A retrospective look at 10 innovative sleep products that raised over $1 million by crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo
Not that long ago, the most innovative sleep product you’d be likely to find in a bedroom was an alarm clock with an FM radio.
Smart phones may have killed off the alarm clock, but the booming consumer sleep technology market has given rise to a dizzying variety of sleep products and services.
Sleep trackers, wearables, light therapy products, sleep masks, smart bedding, aromatherapy devices, sound machines are just a few categories of a new wave of innovation in the sleep industry.
Part of the reason for such a vibrant and inventive sleep industry are the new methods of funding and investment.
In the last ten years, startups, inventors, designers, and scientists have been able to pursue their commercial ideas via crowdfunding, a low risk, low barrier of entry investment model that has given birth to some of the most successful and original sleep products in recent years.
What is crowdfunding?
The modern concept of crowdfunding, synonymous with the big online platforms Kickstarter, IndieGogo and GoFundMe is only around 10 years old, but the roots go back hundreds of years to a model of patronage, where artists would go directly to their audiences to fund their work.
Crowdfunding allows creators (ie startups, inventors, artists, charities etc) to circumvent traditional avenues of investment, which means projects can be developed more quickly with minimal upfront cost.
This also speeds up the innovation cycle, allowing inventors and designers to pursue their original ideas without taking out huge business loans or going into debt.
Typically, fans will back a crowdfunding project by donating money in return for ‘rewards’. For a hardware product, the reward is usually a heavy price discount on the product when it eventually ships.
Sometimes however crowdfunding projects just don’t work out. Maybe the original design concept was flawed, or perhaps simply the project creators failed to translate the hype into an actual business model.
When this happens, backers can be left out of pocket, with faulty, or inferior products. Sometimes the project fails to deliver at all.
These types of failures are common. And there are many sleep products launched on Kickstarter and IndieGogo which are testament to the risks inherent in the crowdfunding model.
The million dollar crowd-funded sleep products
The good news is that there are also lots of success stories. Lots of small companies with a passion for bringing new, inventive sleep products to market, who, without platforms like Kickstarter may never have had the chance to shine.
So, here’s the first part of a two-piece round-up of 10 sleep products that broke the $1 million funding barrier by raising money on Kickstarter and IndieGogo. Each of these products has their own story to tell – not all of them have a happy ending.
Hopefully both businesses and consumers can learn from theses successes and failures, to continue the amazing amount of innovation and creativity in the sleep technology space, whilst guarding against the risks.
10) Smart Nora
A hi-tech first of its kind anti-snoring gadget
Raised: $832,523 USD on Kickstarter + $600k (approx) in website pre-orders
Price and Availabilty: Smart Nora website (from $299 -Finance available)
Smart Nora is a non-invasive anti-snoring device that sits alongside your bed, and doesn’t require you to wear a mouth guards, nose strip, chin strap.
Smart Nora consists of 3 components, a wireless sensor which sits on your bedside table, a small, silent air pump which goes underneath your bed, and an inflatable pad that you place inside your pillow case.
At night, the pebble, which contains a microphone, listens to your breathing, to try and detect the earliest signs of snoring. When it hears you snoring, it signals the pump to gently inflate and deflate the pillow pad. This movement is very slight, not enough to wake you, but enough to shift the position of your head and neck and open the airways to prevent snoring.
Nora was designed for people who snore and cause their partner to wake up multiple times in a week. Because the Pebble is adjustable you can set the sensitivity of the Pebble to trigger only at snoring volumes that wake your partner up.
After several years gaining experience as a designer and consultant in Canada, USA and across the globe, Behrouz Hariri returned to his native Toronto with an eagerness to be involved in a more long term project, a shot at a startup.
Fortuitously, Ali Hariri, an engineer and serial inventor, who also happened to be Behrouz’s father, had been working on a new invention to prevent snoring. After a thorough round of testing, evaluation and prototyping, the father and son team, along with Behrouz’s brother as COO formed Smart Nora in 2014 to take the product to commercialization.
Deciding to eschew capital investment and retail channels, the family firm took their product to Kickstarter, raising more than $1MM in pre-orders via crowdfuning and their own website.
