Sensr.net's Funding and Silicon Valley VSaaS Examined
The funding of Sensr.net represents the first Silicon Valley style play into the emerging Video Surveillance as a Service Market. Until now, the market has been overwhelmingly filled with bootstrapped and angel funded entrants who focused on solving fairly well defined problems with a clear business model.
In light of this, Sensr.net's $1.5 Million round is an important milestone that raises intriguing questions about the future of this market. Consider that Sensr.net has no revenue and no established means to generate revenue (neither via subscriptions nor advertisements). Despite that, the size of funding is rather sizeable for this application. From our private discussions with entrants targeting similar markets (consumer / residential), far smaller amounts of funding have been used to arrive at a GA product.
Let's review Sensr.net's current service:
- Sensr connects to IP cameras via FTP access: Users can connect to various IP cameras as long as they can accomplish the appropriate technical steps on the camera and router/firewall (as necessary). However, given that its FTP, this will generally be JPEG images.
- Sensr provides 'basic motion detection' on those images and can email or text users if something is detected.
- Sensr provides a playback / synopsis that aggregates images where motion is detected (think of it as a poor man's Briefcam). Here's a sample of playback for an Arecont camera [link no longer available]
- Cameras can be private, public or shared with one's Facebook friends. Social media / networking is an important element of Sensr.net's approach emphasized in the funding announcement.
- Currently, there's no cost for any of this. They note: "Starting in 2011, [Sensr] will offer premium plans. These plans will include unlimited alerts and a year's worth of image archives. But even when premium plans are announced, sensr will always offer a free plan."
While the company has three notable differentiators (alerting, video synopsis and social media sharing), it's not clear what practical problem they solve nor how these differentiators reinforce themselves. The alerting is helpful as a security offering but the quality is nowhere good enough for security use. The Facebook sharing should be interesting to some but that would seem to make this more of a webcam application than security. The requirements for connecting via FTP are likely going to cause problems for the majority of non technical users. Finally, while the free version will draw people in to try, the cost of providing free video hosting and motion detection is not trivial (specifically the marginal cost per customer).
For a sense of perspective, let's compare this to 3 Silicon Valley VSaaS providers:
- Viaas: The system we find to be most mature, Viaas offers a customized plug n play 4CIF camera that connects to their VSaaS service providing 30 days of motion recording for $9.95 per camera per month.
- Dropcam provides an Axis OEMed plug n play cube camera (CIF resolution) that connects to their VSaaS service providing 1 week of continuous recorded video fro $8.95 per camera per month.
- VitaminD offers a video analytics application that you run on your PC connecting to webcams or network cameras. The system provides alerts and a moderate level of video management/review. Free license for 1 camera; unlimited camera license for $199. This is not a true VSaaS but we find this to be an attractive low cost, non-recurring alternative.
Unlike these offerings, Sensr.net does not have a clear target market nor product fit. However, with the new funding, Sensr.net will be able to experiment and expand their offering.
The progress of Sensr.net will be interesting to track as it will be a good demonstration of the power (or not) of integrating social media and freemium VSaaS.