Space Monkey Shows the Future of Consumer Electronics


Space Monkey is a bold example of the trends we’ve been discussing lately, including the idea that software will be at the center of new and low-cost connected devices.  It isn’t “disposable hardware” but they are giving it away for free, banking on the utility and business model of their overall service.  We believe that’s the future of consumer electronics.

So what is it?  Space Monkey is the personal storage and backup solution you’ve been waiting for:  tons of space, built-in distributed back-up, super-fast file access and a low price — disruptively so.  Space Monkey launched on Kickstarter two days ago and have already raised 220% of their goal with 25 days left.

We reached out to Space Monkey’s founders, Clint and Alen to learn more.

Hack Things: Please tell us a little bit about your project.  Who is it for? How did you come up with the idea?

Space Monkey:  Clint and I met at one of the first cloud companies to provide backup for consumers. After a couple of years there, we realized two things: 1) data centers are very expensive to build and even more expensive to operate and 2) consumers’ demand for online storage is exploding.

People who have lots of data find two immediate problems with the Cloud: it’s expensive, and it’s slow. Both of those things are tied to the cost — it’s just not feasible to provide 1TB of storage in data centers for much less than about $600 in yearly costs right now.

Data centers are like high-end penthouses for disk drives. We asked ourselves how we could fix that. The approach the entire industry has taken — and indeed the approach we’d spent years trying with traditional cloud backup — is to try to make data centers less expensive. The company we worked for was actually quite good at that, beating some of the biggest names in the industry on raw costs, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand in an affordable way.

So we decided to do something more radical: cut the datacenter almost completely out of the picture. We built on some work I had spent years tinkering with in distributed peer-to-peer systems, spent a lot of time really thinking through what the user experience and expectation should be, put together a working prototype, and set out to raise some money and hire some of the brilliant people we’d had the pleasure to work with during our careers to help us build the product.

Hack Things: You guys are crazy awesome, we’re only a few hours into your campaign and you’re already two thirds of the way to your goal. Are you going to create stretch goals?

Space Monkey:  We’re definitely considering some interesting ideas for stretch goals. Keep an eye on our Kickstarter page for details.

Hack Things: You are going to be giving away the hardware device, is that correct?  Can you comment on how space monkey is different from most traditional consumer hardware companies?

Space Monkey:  The device comes as part of the subscription. This has a couple of concrete advantages for people using the service: 1) you don’t have to worry about the device or hard drive failing — that’s the company’s problem and 2) if you are not satisfied with the service, you can cancel at any time without having sunk hundreds of dollars into the product. We also feel like both of those things help align us, as a company, with what’s best for users: 1) it’s our job to keep the network of devices healthy and running — not the customers’, and 2) we want to keep you loving the service, so giving you access to the ripcord forces us to try very hard to keep you happy.

Hack Things: How did you choose Kickstarter vs. other fundraising sites?

Space Monkey:  We really felt like Kickstarter had the largest audience of people who were passionate about new technology and would like to be not just customers of the product, but partners in bringing it to market. We’re also fans of Indiegogo, and some of the other crowdfunding platforms, and would love to see this whole ecosystem flourish with vibrant competition.

Hack Things: How did you choose your fundraising goal?

Space Monkey:  We thought about it in terms of market reach. $100,000 represents roughly 1000 new users. We felt confident we could find at least that many people who were anxious to try the product out, and that their contributions would be enough to finish funding the initial production run of devices.

Hack Things: You already raised over $2,000,000, why do you need the $100,000 from Kickstarter?

Space Monkey:  While we could have financed production runs of the hardware without Kickstarter, we felt like it would be much better to let our early customers also be part of this goal we have to change how the world stores data.

Most of the money we’ve received from investors was earmarked for software research and development. We really consider ourselves to be a software company with a hardware component, rather than vice-versa.

That’s not to trivialize how hard it is to develop good hardware, but more a reflection of the fact that we aren’t really pushing many boundaries with the hardware design. All of the really cutting edge stuff — the stuff no one has attempted before — is being done in software. And it seems true that companies that think they are primarily in the hardware business end up focusing too little on the main surface area that people interact with, which is always driven by software.

Hack Things: In terms of manufacturing, did you already have a manufacturing  / production partner lined up? Where are you making this? Did you have prior background or experience in manufacturing devices?

Space Monkey:  Early prototypes were manufactured domestically, and we’ve used some local facilities in our backyard in Utah for some of the components. The end product will be manufactured in Shenzhen, China. This is the first time Clint or I have dealt directly with producing hardware, but we’ve been able to surround ourselves with people who have deep manufacturing and hardware experience, and rely heavily on them for advice and for, really, all the heavy lifting.

Hack Things: You are shipping the first of the units in July, and it looks like you’re going to need to ship a lot of them. Where are you having them manufactured, and what gives you confidence you can get enough made to satisfy the demand?

Space Monkey:  We are confident we’ll be able to physically ramp up production of the units as needed, but we are planning to grow the network carefully, and will communicate to early backers when they should expect units to arrive based on which “wave” they are in. All those who have pledged on Kickstarter to date (and for the next few days) should be in the first wave or two, and should expect on time delivery.

Hack Things: Any funny or illustrative anecdotes from the manufacturing process or learnings so far that you’d like to share that might help others making the leap from prototype to real shipping device?

Space Monkey:  As with software, expect there to be problems in the first few versions, and expect to iterate and improve those designs over time.

Hack Things: Just how big a drive do you put in each of the Space Monkey devices to make sure you have enough for the network/shared storage and redundancy?

Space Monkey:  All units will have at least a 2TB drive internally. Some may have 3TB or 4TB drives.

We’ve carefully modeled the network to provide enough capacity for everyone. In our existing alpha network, there is far more storage capacity than is needed by the users in that network.

Hack Things: What did you do to prime the pump about Space Monkey before you launched on KickStarter? What, if anything, did you do to make sure that a ready audience of eager buyers there at launch time?

Space Monkey:  Due to our win at the Launch Festival in 2012 and the press that resulted from that, we had a fairly large sign up list of people already interested and ready to purchase. We made sure to let those people know before we pressed the “Launch” button on Kickstarter. We have also been fortunate to have spoken with some great people in the press in the weeks leading up to the start of the campaign.

Hack Things: What do think are the three most important things you’ve done with your Kickstarter campaign to help it get off to such a great start?

Space Monkey:

1. Worked very carefully on messaging, studying other successful Kickstarter campaigns.

2. Made sure we had a plan for bringing people to the Kickstarter campaign on day 1.

3. Involved lots of other smart people in reviewing and contributing to the campaign before it was ready to go live.

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