Having received many positive reviews, Nora was given a huge boost by appearing in the Dec 2017 edition O Magazine as Oprah’s Favorite Things.
9) FaceCradle Travel Pillow
An original twist on the U-shaped travel pillow
Raised: $1,075,772 USD (AU$ 1,479,231) on KickStarter
Price and Availability: Amazon and the FaceCradle website from $39.99
The name says it all. FaceCradle is a unique twist on the traditional inflatable travel pillow that offers support for your whole face and neck. FaceCradle was originally conceived with air travel in mind, and features straps that fasten around your seat’s headrest.
With 6 different sleeping modes, FaceCradle can be used like a normal neck pillow, in snooze mode, on a table, or it can offer full face support with the use of the fastening straps.
When used in full ‘cradle mode’ the pillow allows your head to relax forward, preventing your head from slumping downwards.
After a 15-year career in the hi-tech automotive industry, David Scrimshaw left the corporate world in 1993 to become an entrepreneur, founding two successful companies and winning several design awards in his native Australia.
On a long-haul flight with his partner Roz, David noticed that the u-shaped inflatable neck pillow, so popular amongst travellers, was actually really bad at supporting the neck and head. The couple decided there must be a better solution, and the result was FaceCradle.
Whilst no doubt an innovative product, FaceCradle is, let’s say not the most elegant of innovations. Apart from reminding us of a toilet seat, it isn’t particularly compact, and many travellers would prefer to trade the space for a less comfortable inflatable pillow, than carry the bulkier FaceCradle.
The travel pillow market is a hyper-competitive one, with a plethora of competing designs and innovations and FaceCradle is obviously a successful product, with lots of positive reviews, but perhaps one that’s suited to the hardcore long-haul traveller who doesn’t mind making space in their carry on luggage.
8) Eight Smart Mattress Cover (formerly Luna)
Turns any bed into a smart bed with sleep tracking and bed-warming
Raised: $1,230,603 USD on IndieGogo
Price and Availability :Amazon and the Eight Sleep website from $225
Eight is a mattress cover with embedded smart technology that can track your sleep, warm your bed and connect with other smart home devices. The cover creates a sensor layer that fits any standard mattress and can be controlled by your smartphone.
Eight’s mattress warming features can intelligently manage dual temperatures for each side of the bed. The built-in sleep tracking sensor monitors your sleep patterns allowing you to see both nightly sleep data and long term trends. Artificial intelligence allows Eight to learn about your sleep habits and program itself to create a personalized schedule for your ideal bed temperature and environmental conditions.
As a true IoT (Internet of Things) device, Eight can connect to hundreds of other smart home devices such as smart thermostats, door locks, light bulbs. Integrations include Amazon Alexa, IFTTT and an open API platform.
As a former lawyer and successful entrepreneur, CEO Matteo Franceschetti co-founded Eight in 2014 with a vision to redesign the traditional mattress with aid of cutting-edge technology.
Starting out small with his wife Alexandra Zatarain as the CMO, and good friend Max Bassi as CTO, Eight, formerly branded as Luna quickly surpassed their $100,000 goal at IndieGogo to become one of the most successful sleep technology startups, having since raised over $30 million from Silicon Valley investors including Khosla Ventures, Y Combinator, Stanford University’s StartX.
Eight’s team now includes a board including some of the world’s leading sleep scientists and as well as manufacturing their original smart cover, the firm also makes a range of mattresses which included their embedded smart technology.
Eight Sleep is a great example of a successful sleep technology company that combined great product vision with solid business acumen. At the time of their launch, nobody knew the world needed a ‘smart mattress’, but as the product grew in popularity, the company had the foresight to see the potential in bringing AI, machine learning and smart home integration to revolutionise the concept of what a 21st century mattress could be.
However, Eight sees themselves foremost as a technology firm, not a mattress company. Having tracked over 20 million hours of sleep, and with an impressive team of advisors and investors behind them, Eight is poised well to leverage their successes to become a major player in the future of sleep technology.
