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Dash Charts a New Course, Cuts 50 Jobs

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The credit crunch and the subsequent economic slowdown has everyone — from large corporations to individuals — reassessing their fiscal future, and many are taking drastic actions. The latest moves from the world of Silicon Valley startups comes from Dash Navigation, whose platform marries Web 2.0 services with a GPS-based navigation system for cars. The company is expected to announce a big reboot of its strategy sometime today. Among the changes the company is due to unveil:

  • It’s changing its business model from consumer-focused to business-to-business.
  • As part of this change, it will stop making and selling its hardware.
  • Instead it will license its platform to makers of automobile on-board navigation systems, smartphones, netbook-style mobile Internet devices and other consumer electronics.
  • COO Rob Currie will replace current CEO and founder, Paul Lego.
  • It will cut 50 jobs, or roughly two-thirds of its workforce. After the cuts, Dash will employ 30, mostly in engineering and support. Current Dash owners will continue to get their software updates and the Dash Driver Network will stay up.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Dash has raised $42 million in two rounds of funding from venture investors including Sandhill Road titans Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital. The cuts will leave the company with enough cash to last through 2009.

Dash started selling its hardware online (via Amazon, Crutchfield and earlier this year. At $600 a pop, the device and the monthly subscription service were too expensive, and in the spring, the company cut prices by 33 percent to $399. I suspect even that didn’t do the trick.

Dash found itself in a tough place: The navigation devices business was being rapidly commoditized and had too many players, among them Garmin and Tom Tom, both of which were bigger and had deeper pockets. At the same time, the newer, more power mobile phones were cutting into the demand for discrete portable navigation devices (PNDs.) CEO Currie declined to offer any details on how many devices were sold.

I am a firm believer in Internet-connected consumer-focused devices that use the web to enhance the user experience, which is why I always thought Dash was a nifty idea. But I felt that as a hardware maker they had an uphill battle. As I wrote back in June, Dash “can’t play the hardware game and may need to partner with the bigger device makers. After all, Dash needs to worry about the cell phones-as-PND platforms, too.”

“We wanted to launch our device in the retail channel, but the economic changes made us rethink our business focus,” new CEO Rob Currie told me as we chatted at length about the changes to Dash’s game plan. Expanding into retail is expensive, not to mention that larger chains expect to see more than just one device. “It needs a lot of resources to launch in retail,” he said. There is also the question of demand. In these days of tight budgets, not many people are keen on the idea of buying gadgets.

“Inside the Dash device we have a 400 MHz ARM processor and a GPRS connection,” said Currie. “Most smartphones have a processor stronger than that and faster 3G connections.” In other words, Dash is about to make a big push into the mobile phone business. The emergence of new app stores – Apple, Google and soon BlackBerry – means that Dash could release apps for these platforms as well.

“(The) Cell phone is a big opportunity but it is not the only opportunity,” said Currie. “Most car makers are putting two-way radios into their cars.” That makes them likely customers of Dash. According to ABI Research, real-time, two-way (RTTW) connected navigation is expected to show strong growth in the next five years, with more than 62 percent of all navigation devices forecast to feature RTTW connectivity by 2012 and nearly 170 million units shipping worldwide.

The big job cuts are part of this refocus, Currie said. The company will cut positions in sales and marketing because it won’t be focusing on the consumers, he said. When I asked him why Lego had to go, he explained that a smaller company doesn’t need a CEO and a COO. Since the focus is more on engineering and operations, Currie got the top job. It was a tough decision, but Lego made it, laying himself off.

Bottom line: The economy might have forced their hand, but Dash had to come to this realization sooner or later. If they succeed, they will become a case study for Harvard Business School on the art of rebooting. If they fail, they will join a long list of Silicon Valley’s failed attempts at consumer electronics success.

31 Responses to “Dash Charts a New Course, Cuts 50 Jobs”

  1. Dana Bostick

    This news creates a question in my mind. I’m using a DashExpress now on a 120 day trial. So far, I love it.
    The question is; where does that leave us as far as the continuation of the service?
    I recently returned from a 2 month deployment as a FEMA Disaster Inspector in Louisiana & Texas. Unfortunately, the Dash showed up at my home a week after I left and I did not get to use it until I returned. I was stuck using VZNavigator on my enVe phone. It worked and I’m glad I had at least that but it left a lot to be desired due to the small screen size. The turn-by-turn voice prompts in my BlueTooth headset were really all that I could use. The screen was too small to see anything useful.

  2. I almost bought 2 weeks ago, but after reading about bugs still happening to new buyers, I bought Garmin 200W as stopgap until web-connected GPS matures a bit. The idea is right, just needs evolving a bit more. I’m glad I waited, as suport for yesterday’s hardware is likely to suffer.

  3. Get this running on a Windows Mobile phone, or even better on Windows CarPC front-end like Centerfuse and I’d buy it like a shot…

    Cellphone displays are too small to be good navigation aids, but being able to put it on a CarPC and slot that into a single or Dual DIN opening as part of a complete solution (ODB-II data logging and display, in-car audio etc) and I’d happily pay an annual subscription for up-to-date maps and great traffic info

  4. On android you need to run on Dalvik — it doesn’t really matter that it is Linux underneath, you don’t get to see it anyway. They can port to any open smartphone OS, plenty of choices already. That being said, it would be good if they were to expand globally as a software player.

  5. Seems to me this is more likely to become a G1 app than an iphone app. The device hardware is actually built by FIC and was developed on the OpenMoko platform – (read, it is already Linux based)and given the Google back end of the G1 it would seem an obvious and easy port to that platform. For that matter, Google ought to just buy up this company and turn the whole app out to the open-source community – now that would be progress.

  6. Om – that’s great that it could potentially be coming to the App store(s). At least it seems Dash has made the change early enough to work, compared to Tivo, who now seams stuck between wanting to be a hardware or software company.

  7. Brad Gilreath

    Dash’s hardware is 4 times the size of my Garmin nuvi and the physical nature of the device and mount is clunky and sometimes frustrating to use until you get used to it.

    The software, however, is a different story – live traffic visualizations, active route monitoring, custom DashApps (easy, open, and useful), and core auto GPS features. My software and traffic models have been updated far more often than either my Garmin or TomTom devices.

    I think the move is a great long term to dump the hardware, and there should be some smart hardware providers to jump onboard and license the software. My bet is that they have already lined some up.

  8. @Mike

    I pressed the company for more details on that but they evaded my questions which means it must be pretty far along and should hit the app store soon. I am sure we shall know soon enough. I agree – it could be a nifty and killer app on the iPhone platform.

  9. I hope that this means we can look forward to a Dash Navigation App on the iPhone sometime soon – announcing that prior to the holiday shopping season could spark iPhone sales, giving Apple (and likely AT&T) a reason to approve such an app even though it violates the current development guidelines.

    Maybe as a hardware kit with a car adapter and a window mount?