Fathers Of Invention

How Judd Apatow Inspired A Tech-Enabled Baby Monitor

When Chris Bruce had his second daughter, he was blown away by how different she was from the first. “Our first was super colicky,” the engineer and entrepreneur explains. “Our second, she sleeps like a lump of coal.” That might sound awesome, but Bruce couldn’t stop worrying that she might be sleeping too soundly. So he’d squint at the grainy black and white image on his baby monitor and decide she must be on her stomach. Then he’d try to wedge himself into the nursery doorway so the light wouldn’t wake her up before concluding, ok, she’s on her side, but is she even breathing? A punk band veteran, Bruce doesn’t hear so good, so now he’s peering over the crib … then he’s gently touching … and boom. No more happily sleeping kid.

“Look, we know parents love their babies. Why don’t we focus on the parents for once?”

“I thought I was the only one who did this,” Bruce says. But his friend Mathew Spolin, with whom he worked on an award-winning app for One Medical Group, acknowledged identical behavior when his two kids were infants. Then they heard Judd Apatow say basically the same thing in an interview on NPR and they realized it’s a universal experience. But the marketplace was awash in poorly designed (not to mention ugly) “solutions” that didn’t solve anything. So, they invented one that does.

Sproutling, a small sensor that wraps around babies ankles while they sleep, went on pre-order last week at $249 for March delivery. The announcement was accompanied by a video, which depicted not just an intriguing product, but a pretty savvy brand, as well. (Go ahead, try not to laugh when the baby hits the hipster in the eye.)

The device tracks heart rate, skin temp, movement, and body position, while its wireless charging base station notes environmental factors, like light, sound and moisture levels, and room temp. In this way, Sproutling isn’t all that different from Mimo or Owlet, but it distinguishes itself with polished industrial design and an app (currently iPhone only) that does more than just track patterns. It crunches that data and surfaces recommendations for everything from when to put your kid down so you both get more sleep to what the ideal environmental conditions are for the nursery. If you believe the video, it will even give you back your social life and sex life.

Bruce and Spolin don’t intend to stop with reinventing the baby monitor. As engineers, they view most baby products with disdain, indicting them for having decades-old tech and a teddy bear aesthetic with chintsy materials. In fact, they don’t even consider Sproutling to be a baby product company.

“When I look at the market, I’m shocked at how everyone markets the same way, with the smiling parent holding the baby. Look, we know parents love their babies. Why don’t we focus on the parents for once?”

After successfully starting four businesses between them, Bruce and Spolin wanted to work on a product for which they were the primary customers. That means guys who love great design, are comfortable with their phones as the center of their digital universe and even more more comfortable with their kids as the center of their actual universe.

“Sproutling represents our worldview and our generation,” he says. “Mathew and I had similar epiphanies at the same time. When you have kids, your worldview changes, and we were ready to work on something meaningful.”

Valid through 8/29, Sproutling is offering Fatherly subscribers $50 off their pre-order. Paste this link into a new browser tab: fthr.ly/1m9ICBN (ships March 2015).

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