says Richard Wolpert. “But I’ve been at this for 30 years and I have a lot of great experience under my belt.”

    Wolpert — who sold companies to Adobe and RealNetworks and launched Disney’s earliest online businesses before joining Accel Partners as a venture partner and cofounding Amplify.la — is explaining why, after more than seven years as a full-time investor, he just founded his fourth startup.

    The L.A.-based company is three-month-old Hello Tech. Its big idea, the one that Wolpert couldn’t let go: remote tech support for consumers who own or want to buy products like Sonos speakers and Nest thermostats but who need help in keeping them up and running.

    “These are homeowners with disposable income who don’t how how to get through the newest digital security service or latest update [to their other products],” says Wolpert. “It’s much more than, “Let us catch that virus.” He adds with a laugh: “Most investors we pitched said, ‘I would buy this for my parents so I don’t have to do this anymore.’”

    It’s really no joke. The tech support market — valued at $21 billion — appears to remain wide open at the moment.

    Services like Geek Squad, the Best Buy subsidiary, have largely alienated U.S. consumers over the years. Meanwhile, no brand has managed to capture much of the market in its place. A sampling of Hello Tech’s current competitors include Student@Home, a London-based company that sends IT students to customers’ homes; iCracked, a two-year-old, Redwood Shores, Ca., company that sends out help to consumers who’ve damaged their Apple products; and Geekatoo of Mountain View, Ca., an Angie’s List-like service that connects product owners with “verified geeks” and which Wolpert doesn’t seem to take very seriously.

    “You ask for help, then within 24 hours, someone like Tom at ComputerRepair.com arranges to come out and you pay him directly. It’s not an end-to-end service. We imagine something much tighter.”

    Just don’t ask how it works. Aside from Hello Tech’s funding – it just raised $2.5 million co-led by Accel, Upfront Ventures, and Crosscut Ventures – Wolpert isn’t ready to disclose much, saying he prefers not to share “some of what we think will be the secret sauce.”

    Indeed, he declines to answer numerous questions about how Hello Tech will manage supply and demand, how it will market the service, or how the company can ensure that its remote workforce represents the standards Wolpert envisions.

    Wolpert offers instead that he cofounded Hello Tech with two former Disney colleagues who he has known for 19 years: Minah Oh and Sascha Linn. He says Hello Tech will run “much like other marketplace models,” meaning it will take a percentage off every transaction and that users will rate the technicians who visit them. He also says that Hello Tech will launch in six cities to prove out its model, starting this spring in L.A.

    Asked a related question about the company’s road map, Wolpert says only that, “We have some clever ideas and we don’t want to tip our hat to the market.”

    Likely, by “market,” Wolpert means Ron Johnson. As PandoDaily notes, Johnson, a former SVP of retail operations at Apple, also recently launched a company that’s largely operating in stealth mode.

    It sounds as if it’s targeting the same, big opportunity, too. Back in October, Johnson talked with the Wall Street Journal about providing customers with the ability to touch and try expensive electronic goods before making a big purchase.

    Johnson told the outlet: “That’s when you typically want something more than fast delivery; you might want a little help . . . There’s a place for high touch in a high-tech world.”

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