You might recognize Ring CEO James Siminoff from TV commercials, or maybe you’ve seen his company’s high-tech doorbells on display at stores like Best Buy, Costco, and The Home Depot.
But hearing Siminoff narrate the story of his Santa Monica, CA-based company in person reminds you just how much of a rollercoaster the life of a tech entrepreneur can be.
On Thursday evening, Siminoff stopped into the Madison, WI, offices of startup accelerator Gener8tor, where he spent about an hour discussing Ring’s origins, mission, and growth.
First, a quick word about Ring’s products: Its flagship device is a sensor-equipped, Wi-Fi enabled doorbell with a built-in camera. It sells for $199 on Ring’s website and through other online retailers like Amazon, as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. When a visitor rings the bell, residents receive a mobile alert, and, if they choose, can see and talk to the person at the door using the company’s smartphone app. Earlier this year, Ring introduced the slimmer Ring Video Doorbell Pro, which costs $249 and offers better video quality than the cheaper model.
The history of Ring has some elements of the classic startup success tale. The company started in a garage and came close to going broke on several occasions before eventually hitting it big.
Siminoff was one of three people inside the garage workshop—which they christened “Edison Jr. Design Labs”—tinkering away on projects, one of which was a “snap-together gardening system,” he says. It was a behind-the-house garage, which made answering the doorbell a pain. Siminoff says this annoyed them to the point that he instructed a colleague named John to buy an electronic doorbell on Amazon so they could see and communicate with visitors.
“John said, ‘There isn’t one [on Amazon].’ I said, ‘That’s bullshit.’”
Siminoff searched online himself before concluding that John was right: As far as he could tell, nobody had created a front door monitoring system for the masses.
“Being the inventor, I started building one,” Siminoff says.
Doorbot, the device he constructed along with a team that included a handful of engineers, showed promise, he says. However, despite reaching the marketplace and bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, the team ultimately rebuilt Doorbot into a new device, which came to be known as Ring. We’ll get to that in a moment.
In October 2013, two months before Doorbot was scheduled to ship for the first time, the company was basically out of cash, Siminoff says. One of his friends suggested going on ABC’s “Shark Tank” to pitch Doorbot. So Siminoff applied and, to his surprise, he was invited onto the show.
Standing before a panel of rich and successful investors, Siminoff demonstrated Doorbot, and said he was seeking $700,000 for a 10 percent stake in the company.
None of the sharks bit on that proposal. But one of them, Kevin O’Leary, made a counteroffer. Siminoff declined it.
“That was brutal,” he says. “We needed that money. But it was a shit offer that I couldn’t take.”
Even though Siminoff walked off the set with no deal in hand, his appearance gave the Doorbot exposure, which translated into better sales.
“After [the episode] aired, money started pouring in,” Siminoff says.
The proceeds allowed the company to rent space in a warehouse, which brought efficiency gains. But after the post-“Shark Tank” jolt, sales of the Doorbot were “kind of tailing off,” he says, and the team felt it was “not a good enough product to go viral.”
“So we said, ‘Let’s rebuild everything,’” Siminoff says.
Ring hired more engineers to help design and construct the new device. The company again came close to running out of money around October 2014, when the Ring was scheduled to start selling. But Siminoff says that thanks in part to a crush of media—“we must’ve had every bit of press for the day”—the launch was successful.
Over time, more homeowners started hearing about the devices, and buying them. Today, Siminoff’s face—and Ring’s gadgets—seem to be everywhere you turn.
The company now has about 400 employees, roughly double its headcount fourth months ago.
Ring raised $28 million last August in a Series B funding round; among the participating funds and investors was Madison-based American Family Ventures. Then came a $61 million round of financing in March led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Fortune reported.
Siminoff says it’s about more than the money, though. “Our mission is to reduce crime in communities,” he says.
In May 2015, Ring and the Los Angeles Police Department kicked off a pilot program aimed at reducing crime in the city’s Wilshire Park neighborhood by providing residents complimentary connected doorbells. Six months later, the LAPD said burglaries in the neighborhood had decreased by 55 percent.