Early iPod designer raises $1.5M to make the smartest, sexiest desk you've ever seen

By Michael Carney , written on March 20, 2014

From The News Desk

When it comes to increasing workplace productivity, reimagining the lowly desk is the last thought to enter most people’s minds. Not J.P. Labrosse, former iPod designer and the man behind the Stir Kinetic Desk.

“One of the things that really excites us about the desk is it’s a place where so many of us spend so much of our time,” Labrosse says. “It’s a place where ideas are created and problems are solved. We wanted to design an experience that’s better and that can improve productivity and happiness.”

It’s a big promise, but this isn’t any old piece of furniture. The Stir is a $3,900 work of technological art that incorporates WiFi, bluetooth, a touchscreen, a thermal sensor, hydraulic lifts, and learning algorithms – oh and it’s beautiful too. The goal of integrating all this technology into the typically mundane workspace is to improve worker health and energy levels by getting them to move around more – changing working positions from sitting to standing several times throughout the day – and to do so in an automated, yet non-intrusive manner.

Labrosse has sold a number of people on his vision for the connected workspace, including his newly announced seed investors. Stirworks, Inc. has raised a $1.5 million seed round led by Vegas TechFund* with participation from multiple angels, including serial biomedical entrepreneur Josh Makower, John R. Woodard, Richard Klein, and multiple Apple alumni. The two-year-old Los Angeles-based company was previously founder-funded with additional contributions from friends and family angels.

Stir has also found support among consumers, selling out of its initial production run (a few dozen units) within weeks of accepting its first orders in November 2013. Those units are being delivered now and the second production run is now on sale. Labrosse says Stir has fielded interest from Fortune 100 companies and leading tech startups, along with individual freelancers.

The Stir Kinetic desk looks like the kind of workspace an Apple designer would create, but just as importantly, it functions like one too. The desk’s technology is largely hidden, working intuitively and seemingly by magic. The Stir learns its users’ habits and adapts to their daily routines. By judging when would be an ideal time to suggest a position change, the desk encourages movement without interrupting productivity.

“Adding a bit more activity in a day can materially increase longevity and productivity,” Labrosse says.

The tactile way it delivers these suggestions – by rising and falling ever slightly as if the desk itself is taking a breath – is nothing if not creative and cool. It resembles the way the Apple logo on a Macbook “breathes” while in sleep mode.

The Stir desk doesn't just tap into the hardware renaissance that’s taken Silicon Valley by storm. It’s also a quantified-self product. The desk collects data about its users’ health and movements, including calories burned and time spent standing versus sitting, making that data available to third-party fitness applications. It seems like exactly the type of thing Apple has in mind for its upcoming Healthbook application.

For all its beauty and techno-wizardry, the thing that’s sure to give most people pause is the Stir desk’s price tag. At nearly $4,000, it's likely two- to four-times the price of the computers people will put on top of it. It’s also significantly out of reach for the bulk of the market, no matter how appreciative they may be of its design. But if people will pay $5,000 for a mattress, who's to say they won't spend the same on the other place they spend at least eight hours per day.

In the company’s defense, this is a first-generation product and it’s the beginning of a premium brand. Expect the Stir desk and future products that the company creates to come down in price over time as its production volumes increase and it looks to target a wider audience. Plenty of A-list companies have followed a similar strategy, not least of which are Apple and Tesla.

“The best hardware companies historically have started with a premium product and move downstream,” Vegas TechFund partner and resident hardware expert Jen McCabe says. “It’s an approach centered around excellence at the individual level, delivering value at that level first, and then moving downstream.”

Downstream for Stir likely means more desks, but also additional products integrating into what Labrosse describes as a connected office platform. It took the company approximately 18 months from inception to the commercial release of its first product. But Stir is already working on the second generation of its Kinetic desk, according to Labrosse.

“We have a lot of exciting things in store,” he says.

Hardware design and manufacturing is a notoriously challenging process. Stir has the advantage of a veteran team, including not only Labrosse, but a number of Apple, Ideo, Humanscale, and HOK design alumni. The company has already benefitted from that team’s rolodex of industry relationships, according to its CEO, in the form of generous manufacturing terms.

“I think the thing that really sets us apart and that has allowed us to get to this point so quickly is the convergence of skill sets and backgrounds that we’ve assembled,” Labrosse says.

McCabe echoes this thought: “Stir is one of those unique investment opportunities where the right team comes together at just the right time to lead a sea-change in a historically slow moving market.”

None of this guarantees that Stir can turn its beautiful and technologically-impressive product into a large, and ultimately profitable, hardware business. The company may have a number of advantages, but none of that will substitute for execution.

The Stir Kinetic desk is a beautiful product and it likely represents a glimpse into the connected and automated world of the future. But until that connectivity becomes more accessible, it’s little more than a fantasy for the average consumer.

[Disclosure: Vegas TechFund founder Tony Hsieh is a personal investor in PandoDaily.]