Essential, the startup helmed by Android creator Andy Rubin, has lost one of its top executives, just over a month after it announced its first major product.
Brian Wallace, Essential’s VP of marketing, has left the company, he confirmed to Business Insider on Friday.Wallace is now CMO at i.am+, a “connected lifestyle” company founded by musician will.i.am.
Wallace’s move is the latest sign of turmoil at Essential. Wallace joined Essential in December after running marketing for the augmented reality startup Magic Leap. Before that, he worked at Samsung and helped put together the iconic “Next Big Thing” campaign that propelled Samsung’s mobile business in the US.
Wallace isn’t the only major departure at Essential. Andy Fouché, who is listed as the company’s head of communications on its website, left recently as well, he told Business Insider in an email earlier this month. However, Fouché also described himself as an advisor to the company. He also worked with Wallace as the head of communications at Magic Leap. Kenzo Hing, Essential’s head of product marketing, will be running communications in the meantime.
Hing did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The departures are not a good look for Essential. (Is it ever a good sign when PR and marketing executives jump ship before a company even launches a product?) The company announced its new phone, simply called Phone, last month. But there were immediate questions as to how the $US700 device could compete in a high-end smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung.
Essential will sell its phone unlocked on its website this summer and has already started accepting preorders. Sprint is the only carrier that has agreed to sell the Essential Phone, meaning it will be tough to get the device into customers’ hands since that’s how a lot of people still buy phones in the US. Historically, exclusive carrier deals have rarely worked out. Rubin said in May that the phone would start shipping within a month, but that never happened. A Sprint spokesperson told Business Insider it would start selling the phone this year, but didn’t provide a specific time frame.
The phone is just one piece of Essential’s vision though.
The company has also announced it’s working on a product called Home, a voice-controlled hub for connected appliances. It will have a round touchscreen and a built-in digital assistant. Rubin has said he plans to make it work with a variety of smart home platforms like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit, although the way he describes it working would be nearly impossible to pull off based on how those various platforms operate. (Good luck convincing Apple to let you install Siri on a third-party device, by the way.) Rubin calls the new smart home platform Ambient OS.
Essential has raised at least $US300 million in funding, according to Bloomberg, so the company has plenty of time and money to play around and figure things out. Rubin also teased at the Wired Business Conference in June that he’d like to launch some sort of connected car product, but didn’t provide any details beyond that.
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