Garmin Connect Development Team Tossed Overboard

In a bit of a strange twist, the team behind Garmin Connect (the site where you upload all your activities to) has been tossed out on the streets of San Fran.  Garmin has decided to close their San Francisco office, which includes the Garmin Connect team.  They were offered relocation to Olathe, KS – which is the home of Garmin – but they politely declined that invitation, and then as a team – they put themselves up for sale:

image

Now – I can’t exactly blame the team for not wanting to move from the bustling high tech city of San Francisco to the less than bustling Kansas (I’m sure Olathe is a nice place, but let’s just be realistic here about how desirable that move probably is).

But – here’s my first reaction: What are you thinking Garmin?  (Actually, my first reaction was WTF?!?).

Well – let’s break this down a bit.  First off – this is the team that originally brought us MotionBased.com.  You may remember that back from a few years ago.  They were a site that you’d upload all your activities to (Swim, Bike, Run, Space Walk, anything…) – and then it was searchable and easily accessible.  Garmin bought them out a bit later and put the team to work creating the new Garmin Connect.  This had the majority of the functionality from MB, but was scaled to handle the numbers of users Garmin was looking at.  It also offered seamless integration with Garmin’s set of products.

image

And while there were some stumbling blocks (and still are some) – by and large it’s pretty solid (free) product – and promising.  And more importantly – there’s really nothing else at that size out there on the market.  The next closest thing is Training Peaks (which offers more advanced features, but doesn’t service nearly as many users).  In effect, they are the iTunes of sport activity tracking.  Sure there are lots of players – some who do it better – but none on that scale.

To put in perspective how much data these guys deal with – check this out from their page:

image

Now – here’s where we get to the WTF part.

As in WTF was Garmin thinking?  If you browse the team’s bio page you’ll see they’re fairly substantial.  In fact, I can’t imagine there’s many folks left on the team that don’t reside in San Fran.  Meaning, Garmin’s now likely just lost the entire Garmin Connect development team – or at least a substantial portion of it.

Many in the greater GPS industry have noted that Garmin is already in a tough position right now.  Phones with web enabled apps are starting to take over much of the role that normal car based GPS units once owned – such as the Nuvi or the Tom-Tom.  That trend has started to even show in Garmin’s earnings and forecasts.  Garmin has tried to counter this trend by focusing on applications (such as iPhone apps) that users can purchase and download to their device – thus in effect still keeping Garmin in the revenue loop.  So while you and I love the new triathlon (310XT) and cycling (Edge 500) offerings from them, the automotive world is a tough place for them.

…looking back at towards sports world…

Now that they’ve gone out and axed the team that built one thing that really differentiated them from the competition.  You have Timex coming out with a new GPS based watch this year that’s being eyed by many, and Polar out there throwing all sorts of darts at the dartboard hoping one sticks.  You also have Suunto getting into the game with ANT+ compatible devices as well.  Finally, non-traditional vendors just this week unveiled devices at IHRSA this week for the iPhone – including DigiFit and PedalBrain.  Not to mention players like Nike.  Despite interoperating with ANT+, most of these are all competitors to Garmin devices.  All of these devices aim to negate the need to have a Garmin Forerunner 310XT or Edge 500 while running or cycling.  And they all aim to upload to a cloud-based service like Garmin Connect.

In a world where telecommuting is considered normal within the IT world – I fail to understand why they didn’t just simply have the team telecommute – or rent out cheaper offices across the bay in/around Oakland if downtown SF office costs were the driving force behind the relocation.  Further, the move is strategically kinda dumb.  In effect Garmin has put up for sale a fully team ready to be ‘acquired’ by the competition.  Except they aren’t for sale by Garmin – Garmin doesn’t get anything.  It’s a merger and acquisition scenario gone wrong.

I used to work in mergers and acquisitions for about five years actually.  And now I work in software.  Funny how that’s applicable here.  In a typical M&A type scenario you look to either acquire the goods (as they did with MotionBased.com) or as often the case in technology – look to also acquire the team to speed development efforts (which they also did here).  But having the team work for 2-3 years to build a blockbuster product, and then axe the team at the peak…is not part of that playbook.  Having that team advertise themselves on the Internets as being stood up at the prom, is also not part of that playbook.  That makes the acquiring company look bad, and since acquisitions are often a game of PR battles – that constitutes a fail buzzer.

