Ring founder Jamie Siminoff sounds off on his billion-dollar deal with Amazon.
Aspiring entrepreneurs dream of having a success story like Jamie Siminoff’s. The Nantucket summer resident first came into the public eye in 2013 when he appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, seeking investment in his fledgling video doorbell invention. After the Sharks turned his deal down, Siminoff landed an even bigger fish by gaining the backing of Sir Richard Branson. With the Virgin founder in his corner, Siminoff’s invention, renamed Ring, struck the right note and sent shock waves through the home security industry.
A year ago, Siminoff completed his fairytale ascension by selling his company to Amazon for a billion dollars, the second largest purchase by the retail giant. The fait accompli came when he strolled back on Shark Tank, this time as a guest judge representing the most successful company to have ever appeared on the show. N Magazine recently met with Siminoff at his Ring headquarters in Santa Monica, California, to ask about his unprecedented success, his plans for Ring and what it’s like to go from shark bait to being a whale in his own right.
N MAGAZINE: Do you think you would have been as successful had the Sharks not rejected your deal?
SIMINOFF: It’s so hard to project what the cascading effect of a decision actually is. In truth, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference either way. Shark Tank would have helped us in certain ways, but who knows if it would have hurt us in other ways. You just never know.
N MAGAZINE: What was your biggest takeaway from Shark Tank?
SIMINOFF: As with a lot of entrepreneurs, you’re at death’s door pretty frequently. I think you have to have this ability to compartmentalize the death part and keep going forward no matter what it looks like. When I left Shark Tank, I needed that money and I didn’t know where I was going to get it. Things came together after that as we kept working toward it.
N MAGAZINE: After Shark Tank, you made a number of bold moves in developing your company, not least of which was purchasing the domain name Ring.com for a million dollars. Why did you see that as a worthwhile in- vestment at a time when you were still struggling for funding?
SIMINOFF: I wanted to succeed massively or fail—but I didn’t want to be in the middle ground of petering through and letting someone else take my business. So things like buying Ring.com—a four-letter domain name, a million-dollar buy—was crazy for where we were at the time, but the decision was made pretty clearly. I said, “If I’m going to take on the biggest companies in the world, I need to look like one, I have to act like one, I have to have the infrastructure of one and I have to have the name of one.”
N MAGAZINE: What have you learned working alongside Richard Branson?
SIMINOFF: The first time I met him I thought he was going to talk about the business, but he never cared about talking about what we were doing that day or even that year. He was always asking, “What are we going to do in five years? What are we going to do in ten years?” Richard is a true visionary and only wants to talk about the future. He expects you, as the person running a business, to run the day-to-day, but also to know what is the next big thing that we’re going to do.
N MAGAZINE: What helped Ring become a billion-dollar business?
SIMINOFF: I call myself the chief inventor here, but the most valuable invention in the company was not the doorbell—it was the mission of reducing crime in neighborhoods. If you look at our revenue, the door- bell is obviously a huge success, but we’re also super successful at other cameras and all these other products we’ve come out with. The real invention was a mission where you could then invent and launch other products that made a real difference. That’s what allowed us not to be another one-hit wonder, but rather to build something of meaning, scale and long-term value.
N MAGAZINE: On the marketing side of the business, you brought on basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal as your co-spokesman and you appear with him in the Ring television commercials. Why was he the right fit?
SIMINOFF: I’d like to say it came from some great analysis we did, but we were talking to some local agents in Los Angeles about celebrity talent and it got back to Shaq. He had a Ring on his house and he wanted to meet us. When we met, I talked to him about our mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods and it aligns really well with Shaq’s mission. He’s a police officer in three states. He went through the police academy. He’s a true neighborhood person.
N MAGAZINE: How did you navigate Ring through a sea of stiff competition in the home security space?
SIMINOFF: My philosophy on competition has always been that the only way to compete is to serve your customer better than anyone else. Our competition is not the person making the XYZ anything. Our competition was the consumers’ perception of what a product can do for them. As long as we deliver the best products and services for our customers, they will reward us with their money. Once we stop doing that, they will stop buying our product. I always really tried not to focus on competition at all.
N MAGAZINE: How did the Amazon deal first start taking shape?
SIMINOFF: It started taking shape five years ago. We started to work with Amazon on little projects and kept in touch with them as we started working on integrating with Alexa. Through that, they not only saw our business growing, but they saw this long-lasting mission that we were inventing around. In the end, I think that’s what got them excited about the business. Amazon likes being involved with things that will be around for a long time, and reducing crime in neighborhoods has a lot of longevity.
N MAGAZINE: The deal went down as the second biggest Amazon has ever done. What was it like negotiating with the most powerful company on the planet?
SIMINOFF: It’s the largest private company Amazon ever bought and the second largest deal they ever did. The truth is, now having seen other deals, the amount of work done on a deal this size is pretty much the same as any deal, no matter how small. A deal is a deal. The numbers at the end are just sort of a spreadsheet. The people problems and the social impact are all the same no matter the size of the deal.
N MAGAZINE: How has your life changed since this deal?
SIMINOFF: I’ve tried to keep my life relatively the same. The best way to do that is to maintain the same job. I have the same routine of going to work every day and working on behalf of our customers to make their neighborhoods safer. As much as technically things have changed, I kept all the physical things about the same. I forget that the deal happened most days in a good way. I’m still doing what I like doing.
SIMINOFF: That was pretty incredible. I’m not a goal-based person, but getting on Shark Tank for me was a huge accomplishment. As an entrepreneur, that’s a pretty big deal. It was a goal that would have been unachievable. Sitting with them as a peer was truly surreal. It’s an overused word, but it’s so hard for me to process that that actually happened.
N MAGAZINE: Did you have any behind-the-scenes interactions with the Sharks who passed on you? Did they express any regret?
SIMINOFF: Being on the show as a judge, you see that you have a very short window to make a decision and you don’t have full knowledge of what’s really happening with the company. I think when you look at what happened from their side of things, as much as they’d love to be part of Ring, it’s not crazy that they missed the deal.
N MAGAZINE: You’re something of shark yourself, in which up-and-coming entrepreneurs are looking to you to make or break their business. How do you see yourself in that role?
SIMINOFF: I don’t fancy myself the Tony Robbins of entrepreneurship. I don’t think I am a good instructor. I think what I did worked for me. I’m not someone trying to give advice. I don’t fancy myself as a big investor or anything like that. I like the fact that I get to focus on inventing.
N MAGAZINE: What do you see as the next big frontier in the tech industry?
SIMINOFF: I think we’re going to see less innovation in the underlying tech. What we’ve seen in the last twenty to thirty years is computer processors that have gone from 10 megahertz to 1000s. Storage has come down in size and price. Transport of the internet has increased. You’re seeing these massive changes in the underlying fundamentals of technology. We’re going to see how they’re used in the next ten to twenty years.
How will machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing come together to be used? The biggest winners will create a positive impact in the world and I think a lot of that will be in medicine. There’s probably drugs out there today that could cure certain cancers, but we just haven’t figured out how to mathematically decide which drug will work with which cancer. So as more data gets ingested and we can do more complex computing, we’ll be able to see that across all businesses, but I think it will be biggest in medicine—sort of non-doctor-based medical breakthroughs coming from raw technology.