Shark Tank Featured Startup: Doorbot

By Brian Rhodes, Published Mar 05, 2014, 12:00am EST

This company is worth $7 million already and was featured on US TV show Shark Tank [link no longer available].

Doorbot [link no longer available] has developed a video enabled doorbell [link no longer available] and claims no other product even comes close to its $200 pricetag. Essentially a doorbell replacement that lets you see who is ringing the front door on your cellphone, Doorbot indeed has the 'cool factor' and over 10,000 units sold.

But the question: is it worth the price? Were the Sharks smart for passing, or did they see problems? In this note we examine Doorbot.

Solid Idea

Doorbot's concept is a winner on paper: hang a doorbell that becomes a video intercom when the button is pushed, notifying the owner's smartphone or tablet and opening a real-time video session over WiFi. For homeowners, this is an appealing concept, especially those who might be thousand of miles away from the front door.

Even better, Doorbot claims to be integrated with a red hot door lock: Lockitron. When integrated together, the combo claims to let you remotely communicate with someone standing outside your door and then unlock it if you choose. While claiming powerful features, does it deliver?

Product Details

The unit replaces your existing doorbell, and ties into the previously installed chime. From there, the unit serves live video and push notifications every time the button is pressed. The promo video below provides a good overview:

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Several points standout after reviewing the video and the product's FAQ page [link no longer available]:

Notable Features

  • Nighttime SD Camera: The unit is built with a 640X480 color camera with Day/Night mode and built-in IR LEDs.
  • Hardwired or Battery Powered: The unit works with existing low-voltage doorbell power supplies or via four AA batteries. Even on battery power,the company claims it will last over a year of normal use.
  • Video Only During Calls: The unit's camera is only active after the button is pushed, meaning users can only see video streamed from it when externally triggered. The company claims to be working on this and will add this feature later, but for now the camera is not a surveillance camera, just a video intercom.
  • No Storage: Neither the unit nor cloud stores any video from the device. The company claims this will be added eventually.
  • WiFi Needed: The unit relies on an existing wireless network to connect with mobile devices and send notifications.
  • Price: The Doorbot is widely available online or retail channels for $199 USD. There is no ongoing cost of service once purchased, and the companion app is a free download.

Big Problem: Getting It To Work

Despite the interesting concept and high-profile exposure, Doorbot's execution has been dismal. The company's social media pages are full of dissatisfied customers reporting basic functionality issues and complaining about slow response. One customer has even gone as far to upload a video demonstrating his problems to YouTube:

His complaints mirror many others: even when optimally connected to a wireless network, the latency between rings to notifications can exceed 15 seconds, leaving users with a video glimpse of nothing more than a visitor walking away.

Even worse, the video is unreliable and frequently freezes, drops frames, and blocks out details. The company claims it is working on these issues and will resolve them in firmware updates, but this leaves many feeling cheated out of $200 and looking for a refund.

Bright Future?

Even with the disastrous execution, the future may be bright for Doorbot. Indeed, the Sharktank feature did not result in a backing offer, but the exposure has resulted in "a huge spike in interest" from both VC and customers alike according to the company.

Provided they successfully address the shortcomings in engineering, Doorbot could still be a winner. Direct competition is slim, with alternatives having similar problems or not yet shipping and still in fundraising stage.

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