Estimote: Stumbling or Thriving with Success?

Estimote founders and their awesome post tags.
Estimote founders and their awesome post tags (via Estimote Blog)

Estimote has a winner. But is it leaving its customers behind?

Estimote produces one of the first commercially available Bluetooth LE devices that will take full advantage of Apple’s iBeacon framework (and its rapid adoption by Android developers).

But it doesn’t just have a winner: it has an OMG WTF are we supposed to do sized winner. And in the mad scramble to meet the unexpected flood of demand they’re managing to maintain a slightly awkward kind of grace.

A Textbook Case in Keeping a Grin On Your Face?
They may well be a textbook case in how to change plans FAST, rapidly scale, and suddenly plunge from being a controlled little developer beta test period into a full-fledged global launch. In the meantime, you try to keep a grin on your face as you face a daily deluge of customer e-mails demanding to know where their damn beacons are because, well…life depends on it!

It’s the kind of crisis that every Y-Combinator company dreams of: a product that gets deep traction really quickly forcing you to madly hire and add servers to cope with the demand.

But let’s face it: Estimote isn’t just a new social media tool for poking your friends. It’s an actual thing and it has hardware and quality testing and a production line with white gloved workers or whatever polishing off the rough edges of the little marshmallow-colored turtles. You don’t just order up a new cluster of servers from Amazon, you need to assemble an actual device.

So you move your production from Asia to Central Europe to keep up with demand:

“When we launched our pre-order campaign in middle of summer we didn’t expect the excitement and attention it would draw around a new era of mobile contextual computing….Within the last three weeks we have moved the entire production to a factory line in Central Europe that is capable of producing millions of high quality devices within a short period of time.”

Wow. From a standing start to Apple’s iBeacon announcement to…potentially millions of these little things. Not bad, Estimote…thanks for helping us energize the Internet of Things.

There’s No Avenue Like Madison Avenue in Silicon Valley
So what Estimote has managed to do in a few short months is nothing short of amazing. They went from expecting to ship developer kits for a sort of slow ‘tinker’ period to ramping up into a full global launch in a matter of weeks.

But if you’ve met some of the people I’ve met it’s not enough. Because in a world of hard bitten retail marketers and high pressure ad execs, yesterday was too late and tomorrow is doom.

I’m not actually saying Estimote should care. Frankly, screw Madison Ave, they’ll still be there when you’re ready.

Mostly, keep doing what you’re doing. Somehow you’ve managed to project your passion, personality, heart and commitment through a few posts on your Tumblr blog and a bunch of tweets and Facebook posts that still feel personal.

In the early days I had a few emails that got lost in the shuffle, but I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences since Estimote started beefing up its support team (and a special thanks to Ola who has been awesome).

So count me as a fan. A big enough fan that we plan to wire an entire city with Estimotes.

What Can Estimote Do Better?
Now, they just hired more support staff and I’m sure they’ve got lots of things in the works. I’ll be patient and assume that they have at least a few quick ideas for how to keep everyone happy, in addition to ramping up production.

But a fail whale only stays cute for so long. So I can’t help thinking there’d be a few simple things that could help:

Post Your Answers
Estimote often fields questions on Twitter and Facebook. And they usually reply: “I responded by e-mail, let me know if it helped” (and put a dot in front of their reply so others can see…to which I say STOP). Instead, they should direct respond on Twitter but post answers to a separate page on their website on a kind of rolling FAQ page.

Post More Technical Details
Estimote calls it their API although it doesn’t look like most APIs I know. (Having said that, there’s not a lot to say about a beacon – it transmits some stuff, and the rest us up to you and your app development team). What’s missing, I think, is a more detailed spec of:

  • What’s in the Estimote advertising packet?
  • Are the accelerometer and temperature sensors accessible data packets?
  • What is the format of the data packets that happens upon pairing?
  • What is the accuracy of range calculations at different distances from the beacon (I’ve had an answer from Ola that was helpful but still wasn’t very precise)?
  • How do you remotely monitor battery power?

Post a Rough Road Map
I don’t even care if this is accurate. But a rough road map would be really useful. You can sort of parse it from different posts and tweets, but it would be nice to have it all in one place. In particular, I’m interested in a time range (can be 1-6 months for all I care) for:

  • The Android SDK
  • Timing to be able to assign your own UUID or choose random or public proximityIDs in the public packet
  • Timing for fleet management tools
  • Timing for retail-focused back-end platforms if any

Hold a Weekly User SCRUM
Keep it short and sweet – a weekly 30-minute Google Hangout where there’s 10 minutes of general updates, 10 minutes responding to questions from the previous week, and 10 minutes to field new questions to be addressed at another time. Low bandwidth for senior execs but incredibly valuable for the developer community.

Eat, Drink and Get Plenty of Rest
And, mostly, just maintain your awesomeness. Breathe. And remember – this is what you’ll be talking about years from now when you’re looking around at a building full of staff. So enjoy it….and we’ll be with you for the ride.

Your Suggestions?
Are you working with Estimotes? How has your experience been? Anything on your wish list for what you’d like to see?

Jump Onto Our Mailing List
Join our mailing list for ‘BEEKn unplugged’. We get into stuff we don’t get into here, and try to stay fairly short and sweet.

Be the Beacon!

One Response to “Estimote: Stumbling or Thriving with Success?”

  1. Doug,

    We can’t thank you enough for posting the critical yet constructive comments. A big thank you for analyzing our efforts and evaluating them.

    Regarding Twitter Posts …
    We got a kick out of the comment someone made on the ‘noise’ the dot generates. We will stop using that twitter feature, no more dots, we promise.

    On technical details …
    We’re working on a FAQ page and a k-base, the latter will take a little longer but yes we intend to make these go live. Thank you for introducing specific questions that we agree are relevant.

    On the roadmap …
    We’ll follow up with a Road Map on our blog post soon and consider SCRUMs with users.

    Finally, as the weekend is approaching, getting some rest seams like a good idea.

    Once more, our thanks!


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