Answering the Door with Jamie Siminoff (Ring) | Disrupt SF (Day 2)
3:11AM Sep 7, 2018
Earlier we had a discussion about cyber security and autonomous future, that kind of thing. And, but cyber security is also about your house, because we've all got devices to make sure that the house is safe. And, and, and recently, people have been installing very, very sophisticated systems. And of course, we're many of us have heard of the company Ring which pioneered the space. And in fact, Jamie Siminoff is here today. He pioneered Ring in and took it from a small startup in his garage to being eventually being acquired by Amazon. And so he'll be joining John Biggs, senior writer editor at large for TechCrunch, also to talk about how you keep hardware fresh. How do you ensure privacy and security in the world about IoT, so please welcome them to the next stage. Come on up guys.
Welcome. Welcome. So you were just recently acquired by Amazon. Did they, did they implant, where do they implant the the tracker system?
Right in the back.
Right in the back? Do they have control over what you say and think?
No they're, they're, I think if you can get acquired by Amazon you're about as lucky as you get because they they don't they don't have the trackers, they kind of really do let you I mean, I just keep going.
I imagine it was sort of like that movie with the the the pub at the end of the world where everybody was replaced by the robots, remember that one? Simon Pegg and everything. No, we could watch that if you want.
We're all humans.
Alright, cool. Alright.
So you were here. We just talked about this. You're here five years ago. Yep.
Not here specifically. In one of the dumps that we used to be in.
And you were just launching that. And you were also on Shark Tank? Why don't you tell me the travails of being a startup founder five years ago and being on Shark Tank and dealing with all that stuff?
Yeah I mean so I mean five years ago very much on the other side I was on Shark Tank looking for money trying to get an investment.
Did not get one on the show, and now it's funny because everyone says to me like, well you're so smart not to take that money and I'm like no, I was driving back from there, from my, to my garage, you know, almost in tears, broke. And I actually needed the money. I mean we needed cash at that time.
And you know even here at Disrupt we're in the hardware you know, I think you I think you actually gave us the table. When I was coming up, the person walking me up said, how many times have you spoken at Disrupt? They said, have you been to Disrupt before? I said, yes, I was here this year and this year. I was actually the first Tc 40. And she said, so you've spoken that many times. No, no. Not a speaker. Like, working trying to help puzzle about my little startup.
Was, was that, was the Shark Tank experience good for you? What would, what's, is that sort of dramatization of the startup experience good for the, good for the ecosystem?
I think I think I mean, I think Shark Tank has been a great show for families. Families watch the show, people watch it with their kids. It shows that you know, I think it's aspirational. It shows that people can do things. It's it's you know, it's it obviously has to be entertaining because it is TVs. You need people to watch it. But I think it has been good for overall for I would say startups in general. I think when you get into tech startups specifically, that can break stuff out, but just overall for like you know, entrepreneurial ism and inventors and people, I think it's been a, it's been a great show to showcase what people can do.
It was, it was, I mean for for Ring, we were Doorbot at the time, it gave us awareness and credibility that we never would have had. That sort of jumped us up. And it was a great platform for us to sort of launch off of. And we really, you know, really used it. We turned out to be the so far the largest company ever to be on it. So, but it was it was a great experience.
That's interesting. That's interesting point. So I want to get into the acquisition a little bit, but I also think it might be helpful for these folks who are trying to get awareness what are some of the best ways that you've been able to do sort of a gorilla scale up aside from the TV show, what are some of the tools that you guys used?
I you know, we were just, we were just like constant hustlers.
I mean, you know, it's like, looking back at those days, it's, I mean, you know, definitely, you know, you work the booth at TC, you go to CES, you know, especially for consumer electronics, and you just you just grind.
You, you wear your shirt everywhere. You just, you know, you grind, you embarrass yourself. You, you know, it's, it's not a, you know, it's it's not, you know. I think, I think that that level of a startup that beginning you know you can kind of almost have no shame. You have to just put yourself out there and get the stories out there get the name out there. And and you know focus on the business but you have to hustle.
Okay, so you got it so wearing the shirt actually helps because all these guys are going to wear their shirts you think that.
