How we chose the core of the Flic Hub to be GR8 – a processor.

When we dreamed up the Flic Hub, we had a wish list. It should be powered by a single board computer, an ARM System-on-Chip and run a new Linux version so we could run the latest Bluetooth version. It would retail for less than $100 and ship in October. For that dream to be a reality, we needed a dream component to power it. It was a roundabout journey, but we found it in Next Thing Co.’s GR8 microchip. It’s allowing us to build the Flic Hub that we and the Flic community dreamed it could be.

When designing the Flic Hub (determined in a rather unconventional way), we started off like a lot of people do, by building on top of a Raspberry Pi (RPi).

https://www.raspberrypi.org
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (https://www.raspberrypi.org)

 

The RPi is awesome – cheap, available, well tested, and with a massive, dedicated developer’s community. Our tests with it went well, and we could achieve most use cases by porting code from our well tested Flic Android app.

But the RPi has way more stuff than we needed for the Flic Hub and it is too expensive. Even though RPi’s $35 may seem cheap compared to a $99 product like the Flic Hub, it’s not. Add memory chip, plastic housing, accessories, packaging, shipping, handling and reseller’s margin, and you won’t be able to make a consumer product selling for any less than $200 based on RPi.

Besides, we needed to remove some components and add some others to accommodate for our unique Bluetooth needs and the IR accessory. Both Farnell and RS components (both producers of the RPi) were willing and helpful to accommodate some changes, but the price tag was not decreasing.

With a short time-to-market, high demands and a small investment budget, we started at square one. For ages (probably more than two weeks) we sourced the earth for a feasible processor to power our Hub with the mindset that we would build the Hub from scratch.

As soon as we found a good match for a processor, they were either not available for us to buy (try buying RPi’s Broadcom processors as a small Swedish startup, I dare you) or too old. If they were not running a recent-enough Linux Kernel, we wouldn’t be able to run features of Bluetooth version 4.2 that we needed.

Another important aspect when sourcing a processor is the developer community and available documentation. If you’re a small customer to a large enterprise and you find a bug in their code, it will be tough to get the bug fixed. If you have a question, no one will be there to answer.

Our eyes turned to RPi alternatives, and after some turn-around, we were introduced to the team at Next Thing Co (NTC) and their C.H.I.P computer (then priced at $9). NTC started off with a successful crowdfunding campaign just like us. Having been in our shoes, the guys at NTC were incredibly easy to work with. When we asked NTC to fix a bug we found, they did – quickly – and they even helped us making design decisions.

C.H.I.P Pro  with GR8
C.H.I.P Pro (https://getchip.com)

Their product C.H.I.P Pro was pretty similar to what we needed for the Flic hub. For a long time (we’re talking weeks) we considered building the Hub by mounting the C.H.I.P Pro on a custom board that we made, adding the 3,5mm jack for the IR and our second Bluetooth chip. But, however small and cost-effective the C.H.I.P Pro is, it just didn’t fit in our industrial design considering our extra components. Flic Hub needs to be small and discrete.

Luckily, we didn’t have to start at square one again. NTC’s C.H.I.P Pro is driven by NTC’s GR8 chip, which in turn is based on Allwinner’s R8 processor. What NTC has done though, is to combine the cost-effective R8 with a compliant memory to reduce complexity, and they keep it updated with the right Linux Kernel. The best part – this is a processor unit we could easily buy it, in any quantity, with quick delivery.

GR8
GR8 (https://getchip.com)

The GR8 chip is well thought through and have all the things we need. It has pins for  WiFi (to connect a WiFi chip), audio (so the Hub can play music through the 3,5mm jack), IR receiver (so the IR accessory can “learn” IR commands), 5 volt digital output (so we can drive the IR LEDs) and much more cleverness.

NTC’s technical documentation is fantastic and does not require an NDA, a big differentiator to many other processors we looked at. They also have a large developer’s forum with thousands of GR8 experts and hobbyists we can ask.

The choice of GR8 was easy once we realized it was available and while the rest of the design of the Flic Hub wasn’t easy, we had the help and expertise we needed.

We’re proud to be building a new and crowdfunded product based on a fellow crowdfunded company’s GR8 product.

With Love,

Joacim

Beta testing the Flic Hub – Live!

Today, I am proud to announce that we have signed a deal with our first B2B client for the Flic Hub!

At Shortcut Labs, we always value creativity before anything else, especially formal processes and procedures. After the Flic launch, we did, however, learn the importance of continuous testing.

The Flic Hub is the perfect example on how we let creativity spur innovation and how early testing with real customers not only improved the product but also made it possible for us to launch a B2C- and a B2B line simultaneously.

The Flic Hub was not a business decision.

 

Despite no formal decision from the management, Fabian, one of our engineers, spent his last X-mas break working on the Hub. He had noticed that more and more users expressed their frustration over the smartphone dependency and Fabian himself, he also liked the idea of a Flic hub.

