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Monday, January 15, 2018


I'm happy, because there's finally a chance for me to write about something other than Energous - in this case to return to the topic of "Things That Just Shouldn't Be". Previous recipients of this attention have been Juicero (the "Keurig for Juice") and June (a $1500 toaster oven). Today it's the turn of Sunflower by ShadeCraft - The World's First Robotic Shading System which you can now pre-order for delivery this fall.

Not content with just being a shade, this has everything you've always thought you needed when out on the deck in the sun. It's got lights in case the shade is a little too much, WiFi in case your phone lacks that kind of connectivity, speakers (Harmon-Kardon!), an app to control it in case your lazy ass can't stand up and move it,  security cameras to stop someone stealing your shade because they're jelly, solar power to keep it all going, and of course Artificial Intelligence in case you're too dumb to work out how to operate it. I'm surprised it doesn't mine bitcoins for you. Among any list of "first world problems", this product has to be pretty near the top of it.

I had missed the initial publicity for this product when apparently it was 'launched' at CES almost exactly one year ago. According to Crunchbase, the company was founded in March 2016, and received seed funding of $2 million in March 2017. So 9 months after founding, the company exhibited at CES to launch a product (concept only?), then raised its funding 3 months after that, and now a year after initial launch you can pre-order and get it in almost a year. 

If you have to have one of these beauties, I suggest you order it soon - you can get it today for the massively discounted price of $5,220. (Yes, Five thousand two hundred and twenty dollars) Don't wait, because at the end of the month it goes up to $6,900, followed by $7,800 in March, and $8,700 in April. Yes, nearly $9,000 for a garden shade with speakers, a camera, and WiFi. Oh, and an app.

What on earth is going on here? Even at $1000 each for speakers, camera, shade itself, motors, and solar panels you can't hit that number. Any good engineering project includes as one of the constraints a cost target, based on who the target market is. In this case, either that wasn't done, or the target market is people who have so much money they can just throw it away. Like trying to sell a juicer for $700, this is going to have a hard time - or maybe it's $8000 of pure profit and they're counting on only selling a few.

A clue as to what they may be thinking comes from looking at a previous product from the famed CEO/Founder, Armen Sevada Gharabegian. You've heard of him, of course - the designer of... The Maximillian Chair.

Want one of these gorgeous chairs? That'll be $25,000 please! And no wonder, as apparently it took him seven years to design. Don't worry though, you get a certificate of authenticity with it. So I'm going to go back to what I said earlier and say "This shade is for people with too much money."

Armen must be a talented guy as according to Crunchbase he's the only employee at Shadecraft. If he's not designing and building it himself, then that would mean that CES was used to raise interest in a then non-existent product on pretty sketches and mock-ups, to raise $2 million of seed, to pay outside design houses to get to a prototype, to put on pre-sale to get the money to build to deliver (or to show interest to raise another round). If so, it's a pretty nice way of bypassing a Kickstarter - though the designers should maybe have been given a little bit more of a cost constraint.

This will be interesting to see if the production, logistics, and other support costs have been properly factored into the pre-sale price, and the expected pre-sale volume predicted correctly. Get that wrong and you might end up with not enough orders to get manufacturing discounts you were counting on, or cover the unexpected costs and delays of hardware development. Kickstarter and other pre-sold hardware companies, such as Lily, have a long history of such 'ambitious' projects failing to deliver. Good luck to them.

It looks like they have grand ambitions and the sky is the limit for size - here's one of the images from a recent patent application. (Yes, a patent application for an internet connected umbrella).

If that's to scale, that's a pretty big shade. I wonder what that will cost?

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