I mean I think it's a psychological. I always get asked like what you know people that are have a hardware company today will come up to me and say like what worked, what was the. And they really want like the one thing. They want like me to tell them like we did x, and then they can just go do x and be successful. And it's, but the truth is it's like 5000 things that you have to do to make a successful company.
The first thing though is you have to have a reason to be a business. And a reason you know at Amazon, they call it thinking from the customer, they started from the customer working backwards. So there was work backwards from the customer, we always call our call our customers, neighbors. And so we always start at the neighbors. And it's always around a mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods.
And I think as a company, you should you need to start with some core that says like, why like, why am I hustling? Why am I trying to track you down and see so when I see you like grapple under your arm until you just say fine, I'll write a friggin article.
You know, but you you have to have that reason, because I think I think a lot of people actually don't have the reason, so they end up hustling and tracking you down, and when they actually really talk to you, you're like, okay, but there's nothing to do.
So I think that's the you know, for me, I there's 1000 things you have to do and wearing the shirt Yeah, I mean, it's all these little things like it creates a conversation on an airplane with someone who asked a question and then you know, that leads to something. I mean, you know, my my family's laughed at me. I mean, I literally would wear the ring shirt the T shirt for like work almost non stop for seven years.
Okay, the same one?
Uh, you know, sometimes. So we definitely, I definitely war through a few of them.
Yeah, that's well that's an interesting point like I get I get people stop me all the time and they asked me to write a story about them and I say my email was firstname.lastname@example.org. You guys can use that. But I only get like, out of the hundred people who asked me I get two responses like to actually emails which is fascinating. I don't know. I don't understand what their shtick is.
Why did you sell the Amazon? Is that like Nirvana going to a major label? Aren't you guys don't want to be indie?
Again sir you know you hear all this stuff of like this did you sell out you know the company was started with a mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods that was always you know if you ask any person who works worked at ring any of my team members anyone I've talked to like that from day one that's been our mission is like we're gonna make reduce crime in neighborhoods by delivering effective and affordable products and services.
When Amazon we were working with Amazon Alexa integrations and other things. And when Amazon came to us they had bought into the idea that the mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods made sense for Amazon on a strategic level. And for ring that became the best possible outcome to, you know, the fastest, most scalable with the best foundation. I mean, Amazon is an incredible vehicle for us to be able to sort of, you know, utilize to accelerate our business.
And so, you know, for me I certainly wasn't done. I'm not done. I have a long sort of line of things that I want to do there. And so it just it just became a better place for the business to be. And and that was the decision to me.
So they approached you as you were working with the Alexa?
We were working with me and I you know, again that we say like I think companies you know companies aren't sold their bought or bought or sold out and whatever they say. But basically you know, I we had gotten into everything on a on a very like business level. I mean, we were working with them Alexa camera integration doing a lot of stuff with their team. And I think through that over time that sort of got this together. And yeah, in the end, I mean, it was them, they came to us.
Okay, so the so the idea was that Amazon quite literally needed a camera system to prevent people from stealing Amazon packages. Yeah, right?
You know, it's, it's Amazon doesn't think like that, which is nice.
Yeah, they really do start everything and it's cool and you get inside like, they really do start this is from Jeff down like this customer backwards and these infinite truths.
And so, like, you know, are people going to want to have a safer home and neighborhood and 50 or 100 years, you know, yes. And so it's like, they sort of look at these like, bigger truths around things. It's not so tactical as like this. I mean, obviously, they have a huge problem and they can plug something in. I mean, they'll they'll do that. But overall, when they're making these big decisions, it's really about like an infinite truth of something that can make a customer's journey life you know better.
What about privacy. So my house on my block, I'm probably I get the test all the cameras. So I got a ring I got a bunch of nests. I got some other weird stuff in the backyard, so don't go there.
I'm probably the most surveilled house on the block. And I would argue that that's only that's only increasing in numbers. Should I feel as a private person walking down the street that I'm being watched at all times? And how do you avoid, how do you avoid pinning me to some kind of thing that happens on the street just because I'm not nearby?
Yeah, it's certainly outdoor cameras and cameras in general is a growing category and the reason is growing is because is giving people safer and better sort of neighborhoods and it is having a positive influence. And so you know, from our side with what we've done with it, you know, we have seen positive impacts in the neighborhoods that we've been in initially we did a study with the LAPD when we when we sort of about four years ago we started working on it.
