When I reviewed the Sense sleep tracker and described it as only marginally better than a sham product, I felt bad. Time has now validated my assessment, as Hello Inc, the company built around the Sense tracker as its sole product, is going under — but I still feel bad.
The person announcing the shutdown of Hello, James Proud, is the young founder of a small team that led the company and its sleep-tracking gadget through a successful $2.4 million Kickstarter campaign, $10.5 million in Silicon Valley funding, and a subsequent $40 million funding round. More than 19,000 backers bought into the Sense idea, so it was clearly hitting on a hot area of consumer interest and demand, however the one thing the company forgot to do was develop a robust device that actually did what it promised.
What bums me out about the entire Sense saga is how calculated the whole thing felt and still feels. Proud was one of Peter Thiel's entrepreneurial fellows, which is a scheme the Facebook board member initiated to get young people to skip university for a $100,000 grant to pursue some business idea and put their skills to practical use. My impression is that the idea with Hello, in classic Silicon Valley style, was to tap the most underserved market — there's been plenty of data to show that sleep diagnostics has been a big and underdeveloped opportunity — and just figure out the product along the way. Needless to say, neither the "let's do a startup and figure out the hardware later" nor the "let's build a device and figure out the business aspects later" attitude is the right one, but the idealist in me leans more toward the latter approach. I know of more companies, such as YouTube, that have turned a popular but unprofitable product into a viable business than I know of companies that developed good products after their slick marketing campaign.
Current Sense users will be emailed instructions on how to export all of their data and delete their accounts, if they so wish, later this week. Proud says there's still a chance that the Sense service will continue, however I've heard from someone familiar with goings-on behind the scenes that Hello has been unsuccessful in finding a takeover buyer and is now unable to even pay its bills. So it seems conclusive that this is indeed the final goodbye for Hello.