(Side note: Think about this for a second – you have to have a solid set of cahones to somehow start the conversation within the GC team to jump ship as a whole – and then put up a well done website.  It’s one thing to be sitting at the local bar that night as a team after you get the word to relocate – it’s a whole different matter to actually follow through with deciding against it – as a unified team.  That takes balls, a lot of them.)

Of course, the bigger question here is what will this do to the future of Garmin Connect? Will development slow down (invariably it would have to – Garmin was probably  assuming they’d jyust pack up and move to Kansas) – or will it stall completely?  What impact will it have on service and upgrades?  More bugs are also likely as new development folks would have to be spun up on the code, thus not only reducing stability, but also slowing development further in a painful cycle.

No matter how this goes down, me thinks that some folks across the sports technology industry are doing a double-take and seeing how they can take advantage of this.  Unfortunately – I’m relatively sure nothing good will come of this for us athletes.

[Update: The Garmin PR folks got me answers to my questions to them.  The San Fran office closes May 8th, 2010, though a few employees will still telecommute after that point.  The main driver in the move was to bring the "development close to product development for better system design and experience".  I asked how this would affect development of Garmin Connect going forward - "Team staffed in Olathe will carry on vision and development of site in closer conjunction with product development team. We’ll staff it to meet the needs of the Garmin Connect community."]

(Note: I asked for comment from both Garmin PR and the Garmin Connect Team, but hadn’t received the Garmin Connect Team comments as of this posting – I’ll update when I receive them.  Also note that if you want to re-Tweet this post, the automagic tweet buttons are available on the main page.  Have a good weekend all!)

Retweet 3Like 4Google +1 1

27 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Great post, thanks! Interesting and relevant topic for us Garmin users. Please keep us updated on developements.

    Reply
  2. Sounds to me like Garmin is sinking from the competition all around it and tried to bring its potentially greatest asset close into its fold, perhaps upon rumor that an integral part of it was plotting to leave (like lawyers leaving a law firm, often they take their entire specialty shop with them along with their clients when they bolt) and thus the scenario was precipitated. Interesting. I fear for the health of an independent Garmin.

    Reply
  3. Wes

    My understanding is the GPS in the Timex watch is Garmin product. While I see the benefit of having GPS in my phone for a car, I don’t see it for a bike or running. Maybe that’s just me.

    Let’s face it… San Fransisco is one of the most expensive places in the United States to live and work. Depending on what their goals are with GC, I would suspect that it will go into maintenance mode for a while.

    Garmin, like everybody else, is struggling to survive in a competitive world. I have a vested interest (I own a lot of their junk) in hoping that they do so…

    As an aside, I uploaded a workout from Sports Track into my Garmin 310XT. No matter what I did for the workout, it recorded it as skiing, and it wouldn’t reset until I cleared all of my data. Experienced anything similar with ST?

    Reply
  4. Ray,

    I had an opportunity to visit Olathe this summer an it really is incredible place to live. When I was initially job hunting Olathe was at the top of my list because of Garmin.

    In regards to Garmin connect, I feel like they’ve just been behind the times in so many regards. You can change the map view size unless you view in “Player” mode.

    I’ll be interested to see the reply from Garmin PR and GC.

    Also, the Tweet this button appears on both “Item pages” as well as the main page, why the note at the end of your post?

    Brett

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    i actually know these people, and really what happened is they lost their designer, their senior architect, and three developers in less than two months because they couldn’t pay them enough and thus had no other choice really, i think, unless they wanted to be left with a website and no staff.

    Reply
  6. Thanks everyone for your comments-

    I’ve heard from a few folks today in the industry that are familiar with the situation that are able to shed a bit more light on the whole deal.

    As I assumed in my original post – this did represent the entire Garmin Connect team. In other words – there is no team in Olathe. Garmin PR effectively confirmed this with their quote above noting they’d have hire to staff appropriately. As Garmin also confirmed, a few token folks are staying onboard, but only in a break/fix type scenario – not for new development. Once May 8th comes along, any new development Garmin Connect stops.