But we launched in an area we were able to reduce crime by 55%. And so I think why the categories growing and why people are happy is because I mean you know these camera systems that are owned and operated and the information is sitting with each individual homeowner are making themselves and their neighborhoods safer.
And to be clear it actively reduce crime or did it allow them to catch the people who did the crime?
So it I mean it's both okay you know it's both a deterrent as well as you know a ring system when it does more than sort of just a camera is it brings presence back to the neighborhood. And what we found is that a long time ago, there was kind of neighborhoods were filled with people they had, you know, we've now have sort of both spouses working we have all these things that have happened, these trends and those trends have led to empty neighborhoods. And if you look, most of the crime in neighborhoods, happens between 1130 and 330, which is kind of the most empty time of the neighborhood.
Ring systems are able to bring back that presence. So being at the front door, someone comes up, you know, your alert goes off, whether it's motion detection, or someone hits the doorbell button and you say, hey, how can I help you? That in itself is a massive deterrent to crime. And the more presence you can put in the neighborhood we found proven etc, that it actually can reduce it.
And then just connect that to Alexa. And then Alexa will just to answer the door for you.
And, and, you know, Alexa, actually, I mean, it likes it will be a really cool part of the system. Because obviously, you know, it's indoors with that Alexa has all sorts of auto responses and, and intelligence. And so it is it is interesting what we'll be able to do with that over time.
You know, we're, I think we're five and a half months or six months into the acquisition. So obviously, a lot of that stuff takes time. But I do think there'll be a lot of great integrations will be able to do both with third parties as well as with the current Amazon party.
It is next in this space. I mean, iterating on the idea of a home cameras. Fine, but what what else can you guys what do you expecting to do?
So we focused with ring again it all comes from the mission reducing crime in neighborhoods. So we focus on, you know, things were focusing on right now are around the front door with door the door bells around the home with cameras at both have lights and ones that don't we're focusing on outdoor lighting itself so smart outdoor lighting and then the alarm system inside.
So those are the kind of our focus areas everything else we either you know it's either something else that's happening at Amazon or even just third parties are doing it. But we're not a we're not a hardware company now ring has never been a hardware company. It's always been a company it's been focusing on a problem and then using different vehicles to fix it.
And one of those is you know, the neighbors app which is actually in our app or it's a separate app also, which is a sort of a crime app been massively successful. And it's actually had we've had, you know, people arrested off of that app and it works where people are posting videos posting what's happening in their neighborhood, bringing back that knowledge. So that in that to us, that's a product even though it doesn't sort of fit in a box and gets old.
I mean, the neighbors app. I, I look at that every once in a while and I see like, like somebody got there was a fire down the street or somebody ding dong ditch to whatever. Does that increase suspicion in a neighborhood?
Um, I don't think so. I think what's great about video overall is video tells the story you know, better than words do, you know, words can be misconstrued, they can be told wrong they can be read wrong, you know, when you read an email, you read it in a tone it might not be the tone that it was written in video tells you what happened.
I mean, you know, the video from the front door of someone doing something is is it gives you a truth and I think for us what it's been able to do is bring we call it always home, it brings the neighborhood back together in a way where they're all sort of able to talk regardless of where they are. So if you're at work and you see something happen package stolen, someone coming up who seems strange, you know, this is happening in your neighborhood, you can watch your ring.
And it sort of gives you just sort of knowledge of what's happening in the neighborhood. And we believe that, you know, knowledge is is the best way. Knowledge and sort of presence are the best ways to sort of make neighborhoods safer places.
Can you think of a time when ring really save the day for somebody? Like if there was a big.
Yeah, I mean, there's been I mean, there's been a I mean, we've had like thousands of examples of it and you can go on our YouTube and stuff and you'll see like these just kind of crazy stories the one that touches me the most is a family that was in their home.
And the way rings motion texture works is actually it has you know camera motion, but it also has a heat sensors so these p ours and they basically look for heat passing by which is, you know, human body.
