Little Printer outfit Berg shuts down after failure to build “sustainable” connected products business

Berg Cloud, the pioneering internet of things firm, is closing down. In a Tuesday blog post, the design and cloud outfit said it had “not reached a sustainable business in connected products” and was going into “hibernation.”

Berg (“the British Experimental Rocket Group”) was the company behind the Little Printer, a super-cute little device that could print out “mini-newspapers” derived from various online feeds, including social networking messages, news and puzzles. It was a dinky toy in itself, but the really interesting bit was the Berg Cloud backend that it ran on.

Around 17 months ago, [company]Berg[/company] pivoted from design consultancy to product firm, looking to develop more devices to run off that backend. It even teamed up with Italian fashion house Benetton on connected products R&D. Recent blog posts showed Berg working on very cool stuff, like a mechanical pixel display, and more serious endeavors like a business version of the Little Printer for receipts.

To no avail. The valedictory blog post wasn’t terribly informative, other than saying this was the end of “this incarnation” of Berg. A separate post on the Little Printer blog explained how a skeleton staff would keep that device running until the end of March 2015. It continued:

We’re examining opportunities to give Little Printer a new home. If after March 2015 no arrangement can be found, all Little Printer features (publications, messaging, and face changes) will stop working. In the meantime we’ll be opening up the code behind Little Printer, and seeing if the community would like to take it on.

Those who picked up evaluation units of Little Printer for business will also get this six-month grace period. If no one buys the business, at least the community will have an opportunity to continue the project using the open-sourced Berg Cloud code.

The internet of things is a tough business, and there are many platforms vying to do what Berg Cloud set out to do: Provide a backend for the thousands of new connected devices that the industry reckons will soon hit the market. Xively and Ayla are just two very well-funded examples. Perhaps even at this early-ish stage of the game, quirkiness and a sense of style will only get you so far.

Berg CEO Matt Webb told me by email on Tuesday that it was “probably a bit early for a retrospective” as he was still processing the shutdown. “Whether we sell or open source Little Printer, there’s an interesting future there,” he said. “This doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for hardware startups in general, and London’s potential in this sector in particular.”

This article was updated at 6.40am PT to include Webb’s emailed comments.