7) BedJet (V2)
An air conditioner for your bed, designed by ex-NASA engineer
Raised: $1,363,381 USD on Kickstarter
Price and Availability: BedJet V2 is available on Amazon and the Bedjet Website from $299
Update: The latest version of BedJet technology, BedJet 3 has raised $882,692 on Oct 4th 2018 on Kickstarter. Pre-orders are available at IndieGogo
Bedjet is a complete climate control system for your bed. Using an advanced microprocessor controlled air ventilation system, BedJet provides rapid heating and cooling for any bed, helping you to sleep more comfortably, whether you’re suffering hot summer nights, or the icy chill of winter.
The seed concept for BedJet was conceived over 15 years ago, but founder and inventor Mark Aramli only decided to pursue his idea after witnessing his mother who was stuck in bed after surgery for a few weeks. In her drafty 100-year-old Connecticut home, every contraption to keep here comfortable in bed -eclectric blankets, heating pads, space heaters – was either too hot or too cold.
So, Aramli, with his expertise in the energy industry, (plus a stint as an engineer designing the NASA spacesuit) set about inventing a brand new climate-control system that would fit any bed. 14 months later, BedJet LLC was formed, the prototype was ready, and in 2015 Aramli got to pitch his invention on ABC’s notorious business reality show Shark Tank.
The pitch was a disaster, with all 5 entrepreneurs turning down the opportunity to take a 10% stake in the company for $250,000. But after being told that his product was doomed live on TV by some of America’s richest businessmen, Aramli had the last laugh.
After crushing its Kickstarter campaign, sales topped $3MM in the first 18 months. Customers who had bought BedJet loved it, and the positive reviews led to viral coverage in the media and continued success to this day.
BedJet is a unique well designed and solidly engineered product that solved a real problem like nothing else on the market. Although it’s a premium product and not everyone can afford one, its main competition is even more costly, ie installing an air conditioning system in your bedroom.
Many people suffering sleep problems such as night sweats, hot flashes often have to suffer in silence, so products like BedJet and some of its close competitors like the ChiliPad offer a lifeline and the opportunity for a better quality of life by improving their sleep.
6) Silent Partner
A ‘smart’ anti-snoring gadget which never made it to market
Raised: $1,650,821 on IndieGogo
Price and Availability: No longer available to buy. Product not yet shipped. Company website is is offline (quietlife.tech)
Silent Partner was billed as the world’s first smart patch to quiet snoring noise. Uniquely, unlike most snoring devices on the market, Silent Partner, doesn’t claim to stop you snoring in any way. Instead it’s designed to prevent the noise of your snoring from disturbing you or your partner.
Silent Partner employs active noise cancellation (ANC), the same technique used in high-end headphones like the Bose QC25. In simple terms, it uses a microphone and speaker setup to listen to your snores and emit a counter sound to suppress the snoring noise.
Silent Partner’s ANC is designed specifically to cancel out snoring noise by embedding all the electronic is a fabric eye mask. It’s claimed to reduce snoring noise by up to 17dB. Silent Partner comes in both a ‘smart patch’ and an eye mask.
Silent Partner is the brainchild of Netanel Eyal, the CEO & Co-founder of Israel-based QuietLife Technologies. A physics and computer science graduate, With a background in bio-sensing, after university Eyal and his partner researched the snoring market to determine if there was a need for a noise cancelling snoring device. After realizing that there was nothing like this on the market, they set about designing Silent Partner.
Sadly, 2.5 years after securing over $1.6MM in pre-orders on IndieGogo, it seems that progress on Silent Partner has ironically gone…. a little quiet.
An update post on Jan 19th 2018 stated that Eyal and his co-founder Yoni Bozak had both resigned their respective positions as CEO and CTO, and asking backers to help them find replacements for their jobs. A further, update in March stated some technical implementation issues and that they were still seeking a CEO. In addition, the Quiet Technologies website, https://quietlife.tech is currently offline.
To top it all off, a quick scan of comments section on the IndieGogo page reads like a PR nightmare, with nearly 3000 messages from angry backers, most demanding refunds.
All in all, so far, not a happy ending. Watch this space….