It, this family had a fire started outside of their house and the dangerous thing about fires outside the home is that they'll actually burn around the home heat the home up and then with by the time they come in and your fire alarm goes off. You're basically dead because you like they went off way too late because the smoke was outside.
So the ring was going off as like 3am. And the person gets emotional or and they answer it, you know, thinking who's like, Who's there? And, and literally just, he's like this ball fire grabs their kid grabs the wife leaves and lived.
So that was like, I mean, to me, that was like the one that you know, and we actually met the family and we actually got the ring, we kind of have it up in our office is like a trophy piece. It's all burned up. And you know, it's kind of the hero hero ring. So maybe a little off our mission of reducing crime in neighborhoods, but certainly one that like, I will never forget.
If I'm building a hardware startup, and you said, this isn't really a hardware startup. But if I'm building one right now, what would I, what would I do?
I think the the problem has been in hardware and we've seen you know, we've definitely some Carnage in the hardware space. And I think the problem with hardware came is that you had technology minded people building cool things, and there was no reason for a customer to buy them.
You know, customers do not have the disposable income overall at scale to buy cool things. And so you go on Kickstarter and you'd have this false sort of like this, you know, like this, you do a test whole basically and say, like, oh, is this going to work, you go on Kickstarter to sell $200,000 of this XYZ hardware product. You're like, I'm gonna, you know, if I map this out, I'll sell a billion dollars of this and you really did is you hit like this small group of gadget seekers.
But in the end like you're you're not supplying something that truly talks to someone and does something better for them. And I think that's where calling yourself a hardware startup or a software service if you just have to build something that makes people's lives better and that they can understand that and I think your ring was able to to bridge that gap to say like, this is it the doorbell has HD and all this stuff, but it's not about that. It's about what it does for you.
I mean, you guys, you guys did door bots. So you, you did know about yourself. What, what implicit need did you see there? And this was even before five years ago, like IoT was still pretty much in its infancy. What did you see there?
You know, so I, I was working in my garage and I couldn't hear the front door. And so that was the first literally and I just, I, you know, drop cam and just kind of come out recently. This was 2011 and it was like, why wouldn't my front door come up on my phone like it just in so I looked, I actually thought someone would have built this and went on Amazon and nothing was there and so I just kind of soldered some crap up and made this thing on my front door and my wife came home and asked what what is that thing on our front door.
And I showed her and she's like, that is the greatest thing ever. That makes me feel so much safer at home. And that was like the AHA like that. That was truly the wow like this is not a like it's not a doorbell. It's not about my being lazy from the garage and not able to hear what's going on. This is like the front doors is area that everyone forgot and it's the most important area of the home. And that was really in that that brought this mission and all this kind of stuff.
What encouraged you to build the piece of, what encouraged you to build that weird hardware instead of just putting a bell on the garage?
So I was very lucky enough the garage was just too far like it like it. Not a big property I guess was like, but it was like literally like a few feet too far had some interference that those wireless doorbells wouldn't reach to the garage. Okay, so you just so I tried. I mean, I literally like that was like the first try. And then I couldn't do that. And I just like I needed like I was in I mean, I was working in the garage every day. Like I needed to hear the front door.
Because this kind of things, always fun to hear. Because it's like this, that stroke of genius.
And then my house didn't have a wired doorbell. It was battery and so that was why we did the battery because I needed it to work for my house. And it turns out like that was a that was also like a like a big part of the product like sort of spreading as fast as it did.
And so, but again that's the truth of business. It's like luck, luck, luck, luck, luck.
I mean I worked hard I focused I all did everything right in terms of that side but the amount of luck that happened along the way getting on Shark Tank having the right investors come when they did having a house where if I mean if the frickin doorbell and reach to the garage.
Like I'd probably be I don't know I'd be like here trying to pitch some other hardware thing and the round up group here. I don't know. I mean, I don't know what I'd be doing.
So they have it luck. luck, luck and luck. No MBAs. Nothing else.
you need it is it luck is I mean, especially at this scale, like to build a business to the size that we have so far and to have that success I think you it luck is a huge part of it. Timing I mean, it's just you can't your timing is not in your control.
You don't know what's gonna happen next year or the year after, and all these things kind of went our way, you know, luck.
All right. Beautiful. Jamie, thank you for this.