The Amazon Echo, Fitbit One and the “smart hairbrush” are just a few examples of smart devices that are connected to the web as part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
It is estimated that by 2020, the IoT industry will have grown to $3.7 billion.
Today, we are excited to share with you, our interview with Andrew Thomas, co-founder of SkyBell, a startup that pioneered a Wi-Fi-enabled smart doorbell that allows people to monitor and open the door with their smartphone.
Eric Siu picks Andrew's brain to discover: how SkyBell went from a company that nobody wanted to back, to a earning a 9-figure valuation, how LinkedIn is being used as a tool to identify decision makers, ways to boost the success of Indiegogo campaigns, and much more.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you do at SkyBell?
A: We make a video doorbell that allows people to answer from their smartphones – so they can see, hear, and speak to the person at the door from their phones.
I'm a co-founder, along with a few other folks, and we started SkyBell three years ago.
We went on Indiegogo, raised $600,000 and went off to the races developing this video doorbell!
Three years later, to the present day, we've now partnered with Honeywell, Alarm.com, Monitronics, and Comcast – big companies in our space, doing some good B2B deals, and also marketing our product through retail and consumer channels, helping people to build safer homes.
Q: How does the product work, and how much do you charge for it?
A: The product itself is a hockey puck shaped piece of hardware.
It replaces your current doorbell and has a button, video camera, microphone, and speaker. When somebody comes to the front door and presses our SkyBell button, it sends you a push notification to your smartphone, then you’ll see a live video of the person at your front door. You can talk to them, and they can hear you, and speak back to you.
It's $199 and it's made in the USA. It also has a motion sensor, so if people don't press the button, it can still activate and tell you that someone's at your doorstep.
Q: What numbers can you talk to about for the business?
A: The big number, was how much investment dollars we got in the beginning. It was zero. We got no money when we started this company. We went on Indiegogo, and we did a crowdfunding campaign. That was three years ago.
In five days, we raised $100,000 on Indiegogo, and that campaign capped out at $600,000. We went from a company with an idea that nobody wanted to back, to a $600,000 cash infusion from Indiegogo, 5,000 customers, and a proven idea. That's the point where we were like, “We've got a great idea, we're going all in.” That was about three years ago, and now we're a nine-figure valuation. It's incredible to think that this happened so quickly.
I credit our team and our product idea. We had a perfect product-market fit, and the right idea at the right time. It just resonates with customers. We're grateful. We're shipping thousands of units every month.
We're just thrilled. In three years, from zero to 100 million plus has been pretty incredible.
Q: How is your growth being fueled right now? Is it these big partnerships? What's the big thing that's working for you guys in terms of customer acquisition?
A: About a year and a half ago, everybody in our space was really looking at the customer. Everybody wanted to own this idea of the smart home. The lights, the locks, and the thermostat. They wanted to own everything. We didn't pick that route. We decided that a well-designed point solution, or individual product, that does one thing really well, will serve customers better.
We went that route. Instead of going to the consumers, we actually went and designed our platform so it would work with the biggest companies in our space. Those companies are the home security companies.
They already have great home security solutions, they just didn't have anything at the front door.
We designed our platform so it would work seamlessly with their platforms. They loved it. Now, we have distribution deals with them, and we're maintaining that momentum over across the B2C. Now, we're doing the Facebook ads, the look-alike campaigns, reaching people on Instagram, and serving the B2C side of things.
Q: When you were first starting out, let's say your very first big B2B deal, what was your process?
A: It's a long process. The unique thing about B2B is that you have longer cycles. For one of our bigger deals … It actually took about two years. From the first time I spoke with the person at that company to when we closed the deal, it was just under two years. A lot of stuff happens. Sometimes the deal's on, sometimes it's off.
The big lessons I learned about closing B2B deals, is you've got to identify the partner, you've got to identify what they want. It's just like B2C. You're telling someone a story about how your product will benefit them. You’ve just got to do that in a slightly different way for B2B. You’ve got to understand, which employees make decisions, and you've got to find out how they're motivated.
They're the people who are going to decide whether or not your product works. You’ve got to validate your product as the right solution to their end customer, but you also have to pitch on why your product is the right solution for that company.
Q: Got it. Just to go back a little bit, when you're first starting out with these B2B deals, are you initially just finding their email and then reaching out to them through email, or is it something else?
A: It's usually something else. In some cases, these people reached out to us, and other cases I knew I wanted to speak with them.
The first thing you do is you check your network, to see if you know anybody there. That's the easiest and best way to get in. When that doesn't work, you got to get creative.
One of the hacks that I use is LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn's a great tool for this. It's very underrated. I have found that you can't go after the decision maker right off the bat.
The trick I use is: you actually go and you find out who reports to them. You add them on LinkedIn, and you talk to them first. Send them a nice note, introduce yourself, and say you've got a good idea that might help their team. That usually gets someone to accept your LinkedIn request.
