Canary is a simple device packed with smart sensors that empowers you to keep your home safe and secure — controlled through your mobile device. The company launched on Indiegogo and raised over $1.9 million. We sat down with Co-Founder and CEO Adam Sager to discuss why they chose to launch on Indiegogo, how they built an amazing team, and the vision that helped them become the most funded campaign ever on Indiegogo.
I’ve worked in the security industry for the last fifteen years in different capacities. I started with the Israeli defense forces and then migrating to founding a non-profit startup in the security sector and doing consulting for Fortune 100 companies developing security infrastructure programs. I’ve been working in the world of security for a long time, but the home security industry we’re focused on now is new. The solutions are new and came out of personal experiences of not being served in this market.
I came home once from a vacation and as I approached my house I had this strong feeling of vulnerability — like I had no idea what happened in my physical environment while I was away. I had no idea if it burned down or if it was broken into. I realized as a renter, I didn’t know my neighbors that well and if something happened, I wouldn’t have even known about it because no one would have known how to call me. I was feeling like I needed a simple way to actually get information that’s useful from my environment.
I started looking at what I could buy to solve this problem and was shocked to find that all of the security out there is either integrated—meaning you pay somebody lots of money to put sensors all over your house—or very simplistic, like only having one sensor. Neither of those really solved the problem that I wanted solved. As I started looking at stores like the Apple Store or Best Buy, I realized that they don’t have security products. Some of them did have DIY products, which we don’t consider consumer-focused, and that was the beginning of the epiphany. When I started talking to my friend Chris Rill, who’s now a co-founder, I found that he had had some of the problems and revelations in the past so it was a perfect match for us to come together and build this.
Chris was in robotics and had built serious hardware and connected sensors as a subcontractor for the U.S. Military as well as a former software co-founder, and the two of us sat in a room together for months and built our own devices. We had a tiny office in Times Square where we would solder parts together and stream data and built our own software.
We brought people on to our team who filled in gaps in expertise that we didn’t have, like industrial design, and then started building from there. Whenever we don’t have a specific expertise, we’re very well aware of it and we bring on the best people we can find in that area rather than trying to learn everything ourselves from scratch. It’s been a great process.
We’ve had probably 50 different versions of the prototype until we were confident enough to send it to manufacturing. When you’re developing a product, you do many, many forms of prototyping. Some were complete overhauls, and others were only partial, like testing the video or one of the sensors.
We chose to use Indiegogo because we thought they had a pretty customizable platform where we could tell the story in our own way. There was a lot of flexibility around that, which we liked, and that attracted us to their platform. We were far along when we went to crowdfunding — we already had our manufacturer, pricing, designs and our timeline. We knew when we could get this to market, had our messaging and ultimately knew who we were. We knew who we were both in terms of all the information we had on the product, but also knew who were in terms of a company. We weren’t just a group of people who all made a product. We developed a company around Canary and around our mission to have a meaningful impact on the world around us. We purposely did things that were very different from what others do. We found a very large and seasoned manufacturer knowing that we would do well and need that kind of professionalism in the product. We found some of the best engineers and designers to join us on the team. We went out and recruited the best designer we could find in New York, Jon Troutman, who was the lead product designer at General Assembly and became one of our co-founders. The message we told during our campaign was thought out and complete and I think that helped people understand what we were doing and made them want to support us.
I think the most important thing that we did in the campaign was to tell a story rather than simply talking about features. I’m not the first person to say that, but some people seem to still not get it. Telling the right story is just as important to the consumer as it is to the media. When you’re talking to media, they’re incredibly busy and they go through a story quickly and then they’re on to the next one. Making sure the message is concise and clear and that there’s a clear and real story around it is important for getting the right coverage.
During the campaign, one of the most important things we did was to focus on engaging the user. We immediately sent handwritten thank-you notes to the first few hundred people who pre-ordered the device. Dozens of those backers would Tweet or post on Facebook about it, which helped drive more people coming to us and checking out who were.
We had contests all throughout our campaign, which was also great for engagement. We hid other crowdfunded products in our video and the first contest we had was for people to find how many other companies’ products they could find. We had dozens of people go through our video, watching it over and over, trying to find the products that were hidden. We gave prizes, like t-shirts and other things, to people who found them.
All of these things helped get people excited about not just the product, but about the company and our mission, which helped to propel us forward.
“Whenever we don't have a specific expertise, we're very well aware of it and we bring on the best people we can find in that area rather than trying to learn everything ourselves from scratch.”
I think there is value to being the first out of the gate. We saw there were a couple of others who actually had not just similar products, but literally copied our exact message and didn’t do nearly as well as we did. Part of it may be that we were first.
