The same day startup Peeple won £150,000 in funding and a contract to sell their peephole camera device in John Lewis, a Canadian people-rating app of the same name caused international outrage and an overwhelming case of mistaken identity.
The odds? “I had a better chance of winning the lottery,” the security camera startup’s founder Chris Chuter tells Techworld.
Chuter’s startup manufactures smart cameras that attach to front door peepholes. By connecting it to a home Wi-Fi network, it can identify, inform, screen, and alert users to anyone who arrives at or opens their front door. Whether it’s a courier arriving with a delivery or children sneaking outside, Peeple sends a notification to the user’s smartphone or tablet and lets them virtually look through the peephole from wherever they are.
Last week Peeple was announced the winner of a 12-week accelerator run by the institutional British retailer - and christmas advert pro.
Simultaenously, another app by the name of Peeple launched. The latter is a rating app which has caused outrage, condemned as a privacy minefield and means for cyberbullying. It allows users to rate other people through a star system - like an Uber driver. Spun as a “positivity app”, the potential for spite is high.
And Chuter’s Peeple was subject to a lot of this spite, he says.
“The same day the John Lewis announcement came out my Twitter blew up. I was getting about a thousands tweets and hour. We had done a decent job on branding and SEO so we popped up first on Google and Twitter. People would click on us and send their rants - and they weren’t very nice.”
Chuter and a colleague back in California assembled a “tag team” to ensure they responded to every Tweet within half an hour. It was tough, he says, “but that meant a lot of people found out about us."
In fact, Peeple is in a great position, and the publicity can do little to harm their product. Before entering the UK accelerator, it reached second place in a Techcrunch competition and was in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign when John Lewis made the call.
Chuter at CES with Peeple
“We were receiving up to a thousand emails through Kickstarter and one a day asking if we could ship to the UK. It made perfect sense.”
Pitfalls of being a startup in London
Despite Peeple's success, Chuter believes there are particular challenges for UK startups in comparison to the rest of the world. He speaks with authority, having developed his product in Austin, Silicon Valley and now London.
For one, “it’s really hard to live in London" he says.
"People outside of the city don’t realise that. The first thing you need as a startup is a place to sleep - you need shelter first.”
He says poor housing availability and high costs deflate the chances of London mirroring the tech accolades of the US.
“The idea of starting up out of your garage isn’t going to happen in London and that’s sad because if kills half of all startups. People complain about that in San Francisco but they still manage to do it. You can’t even find a bunch of people bunking in a house - it’s really hard to find in London.
While the “resources and density” to help the startup scene thrive exists in the capital, “the challenges are immense in London so when one breaks through - kudos to them because it is one of the most challenging settings".
Lessons from John Lewis
John Lewis is famed for its employee shares scheme, and its democratic nature really appeals to Chuter, who was “immersed” in the retailer’s head office - even eating in the staff’s cafeteria everyday.
“We saw something really unique amongst corporations - that there is a partnership and every employee shares in the glory and defeat. At John Lewis, everyone takes responsibility. If we can live up to those standards I think we will be very successful.”
Peeple, the internet of things security camera startup and not the app, will retail in John Lewis next year.
Read more about the JLAB finalist’s journeys through the accelerator here.