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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pebble Raises $15 Million as Wave of Smart Watches Arrives

Rumor has it that everyone from Apple to Microsoft is working on smartwatches to compete with the handful that are already arriving on the market.

But before those started making waves, there was the Pebble, a Kickstarter project begun last April in order to build a durable sports watch that could also receive text messages and calls and play music. Before anyone had seen a finished product, it dazzled tens of thousands of people online, who then contributed $10 million to see the device manufactured.

And on Thursday, Pebble announced it had raised $15 million from Charles River Ventures to propel the company out of its idea phase and into full-on start-up mode.

Eric Migicovsky, the Canadian engineer who started the Pebble project, said that it had already shipped 70,000 watches to its Kickstarter backers; it owes them another 15,000, which it is rushing out. The company is also planning to sell watches through its site. He said that if Pebble wants to continue to work on future designs, it will need additional financial support and advisement.

“When we started shipping Pebble at the end of January, we realized that if we were looking at a larger opportunity than we originally anticipated, we might need more support, a larger network and some capital to pull it off,” he said. Pebble spent most of its original $10 million on manufacturing.

Mr. Migicovsky said his primary plans are to support the growing community of developers who have already built 600 apps for the Pebble smartwatch. He said that there is a message board on Reddit, a news aggregator, dedicated to Pebble add-ons and products, including a shower holster that lets owners mount their watches while they bathe. In addition, he said, he wants to hire more software developers and people who can start prototyping what the second-generation Pebble smartwatches might look like. Both of these things will help safeguard Pebble from the onslaught of competition likely to come from industry heavyweights like Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft.

“Obviously others have recognized the opportunity,” he said. “But we're going to focus on what we're good at, which is building a sports watch with a long battery life that looks good.”

Pebble is not the only Kickstarter project that sought outside funds after an initial whirlwind of crowdfunded support. Ouya, an Android-based gaming console, also recently announced that it had raised $15 million in venture financing.