Alphabet’s VC Arm Backs OnePlus Co-Founder’s ‘Nothing’ Company
(Bloomberg) -- The co-founder of smartphone brand OnePlus said Alphabet Inc.’s venture capital unit not only led the latest funding round for his new company, but entirely financed it.
Carl Pei said his London-based startup -- called Nothing -- was developing a pair of wireless headphones as well as a suite of smart, connected consumer electronics. The headphones would be released in the summer with other products following later in the year.
Pei has big-name investors from earlier raises, including Kevin Lin, co-founder of Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch; Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Reddit; and Tony Fadell, who created the iPod at Apple Inc. and went on to found Nest Labs, now owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
“We’re building an ecosystem of smart devices,” Pei said in an interview Friday. “We’ll start with simpler products, wireless earbuds. We’re going to have multiple products throughout the year, not just audio products, and eventually we want to build it so these devices talk to each other.”
He said GV, previously known as Google Ventures, invested $15 million in his company but declined to confirm the valuation or detail the design or specification of products.
Pei’s “vision for smart devices is compelling,” Tom Hulme, General Partner at GV, said in a statement Tuesday. “We have high confidence that with Carl’s global mindset, the Nothing team will have a meaningful impact on the market for consumer technology.”
While consumer demand is high for true wireless (TWS) earphones, competition for a slice of the market comes from the biggest names in tech.
AirPods have become one of Apple’s biggest hits in recent years, helped by record sales of new iPhones. Samsung Electronics Co. also heavily promotes its competing headphones alongside its flagship Galaxy smartphones, and Huawei Technologies Co. takes the same approach with its handsets. Companies such as Sony, Bose and Sennheiser have long been household names when it comes to personal audio.
Pei has strong connections within the smartphone industry, however, by way of co-founding China’s OnePlus Technology. The company gained a following abroad for producing high-performance Android smartphones that appealed to enthusiasts who couldn’t necessarily afford flagship iPhones and Samsung products. By making its earlier products invitation-only -- and keeping the price competitive -- the company made devices like its latest OnePlus 8T model highly desired in hipster circles.
The Nothing founder left OnePlus last year to focus on his new company.
Pei declined to provide specific examples when asked to explain why investors and consumers should pay attention to what’s being created by his team of about 18 working on research and development.
And despite Britain’s departure from the European Union, he chose London for the company’s headquarters as it offers a broad pool of English-speaking talent, and its employment laws are attractive.
“I personally believe that Brexit may spur the U.K. government into being more competitive on a global level in attracting talent,” he said. “Look at the tech unicorns, London is still number one.”
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