By Fitly, Special for USDR
Fitly, a Philadelphia-based startup with a revolutionary meal-tracking device, made a splash on ABC’s Shark Tank last Friday night. Their product, SmartPlate, is the world’s first intelligent plate that uses embedded cameras, weight sensors, and image recognition technology to analyze the nutritional content of consumers’ meals. Although the company did not secure a deal from the Sharks, this seemed to stem more out of confusion regarding the technology behind the plate rather than out of a lack of potential, begging the question “did the Sharks miss out on a good deal?”
The first point of contention between the Sharks and SmartPlate came from Chris Sacca, who claimed that the hardware was redundant since an app alone could use image recognition to guesstimate nutritional info. However, this statement is up for debate. The issue is that the volume density of foods cannot accurately be assessed by a single image from a smartphone, making the embedded weight sensors a necessary piece of the puzzle. Indeed, Fitly is working with a world-renown artificial intelligence scholar, Dr. Honglak Lee, as well as top optics experts who confirm that without the hardware, the margin of error is simply too large to provide any useful caloric information to consumers.
Another objection was raised over the fact that Fitly outsources its industrial design for its SmartPlate. Fitly is first and foremost a software company and outsourcing design is common practice in today’s globalized market. SmartPlate argues that its value is in the image recognition technology they are applying to food, as was stated in a recent Forbes article where the company was featured alongside Google.
Finally, the Sharks objected that SmartPlate did not address the problem of eating out. SmartPlate’s app comes loaded with over 100,000 restaurant meals and, using the image recognition technology alluded to by Chris Sacca, is able to guesstimate the nutritional content of meals that are prepared in lesser-known eateries, albeit with less accuracy than when one uses the plate at home. Furthermore, studies show that only 4% of Americans eat out more than four times a week.
Of course, it is difficult to address all these points in a five-minute pitch, and perhaps Fitly would have done better to put more emphasis on the value of their technology. However, last Friday’s episode was a good reminder of the risks startups take in appearing on Shark Tank or any other national show, which is that they can be cast in a superficial light and have no say over which topics are addressed on the show.
This case was particularly interesting given the traction the company already has, which includes a successful Kickstarter campaign, thousands of units in pre-orders, and the title of Biz Journals’ Best Product of the Year 2015. Furthermore, Fitly recently issued a statement claiming it had raised $1.2M to date from institutional accredited investors, in addition to signing partnerships with some of the largest retailers in America, including Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon. It has also been featured in over 40 publications worldwide, was recently awarded a spot on Good Morning America, and voted Top 10 in Sir Richard Branson’s Extreme Tech Challenge at CES. In fact, the demand for SmartPlate has been so great that Fitly has been able to achieve scale and lower the retail price to $149 versus the $199 stated in the show. Irrespective of their decision to pass on the plate, the company’s sales have been boosted by their appearance on Shark Tank. Since the show aired, Fitly has generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales, and received over 100,000 unique visitors to their site. You can find out more about their company at www.getsmartplate.com.
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