How this Boulder company turned $2M from crowdfunding into a fully-fledged IoT startup

January 9, 2017

Tucked away behind the Pearl Street Mall is one of Colorado’s most notable crowdfunding successes, Alpine Labs. The 11-person company raised more than $2 million across four Kickstarter campaigns, allowing them to launch a startup that combines innovative hardware and engaging software to help photographers create stunning shots and time lapse videos.

Alpine Labs recently launched their fourth product, Pulse. The $99 device attaches to a user's camera and, via an app, gives the user complete control over the camera directly from their phone.

We caught up with co-founder and CEO Greg Horvath to learn more about the company’s background, how they funded their projects and why they landed in Colorado.

How did Alpine Labs get its start?

It all started in the Bay Area. My business partner, Steve Hibbs, was at Stanford, living in a house full of friends. One of the guys, Kris Cheng, was into time lapse photography, and he wanted to do motion time lapse where the camera moves very, very slowly as it takes pictures. The traditional equipment is super expensive and difficult to use.

The whole house decided to take it on as a project. They ended up building the Radian product, which is able to move between 20,000 discrete positions within 360 degrees. It took about a year to build. They launched it on Kickstarter to see if it’s something people wanted, and we ended up raising $290,000.

How did you end up moving beyond your first product?

Everyone on the team was engineers, and some of them had to take other jobs just to keep building the product.

One day, I asked Steve if there was a good device for basic time lapses, but he couldn't make a good recommendation and said he was actually tinkering around with the same idea.

We both scratched our heads and thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do a new product?’ It's hard to have a company when you only have one product. We were all sort of just time lapse nerds, but what people were excited about was this remote control option.

From there, we launched our Michron device for time lapse. Michron raised $230,000 on Kickstarter. We unified the two projects and became an actual company a year and a half ago.

What are the biggest technological challenges associated with your products?

We’re a third party accessory, so from an engineering perspective it’s difficult. One product has to work with 120 different cameras, so you have all these little logic checkpoints to be prepared for whatever the camera throws at you. There’s a frustrating amount of variation so the app and the firmware have to be able to handle that.

[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N6BBhqc6JE&t=6s width:600 align:center autoplay:0]

Why did you decide to fund your projects using Kickstarter instead of seeking VC funding?

We didn’t have a whole lot of choices. We’re not building the next Facebook, but it's still a compelling opportunity and really meaningful for us.

We were college students with student loans. We didn’t have $300,000 to pour into a product, hoping people buy it. We may be successful in our own world, but it’s hard to get investors when you’re not going toward something like a $500 million exit to Microsoft or something.

When did you decide you’d raised enough in order to expand beyond the Kickstarter community?

We raised another $270,000 on Kickstarter, which is awesome, but it’s also hard to make a physical hardware product with that money. That’s the salary of one, maybe two engineers in the Bay Area, so we lived on a super lean budget.

In December of 2015, the buzz kept growing and we created Pulse, which gives you complete wireless control of your camera from your cell phone. It launched on Kickstarter, and we raised $1.1 million. That was a huge jump for us; we were optimistic it would do well, but we didn’t think it would do that well.

We’re still very much a startup, but we’re starting to transition from a series of Kickstarter projects to actually being a fully-fledged company that’s sustainable outside of the Kickstarter world.

What brought you to Colorado?

Steve and I were traveling in the Pacific Northwest, and we ended up driving out to Boulder because we were interested in moving out here. With relationships, family and school it took another couple of years, but here we are now. We are extremely proud to be outside of the Silicon Valley bubble and think Colorado is a fantastic place to have both a life and build companies.

 

Photos via Alpine Labs.

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