What the FitBark relaunch can teach you about pricing a connected device

Personal fitness trackers have risen to the level of common accessory in many early adopters and fit conscious folk. People are loving their activity data. And many of those people also love their pets; Americans spent more than $53 billion on their pets in 2012 according to the American Pet Products Association. Combine the two and you have a wave of activity tracking devices for pups.

One such device, FitBark, is relaunching Thursday on Kickstarter after an aborted attempt earlier this year. The bone-shaped piece of plastic is rugged, water-resistant, and tracks your pup’s activity level — aiming for about an hour of intense energy expended each day. That’s measured by something FitBark dubs the BarkScore. It doesn’t appear to track actual steps or miles logged, although that probably is incorporated into the BarkScore (it’s pretty opaque what it measures).

Like other fitness trackers the device sends data to the web using Bluetooth Low Energy and sends reports to users tracking their pup’s fitness. Through open APIs you can pull your own data in and compare how active you and your pup are.

The FitBark costs $69 via Kickstarter and will eventually retail for $99. You can also get a base station to go with the device, so it’s always updating information for a combined total of $99 ($149 at retail). That’s in line with human trackers and also with other Fido-focused ones such as Whistle and Tagg (Tagg has a service fee however, because it also includes GPS location).

But charging a set price for the hardware and tracking service wasn’t always the plan. The earlier version of FitBark on Kickstarter included a $10 per month subscription fee while the device sold at cost. Davide Rossi, a co-founder at FitBark, explained that in Italy, where he is from, subscription fees weren’t a win with consumers, but when he came to the U.S. market he saw consumers tolerated it. Hence his original decision to launch the product with the fee for covering the cost of storing and accessing the data.

But he quickly discovered on Kickstarter that the early adopter community wasn’t a fan of fees. Through the launch he got feedback from potential customers but also distributors that liked the product but not the pricing. So he pulled it and is now back with a slightly higher-priced device but no service fee. However, despite the setback he’s still a fan of Kickstarter as a way to get pre-sales and raise a little money for production.

“It’s a good thing to be vulnerable and show what you have so far, and ask your customers to build your product with you,” Rossi said. “We saw a lot of support from folks, as backers and distributors, … that were ready to offer amazing feedback. The big learning for me is that it’s completely fine to go out and be vulnerable and ask for help along the way rather than being the one who shows up with a turnkey solution.”

What was a humbling experience for Rossi and his team may end up helping FitBark find an audience. People do crazy things and spend a lot of money on their pets (I recently shelled out $65 in toys for my new pup). So we’ll see if that same audience of Fuelband-wearing techies is eager to strap a tracker to their dog if there are no monthly fees attached.

Whatever we learn from FitBark or any of the pet tracking hardware out there, might not actually be solely for pets. As I discussed in a podcast with Whistle’s CEO Ben Jacobs, this data and the fact that vets are working with it, may help inspire new research and care for animals. And with that example, the FDA and medical doctors might also feel more comfortable embracing connected sensors.

Seen in that light, FitBark moves from an extravagant way to map my dog’s walks over time to a gateway where we can learn how activity data affects health.