An alpha version of the Hub was ready for internal testing in late February 2017.

Since then, the team has made hundreds of iterations, big and small, more or less on their spare time, and almost always without anyone – or any business case – asking them to do so.

 

Creativity spurs innovation

 

One of the more notable things is an algorithm that our Lead Wizard Emil wrote. The algorithm makes it possible for the Hub to be connected to 64 buttons simultaneously, with next-to-zero delay. We’re not humble about this achievement – our industry partners are as stunned as we are and no-one has seen (nor would probably be able to replicate) anything similar.

Granted, 64 buttons at the same time may be too much for the regular smart-home use case, unless you want to build a piano. But for businesses and industries, the implications are huge. Ever since we started talking about the Flic Hub’s capacity, business opportunities and partner requests have been flowing in, way over our heads and sales capacity.

What can you do with 64 wireless buttons in a business environment? Here is a fun example that a big sales company wanted to do:

Give each sales person a Flic Button on their desk.

  • Click when they close a “small sale” – Slack in #sales and flash the room in green.
  • Double click for a “medium sale” – Notify everyone in the sales channel, flash the room in red and play a siren sound.
  • Hold for a “large sale” – Notify the entire company, flash the office in red for a long time and play the Imperial March. Message the office manager to bring champagne.

 

Live customer beta testing

 

To the team and me, testing of the Flic Hub is critical, and something we will not compromise on (we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the first batch of Flics).

We have been running beta tests with real customers for the past four months. Without involving users early on, we simply would not know if our assumptions are right until it is too late.

Testing beta versions on loyal users are one thing, but some eyebrows were raised in the team when we set out to find live environments, with paying customers, and end-users not familiar with neither Flic nor the Flic Hub. But our curiosity overcame the fear of failure. If we couldn’t identify problems to solve and a business case to scale – why spend time on building it?

Instead of developing features for each idea that we had, (which we yet didn’t know would be attractive or not), we made the Hub compatible with Microsoft Flow, the latest contribution to automated workflows. Only by integrating Microsoft Flow, we could easily enable 100+ services for the Hub.

Flow allowed us to to be agile and test almost any request coming in from our sales pipe, without losing speed on our overall roadmap for the Hub.

One of the first live pilots we did was at Bergh’s School of Communication’s graduation show, AddX. We placed Beta hubs strategically on three different floors and set up Flic buttons in proximity to various exhibitions. Visitors interactions with the buttons were captured in a Google Sheet through Microsoft Flow and linked to a Dashboard – where the organizers could follow the visitor’s feedback.

We recorded more than 1000 interactions over the 3-day event, and we received a lot of constructive input from both visitors and the organizers.

The first big business case

So why am I so excited today? The Flic Hub is not only a big consumer success (judging from our crowdfunding campaign) but a business-to-business success as well.

Last week, in a pilot with one of the largest players in the Nordic hospitality industry, we successfully demonstrated how to connect 300 Flic buttons to 7 different Hubs.

We showed that any Flic button will work with any of the 7 Hubs and that different actions will be triggered dependent on which Hub the button is currently connected to.

The client, the use-case and the images? Sorry, secret. The outcome? Because we could prove the Hub’s capacity, we sealed our first Flic Hub business contract!

Stay tuned; we will share all details once the project goes live in September.

With Love,

Elin

Wow – that was a successful launch.

We launched The Flic Hub on Indiegogo and received $200,000 in pre-orders in less than 24 hours.

Here is how that came to be.

The Flic fans, our brand ambassadors, are the people that made this happen. Many of who have been with us, supporting us from the original launch of the Flic button. You know who you are, and even if you’re humble and think you only shared it once on Facebook – you, too, made this happen. THANK YOU.

This was our second launch on Indiegogo. Although there is an exciting month ahead of us, and we still have a lot to go until we reach the $640k of our last campaign, this was a much quicker start than last time.

In fact, we got four timed as much preorder value the first day than what we got last time. The team was excited, to say the least.

So what did we do to reach this rocket start?

We talked about the Flic Hub, months in advance.

It’s not like 2338 backers saw the Hub for the first time and decided to buy instantly – that would never happen unless you’re a big and famous consumer brand.

Quite the opposite, most of them knew what they were buying before even heading to Indiegogo. In fact, they had even scheduled exactly when to click which link, to get in as early as possible.

Many crowdfunding campaigns, startups, and early product launches make the mistake of not talking about their product in advance. Perhaps they look at Apple and the likes that keep everything disclosed until launch date. Perhaps they’re afraid someone would steal their idea and release ahead. That’s not how we have run things.

A Pre-launch referral campaign

In a successful crowdfunding campaign, it’s important to get as many interested people in as early as possible after launch. So we sell the product promise in advance and gather as many qualified email addresses ( = interested people) as possible.

