We’ve all been victims of expensive roaming cellphone bills after a vacation abroad. I know I have. We’ve also been stranded by our cellphone signal while trying to camp out in the woods, leaving us vulnerable to an unexpected emergency. But what if you had a strong 4G hotspot with you that doesn’t rely on SIM cards?
CANDL, a new Atlanta-based hardware startup, brings connectivity to people, no matter where they are, with its ultra-rugged 4G hotspot CANDL One that works in 150+ countries without needing a SIM card. The hardware is waterproof, shockproof, and works in extreme temperatures and altitudes. It also has an integrated lamp, speaker, microphone, and a large battery that can power up your other personal electronics for up to five days.
Behind this innovative product is founder and CEO Tom Cox, who found that there isn’t a great solution to staying connected in those moments when you need it the most. Here, Cox tells us more about what kind of funding he’s looking for, his expected market impact, and how a Syrian refugee inspired him to create CANDL.
Year/Date Founded: April 2016
Number of Employees: 3
What’s your current funding situation?
Bootstrapped to date. We opened a $500K initial funding round on July 22, 2016. We are seeking angel and early-stage fund investment to help go from prototype to manufacturing. Our profile is on Gust and AngelList.
What’s your pitch?
We bring connectivity to people and things at the edge of infrastructure. CANDL One is the world’s first ultra-rugged 4G hotspot with built-in light, power, and sound. It works in 150+ countries without requiring a SIM card. Simply sign up for our CANDL Connect service plan and pay as you go. $10/GB in the US, and $10/day in more than 150 countries.
We are using our experience building military-grade communications solutions to help people and industrial networks around the world connect in places and situations they couldn’t before, or when infrastructure is damaged in a disaster.
CANDL One includes a power bank that can charge the hotspot and your personal electronics for 5 days or more in between charges. Powerful internal antennas extend the range of CANDL over a smartphone by miles. It also includes a lamp to light the darkness and a speaker/microphone to listen to music or conduct conference calls. It’s ultra-rugged, which means it’s waterproof, shockproof, and just works when you need it to most.
What problem are you solving?
The times we need connectivity the most are the times getting connected is the hardest.
When we travel internationally, we have to mess with multiple SIM cards and multiple pay plans in multiple languages, or pay outrageous roaming fees to our home-based carrier. On weekend adventures, we’re constantly running low on battery and just on the edge of connectivity. In emergencies, we need light, power and connectivity more than ever. And in industrial or austere environments, consumer-grade devices fail or break too easily.
Please describe the market/industry impact:
We want to make getting connected while traveling internationally and during emergencies easier, simpler, and less expensive. Globally, users spent $57B on mobile data roaming fees in 2015. The Global Mobile Hotspot Router market is growing to $4.7B by 2020 at a CAGR of 22.5%. By making it easier to get online while overseas, we can command a large share of market by making beautiful devices that just plain work and are easy to use.
Our target market are middle-class adventurous types age 22-59 who shop at REI and similar high-end adventure stores and travel internationally multiple times per year. In our target countries of U.S., Mexico, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand this represents approx. 15M consumers.
What’s your revenue model?
We sell CANDL One devices online. Our list price hasn’t been set yet but we will announce our crowdfunding campaign in the next few months. Following that campaign we will sell CANDL on our website and on eCommerce portals such as Amazon. Eventually we will sell CANDL One in retail outlets such as REI, Brookstone, Best Buy, etc.
We also sell CANDL Connect — our data plans for CANDL One. Users pay $10/GB in the U.S. and $10/day in 150+ countries around the world.
How’d you get the idea for it?
The idea came from my encounter with an amazing Syrian refugee named Omar, who had traveled 2200 miles to safety in Dresden, Germany.
I attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain back in February of this year and I was specifically moved by the plight of the Syrians trying to make their way across the political and geographical chaos of Europe searching for safety and opportunity. Omar’s story touched me deeply. He told me that for him and the other millions of refugees out there, being connected was more important than food and shelter. They needed to stay connected to stay alive or avoid being sent back to Syria. His journey reads like something out of an adventure novel.
He also told me that local mafia in Southeast European countries would hoard all of the SIM cards in local shops and then resell them for 10x their value to the refugees who could afford them. They would also travel by night, usually through the forests, without finding power to recharge their smartphones for days at a time.
I decided I wanted to build a device that would have met all of Omar’s needs: connectivity in every country he crossed without needing a SIM card, a lamp for the darkness, a power bank to last at least 5 days, and something that was rugged enough for such a perilous and long trip.
Who are your competitors and how do you stand out?
We have two classes of competitors: global SIM-less hotspot devices and ultra-rugged hotspot devices. Compared to the global hotspots, our product is far more rugged, has 20x longer battery life, and a simpler data plan. Relative to the ultra-rugged competitors we offer unrestricted data plans and additional features such as a speaker and lamp.
How does ATL weave into your story?
In 2009, when I started my first startup company, there wasn’t much of a startup ecosystem to leverage in Atlanta. I wound up moving my family to St. Louis to start the company where I was able to find engaged and interested investors as well as developer and design talent to help build the company. When I started looking at building CANDL this spring, I couldn’t believe how much had happened in the Atlanta startup ecosystem in 7 years. I was able to join ATDC to help validate my business model, and practice and refine my pitch by attending events held by ATA and ATV. I even ran into the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
At CANDL, we are building a global company, but we’ll always be rooted in Atlanta. The resources available to us in Atlanta far exceed any benefit of moving away, from the world’s busiest airport to a huge ecosystem around online marketing.
With Google, TechStars, and other large incubators coming to Atlanta just this year, it’s becoming very clear just how important Atlanta is in the global startup scene.
Are you hiring right now?
We’re not hiring just yet, but we are definitely interested in meeting Atlanta-based electrical engineers with a cellular communications background, as well as mobile app and backend software developers. Oh, and a social media expert is on the short-list too once we’re funded.