What do 14,000 customers know about smartphone-synced wristwatches that Silicon Valley’s risk-loving venture capitalists don’t?

A lot, apparently, as illustrated by the Pebble watch for iPhone and Android. Pebble is the latest offering from University of Waterloo VeloCity grad Eric Migicovsky and his team at Allerta Inc. in Palo Alto, CA, known for the inPulse watch for BlackBerry they developed a few years back.

In just two days since the Pebble appeared on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, it has raised $2 million in presale orders, obliterating Migicovsky’s goal to raise $100,000 by May 18, and contradicting the VCs who took a pass on what now appears to be a very good thing indeed.

I caught up with Migicovsky by phone today to ask him about the sudden success that has followed four years of tough slogging through his watches’ development phase:

Q – I have to ask, are you watching the Kickstarter funding results rolling in on a Pebble watch right now?

A – Ha, no; that would be a little bit too distracting.

Q – You’re now closing in on $2 million in presales. What have the past two days been like? Did you expect anything like this?

A – No. We thought that we would raise $100,000 in about a month, hopefully. We’re not pessimistic, but we’re not outwardly optimistic, so we wanted to keep our dreams on the ground.

Q – So, what made you decide to go with Kickstarter to scale your product?

A – Well, we tried raising money in the Valley after doing Y Combinator, and we raised little bits from some great angels, but we weren’t able to see larger traction from some of the larger funders. So, we had to come up with a different way of raising capital.

Q – Wow. What does that tell you about VCs’ ability to spot a good thing when it comes along, since clearly, thousands of people have embraced this product pretty quickly?

A – I’m not a VC; I don’t really know how the system works.

Q – So I’m assuming you’re happy that it’s worked out this way, since now you won’t have to give part of your company away to investors.

A – Yeah, I mean, the goal in every company is to make something people want, and I think that’s what we’re doing.

Q – Are you nervous about being able to meet the number of orders piling up, or will that take care of itself for the very reason that you’ve raised so much money in advance?

A – We have a pretty strong manufacturing plan.

Q – When will we see these watches appearing on people’s wrists?

A – In September.

Q – Do you have any idea, based on the last two days, how high this might go?

A – No, I don’t think I can make any predictions. It’s going to be 35 more days, so we’ll see what happens.

Q – So is it pretty much that the sky’s the limit; that you can handle whatever comes?

A – We’ll build whatever we can; I mean, consumer electronics products are built very efficiently these days.

Q – Can you tell me how Waterloo has shaped the course of your success down there?

A – Waterloo was where I spent several years of my life, in university and then starting the company there. It’s very engineering-focused, it’s very product-focused; people are very motivated to build things, and I like that.

I met a great network of people who are also very good at building things. That’s where it started.

Q – What advice would you give to VeloCity students who are here now, slogging away at their own projects?

A – Like I was saying, it was a long process. This wasn’t just a one-day, one-hit thing; we’ve been working on it for about four years now.

Sam Altman, who is one of the partners at Y Combinator, has a great bit of advice: Don’t die; don’t let your company die. That’s the key.

Q – Have you been close to death, would you say?

A – Oh, sure, yeah. There’s always a lot of fun ups and downs in a startup, and the key is staying motivated and staying confident.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.