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Mister Beacon Episode #35

Personal Asset Tracking - TrackR

April 16, 2017

Personal Asset tracking was one of the first use cases for Bluetooth beacons, it’s driven millions of unit sales and continues to evolve, with crowd sourced asset spotting, new usecases and new hardware to add room level monitoring. We talk to Christian Smith, TrackR’s President and co-founder about the technologies and stories behind the founding of TrackR and use of the product.


  • Steve Statler 00:03

    All right, this is Mr. Beacon at the Bluetooth SIG world event. And I am talking to Christian Smith, who is one of the cofounders of TrackR, who are one of the small number of companies that has sold has broken the million beacon barrier. So Christian, congratulations on that, I'm really pleased to be able to chat with you. So tell us what TrackR does.

    Christian Smith 00:26

    TrackR is really simple way to take that task of remembering where items are located, and just give it to a computer, we see that we don't remember, memorize phone numbers anymore. We don't even really necessarily memorize directions, we have our phones and in Google Maps for that. So TrackR is a really simple way to if you want to find something, you can tap a button, and then keep that item. So just the other morning, I let my brother borrow my keys, and I couldn't find them when I needed to leave for work. I can just beat them and find them found that he put them on top of the refrigerator, which is like the most random places that he could have ever put out. But I wasn't late for work because I was able to find them at the press of a button.

    Steve Statler 01:19

    Well, you're allowed to be late at work, because you're one of the co founders, what what's your role attractive?

    Christian Smith 01:24

    So I'm the president and co founder and TrackR so that I had I missed her outside and my co founder is Mr. Inside.

    Steve Statler 01:34

    Okay, so you're basically sales and marketing and all that good stuff. Yep. And personal asset tracking is like one of the big success stories of the beacon business isn't actually when I'm trying to explain what a beacon is. I normally start off with that use case, just how many of these devices have you sold?

    Christian Smith 01:52

    We've shipped over four and a half million units. And what's really exciting is not only are you know, how are we helping people keep track of those important things. We've also been able to build a community of people who are also using the app and helping other people find things. So if I was to leave my keys here, and I my phone would then remember exactly where and when I left that item. And then if another TrackR user came within 100 feet of my keys, their phone would see my last item and then update our server. So we're currently getting 2 million location updates every single day around the world. We see that's really exciting because someone like one of our users, her name's Kelly, put the tracker into her wallet. And when she went to go run an errand, she got back to her car, and where she she left her wallet on her window or her whip. It was just shattered glass, a thief had come by punched in the wallet, the window and grabbed her wallet. A few hours later, Kelly got an update on her TrackR app. And it told her her wallet was you know about four blocks away from where that theft had happened. So she went there, and her Bluetooth reconnected. Then she saw with the hot cold indicator, you know, she was walking closer, and she tapped the button and she heard her wallet beeping. And her wallet was beeping in a ditch. The thief had just grabbed the cash out of the wallet and then chucked the wallet with her credit cards or IDs into this ditch. And so she was able to get all of those things back. So she didn't have to go through the painful process of replacing all of your credit cards. And you know, getting a new driver's license.

    Steve Statler 03:44

    Which is the worst I mean, I 100 bucks in cash is nothing relative to all of that stuff. So I can use another phone. I think the crowdsourcing thing is very cool. People use it for tracking their kids is that one of the assets that people track.

    Christian Smith 04:00

    So we see that you know, not only Kelly has had that experience of getting things back through the community location network, we see that people have recovered you know, lost luggage, stolen bikes, runaway pets, we really focus on keeping helping people keep track of items and don't really recommend people to track other people with the tracker. There are other things that I think are better suited technologies for for those types of use cases.

    Steve Statler 04:35

    So what why would you not use it for for tracking your kids?

    Christian Smith 04:40

    So we I'm the oldest of seven children. And I see that you know if I'm mom and I want to know where someone is right away that you know tracking either through Find My Friends or through a phone might be a better use case. Okay? We're really fine bye iPhone for all of your stuff.

    Steve Statler 05:01

    Right? All right. We'll go into that off camera because I used to work at Qualcomm. And we actually did a pilot project about that. But you have the scale. So everyone who's got one of those beacons presumably has that as an app. So But although I guess some people have multiple of the TrackR devices, so how many apps do you think you have running? How big is that community of people looking for stuff?