    As one anonymous commenter noted (which echoes what I heard), a number on the GC team have already left – with others out the door soon as well. Note that this won’t affect things like device firmware releases, because those are actually handled by separate teams within Garmin. The GC team just handles GC – not even pieces like the ANT+ agent are under their jurisdiction.

    The primary driver from Garmin’s standpoint was simply to get out of the competitive San Fran job market, they just didn’t expect nobody to want to go to Olathe. What’s unfortunate about this is from the folks I’ve heard from, they say that the team genuinely enjoyed working for Garmin – they just didn’t want to move to Olathe and take the pay cut (especially given they could increase their salary outside of Garmin in SF).

    To those looking at buying Garmin devices – I’d say you still want to stay the course. At the end of the day, there are a ton of other sites out there that can do what Garmin Connect does – just via different means. As I’ve always said – at the end of the day – Garmin makes really good hardware…but they struggle on the software side. This only seems to re-affirm that.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting! Have a good weekend!

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I guess I don’t understand why you’re badmouthing Garmin over this. They’re a business. They probably got out of California because it’s a horribly unfriendly place to have a business presence and the fact that the entire state is on the brink of bankruptcy.

    Who knows what their motive is but I’ve been buying Garmin stuff for a long time and this won’t phase me. I never used Garmin Connect, as I like sport tracks myself so it’s not a big deal at all for me.

    I don’t work for Garmin, never have but I own some of their stuff (forerunner, car units, etc) and have always been happy with them.

    Reply
  8. Garmin seems to do a poor job managing their fitness products, especially their software. There are many sites (I use runsaturday.com) that are cloud-based and seem to crank out new features monthly — and these sites are free and done as a hobby in the developers’ spare time. Yet Garmin never did seem to recover from the MotionBased to GarminConnect transition. It took way too long to migrate the activities from MB to GC, and in the middle of the transition, they froze a lot of people out of MB who still had activities there but not on GC (that was a bone-headed move). GC went live about this time last year, but hardly any new features have been added and now it’s a dinosaur. Why bother? Garmin could have hit a home run and done some simple things and become the true leader, but instead, they can’t seem to fix the most basic bugs in GC or add the most obvious features. And I believe they were advertising for GC developers in SF just a couple of months ago — that sounds like a major case of corporate indecision (are they going to develop the product in CA or KS?). Finally, the software for their fitness devices is another area of software that’s terribly mismanaged. When the devices are first brought to market, they are full of bugs, but Garmin is *very* slow to release firmware update.

    Reply
  9. Jen

    I didn’t see any bashing of Garmin in the post, just a fair analysis.

    I’ve always thought their software and web service has been terrible. I’ve never been happy with it and the transition to MB was quite painful. I don’t blame the MB team one bit, I just don’t think Garmin ever fully understood how important a cloud based service is.

    Scrapping the one team that knew the software inside and out is really stupid as anyone who supports, writes or has written code knows.

    I wonder how much of their revenue comes from their athlete line. That may explain their decision.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    So you think we’re ok to continue buying Garmin products? I guess this really doesn’t affect the software related to the actual gps units, just the software that analyzes it afterwards and it appears there’s plenty of other sites available. Is that what it really comes down to? Thanks…

    Reply
  11. Hi Anonymous-

    Regarding whether nor not to purchase Garmin units…I’d say without issue to continue doing so. As many folks have noted, there are a number of independent options out there aside from Garmin Connect – so while Garmin Connect goes on a bit of sabbatical, many other sites continue to develop. The devices and device firmware are handled by separate teams – there’s even separate teams for things like ANT+ and Garmin Training Center – all of which reside in Olathe already.

    As for everything else…

    They key takeaway in my mind from this is the lack of understanding on Garmin’s part about how to execute a successful software + services business. As the goal was to reduce the costs associated with staff in San Francisco – there are many more successful ways to do that aside from canning everyone in one shot. Ideally you’d start to staff up in Olathe first and then slowly transition roles over to Olathe over the course of a longer time period (a year for example). However, with the way they’ve done it, they effectively have no turnover of job roles – or code.

