Pebble seeks to tap the Chinese market

Pebble hopes to replicate in China the success it has had in the U.S., by working to build a fanbase for its smartwatches.

Three years ago, Pebble’s first product launched on Kickstarter as a crowdfunded project that initially raised over US$10 million from thousands of backers.

“We have always had a tight relationship with the people using the product, and our intention is to continue that in China,” said Eric Migicovsky, Pebble’s CEO in an interview on Wednesday.

The Silicon Valley startup is still in the early stages of tapping the country’s market, and only a month ago it upgraded its software to support Chinese language characters. It also began offering its smartwatches as a crowdfunding campaign on local e-commerce site JD.com that managed to rake in almost 300,000 yuan ($49,000) from 1,400 supporters earlier in April.

Pebble is now looking for Chinese partners to help it expand, and wants to recruit local developers, Migicovsky said on the sidelines of the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

“There’s a massive market here that doesn’t use the exact same apps around the world,” he said. China, for instance, has blocked Google, Facebook and Twitter among others, due to its strict censorship. Many Chinese Internet users instead rely on domestic search engines and social networking services such as Baidu and Tencent’s WeChat.

Pebble already gets products manufactured in China, where domestic vendors are offering their own fitness bands and smartwatches. Migicovsky isn’t worried about the competition.

“There’s a lot of single purpose smartwatches, simplified fitness trackers,” he said. “There’s no platform, no ecosystem being built, so I think Pebble has a real opportunity to stake that claim.”

Pebble has sold over a million units worldwide in the last 18 months, but the company is also stressing on software development. Other vendors could potentially adopt Pebble’s operating system for their products, Migicovsky said. He noted that the company has 26,000 developers building apps and watch faces for its software.

“If you look at the other guys, they are building accessories for their smartphones,” he said. “We think the future is centered around the wearable itself.”

Perhaps Pebble’s biggest rival is Apple, which launched its own smartwatch last week. Migicovsky welcomed the product’s arrival, but said the two companies are targeting different consumers. Pebble’s smartwatches, for example, can work with Android and iOS smartphones, and have seven-day battery life. They’re also priced starting at $99.

“They’ve shown they are making a beautiful watch,” he said of Apple. “That’s not our focus, our goal is to make a watch that is extremely useful.”

“Apple is probably not going to make a $100 watch,” he added.

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