Having pets can be a joy to have around, but there are many times when their owners must leave them attended and problems can occur. For Petcube founder Alex Neskin and his Chihuahua puppy Rocky, the problem was that the dog barked so frequently when his owner was not around that the neighbors threatened to call the police.
Neskin decided that the he needed to do something, so he built an Arduino-based robot to entertain the pooch and shared access to the toy with his friends online. The idea proved popular, so he joined with current CEO Yaroslav Azhnyuk and Andrey Klen in September 2012 to develop the product for retail.
As the name suggests, Petcube offers an electronic cube that pet-owners can use to interact with their animals from their phone or computer. The concept is that you can purchase this small (10cm X 10cm 10cm), aluminum box with a camera, microphone, and speakers to allow the owner to remotely talk with and see their pet. The device also includes a laser, so owners (especially of cats) can play with their pets at any time.
Petcube considers services like Dropcam and Canary, which allow users to monitor their homes, to be competitors, but Azhnyuk believes that the interactive aspect of the pet-oriented box is what really stands out. In addition to acting as a tool for monitoring the pets, the Petcube box will offer a sense of community by allowing users to share their feeds with others. The service is currently iOS exclusive, but an Android app is under development. Both apps are free to download.
Initially, the company was funded through more traditional means, as the founders contributed $30K to the project. However, instead of opting to immediately join an accelerator or raise funding from VCs, they opted to create a Kickstarter campaign. They needed the cash to aid in developing the product, of course, but Azhnyuk tells us that they also viewed it as an opportunity to gauge consumer interest and try to create some buzz for their service.
It worked, as they managed to get mentions from such media outlets as ABC News, NBC News, CNet, the BBC, and from singer Leona Lewis, who currently has 1.19 million followers on Twitter. The campaign turned out to be a large success, as PetCube raised more than $250K from 1,700+ backers. Most recently, the participated in the autumn program at Silicon Valley-based hardware accelerator HAXLR8R. From HAXLR8R, SOSVentures, and angel Semyon Dukach, the company raised an additional $70K.
As with any hardware product campaign on Kickstarter, it is one thing to sell backers on the idea and another to actually deliver the product. Right now, Azhnyuk tells us that they are working to deliver the $199-box to the more than 2,300 people who backed their campaign or pre-ordered through their website. They initially intended to ship the product this month, but Azhnyuk says that they were forced to delay until August.