Sleeping headphones that read your brainwaves
Raised: $1,936,825 on Kickstarter
Price and Availability: Kokoon website (from €299)
Kokoon is a pair of headphones designed specifically to help improve your sleep. These noise-cancelling sleeping headphones combine EEG (brain activity) and movement sensors with an intelligent audio library to offer a wide range of smart functions based around sleep and relaxation.
The headphones’ comfort features include FlexmouldTM technology which moulds to the shape of your head and breathable, machine washable natural fabrics.
To prevent you from being disturbed, Kokoon features a triple layer of protection; active noise cancellation, a patent-pending audio seal, and active white noise to mask external sounds.
The audio library includes CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) exercises, active white noise and custom designed soundscapes and spoken word scripts.
After experiencing insomnia first hand, Kokoon founder Tim Antos, opposed to sleep medications, decided to explore other ways to treat his sleep problems. Having found success by listening to relaxing audio tracks, Tim, a trained mechanical engineer set out to create the ultimate pair of headphones that would be comfortable to wear in bed but also incorporate advanced sensor technology to help users monitor and improve their sleep.
The result was the EEG- equipped Kokoon headphones. An instant hit, the company ended up crowdfunding nearly $2 million via Kickstarter. However 3 years after the successful campaign, a series of trials and tribulations, manufacturing delays and some considerable redesign improvements have meant that early backers are still awaiting delivery for their headphones.
The good news is that, unlike many of the sleep startups we’ve seen come and go, the Kokoon project is very much alive and, fingers crossed, products will be shipping in December 2018
The revolutionary CPAP replacement which has yet to make it into production
Raised: $1,946,882 USD on IndieGogo
Price and availability: $3/ device Product not yet launched.
Airing is described as the world’s first maskless, hoseless, and cordless micro-CPAP. It’s a miniaturized, portable and comfortable version of the standard CPAP machine, a cumbersome, yet highly effective treatment for sleep apnea, a very common sleep breathing disorder affecting 20 million people in the USA alone.
The brainchild of inventor Stephan Marsh, Airing launched with a slick campaign video and quickly raised almost $2 million in funding from backers eager to find a better solution for their sleep apnea.
Designed with a system of so-called ‘micro-blowers’, Airing is a disposable device that plugs into your nostrils instead of the more conventional CPAP breathing mask.
Although the company has received a further $2 million in outside investment, three years down the line, a functional prototype has still yet to emerge, and the key component – micro-blowers – have yet to be demonstrated as working.
3) Purple Pillow
Raised: $2,640,852 on Kickstarter
Price and availability: $99 https://purple.com/
Purple exploded onto the mattress industry in 2015 with their first product the Purple Mattress. The brainchild of brothers Tony and Terry Pearce, the Purple Mattress, which also debuted on Kickstarter, showcased the brothers’ new innovation in cushioning technology, which they dubbed Hyper-Elastic Polymer.
The stretchy, durable, non-toxic material is arranged in a grid system of small triangles which create small columns all over the mattress surface. This was the innovation that helped support your body while allowing your pressure points to sink into the mattress.
Although 20 years in the making, the Purple Mattress became an overnight success after the inventors partnered with the Harmons, who produced a series of viral video that showcased the properties of hyper-elastic polymer in the now-famous raw egg test video, which to date has garnered over 150 million views.
One year later, spurred by the success of the mattress, which raised a respectable $171k on Kickstarter, the company launched the Purple Pillow – a hefty 10 pound lump of Hyper-Elastic Polymer which the company described as the ‘World’s First No-Pressure Head Bed’.
Unlike most pillows that flatten and lose shape, the Purple Pillow was designed to offer proper neck support and forever banish the memory of flat, lumpy or hot pillows. Incredibly, the Purple Pillow attracted 17,733 backers, and went on to attract over $2.6 million in crowdfunding pledges.
In 2017, the company became the first publicly mattress startup to first publicly traded mattress startup when it announced a merger with investment shell company, Global Partner Acquisition Corp at a valuation of $1.1 billion.
2) Hello Sense
The sleep tech startup that went from $250 million to bust in a year
Launched: Jul, 2014
Raised:$2,410,741 on Kickstarter
Price and Availability: Company shut down in 2017
One of the earliest crowdfunding triumphs in the world of consumer sleep technology was an odd, futuristic looking bedside orb, launched in 2014 called Sense, from a brand new startup called Hello.
