Lojack and OnStar make it easy to find a car that’s been lost -- either forgotten in a crowded parking garage or stolen from the street -- but what about everything else? Enter Tile, a small, square tracking device that can be attached to any item (a purse, a wallet, a set of keys, a remote control) and located through an app.
Thanks to $13 million in Series A funding, announced today, Tile can now focus on scaling up to meet demand nationwide and globally. The round was led by GGV Capital -- whose managing partner, Jeff Richards, now sits on Tile’s board of directors -- and other investors including Tencent, Tandem Capital and Rothenberg Ventures. Bob Lee of Square, Nick Woodman from GoPro and Guitar Hero’s Charles Huang are also investors in the company.
Nick Evans and Mike Farley co-founded Tile two years ago, hoping to solve the age-old problem of people misplacing or losing their personal valuables. “We knew this was a problem that had yet to be solved, and we were amazed it wasn’t solved yet with all the stuff we could do on our phones,” said Evans. “When we started working on it, we saw how big of a problem this is.” According to the Tile website, “the average person misplaces upwards of 3,000 items a year, and then spends another 60 hours a year searching for them.”
The company, which first received a $200,000 investment through Tandem Capital’s incubator program, went on to raise $2.6 million in a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign in July 2013. Its goal at the time was only to raise $20,000.
Using Tile is simple: You attach it to whatever item you want to keep track of and download the app to your phone. If you misplace the item nearby (i.e., you’ve put your keys down somewhere in your house, but you’re not sure where) pressing a button on the app will cause your Tile to make a sound so you can find it. The device communicates via Bluetooth.
If you lose an item at a location that’s farther away (i.e - you left your purse at Starbucks and then went to your office across town), you can use the app on your phone or log in on someone else’s phone and get an update that shows you a timestamp of when your purse was seen at this location. This works because if there’s someone else within 100-feet of your tile that has the app running, your Tile can communicate with the person’s phone through the cloud. All of this happens in the background, so that strangers are not able to have a GPS leading them to your stuff.
One of Evans’ favorite stories about Tile involves a man who got on an airplane in Orlando, disembarked when he reached his destination, and later, he couldn’t find his keys. Thinking he’d left them on the plane, he checked with the airports, but the plane had left and could have been anywhere. Over the next few weeks, the man checked his Tile app repeatedly. Three weeks after he lost them, he checked Tile for his keys again and got an update that they were in the Orlando airport. At the airport’s lost and found, he pressed a button on his phone to make the device ring in the back room, allowing workers to find him his keys easily.
“In that case, it took three weeks for him to get an update because the network [of Tile users] was smaller,” Evans said, pointing out that as the company expands, it will reach more customers and allow more tiles to connect with one another in the cloud, leading to more frequent updates and sightings. To date, the top cities for Tile usage are New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
The app currently operates on iOS, the Apple operating system, but with the money it has raised, the company plans to expand to Android phones, starting with the Samsung Galaxy S5. “By moving to android, we’ll have many more people with the app downloaded, helping each other find stuff,” said Evans.
Right now, though, the numbers still look solid. Evans says that more than 500,000 tiles have been ordered, and over 300,000 have been shipped so far. Those pre-ordered Tiles began shipping in May 2014. An individual Tile costs $20, but a four-pack costs $60.
Evans and Farley have good intentions, but they’re aware that all users might not be so altruistic. In the wake of the Home Depot hacking scandal and with the knowledge that all businesses can have unintended consequences, security is a priority. “First, there’s no personal info kept on any of the Tiles,” Evans said. “Even if someone had access to your Tile, they can’t get that information. Location info is kept on servers and is ultra secure. We always have our eye on security with every change that we make.”