With executives headed out the glass door, Andy Rubin’s Essential is hurting in morale. The company, founded by one of Android’s co-creators, has yet to ship its first phone, weeks past its promised delivery date. It’s a problem money did not solve, but if we can follow that money, perhaps we know which direction Essential might be headed.
The company started off with an initial funding round of $30 million back in February of last year. Rubin’s own Playground venture capital firm and another, Redpoint, chipped into that pot. The company then closed out a Series B round in June of this year, just as the company launched its first products — an Android phone and a smart home hub. We didn’t know which companies lent the money initially, but the company did reveal its sources today.
It turns out that the Amazon Alexa Fund and China-based Tencent Holdings have contributed the $300 million package. Both players make sense: the Alexa Fund exists to promote the spread of its AI-powered assistant service and the Essential Home hub is said to work with multiple assistant services in the marketplace; Tencent — led by China’s richest person and thorn in Alibaba’s side, Pony Ma — is a giant tech player that moves money around between international tech startups.
With that cash, Essential president Niccolo De Masi hopes to be able to build brand affinity on an emotional basis among a limited population at first.
“If we are able to sell low single digit millions [in the first year] that’s very successful for a startup,” De Masi said to The Wall Street Journal.
The executive also said that Sprint won’t be the only carrier in the world to sell the phone and that international carriers should be announced soon. Amazon and Best Buy are also on-board as unlocked retailers. But when push comes to shove, we’re still being given the same estimated time of arrival: “in a few weeks.”