Little by little, you keep doing it, and more and more of them will accept your requests.
That's how I've done a lot of my B2B prospecting actually, is on LinkedIn.
Q: I want to jump back to your Indiegogo campaign. Tell us about that experience. How did you go about raising the first $100K and then how did you get up to $600K? What was the magic?
A: I think the video's the single most powerful thing you can do. You've got to do a compelling video. It can be unpolished, as long as it's captivating, authentic, and it quickly disseminates the value of your product.
No one's going to wait around for 30 to 45 seconds into your video to find out why they should support your campaign.
Right off the bat, if you look at our campaign we:
- Go right into what the product is.
- Talk about it.
- Show how it would be used.
Within the first 15 to 20 seconds, people know exactly what they're dealing with.
Then, we go into the details like the camera resolution or multiple user accounts, night vision, and things like that.
You need to tell a strong narrative, tell people why you're doing this and how you're going to do it. People want honesty and authenticity, and people are backing you as much as they're backing the idea by crowdfunding.
There's a trust factor you have to accomplish. You do that through a quality video, looking presentable, looking congruent to your product, and then having good creative assets.
In terms of how to launch it with a bang, what you really want to do with crowdfunding, is you want to get to about 30% of your goal within the first 24 to 72 hours. It's really important to get a big chunk of your asking price. If you want to raise $100k, you've got to get to $35k pretty quickly.
If you do that, then the algorithms will help you out. Indiegogo and Kickstarter will put your campaign on their homepage. Or they'll put in email or like, “What's hot?” Then, you get that viral effect.
Good ways to do that are email lists. Have your email list ready to go, have a campaign ready to go, get people onto your Facebook page before you launch, build up that community as much as you can. Reach out to influencers before it hits, and get them excited about it, because everything that you can do in that first 72 hours will help you significantly.
There's some level of compounding interest with this stuff. If you can get an extra $15,000 in the first 48 hours, that'll be an extra $75,000 on the back of the campaign. That's what happened with us. We ended up at about $600,000 by the end of our 30-day campaign, but we got hot right off the bat. It was $100k, I think, in the first five days.
Q: Tell us about one big struggle you faced while growing this business.
A: The biggest mistake we made whilst launching our first product, was that we did not do enough testing on it.
Nor did we have:
- Enough customer service ready to go.
- A contingency plan for what happens if people aren't happy with their product.
We knew in concept, but we really didn't iron it out as well as we should have, and it hurt our brand.
I wish we didn't put it on Amazon so quickly because we got a lot of bad reviews on that first product. Candidly, I would withhold from selling things too soon on any retail website or any outlet where there are review processes.
Iron out your product, get it right and be ready because how you handle that adversity is going to define your brand.
Q: How old are you right now, and what’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 24-year-old self?
A: I'm 32.
I wish that the 24-year-old version of myself understood the power of intention and the ways that we can create what we want by focusing on what's possible, and not focusing on the fear side of things.
At 24, I made a lot of decisions based on scarcity, or fear. Around 27 or 28, I did a lot of work, a lot of examination, self-actualization, and really realized the power of intention.
When you have a goal, when you can define what that goal is, that goal is backed by a sense of desire and purpose, and you can quantify it, qualify it, visualize it, you can achieve it.
When you hold space for that sort of goal or intention, it tends to come true. The more I play with the intention or the law of attraction, the more I focus on it, the more and more it seems to be true in my life.
It goes back to like I told you, a year before I started SkyBell, I told my roommates I was going to be the founder of a tech company. A year or two ago, I told my girlfriend I was going to be a writer for Inc.com and Huffington Post, and I'm now a contributor for both of those. A lot of these things that I've set as goals and held the intention for have come true.
If people want to learn more about that, some of the resources I listen to are:
- Abraham Hicks
- Tony Robbins
- Dr Wayne Dyer is fantastic
- Jim Carrey – he's got some great videos on YouTube
- Steve Harvey
- Denzel Washington
- Will Smith
They’ve all used the power of intention – I wish I learned that earlier!
Q: What's one new tool that you added in the last year that's added a lot of value?
A: I would say content.
The content that I write helps me get speaking gigs. It helps me do partnerships with people, and the way that you can use content now is incredible. That content for me has been a lot of article writing for Inc or Huffington Post.
I think video, has become tremendously important. One thing that I've learned, is a video that is unpolished and is honest and authentic, outperforms a video that is polished and has it all together. We're starting to use video … That's not a new tool, but we're using it in a new way. We're trying to tell more founder stories.
Q: What's the best way for people to find you online?
A: The best way to find me online is on Twitter. I'm @apthomas, and on Instagram, I'm doorbellsyall. Those are the two best ways to reach me. My website is at andrewpaulthomas.com, and then on the SkyBell side, we are at SkyBell.com.