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computer with a Web connection. The personalized Zeo webpage charts a user’s sleep patterns and provides access to a coaching program designed to help people overcome what the firm calls “sleep stealers,” like late-night snacking, worrying, and allowing restless pets to sleep on the bed.
Clearly I haven’t given Zeo’s system enough of a test drive to really gauge its utility, but the firm’s star-studded list of advisors certainly lends it some credibility. They include big names in sleep research like Charles Czeisler, director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School; John Winkelman, medical director of the sleep health center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; and Kenneth Wright, director of the sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado,
In one sense, Zeo is also fortunate that it doesn’t have a lot of competition. The most comparable competing product on the market is the aXbo Sleep Phase alarm clock, which comes with a wristband that detects only body movements to capture a user’s sleep patterns. On the other hand, the dearth of competing products means that the concept of a home alarm clock that detects biological signals is completely foreign to most people. That makes it difficult to plop a Zeo on a shelf at, say, a CVS or Target store and expect a average shopper to take to time to learn why it’s worth paying the $250 retail price to own.
Yet I wouldn’t bet against the ambitious team at Zeo. I met the firm’s three founders—Jason Donahue, Ben Rubin, and Eric Shashoua, all of whom remain executives at Zeo—when they were still operating the startup out of a small office down the street from Brown in 2006. (Here is a 2005 story from the Providence Journal about the early days of the company.) While they were standouts in Providence’s tech scene, one the city’s influential venture capitalists told me he declined to risk significant capital on them because he didn’t like their business plan. But the company, which moved to the Boston area in 2007, has managed to raise a total of $14 million from backers such as iD Ventures America and Trident Capital.
If Zeo can find a wider audience to buy its system, the startup could become a standout on a national level. The next test will be whether the company’s new infomercials will drive meaningful sales, if not the kind of buying frenzy Regis ignited last year.
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