Some startup "unicorns" are magical, and others are donkeys in party hats.
Illustration by Aleksandar Savic
By Erin Griffith
June 12, 2017

Hello, the startup behind Sense sleep tracking devices, plans to shut down. The company recently laid off most of its staff.

Hello recently held discussions to sell its assets in what one source described as “a firesale” to Fitbit, but the deal fell through, according to a source familiar with the situation. According to a blog post from founder and CEO James Proud, the company continues to seek buyers for its assets. “The past few weeks we have been working hard to find the right home for Sense and we are still focused on that,” wrote Proud.

Hello did not respond to multiple press queries from Fortune. Axios first reported on Hello’s plans to find a buyer.

Hello was an object of press fascination for a few reasons: One, its young founder participated in Peter Thiel’s fellowship, a group of college students that Thiel pays to drop out of college and pursue entrepreneurship. Two, sleep is a trendy category; Hello’s sleep tracking orb and pillow sensors were an early mover there. Third, it had a popular campaign on Kickstarter, raising more than $2 million from backers.

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Hello went on to raise more than $40 million in venture funding from Temasek, the investment arm of Singapore, and angel investors. Its latest funding round, raised in 2015, valued the company as high as $300 million.

There are a few lessons here. To start, this may be yet another in a long line of “KPNAC” stories, meaning “Kickstarter Project, Not a Company.” (Inspired by “feature, not a company.”)

Also, press excitement for the idea of a young boy genius setting out to revolutionize an industry often gets ahead of reality. In 2016, Proud graced the cover of Forbes. Perhaps it’s time headlines like “Meet The 23-Year-Old Who Had Such A Good Idea, Strangers Gave Him $13 Million To Build It” become reason for investors to give pause at the hype. In that article, Proud had a pearl of wisdom for other startup entrepreneurs: “The secret to making a successful tech product, Proud says, is to create something that works so well it fits naturally into your everyday life.” Except, as other reporters found, the product didn’t work all that well.

And lastly, the lesson that can’t be repeated enough: Hardware is hard.

Proud noted in his blog post that he is happy to have played a part in changing the conversation around sleep before apologizing to his team. “The past few months have been incredibly tough, especially on the team of Hello. For that I’m incredibly sorry,” he wrote.

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