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This story appears in the October 23, issue of Forbes. Focus group: It's not hard for the four founders, pictured here with their kids, to relate to the Tim Pannell for Forbes. Thirty minutes after Sara Brandon put Night owl seeks owlete newborn to sleep one night last December, she received a notification on her cellphone. The red alert indicated that her son had stopped breathing.
Brandon found him lifeless in his crib and called in time for paramedics to revive him. Brandon's son had been wearing Owlet's Smart Sock, a device that tracks heart rate and oxygen levels. It also suggested that Forbes speak with Brandon, who volunteered that without Owlet, she'd be "planning a funeral.
Workman, 28, says he got the idea in when he and his wife, Shea, made the rounds of doctors' offices as they planned for a family.
Shea had been born with a heart defect, and the couple, then students at Brigham Young University, feared their children might inherit the condition. Workman started researching pulse oximetry, a medical technology used in hospitals to monitor vital s. They all had newborns or babies on the way, and by May they had all quit their jobs or dropped out of school to build Owlet.
That December, after Owlet was accepted by startup accelerator Techstars, the founders moved their families to New York City. During the Techstars program, Workman pitched Owlet as "the next infant car seat," a safety device that would save thousands of lives. But they soon burned through their cash developing a prototype that didn't work.
With a bank nearing zero, the founders met at a diner in Queens in February to determine how long they could go without paychecks. After Techstars, the Owlet team flew back to Utah to continue product development, setting up in suburban Lehi, south of Salt Lake City. In OctoberOwlet rolled out its Smart Sock. In the months that followed, their Facebook video --proclaiming that Owlet is ThereWhenItMatters--went viral, producing millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes and shares as parents bought the sock and spread the word.
It extended the base station's Bluetooth range and reworked the algorithm to reduce false alarms. This past March, the company released Smart Sock 2. Bolstered by distribution through Night owl seeks owlete Baby and Amazon, sales exceeded projections. The founders also toned down the promotion, switching "alert" to "notification" and swapping "breathing" for "heart rate and oxygen levels. But Owlet does amplify the voices of parents who say they bought the device to ease that fear.
The Night owl seeks owlete recently shared a post on Facebook by mommy blogger Ashley Wilson, who wrote that Owlet allowed her to sleep at night: "Very recently a friend tragically lost her baby to SIDS. I feel compelled to help spread the word about the Owlet Smart Sock. Such endorsements--the company gave Wilson a sock in exchange for the post--are supposed to comply with Federal Trade Commission guides. Because it does not sell its Smart Sock as a medical device or claim that it saves lives, Owlet says it isn't subject to regulation by the FDA and isn't endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatricians.
In fact, the association's safe infant sleep report advises against the use of such devices "to reduce the risk of SIDS. Owlet says it's applying for FDA clearance on a medical version of the sock, and it's planning to raise more capital this spring. Many of its investors, like Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, are parents themselves. With or without doctors' blessings, Owlet is forging ahead.
Whether parents will heed the warnings is unclear. I'm associate editor for Forbes' 30 Under 30 list and vertical. I also write about food, startups and entrepreneurs. I studied English Literature and History at Colgate…. me at nsportelli forbes. This is a BETA experience. You may opt-out by clicking here.
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