    There’s been some discussion as to the ‘limitations’ of Garmin Connect. And I’ve agreed with that for years (you can go back and read my reviews of it – in particular my 405 review where I’m pretty rough on it). But after hearing more from industry folks familiar with the situation – the issue here really hasn’t been fully the GC team’s fault. Instead, it’s been the way Olathe handles software development program management, or rather – doesn’t handle it. That’s been the real limiter in getting fixes to us as end users.

    In the end, this isn’t about Garmin Connect as a site – or even the Garmin Connect Team. For example – myself I rarely use Garmin Connect, instead using Sport Tracks and Training Peaks due to more advanced features. To me this exposes a bigger issue around how Garmin approaches software development, which in the long run is really the issue.

    Again, just my two cents…thanks for all the feedback thus far – I always appreciate it! With that, I have a race to run tomorrow – back to running!

    Reply
  12. Aaron

    Interesting development for enthusiasts of the Garmin brand.

    I’m not so sure it was such a horrible decision. As mentioned Garmin is hurting, and someone at the top was probably looking at the staff of 15 (numbers from thegcteam.com site) at San Fran salaraies and thinking: how much more sales are we getting for that $1.5 million+ expense?

    Will Garmin retrench back to focus solely on hardware? Ditch the Garmin Connect strategy and license a workout web tracking solution from someone else? Move forward with completely open API for new watches? Or just keep plugging along the current path?

    Who knows. But in the longer term (2+ years) there are a lot of scenarios I can imagine that would be much better for us consumers. Let’s be honest – software is not Garmin’s strength, and even the quality of the watches (firmware, especially) has declined in the last 3 years, add to that an incoherent and bloated product line with so/so innovation lately… I love my Forerunner 305 but all I’m sayin is – its good for companies to be a LITTLE hungry.

    Reply
  13. Great analysis as usual. This is a bit worrisome for me as I use a Mac and Sport Tracks doesn’t work for that OS. I use Training Peaks, but till now I have had to load data to Garmin Connect and then transfer to TP;. Bit of a pain. I have 3 Garmin devices (704,500,310XT, so quite tied into them.

    Reply
  14. The http://www.gcteam.com website is down. Coincidence?

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    whoa, they just released an update.

    Reply
  16. Yup. This update was ‘in the bag’ since mid-February. Development completed around then, and tt was/is the last planned update to the service for the forseeable future.

    Reply
  17. The 310xt has a very stupid situation first of all it depends on windows exclusively secondly the ant stick is a very stupid invention it would SO much simpler to connect a cable to the watch and let the Operating system SEE the route data as a simple FILE this way we could load the data to any compatible athletic web based diary… but NO garmin has to make things SO complicated.. with the ant stick i cant even find the data log files …. all i know is that the file is uploaded automatically to which ever diary its compatible with HOW F… stupid is that? Anc i cant get my log data off my watch if i am using linux … :P
    5) i SYNCED garmin connect with daily mile but i only got 22 out of 62 activities synced can anyone help me out here ?

    Reply
  18. Jeris

    I recently found this blog…and I really appreciate the information DC provides. It’s awesome. But this post, although several weeks old, caused me pause.

    First, I would like to comment on the tone of elitism in this post and a few of the comments. The vast majority of the U.S. population, I’m certain, would not share the sentiments that San Fran is a great place to live. Half of America would prefer to see California drop into the ocean, including San Francisco. The elitist attitude is just one reason why.

    Second, Olathe, Kansas is part of the Kansas City metro. It’s located in Johnson County, KS…one of the most highly acknowledged counties in the country. It’s not some wheat farm out in the middle of no where Kansas. Some facts: Kansas City is #6 on Kiplinger’s 50 Smart Places to Live, #1 on Employmentspot.com’s Best Cities to Live in for Mid-Level Professionals, #9 in Best Cities to Live and Work In, and the list goes on and on. San Fran doesn’t even make most of these lists, and certainly doesn’t come close to Kansas City’s rankings when it does. So…to answer the question of who would want to move to Olathe, KS…well, let’s just say prejudice born of ignorance is the worst kind.

    San Francisco…and all of California, for that matter, is driving business of all kinds out with their heavy tax and regulatory burdens. Your leaders seem to share the same elitist attitude as your population…”everyplace else sucks, so they’ll all stay no matter what”. Well, it doesn’t work that way. The politics of California have created the mess its in. Of course companies are fleeing, as are residents.

