Bia on Kickstarter: 12 Hours Left to Fund a Watch that Keeps People Safer

July 13, 2012

3:00 pm

It’s now a given: Kickstarter is a legit, proven way to raise real money for real hardware. Pebble did itOuya did it. Now BiaSport is hoping to do it. They have until 3 am ET.

The product: A high-performance GPS-enabled sports watch, trackable on land or sea with water-resistance to 100 feet, with a unique feature to sports watches: an SOS-alert panic button. The goal: $400,000 – the minimum to roll out production on a first run. The market: women.

Which gives this product an interesting backstory. The founders, Cheryl Kellond and Sylvia Marino, are Silicon Valley veterans (Yahoo, Adobe, Cisco, and Intuit between them) and are both high-performance athletes (Kellond is a triathlete, Marino is an open-water swimmer). BiaSport was born as so many companies are: from the need to scratch their own itch. Both athletes found themselves dissatisfied with the products on the market – the satellite linkup was too slow, the hardware too bulky, the fit too distracting. And of course, a concern for anyone going out for long endurance training sessions, but especially for women: safety.

According to Bia’s Kickstarter video, a so-called panic button was their number-one most requested feature from women. Incredibly, despite the prevalence of GPS-enabled technology, a location-based SOS alert feature does not currently exist on the market. (You’d think James Franco could have used one in 127 Hours.)

You’d also think it could attract investor interest. Alas, you’d be wrong. Kellond and Marino found investors reluctant both from a hardware and a market perspective.

“Hardware is scary to most investors,” Kellond said in a recent interview. “Tech investors have become used to low investment and quick cycles that come with mobile apps or a website. You can’t do that with hardware.”

More discouraging was Kellond’s account of the investor response to the product itself – that women didn’t care about performance or tech. On the contrary, 40 percent of marathon runners in the US are women, 60 percent of half-marathoners, and women are the fastest-growing segment of triathletes. Some estimates put the percentage of sports apparel purchased by women as high as 80 percent. It’s both a need and a market that is hard to deny. So Kelland and Marino took it to Kickstarter to prove it.

Which gives them something in common with pretty much every other project on Kickstarter – everyone thinks their project is really important. So what makes this one different?

  1. It’s a nailbiter. I can’t remember the last time so many people were watching a project go right down to the wire. It’s currently at 85 percent of its goal with 12 hours to go. That’s $65,000 – double and triple the kind of scratch that other campaigns take months to raise.
  2. It’s a test case. The first $200,000 was raised almost entirely off of women’s running groups – a small discrete network,  pushing a slew of new people to Kickstarter (85 percent of Bia backers are new backers). Unlike Pebble, which launched with the support of a dialed-in network, and metastasized accordingly, Bia has only spread beyond that initial tight-knit community in the past few days. (Kellond told me that she has spent a lot of time teaching Kickstarter to new backers, who thought that “liking” the project on Facebook was enough to “back” the project. Er, it is not.) So this isn’t just about proving a market for a product (as Kickstarter pre-sales indubitably do) – it’s also about proving that a big Kickstarter campaign can work with a new, uneducated audience.
  3. They’ve baked in an additional feature to the fundraising model that is interesting: any backer who matches up to $10,000 can get in on the round under a convertible note. According to Kellond, there has been some last-minute movement in that area – demonstrating that Kickstarter also provides an attractive platform for enticing investors.

I’ve been captivated by this project since I encountered it earlier this week, and my Twitter feed makes it no secret that I’m a big supporter. But I am also watching this project with interest, because this is one of those Kickstarter campaigns that really opens your eyes to how the world of tech, community, and fundraising is morphing before our eyes.

We shall see. 12 hours to go.

Guest author Rachel Sklar is a writer and social entrepreneur based in New York. She is the co-founder of Change The Ratio, which seeks to increase visibility and opportunity for women in tech and new media. A former lawyer who writes about media, politics, culture & technology, she was a founding editor at both Mediaite and the Huffington Post. Follow Rachel on Twitter at @rachelsklar

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