We talked about the promise of the Flic Hub officially on a new site – hub.flic.io. We did not mention any details or exactly how the product would work, nor did we reveal the price of the Flic Hub. If people were interested in the promise, they were encouraged to sign up.

Once signed up, they landed on a referral campaign site with a unique and personal URL to share. The more they shared it, the greater the reward.

As long as the incentive to share is good, people will share – and surely, they did!

We asked our most loyal customers for help.

As mentioned above, we contacted our brand ambassadors. These are the people that love Flic. We gave them an even better incentive to share than what was official. They got better rewards for sharing (after all, we want to award our fans!) but also more detailed requests to post information about the Flic Hub in forums and talk about us in their channels.

Ads to the Pre-launch campaign

We ran Facebook ads to hub.flic.io with two intentions:

  1. Get more eyes, interest and email signups, spurring the referral campaign.
  2. Optimize the messaging.

The latter is arguably most important. Running several different ads is an effective way to see which text and image that are most likely to spur interest. We then used these learnings to build up the content on the Indiegogo page.

Online thunderstorm

At the time of launch, we sent out heaps of emails to our different email lists, social media posts, and much more. The message was clear – there is a limited amount of bundles at super early bird price, and the sooner you invest, the lower your price.

We shared all we could at the same time, and again, we asked our ambassadors to the same.

In advance, we had talked to a lot of news sites and had given them a set time to post. CNN, Digital Trends, Apple Insider, Slash Gear and many others released news about the launch at the same time. (This was one of the reasons that we didn’t reveal any details of the product in advance – the news site must have something new to write about!)

We found a well-reputed hunter to post the Flic Hub at Product Hunt on the same day as well (Thanks, Jack!). Product hunt is a great place to post if you know the community, and we had a lot of success with it when we launched Flic for Mac a few months ago.

All these efforts at the same time spurred a huge peak in traffic to the Flic Hub Indiegogo site and resulted in this unexpected first-day success.

Check out the Flic Hub campaign here – if you just want a Flic, you can still buy one here.

With excitement,
Joacim

Introducing the Flic Hub

More than two years ago, we successfully launched Flic on Indiegogo. To date, we have sold and delivered over 200,000 Flic buttons globally.

Now, we’re at it again. The Flic Hub is ready to be released on Indiegogo!

Our most requested improvement
The Flic Hub makes Flic even better than before. It brings WiFi connectivity to Flic so that anyone in your home or office can use the same little smart button, at any time.

Flic Hub Logo

No need for a smartphone
Until now, Flic has always required the Flic App to run on a smartphone (or a Mac) nearby. We want everyone to be able to use Flic, not only the person that configured it in the first place.

With the Flic Hub, you will no longer need a smartphone nearby to use Flic. We put the Flic app on a small computer that you plug into the wall. The Hub has WiFi-connection and links your Flics directly to the internet or your locally connected things.

Perfect connectivity
We designed the Flic Hub ourselves, and thereby own the end-to-end connection between the Hub and Flic. This means that we no longer have to rely on the quality of your smartphone’s Bluetooth – it’s unreliable and buggy nature have caused our developers a lot of gray hairs over the years.

The Flic Hub has significantly better connectivity than any smartphone out there, optimized for Flic and your smart home. With double custom Bluetooth chips, The Flic Hub can connect to 64 Flic buttons, Bluetooth speakers, and smartphones at the same time, with next-to-zero delay.

Flic Hub IR Blaster

Control thousands of devices with IR
Let’s face it: our favorite home equipment is not always that smart and connected. With the Flic Hub’s optional Infra Red (IR) accessory, you will be able to control even your old stuff.

Connect the IR accessory to the Flic Hub and point it to your legacy TV and HiFi equipment. The IR accessory will act just like your old remote control. Now, you can use Flic to turn on your TV, set that amplifier to the right input mode or to switch on your Air Conditioner.

Make any speaker a Flic’able Bluetooth Speaker
Connect the Flic Hub to your stereo amplifier with an audio cable and use Flic to control the Music.

Crowdfunding the production
Hardware is expensive, with all the tools and certifications needed. We are asking for your support once again to fund the production. If you preorder the Flic Hub, you will get it first of all, for a very discounted price, months before it will be available in retail.

The Flic Hub will ship already in October, provided that we can raise the money needed. Compared to most crowdfunding projects, this is a very safe bet – we know hardware and have already successfully shipped hundreds of thousands of products.

We have learned so much during these years, and we have expanded the team a lot since our first crowdfunding campaign.

Sign up for the launch
Make sure you sign up at hub.flic.io to participate in the launch. When you sign up, you will be directed to a sharing campaign. If you choose to share our campaign with your friends, you will be able to reap some generous gifts.

Love, Joacim