    As far as Garmin’s situation is concerned, I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that they don’t know what they’re doing. From the outside looking in, we always assume we have better answers and plans than those on the inside. That’s rarely the case. I suspect it is as well here.

    Nonetheless, if the Garmin Connect team decided that they just weren’t going to leave glorious San Fran and go over to podunk Kansas City to keep their jobs at a time when the economy sucks, people can’t find jobs, unemployment is high, and companies of all kinds are contracting…well, screw them. I just wish we didn’t have to support them while they’re sitting on unemployment for the next 2 years. California’s real unempolyment rate, as of June 4, was 20%. What’s a few more going to hurt?

    Reply
  19. Davide

    Hi, sending a message to Garmin to ask manual input of fat percentage in Garmin Connect, they emailed back that there should be an update next october… They didn’t confirm whether or not manual update wil be present, though.
    So after all, maybe they didn’t stop development

    Reply
  20. Hi David-

    The team has been slowly building up in Olathe (after the loss of everyone). In talking with Jake at Garmin this past week, they are indeed looking to add a few new features sometime this fall.

    Reply
  21. This isn’t really fun to read … bought a garmin 410 yesterday and took it for a first run just today.

    Phone apps?
    To be honest the phone apps isn’t really a issue for a serious runner. I used runkeeper to track my runs on a phone 3gs. Becouse apple provides a very low gps sampling rate to safe some battery power there is no way to get a proper pace or distance reading when you run a track with many corners. I also tested a htc hd2 android phone with runkeeper. Much better gps sampling rate but not very accurate … shows up a bit to much distance and to high pace. Best option with these phone based trackers is to run a alwasy straight line.

    I wanted to know my distance and current pace. While doing so I also wanted to remove the brick of a phone from my arm.

    I had no choice but garmin, wanted the 210 but got a killer deal on a one time tested 410.

    I use sporttracks mainly and keep my runs synced on runkeeper and garmin connect … last one is only becouse it doesn’t need any handeling.

    Reply
  22. They received what they needed from the purchase. I’ve done this myself. I’m sure they were all compensated appropriately during the acquisition. 2-3 years is a normal transition period. Garmin should pay attention though to their monthly subscription services which GC could provide and seem like the logical starting point for such a venture. There is a cyclical convergence to mobile phones. Dedicated mobile devices for NAV will definitely decline. Starting to see more cyclist mount their droid or iphones for cycling. Droid powered bicycle computer is very realistic. Mine powers both a ballistic shooting program at the range, then is used in my jersey pocket to track my training. –JJRaven — PurePlay Marketing Group.

    Reply
  23. “In effect Garmin has put up for sale a fully team ready to be ‘acquired’ by the competition. Except they aren’t for sale by Garmin – Garmin doesn’t get anything. It’s a merger and acquisition scenario gone wrong.”

    And a few of us landed right in the hands of Magellan and just announced our first fitness product.

    Hands on look at the Magellan Switch and Switch Up GPS Multisport watches

    Reply
  24. I honestly want to know what all of you guys see in Garmin! Polar is the best hands down people cmon! Check out Polar and you will see that I am serious

    Reply
  25. Max

    I was doing a bit of Googling…and came up with this article. I wanted to know why, when I view my past bike rides on Garmin Connect the Google map flashes the area of Olath Kansas, just for a micro-second, and then it corrects to the actual route of my ride, which is here in Australia. Anyone else ever notice that? Strange. But there must be a connection to the fact that this is where Garmin Connect has their headquarters.

    Reply
  26. Raul

    Garmin should have acquired some promising Chinese phone manufacturer, when they were still making big bucks. (but yes, it is easy to analyse the past with nowadays knowledge)
    Cause what the world (well that of the athletes) is waiting for is the merge of sportcomputer & phone. (got some ideas & am for hire as well :-))
    Garmin is a strange company anyway. About the opposite of let’s say Apple.
    Just look at the consistency (none!) in their productdevelopments/strategies etc.

    By the way: I can’t see why Garmin Connect is the best store site because they have the most users. (I experience a lot of slowness, site down for maintenance, error 500, maybe because of all this users?)
    The only advantage would be that if Garmin decides to make it a paid service (not too unlogical) they could keep the fee low.

    Reply

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>