Snap has acquired Ctrl Me Robotics, a small drone manufacturer based in Los Angeles that should give the company added muscle in its push into hardware.
Snap’s interest in drone manufacturers has been rumored for months, and the company’s acquisition of Ctrl Me suggests it has more than just a passing interest in hardware. Its only previous foray was the introduction of Spectacles, a sunglasses product with a built-in camera, that brought in relatively little revenue and largely helped as a pre-IPO marketing push.
Ctrl Me shares a neighborhood with Snap. Both operate in Venice, California. Ctrl Me was in the process of winding down when it approached Snap about a possible deal, a source with knowledge of the situation told BuzzFeed News. The deal was something of an acquihire, with Ctrl Me founder and drone entrepreneur Simon Saito Nielsen joining Snap, along with some company assets and equipment. The purchase price was less than one million dollars, according to sources familiar with the deal.
Snap declined to comment.
Snap calls itself a “camera company,” and cracking into the hardware market could potentially open up a second source of meaningful revenue outside advertising, where it faces an uphill battle fighting against the likes of Google and Facebook, two companies so successful they've been nicknamed “The Duopoly.” The booming drone industry could be a good place to make a move, especially since drone photography and videography are popular on social media, where Snap is a major player.
Nielsen founded Ctrl Me Robotics, Inc. (pronounced “control me”) in 2013 to provide aerial footage capture tools to movie studios, using third-party drones and custom-built solutions. According to a video posted on YouTube in 2014, the company said it was developing products for the movie industry and planned to diversify into the oil industry and agriculture. In one Instagram post, Ctrl Me displayed a drone and an experiment gimbal that held a smartphone, allowing users to Snapchat from the air.
While Ctrl Me raised a small amount of seed funding from investors in 2014, the startup never gained traction, and it’s unclear if it ever started developing its own flying robot. Ctrl Me’s website has since been taken offline while a phone number listed for the startup now redirects to a different Los Angeles-based drone company, Drone Fleet Aerospace Management.
After a poor showing in its first quarter on the market, Snap’s stock dropped significantly last month. Many of its investors are betting on the ability of Snap co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel to produce more hit products. (Hardware also presents an opportunity to create things Facebook can’t easily copy.)
This isn’t Snap’s first dance with a drone company. Last year, the Los Angeles-based company also met with Lily Robotics, a much hyped drone startup that sold $34 million in pre-orders, before it filed for bankruptcy in January.