Skype’s co-founder Janus Friis is looking to take on Fitbit with a new data-heavy health and wellness-focused wearable device, and he’s assembled a high-profile team to do so: Friis has been busy hiring senior talent people from Chartbeat, Foursqare and even Nike for a stealth startup dubbed Project Florida, which despite its name, is based in New York.
The Project Florida website isn’t very forthcoming, and Project Florida CEO Carter Adamson declined to comment on specifics when contacted for this story, but said that Project Florida wants to use data to empower people to lead healthier lives. But once you dig deeper, you’ll quickly find some additional clues, like this description from a job posting:
“Our grand vision is to bring preventative healthcare to the masses. The first step will be to build a wearable device that will make you and everyone else better understand, and improve, their general health and wellbeing.”
Or this one, also from a job offering:
You will play a major role in defining our company’s first offering, a wearable piece of tech. This wearable sensor device must deliver both an amazing end-user experience and be a data storage and transport platform for medically relevant research. Naturally we aim for it to be as small as possible and require charging as seldom as possible.
A big focus on data
One thing that’s notable about Project Florida is that it puts a big emphasis on data. The company recently hired Drew Conway, who has become a bit of a star in the data science community. Conway joined Project Florida in February as the company’s Head of Data. One of the company’s job offers also states that it wants to build “an embedded system with more than a dozen sensor streams.”
Project Florida wants to use its data chops to differentiate itself from the competition:
“The health and fitness space is a crowded one and while the tools for collecting data continue to get better, the experiences built on top of that data are still falling short. There’s a reason why the shelf life of current offerings is so limited – data without meaning, without soul, will not move people to change their behaviors over the long term.”
Founders from Rdio and Joost, help from Europlay Capital
So how do I know that Friis is behind Project Florida? A first clue is the founding team itself: The startup is led by Carter Adamson, who was one of the co-founders and the COO of Rdio, the music subscription service bankrolled by Janus Friis. Also part of the co-founding team is Allan Beaufour, who worked on Friis’ Joost video streaming service before becoming the CTO of Chartbeat. Project Florida’s data engineer Joe Crobak also is part of the former Joost gang.
But there is more: Project Florida’s corporate filings have been handled by Ray Musci, who did the same thing for the Morse Project, another Friis startup that came out of stealth mode in March and now does business as Aether Things, as well as the Friis-backed product incubator The Factory. Musci works for Europlay Capital Advisors, the investment consultancy that helped Friis with the sale of Skype to Microsoft. (S MSFT) Europlay Capital is led by Mark Dyne, an old confidant of Friis who has been involved in each and every of his ventures all the way back to the KaZaA, and is still on Rdio’s board.
Project Florida’s branding: Sum?
Other notable hires include Head of Design Alex Rainert, who used to be Foursquare’s Head of Product for five years, Tumblr’s data scientist Adam Laiacano, and Head of Marketing Jeff Cha, who worked for Nike for the last eight years, and most recently led Nike’s Fuelband marketing.
Cha’s hiring also suggests that Project Florida may be getting ready to come out of stealth, which makes you wonder about the branding it is going to use. To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer for this question, but I found some clues that hint at “Sum,” a trademark registered in late 2013 by a Los Southern California-based shell company called California Building Company.
That company registered a total of six trademarks for Sum, all through the same law office that also handles trademarks for Rdio as well as Aether Things, and which also happened to have a hand in Project Florida’s business registration filings. One of the trademarks includes the following description:
“Computer software and computer application software for mobile phones, portable media players and handheld computers for monitoring heart rate, blood pressure and biometrics for health and fitness; (…) software interfaces with multi health devices to record health conditions; peripherals for computers; peripherals for cellphones and mobile data receivers, namely, headsets, microphones; wearable peripherals for computers; wearable peripherals for cellphones and mobile data receivers, namely, headsets, microphones”
The Sum trademarks as well as the other clues left in various Linkedin profiles, job descriptions and blog posts still don’t quite spell out what exactly Project Florida’s first product will be. But the number of talented folks that the company was able to hire for this makes it clear that Project Florida will be a startup to watch.