January 5, 2018
Engineers are curious by nature, looking at the world differently, with circumspection and a yearning for improvement. Asking questions, testing hypothesis, and fiddling with products is a way of life. Such way of life couldn’t be a more accurate description for Sivakumar Nattamai, a former Tesla firmware engineer and current CEO of Cocoon Cam.
When Siva’s first child was born five years ago, like many new parents, he and his wife bought and installed a baby monitor to check-in on their little girl while she rested in her room. Perhaps unlike other new parents, who settle on such a purchase and think that the monitor’s output is the extent of its capability, Siva questioned the products available on the market, purchasing every available baby monitoring device he could lay his hands on to give him reassurance that his daughter was safe and sound. No product he tried let him relax comfortably, knowing his daughter was sleeping safely.
“The cameras on the market provided a useful video image of our daughter, but what can you tell from a video while a baby is sleeping?” Siva reflects incredulously.
“You see your child, but you can’t see if or how [the baby is] breathing, so my wife and I found ourselves walking in to check on her frequently during the early months of her life.”
Of course, this is precisely what baby monitors were created to prevent.
“Audio was an improvement (over just video), but we, like most parents, set up noise machines to help drown out background noise so that our kids can rest uninterruptedly, so you can’t hear your baby breathing in most cases.”
Siva discussed the problem with Pavan Kumar, a friend and Stanford Research Collaborator during a software hack-a-thon event, and they agreed that there had to be a better way, using available hardware technology.
CES 2016: Product Development and Due Diligence for Cameras
“We bought off-the-shelf cameras and even went to CES (2016) to view and buy the latest cameras on the market to test our idea,” Siva jokes. “You’re not supposed to transact on the showroom floor, but we found that most vendors were willing to sell us their cameras for cash. We bought every device we could find and took them back up to our hotel room, dumping them on the bed. Then we took them all apart and began analyzing which cameras would work with our idea for a software algorithm used on image and video processing.”
Following CES 2016, Siva and Pavan raised a small friends-and-family investment round and built a few prototypes. To help advance their idea, they joined Highway 1, a Bay Area product accelerator. They obtained their first devices later in 2016, buying the minimum order quantity of 5,000 units from their Chinese manufacturer.
CES 2017 Cocoon Cam 1.0: Initial Product Launch
They began sales right away, attending CES in 2017 to introduce the product and meet with retailers and distributors. Many startups in a similar position use Kickstarter to test their idea and determine if there is traction in the marketplace before committing and diving in. Not so for Siva and Pavan, they went right to consumers with their innovative device and began selling.
And the sales came in, quickly.
With their success, Cocoon Cam quickly ran out of inventory. They raised a larger fundraising round to build up inventory and continue innovating with new features for their app, offering parents more value than ever before. Due to forward-thinking and a novel product design, Cocoon Cam was able to create a product firmware update over the cloud– version 1.5 brought audio to thousands of devices already deployed in the field.
Working with PRG
While access to capital wasn’t a concern, spending money wisely was ingrained in the founders’ ethos, especially after being burned when a product distributor unexpectedly went bankrupt. To preserve cash while trying to accomplish their aggressive growth targets, Cocoon Cam needed to stay on budget and schedule.
“We hired the Product Realization Group (PRG) to help us in a few specific areas. [PRG partner] Levin Consulting helped us with our retail strategy. They built a product plan and made introductions to retail buyers at Target, Babies-R-Us, and other leaders in our product category. At CES in 2017, their plan and experience connected us with the right distributors to help avoid some of the pitfalls we experienced a year earlier,” says Siva.
CES 2018 Cocoon Cam 2.0: Rebrand, Market and Launch
With sales ramping up and a product roadmap rolling, Cocoon Cam elected to start on version 2.0, their next generation device, a product that uses their own hardware instead of an off-the-shelf camera solution. WIth back-to-back CES successes, Cocoon Cam set an ambitious goal of launching version 2.0 at CES in January 2018.
“With a full re-branding and marketing campaign in the works, CES 2018 has become a huge undertaking. We brought in PRG to help with Technical Program Management (TPM) to help keep our hardware engineering team on track and make sure that we meet our launch.”
Curious about Technical Program Management? Learn more here.
When we spoke, a tired Siva mentioned that his team had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week for several months in the build-up to CES 2018. “This year, it’s all about branding and introducing version 2.0 to the market. We’re proud that our customers know of us as the company that affordably tracks the health and breathing of their children, but we’re hoping to become the de facto standard in baby monitors so that future buyers are aware that there’s more to a monitor than just video and audio.”
CES isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, and it takes time to plan, especially if new products must be developed, tested, and built beforehand. Once there, it’s incredibly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Siva and Pavan have experience with CES as attendees performing due diligence, as startup entrepreneurs launching a very new product, and this year, they’ll gain unique experiences as a more established company working to unseat legacy competitors with a fresh, feature-rich product.
Stay tuned for part two of our three-part series on CES: The Road to CES 2018 with Cocoon Cam: At the Event.