Sense was described as a simple device that “tracks your sleep behavior, monitors the environment of your bedroom and reinvents the alarm.” The bedside orb, a beautifully designed control unit which responded to hand motion gestures, paired itself with a ‘pill’ – a basic movement sensor which you attached to your pillow to track your sleep behaviour.
Sense was then able to do movement-based sleep tracking, environmental monitoring (noise, humidity, light, temperature) play back white noise sounds via the built-in speaker, and function as a smart alarm, allegedly waking you in the optimal time of light sleep in the morning.
One of the earliest devices of its type, Sense generated an unprecedented amount of hype, and went on to raise an incredible $2.4 million via Kickstarter, and a further $50 million in outside investment, valuing the startup at over $250 million.
But 3 years after its launched, the company suddenly folded, highlighting what happens when smart Silicon Valley investors make bets based on hype, rather than sound business sense.
Sense’s initial success was arguably more attributable to the confidence and networking skills of Hello’s founder and CEO. James Proud. An alumni of the Peter Thiel Fellowship, Proud, was plugged directly into the network of one of Silicon Valley’s most influential investors and went on to generate a blizzard of hype and hagiographic headlines in the tech and business press.
Problem, is. Hello didn’t have a viable business model, and despite thousands of enthusiastic customers and tens of millions in the bank, couldn’t figure out how to sustain themselves.
Soon after the closure, the company also switched off the cloud services which the device relied on, rendering the device into a useless brick, albeit a pretty one.
The tale of Hello Sense is a cautionary one for both individual and corporate investors to be ever vigilant of hardware startups on Kickstarter that don’t have a future-proof business to back up their hype and claims.
1)Gravity Blanket $4,729,263
The 25lb blanket that captured the zeitgeist of the early 21st century sleep industry
Raised:$4,729,263 on Kickstarter
Price and Availability: Gravity Blanket website (from €249)
Coming in head and shoulders above all the other sleep gadgets in the list, the Gravity Blanket is one of the biggest successes ever for a sleep product on Kickstarter. Raising an incredible $4.7 million on the crowdfunding platform, founders John Fiorentino and Mike Grillo owe the success of their weighted blanket to a combination of savvy marketing and a huge, burgeoning market for new products that can offer solutions for sleep, anxiety and relaxation.
Considering the runaway success of Gravity Blanket, you may be forgiven for thinking the company had invented the concept, but that’s far from the case.
Weighted blankets have been around for decades, most commonly used in clinical practice by occupational and physical therapists to help people with autism and other disorders including anxiety, insomnia and psychiatric disorders using a phenomenon called deep pressure touch.
The theory is that sleeping under a heavy blanket stimulate serotonin and melatonin levels, hormones that are known to promote relaxation. Whilst some research has shown that weighted blankets can have beneficial, relaxing effect on the brain’s limbic system, the evidence is far from clear as to how measurable the positive benefits are.
This led to the makers eventually withdrawing some of the more hyperbolic claims about their product which potentially violated FDA regulations for promoting lifestyle products.
But this didn’t stop Gravity Blanket from going viral, and clocking up over $15 million is sales in 2018. Today, despite there being dozens of other companies producing very similar products, Gravity Blanket’s brand recognition keeps it a market leader, and the company has expanded its range to include a colling blanket, weighted sleep mask, and other variations on the same theme.
Gravity Blanket is the archetypal example of the power of crowdfunding platforms to launch new products, seemingly from nowhere, and turn them into multi-million dollar businesses. Without platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, many of the products we’ve described in this roundup would have never received the investment to continue in business, or would have taken many years to reach the same level of success they found through crowdfunding.
On the flipside however, companies like Hello, Airing and Silent Partner have shown the risks of launching a product that’s either not ready for market, or has no viable real world business model. Failures such as these not only hurt the founders, they also leave consumers out of pocket.
So whilst we fully support the innovation and opportunity offered by crowdfunding, next time you get excited by a sexy marketing video, think twice before making that pledge!