Smartwatch Maker Olio Raises $10M: ‘No Need For Cellphones On Wrists’

At first glance, the story of veteran technology product design expert Steve Jacobs could be told as a version of “David and Goliath.” But in this case, it’s a bit more like “David and Two Goliaths.”

With his startup smartwatch company, San Francisco-based Olio Devices, Jacobs is clearly challenging tech heavyweight Apple, whose long-anticipated Apple Watch made its debut in March.

But Olio, launched only this year, is also taking on another entrenched foe—the luxury watch industry that glitters with Swiss brands like TAG Heuer and Frederique Constant. Both these high-end watchmakers have plans similar to Olio’s: to make a smartwatch as functional and elegant as a classic Swiss timepiece.

Frederique Constant already has smartwatches on the market for $995 and $1,150, falling within Olio’s target price range of $500 to $2000.

Despite the tough competition, Jacobs has found investors who like his odds. This week Olio said it had closed a $10 million Series A financing round led by NEA Ventures. Before the end of the summer, the company plans to deliver its first batch of a thousand Model One watches, which were pre-sold after being offered in March. Olio is now marketing a second limited batch that includes two new styles, for delivery in the fall.

Jacobs seems to be reveling in his role as a plucky David, sizing up his bigger rivals to find their weak spots as he draws on a career background in new product development for companies including Google, Amazon, HP—and Apple.

He says a nimble new company like Olio is better positioned to straddle the two worlds of consumer electronics and luxury fashion than the dominant companies in either realm.

Traditional watchmakers are too far from their core competency areas to branch out into connected devices and compete for the talent required, Jacobs says. In his view, Apple was also out of its element when it designed the look of its mid-range watches with variously colored straps, which start at $549.

“They’re offering five colors of rubber and calling it fashion,” Jacobs says.

Also, by making the Apple Watch a small depository for mobile apps, Apple has misread the needs of customers looking for a high-quality watch enhanced with technology, Jacobs maintains.

“We don’t think that we need a cell phone on our wrists,” Jacobs says.

While Jacobs may have a point about the disadvantages for tech companies and watchmakers who each stay in their silos, Olio will … Next Page »

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