There’s a changing of the guard, and a new strategic partnership, over at Tile, the startup that helps you keep tabs on the location of your things by way of small tracking devices. Today, the company is announcing that CJ Prober — a longtime exec at GoPro who had most recently been the COO, and had been on the Tile board for the last seven months — is taking on the role of CEO from co-founder Mike Farley.
Farley will keep a seat on the board and become a strategic advisor to the company, stepping away from a day-to-day role.
The leadership change coincides with another significant piece of news for the company: US media giant Comcast is taking a strategic investment in the startup that will also become the basis for a long-term product and marketing partnership. The value of the investment is not being disclosed but a source close to the deal described it as a “sizable investment” made at a higher valuation than for Tile’s previous round. (For some context, Tile last raised $25 million in 2017, at around a $167 million post-money valuation.)
Prober would not comment on whether this potentially the beginning of a larger round for the company, which has disclosed some $61 million in funding, a total that is now higher with this new infusion from Comcast.
Both pieces of news come just as we start to inch into the holiday sales period, a key time of year for consumer electronics companies. Tile specifically will be looking for a turnaround after a disappointing holiday season, and layoffs, in 2017. With over 15 million of its square devices to date, Tile is considered the leader in its category in key markets like North America, but there are a number of me-too products out there — some of which have had their own struggles in meeting sales projections and could lead some of those competitors to exit the consumer market for device tracking altogether.
In an interview, Prober said that his time at GoPro — which has also had its share of struggles — “really did expose me to the opportunities and challenges that come with consumer hardware”, and he’s hoping to use some of that experience to help Tile take itself to the next level as a product business.
The “primary use case,” as Prober describes it, is finding keys — and the strength of that has helped the company establish a global community that helps power Tile’s location-finding platform. (Some 4 million Tiles are active each month across 220 territories, he said.) The next steps will be to create an even stronger network of nodes that do not have to rely on active Tile users; and to start creating other kinds of tracking services that might not even rely on the Tile fob itself.
“We’d like to embed Tile technology into anything that already uses Bluetooth,” he said, citing a deal with Bose from earlier this year as a template it would like to continue to develop. And the company is also now testing out a new feature it calls “smart alerts,” which will not simply let you locate items when you’ve misplaced them, but will alert you when you leave something important behind.
The Comcast deal is also part of that strategic continuum. When it’s not outbidding Fox to buy broadcasters in the UK, the company has been focusing on how it can build out a more central role for itself in the connected home, as a way to help differentiate itself from the rest of the pack of media and broadband providers in its home market of the US.
Comcast has launched voice-controls for connected home services using its X1 Voice Remote, smart home automation, and even an early partnership with Tile. The investment will help the two build on that by putting Tile tech into its network of devices — namely remotes and set-top boxes — to create more access points to use the Tile location-tracking technology. And then two plan to co-market each other’s products.
Tile currently has 100 employees.