Drop: Weighing Up The Internet Of Things

The Big Read, powered by Vodafone: Dublin-based kitchen technology start-up Drop is set to treble its workforce in the next year with a permanent presence in San Francisco before the end of 2015.

At present Drop has 14 staff, with only three of these based in the United States working at a hot desk facility. Drop’s new office in San Francisco will have 20 staff by autumn of 2016, with staff in Dublin increasing to 20 as well by the same stage.

The Dublin office will remain the engineering and software development hub for the business, while the new office in San Francisco will be focused on marketing and sales.

The business, which was founded in November 2012, is a software and hardware firm. The Drop scale is used to aid in measuring food, and combines with its app to aid users in making recipes.

Drop has been available in every Apple store across the US and Canada since November 2014. It has since been rolled out to Apple stores in Britain and Australia with Northern Europe the next market where Apple will stock Drop in its stores.

The business secured a deal with Target in May to be distributed in 2,000 of its stores. The firm has raised $2 million to date, backed by Frontline Ventures, and has sold approximately 20,000 units.

Ben-Harris-Drop Dublin-Globe Drop CEO Ben Harris

Ben Harris, Chief Executive of Drop, said that the expansion was timed to coincide with its upcoming Series A funding round.

“We will be raising it in Q1 of next year. We are talking to some interesting investors about that. Right now we are focused on pushing several software launches over the next while,” said Harris.

“Our partnership with Liam Casey and PCH International has helped facilitate a business as cash intensive as we are. It means we don’t need to raise as much capital as we otherwise would as a company making hardware. It has allowed us to model ourselves more as a software first company,” he said.

“There is a lot of growth on the horizon for us. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s about developing our core functions and ensuring we keep managing our organisation the right way.”

Running as a combination of hardware and software is offering the firm opportunities to work with other firms in the internet of things space, according to Harris.

“We want to be the recipe operating system for the kitchen. We have our product but we want it to be the platform that connects to other products in the kitchen,” said the Drop chief executive.

“We didn’t have one lightbulb moment. We were looking at the connected home, and the kitchen space in particular looked ripe for innovation. It was a like a jamming session, where we built on top of different ideas to develop the product,” said Harris.

“We very much started as a hardware company, we had all the skill sets to build connected hardware. The more we built the app, the more we realised that the hardware essentially becomes a dongle. It’s an entry point into the software,” he said.

“We are that confluence of connectivity, community, and hardware. It’s almost like the gaming industry where the software sells the hardware. That’s really how we are thinking about it. There is so much opportunity there to be that smart cookbook layer that works with other parts of the kitchen, collaborating with some of the big kitchen appliance manufacturers.”

The focus to date has solely been on developing for Apple products. Long-term, Harris said he wants Drop to be available to all users of smart devices.

“At the moment we are not just iOS only, we’re iPad only. We are excited about moving on to iPhone shortly but we wanted to get the experience right on the iPad first,” said Harris.

“All the designs for iPad have always considered how it would look on iPhone. The difference in how the devices are used is important, iPhones are used far more on the go. There’s around 90 million compatible iPads out there but it’s closer to 700 million iPhones so that’s a big market,” he said.

“We have got great support from Apple, we are continuing to get a good push from them. We will go Android eventually, it’s definitely in our pipeline, we just want to get iOS completely locked in first.”

Despite his patience, Harris said the sheer scale of the Android market makes it vital that Drop succeeds on the platform.

“It is harder to develop for Android. There is so much fragmentation in the market there. The platform was slower in getting its bluetooth stack nailed down and that’s slowed its move to connected products,” said the Drop chief executive.

“There is so much opportunity there. We need to be working with all devices in that space. It’s a different user experience to iOS.

“There are different patterns to how the users on iOS and Android use their devices. We want both formats to be as similar as possible but we have to keep those different kinds of use in mind at the same time.”

Harris has been named as a finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He said the nomination is serving as more than just an achievement for the business.

“It’s huge for the company, we’re honoured to be sitting alongside so many great names. We’ve already had some great conversations with more established companies, with past finalists and judges, and been able to pick their brains. That’s really helped our acceleration over the last while, building that network and getting value from a wider range of advisers,” said Harris.

The company’s Dublin office is right next to the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). The firm has worked with students from NCAD to help find new ways to develop its software.

“It’s great to have that much innovation so close to us. We are a really design driven company. We’re delighted to have involved ourselves with some projects over there. We’ve worked with six teams there who have helped developed ideas for the future of Drop,” said Harris.

Drop CEO, Ben Harris, demos Drop Kitchen from Get Drop on Vimeo.

Drop’s office serves multiple functions. On one side is software development, on the other is a kitchen. The space was developed by ripping out some legacy hardware.

“We had a room that was full of servers and printers. All of our infrastructure was up in the cloud so we stripped it out and turned it into a kitchen,” said Harris.

“We have some great chefs helping us on the recipe side here in Dublin, we use it to add more content to our recipes.

“We are excited about giving someone the confidence to go into the kitchen and know that when they leave it they will have food they are proud to share. We want to inspire people to be better, the people who check recipes online, and talk to them.

“The kitchen is that mix of creativity and science coming together. We are lowering the bar to entry. It’s removing and facilitating all the boring parts, the cognitive load. We understand that cooking is a ritual, we want people to enjoy that and have that creativity throughout that.”

Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.

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