BrickHouse Security to Let Kickstarter Determine Fate of mBand Ring
The company hopes to fulfill a $100,000 crowdsourcing goal to help fund initial production and gauge marketability of the wearable mPERS device.
BrickHouse Security, a national provider of alarm, surveillance and GPS tracking solutions, has a unique mobile PERS prototype that is primed for mass production. Or maybe not.
Called the mBand ring, this stylish wearable personal security device was conceived with one specific demographic in mind – the independent woman. Here’s how it works: press the Bluetooth-connected button on the ring and the user’s smartphone will immediately vibrate. A 30-second countdown commences. If the activation is not canceled on the phone, it will send a message to a central station with exact GPS coordinates and an alert saying a panic button has been activated. Monitoring personnel can then dispatch police with the information. The app can also simultaneously send the alert to pre-selected contacts, such as friends, family members and coworkers.
BrickHouse’s founder and CEO Todd Morris has elected to launch a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign to gauge the marketplace’s enthusiasm for the mBand, as well as raise funds for an initial production run. How well the campaign performs could very well determine the mBand’s destiny.
“As we’ve looked around Kickstarter and looked around the market we’ve seen a couple other PERS systems out there that are basically a Bluetooth panic button or a wireless panic button to your phone,” Morris told me. “But they look just like what you put on your grandmother for ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get back up.’ Although people in the security industry don’t like to talk about it, that’s not sexy. That is not what people want. Even trying to get my grandmother to wear one of those was tough.”
Todd Morris, CEO, BrickHouse Security
The genesis of what would eventually become the mBand is credited to Rachel Owens, a mother and avid runner who yearned for a sense of protection while jogging solo early mornings and late nights through her Brooklyn neighborhood. Her idea to create a panic alert device that could be triggered with one hand – what good is a phone if it can’t be instantly retrieved and manipulated with a single hand during an attack? – dates back to 2009.
A button on a ring that could be activated with one hand, instantaneously. It became her working concept. She was a product manager. Her father was an engineer. Together they had the technical chops to build a prototype and did so by 2012, Morris explained, but ultimately their design and technology was deficient.
“The ring was a little big and clunky and the app only worked on Android and not on iPhone. She proved that the concept could work. She was marketing it to runners,” Morris said. “She just couldn’t get any real traction. It was kind of ugly. It had some battery issues; it was using old technology.”
Not only did Owens lack the necessary funding to continue developing her prototype, she didn’t have the security background to move the project forward. She found her security contact in Peter Giacalone, president of consulting firm Giacalone & Associates, who is a contributor to SSI‘s “Monitoring Matters” column. He put Owens in touch with Morris in 2013.
The concept piqued Morris’s interest. BrickHouse had some experience with the PERS market to go along with its specialty in residential and commercial alarms system and GPS tracking. “We understand the confluence of all these things,” he said.
In the ensuing months, Morris fine-tuned his vision for Owen’s unfinished prototype and how it could be improved upon. The device itself would entail a complete tear down to improve its aesthetics, engineering and it would need to be professionally monitored. The initial device was designed to only alert personal contacts.
BrickHouse spent the next couple of years rebuilding the product from scratch using newer technologies, including a flexible PCB. The coin battery was ditched for rechargeable, custom ceramic batteries that curve to shape around a finger. There are new microchips and the latest Bluetooth LE v 4.1, and now it’s waterproof. BrickHouse worked with Rhode Island School of Design to reimagine the ring’s appearance and meet its production requirements and component placement.
“It had to be small enough and attractive enough that women would want to wear it and be OK with wearing it out to a party, not just out running,” Morris said. “And it also works with a monitoring station. It is now a 24/7 monitored solution.”
BrickHouse, which has about 300,000 accounts across its portfolio of services, contracts with two wholesale monitoring providers. Morris said when he first pitched the mBand to the central stations they expressed a lot of concern about the potential for false alarms. Those reservations abated, however, after demonstrating the product’s 30-second countdown feature and because the app can send a cancel signal that essentially “tells the monitoring center, ‘No problem, you can hang up with 911 if you are on with them right now,'” Morris said.
And the retail price point for the mBand should the product go to market? Morris said a version without professional monitoring but sends personal contact alerts will be around $130. For $180 you get the ring and 12 months of monitoring; thereafter, monitoring will be in the neighborhood of $60 per year.
The crowdfunding campaign, Morris said, is likely to begin in the first or second week of April. Unlike similar programs, Kickstarter is all or nothing – BrickHouse will have 30 days to reach its $100,000 goal or they don’t get a penny. Backers who purchase the product during the Kickstarter campaign will be paying close to the actual retail price point. There’s no sense selling it for a heavily discounted price; a business needs to know whether or not the product is viable at its suggested retail price.
BrickHouse has previously launched products in which it invested $100,000 or more to build from scratch. Sometimes they take off and the company achieves a return on investment; maybe it breaks even within six months to a year. mBand is different. It’s a product of a scale that would require 7,000 or 8,000 devices to break even, Morris said. The Kickstarter campaign will provide a kind of market analytics to give the production a cheerful thumbs-up or a resounding thumbs-down.
“We believe in this product, but everyone loves their own baby. We need to see that other people love the idea and are willing to put their money behind it,” he said. “This is going to start with 1,000 customers or it is not going to start at all.”
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