Interview: Tile is Crowdfunding a Universal Lost and Found

tile

Tile is a tiny Bluetooth LE radio that you can attach to anything. It’s not the first to do this, but it’s very small, very elegant, inexpensive and it comes with two key differentiators. First, it lasts a year and there’s no need (or ability) to change the batteries. You just exchange them for new Tiles at the end of the year.

Second, Tile taps the community of Tile app users to create a kind of universal lost and found. If any device running the Tile app happens across a Tile that’s been marked as lost, it will automatically (and anonymously) notify the lost Tile’s owner of its current location. Pretty cool.

We lose our keys and phones constantly in my family, so something like Tile solves a very real problem. If their Selfstarter crowdfunding success is any indicator we’re not the only ones. The campaign started on June 20th and they’ve raised over $1.2 million so far, with less than a week to go.

We interviewed Tile founders Nick Evans and Mike Farley to learn more about their product and their crowdfunding campaign.

Hack Things: Can you tell us a bit about what Tile does and what makes it special?

Tile: We invented Tile to make people’s lives easier. To keep people from losing the stuff that’s important to them, and give them back the time they previously spent searching for lost stuff. Each Tile pairs up with the accompanying iOS app which allows you to view the location of each of your items on a map. Using the Tile app, you can see the location of each item when it is within Bluetooth range (100-150 ft), see the last place your item was connected to the app if you forget something like your wallet at a shop or restaurant for example, and you can make an alarm sound on your Tile when you are within Bluetooth range to make it easier to find. If you’ve lost an item and it isn’t in the last place you think you left it, you can mark the Tile as lost, which will discretely and securely put all other Tile apps on the lookout for your lost item.

Hack Things: One of your innovations with Tile is that you don’t have to (and can’t) change its batteries, it just works for a year. Why did you make that decision? What makes it possible?

Tile: We make it simple to switch out your Tiles, and send you a yearly reminder a month in advance, which includes a pre-addressed shipping package for easy mailing and recycling of your old Tile. We decided to make this decision because it creates a better product. It allows the Tile to be waterproof, thinner, and cheaper. Along with that, it also allows us to send out new hardware updates every year – always providing our users with the most up-to-date Tile. People thought the same thing with Apple came out with the iPhone and you suddenly couldn’t change your smartphone’s battery, but now people don’t think twice about this. Once people start using Tile I think they will realize how much easier this makes things. We think remembering to charge and replace batteries is a huge hassle, and adds up cost-wise. Tile just makes your life easier.

Hack Things: Congratulations on Tile’s enormous crowd funding success! How did you decide to go with a “self-starter” instead of Kickstarter or IndieGogo? What are the advantages you’ve already seen with your self-starter? Have there been any disadvantages to this approach?

Tile: We think that the story of Lockitron is incredible.  After being rejected by Kickstarter, they started their own open-source crowdfunding platform, Selfstarter, hit their 150K goal in the first 24 hours and continued to be extremely successful throughout the campaign. Lockitron’s story is truly inspiring to us, so we decided to take the Selfstarter route as well as we feel like that matches Tile’s vision.

We wanted to use Selfstarter rather than other platforms because we believe it makes the most sense for hardware startups and has a lot of advantages. First of all, we are able to verify the market demand before we build a bunch of units, secondly we get the exact number of units we should build and we receive the capital required to do the production run. Doing a Selfstarter campaign also allows us to get feedback earlier, creating an experience similar to widespread beta testing – which will help us bring the best product and features to our users.

Hack Things: We couldn’t help but notice a big mid-campaign surge a couple of days ago, where you added well over $200,000 in funding in a single day. To what do you attribute that growth? What have you done to market your campaign?

Tile: The continuous growth has been amazing and we attribute that to having a great product that is rapidly spreading through word of mouth in real life and on social media. We have also been backing up the campaign with a lot of PR/Marketing support.

Hack Things: How do you differentiate Tile from other products on the market like StickNFind or Button TrackR?

Tile: There are a lot of features that differentiate Tile from other products on the market. Tile is hassle free – users never need to change or recharge a battery. Each Tile lasts for 1 year and after the year you send in the old Tile and we send a new one back and it’s free shipping! When a Tile is marked as lost on the Tile App, it automatically sends out a signal that securely and discretely puts all Tile apps in the community on the lookout for the missing item, dramatically expanding past the range from which a lost item can be found with other Bluetooth 4.0 devices. Finally, you can also privately share Tiles with friends and family as well as find your Tiles with a friends phone by signing into your Tile account on their phone.

Hack Things: You raised money from the accelerator Tandem. How do you think crowd funding and traditional investment should work together? How has Tandem helped you other than financially?

Tile: Tandem is a unique accelerator that offers much more than funding but also hands-on, daily guidance in BD, engineering, user retention, and even set us up with prime Silicon Valley real estate. We believe that crowd funding and traditional investments should go hand in hand – traditional investments helped build the backbone of Tile. With the traditional investments we were able to launch a successful crowd funding campaign to turn these initial ideas into an awesome product that our users will love.

Hack Things: What’s next for Tile? What is the number one feature request you’re getting from your community of backers?

Tile: There are an endless number of features that we would like to develop for Tile.  However, right now we are very much focused on delivering a rock solid Tile version 1.  The number one feature request we have received so far is Android support and different colored Tiles. We can’t wait to share some of the upcoming features of Tile v2 with you all in the future!

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