One issue with launching first is that when you start building a campaign and it goes public for the first time, you get so many requests for different features. Everybody has their own way of wanting to use something. I think a lot of companies have a tendency to try to please everybody. When you try to please everyone, your product gets confused and your message gets confused. It quickly shows through and as a result people don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish, since you’re trying to accomplish everything. Sometimes other products get caught up in trying to do that, especially during a fast-moving crowdfunding campaign.
Even more than the timing of your launch is the simplicity of what we’re doing. Look at GoPro versus Contour. I have no idea which one came out first, it makes no difference; Contour is bankrupt and GoPro is a large, successful company. So much of it is about the simplicity of messaging and the clear design and user experience of the product. A lot of that comes down to how it’s built; how it’s designed, how it is presented, what it is meant to do, how it will impact people’s lives. These things go a lot further than just timing.
Even the most successful crowdfunding campaigns are not universally known products yet. Pebble is in thousands of stores, but if you go up to the average person on the street, they haven’t heard of it yet. That’s not to say they won’t, but all of these products are new. The end relies a lot more on how companies are built and what’s put behind them than around very specific timing issues.
Too many people have been left out of security for too long. We’re democratizing security, building a security device for everyone. Our goal is to get it to everyone, and so the channels that reach those ‘everyman’ are the ones that we’re focused on.
We raised money prior to crowdfunding and we did so for a very clear reason. I think if I gave one bit of advice around that area it would be that crowdfunding cannot be used for everything. No matter how much you raise, crowdfunding rarely can be used to hire a team. If you need to hire a team you’re going to need outside capital or your own capital to do so — so we did both. Chris and I had paid for the initial employees, and we eventually brought on some outside funding. But we knew that unless there are ridiculously high margins on the device, which very few crowdfunding products have, the money we raised in crowdfunding will go toward product development.
Additional capital generally is needed to build a team, but it really depends on the product. If you’re starting with a basic product and have no intention of building a team, you might not need to raise capital. But if you’re building a company around it, a team is needed. We had decided early on that we wanted to be far along before crowdfunding so it was important to have the ability to hire people prior to it. As a result of that, we needed to raise capital before. We had no doubt if the crowdfunding would work or not. We just wanted to be at the stage where we would really understand the pricing, the timeline, and everything else.
“We weren't just a group of people who all made a product. We developed a company around Canary and around our mission to have a meaningful impact on the world around us.”
Our product will be shipped in May, but we already have multiple prototypes of our packaging. We look at the product as it being one entire experience. The experience is any interaction with the product; it all works together. I think often companies look at these things very separately or think of only the physical product separate from what the experience is.
That first experience touching the product is with the package. People love opening Apple packages because Apple spends so much time and effort in every minor detail of their process. The setup process and then actually interacting with the hardware and interacting with the software, it’s all one story and one experience. We consider it almost at the same level of importance as the physical product itself.
Where the product is going to be sold also affects the packaging. If it’s being sold in a store, it affects it because it impacts the size and dimensions in terms of shelf space. These things matter and they take time to figure out. Packaging has a lot to do with the channel development process.
We see security being a democratized service for people. It’s less about alerts and keeping people out of your environment and more about having a strong sense of what’s happening in your environment. It’s more about who we’re letting in rather than who we’re keeping out. Who is in our environment and what is happening in there?
It’s not necessarily about a third party that’s monitoring your house. It’s tied to a person’s connection to their environment. If we strengthen that connection it will be giving a lot of useful and relevant information from your current environment and then you feel a lot more comfortable about that environment. That essence is the root of what home security is. We see that as something that’s going to expand and become easier and easier for people over time. We hope to help lead the movement in creating that simple ability to connect and see information from our physical environments.
What’s your current state of mind?
Pumped. West coast rap in the morning, a good way to start the day.
When and where were you happiest?
Totally not for print.
What’s your favourite quote?
"Thinking begins only when we have come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the stiff-necked adversary of thought." —Martin Heidegger
What is your greatest fear?
Which talent would you most like to have?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your idea of misery?
A meaningless life.
If you were to die and come back as another person, who would it be?
Myself. There is still so much to do.
What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
What book are you reading right now?
The Design of Everyday Things
We hope that by people using our product, they have a feeling that they’re closer to the people, the pets and things they care about. Our ultimate goal is to make their world a little bit smaller, bring people a little bit closer together and have people feel a little bit more comfortable in their environments. We want to make a meaningful improvement on how they feel about traveling, being away from home and the safety of the people they care about. That’s the primary objective of what we’re trying to do here at Canary.
What question would you pose to our next interviewee?
How important is the Internet of Things to the average person?