Smartphone startup Nextbit raises $1M in 10 days via Kickstarter, plans sales expansion for 2016

LAS VEGAS -- Smartphone startup Nexbit, which is making a cloud-focused Android phone that frees up storage space, has raised nearly $1 million in its Kickstarter campaign in 10 days, blowing past its own expectations and its 30-day goal of raising $500,000. Nextbit CEO Tom Moss is extremely pleased with the response, but has bigger ambitions: moving from selling thousands of units to hundreds of thousands of phones next year.

The Kickstarter campaign launched Sept. 1 and has currently raised more than $930,000 for Nextbit's first phone, dubbed "Robin." The first 1,000 Kickstarter backers will receive a $100 discount for a total cost of $299, and all other Kickstarter backers will be able to purchase Robin for $349, a $50 discount. When Robin is available for general retail sales in the first quarter of 2016 it will cost $399. Kickstarter phones will be shipped in January with public sales starting online in February.

Moss, who was previously in charge of business development and strategic partnerships for Android worldwide, said that even though Nextbit is a startup it has clearly defined economic models for success and that it knows it needs to build and sell a certain number of phones. In an interview with FierceWireless at CTIA's Super Mobility conference, Moss said Nextbit knows "what is required to become a sustainable, profitable company" and also knows what it needs to sell to grow.

Those sales figures are in the "hundreds of thousands of ranges," Moss said, with the minimum Nextbit needs to sell at the low end of that range, and what it needs to grow the business at the high end of the scale.  

Scott Croyle, Nextbit's chief production and design officer and formerly HTC's design chief, said the company reached the $500,000 goal within 11 hours of the Kickstarter launch last week. "We have a pretty active and engaged community," on the crowd-funding site, and Nextbit has engaged in conversation with its early fans, emulating the model pioneered by Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and OnePlus. "To be a sustainable long-term brand you really have to have that relationship with your end users as soon as possible."

Croyle noted that Nextbit has sold thousands of phone's to people who cannot actually touch them or read full reviews of them, and that there are few products on Kickstarter with price tags of $300 or more. "We're super pumped," he said.

Nextbit synchs users' apps and photos to the cloud using Amazon Web Services, and if a user is running out of internal storage space on their phone, the Robin "shadows" or grays out apps that users do not use, but leaves the application data and credentials intact so that when users do want to access the app they can tap it and pick up like they never left off. Users can also override the intelligence by "pinning" certain apps to the phone. The same thing can be done for photos that a customer hasn't looked at in a month. The phone will push those photos off the phone and up the cloud but leave a locally cached thumbnail users can look at and click if they want to retrieve the full-sized photo.

The Robin sports respectable specs, including a 5.2-inch 1080p display, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 808 processor, a fingerprint sensor in the power button, a 13-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera and a 2680 mAh battery.

The Robin supports LTE bands from AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), but Croyle said that Nextbit has received "so much interest" from Verizon Wireless  (NYSE: VZ) customers that it may decide to add support for Verizon's LTE bands in a future iteration of the phone as a result of the feedback.

For now, Nextbit is going to ship the Robin to only around 10 countries, including major European markets, Japan, India, some markets in Southeast Asia, Canada and the U.S. Croyle said that Nextbit will use the Kickstarter campaign to extrapolate how many units its manufacturing partner Foxconn should build, but it will not be a one-to-one conversion, meaning that if it sells 5,000 devices through the end of September, that doesn't mean it needs to build only 5,000 devices per month.

Croyle said that Nextbit has received "Tremendous interest from Android enthusiasts" but also from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone users, many of whom feel burned by Apple's 16 GB storage limit on the entry-level iPhone model. Croyle said 15-22 year-olds don't have the "brand allegiance" to Apple that a 35-40 year-old has and want something that's "fresh and more forward-looking." Nextbit is offering "a really smart solution to a problem that a vast majority of people face" in terms of running out of storage, he said.

Apple is also helping Nextbit's cause by launching its iPhone Upgrade Program and selling phones through a leasing plan directly to consumers, bypassing the role of the carriers. Since Nextbit plans to sell its phones in a direct-to-consumer model, Croyle said the firm thinks Apple's announcement will "super-charge" that market.

What's next for Nextbit? Croyle said that the company wants to tackle battery life and setting up a new phone. The firm thinks the cloud can more intelligently determine how people are using their phones throughout the day and ensure that they will have enough battery life based on previous usage patterns. He also said Nextbit eventually wants people to be able to access all of their apps and content via the cloud even if they log in on another person's phone.

Nextbit's goal is to "build a company where consumers [have] a voice in the creation of it" via a two-way conversation, one that it already starting on Kickstarter. Some backers speculated and found out Nextbit would release cases and accessories because they asked the firm and Nextbit told them that plans for those were in the works. "It doesn't just feel more authentic," he said. "It is more authentic."

For more:
- see this Kickstarter link

Related articles:
Startup Nextbit unveils Android phone that frees up storage via the cloud
Gartner: Apple shows strength in China, but overall smartphone growth weakened in Q2
Analysts: Smartphone growth slows to around 15% in Q2 thanks to weaker growth in U.S., China
Analysts: Samsung's high costs for Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+ could turn off consumers
Motorola embraces direct-to-consumer model with new Moto G, Moto X phones
Samsung's Galaxy S6, HTC's One M9 show that flagship phones have peaked in importance

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