    Christian Smith 05:28

    So we haven't announced the number of active users. But we see that, you know, people can either use the TrackR app to connect to hardware devices, like the TrackR Bravo that are available at BestBuy, Brookstone or other retailers, like Staples Bed Bath and Beyond. Or they can buy them on our website. We also see that people can download just the TrackR app and use the find by phone skill for their Amazon Alexa. So if you can't find your house, phone around the house, then you can say Alexa, ask TrackR to ring my phone. Or you can say Alexa, ask tracker, where is my phone, and will tell you the closest address or intersection that we see your phone. Nice.

    Steve Statler 06:16

    So what is this guy down here? This looks like a gateway or something?

    Christian Smith 06:21

    Yes. So this is TrackR Atlas. This is one of our we'll be launching that TrackR Atlas in summer of 2017. And we're really excited because Atlas is a home mapping platform. And we see that lots of users want to know where things are in their home. So if we can plug an atlas device into each room, the Atlas will protect all of the TrackR devices that are nearby, and then report that to a server. So you can see through a drag and drop interface. My wallet is in the kitchen, like keys are in the bedroom. And then you can query Alexa, Alexa, Where are the keys? And then Alexa will respond your keys are in the your keys are in the bedroom. Alexa, can you beat my wallet? Yes, your wallets in the kitchen, and I'm causing it to beep right now. So it's a really simple way to not only find things around the house, but also to create simple rules so that you can say, if you want to be alerted if your cat jumps out the window, or, you know, if the backpack, you know that your child takes to school comes back home, then the single mom who's working can be notified that kid is home safe. So it's a simple check in check out your consumer inventory management system.

    Steve Statler 07:49

    How many people work in your company?

    Christian Smith 07:52

    TrackR currently has 65 employees. And we're headquartered in Santa Barbara, California.

    Steve Statler 07:57

    And what tell us just briefly how you got started, and what was learned must have been quite a ride.

    Christian Smith 08:04

    Yeah, so my co founder and I were both engineers at UC Santa Barbara. And we both loved surfing. So we really got to know each other because we would stay up very late to finish our physics homework before everyone else. So that we could turn it in and be done. And then wake up early the next morning and go surfing. And so we really got to know each other taking weekend surf trips. One weekend, we went to a place called Pismo Beach, and we parked on the beach near Oceana dunes. And we found this amazing beach break. We ended up surfing for about three hours. And when we got back to the car, we were mortified to realize that the car was parked below the high tide line, oh my god, we were freaking out. We ripped the entire car apart searching for the keys. We couldn't find them anywhere. And so we were digging around in the sand around the car looking for this key. And we were like freaked out because the car was going to get washed away by the rising tide. So we got very lucky because there were two people with metal detectors walking down the beach. And they helped us find the key that was buried in the sand. But that's the moment we realized we lose things because we have to depend on our memories, right to where those things are. Why can't we just use? Why can't the computers that are around us memorize where those things are and help us find them. And so that's when we kind of that's the pain point that really sparked us to figure out a solution for losing things.

    Steve Statler 09:41

    And so that was the need and you have got a great story about why it was compelling the but how did you translate that need into a product? You mean you were students you've presumably created a consumer product before?

    Christian Smith 09:55

    Yeah, so I was a mechanical engineer. My co founder Chris was electrical engineer. So between the two of us, I think we could give it enough time we can make almost anything. Yeah, we were very lucky because the university in Santa Barbara has a Technology Management Program, which is a entrepreneurship and innovation program. And so, you know, we entered this idea into the business plan competition in 2007. And everyone said, this is a stupid idea. And we didn't even make it to through the semi finals. So we believed in this idea, and so we kept working on it. And we entered back into business plan competition in 2008. And lucky for us, the iPhone launched. So everyone understood what an app was, and that their little flip phones were actually computers. And we won the business plan competition in 2009. And we were able to then takes the take the winnings and move into a garage, where we were able to build the first prototype in about six months.

    Steve Statler 11:05

    The packets that you're broadcasting, are they proprietary, or is there an iBeacon packet in there? Or would you actually send that?

    Christian Smith 11:12

    Yeah, we're using that proprietary protocol.

    Steve Statler 11:15

    Very good. Well, I've got one last question. It's the hardest question. If you're going to Mars on a spaceship, and you could only take one song, what's the song that you would take with you?

    Christian Smith 11:25

    What's the song? I would take Vivaldi's Four Seasons

    Steve Statler 11:36

    Four songs in one room, and that's a spring symphony. There's a little bit of very drafty I can see why you're the president of TrackR, Christian thanks a lot.

    Christian Smith 11:46

    Thanks so much. Cheers.