Smart earbuds startup Doppler Labs shuts down after raising $50M+

Doppler Labs, a smart earbud company that raised more than $50 million in funding from backers like Universal Music, Live Nation and the Chernin Group has shut down after running out of cash and options.

The company posted a farewell note to customers on its site this morning.

The startup most notably developed the Here One earbuds, a competitor to Apple’s AirPods that packed in noise-cancelling and a feature called “active listening,” which allowed users to augment the way they heard the world around them so they could tune out the hum of traffic or a jet engine while still being able to hear human voices.

In an extensive interview with Wired, CEO Noah Kraft told the publication that after preliminary acquisition meetings with all the “big five” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) didn’t go anywhere, the company was left scrambling to raise more money as lackluster sales of the Here Ones (the company sold just 25,000 pairs) made it apparent that the startup might not be cut out for the cutthroat world of hardware.

“We fucking started a hardware business! There’s nothing else to talk about. We shouldn’t have done that,” Kraft told Wired.

The company was early to the idea of wireless earbuds, launching a Kickstarter for an earlier product called Here Active Listening, which took the idea of headphones for a spin. It was a product that couldn’t even play music, it only utilized the company’s active listening noise augmentation, and yet the startup raised $635,000 in the campaign. In interviews, Kraft called the device a “proof of concept” for what would come later.

What came next were the Here Ones, a device that captured my attention and excitement in early demos, but was ultimately hampered by product and feature delays. The Achilles’ heel of the device was its paltry battery life, which negated most of the promises of a device that promised to augment your daily listening.¬†While the company’s leadership initially gave the press battery life numbers that were in the range of AirPods, what ended up shipping was a device that showcased a lot of cool technologies in a tiny package that generally lasted only a couple of hours on a single charge.

Though Doppler Labs’ forward-thinking vision of a world where everyone has a computer in their ears may one day come to fruition, it will be another company’s challenge to take on.