Jawbone adds $165M but loses new president and half its valuation

By Jonah Comstock
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A piece of long-awaited good news for fitness wearable maker Jawbone -- $165 million in new equity funding -- came with two more pieces of bad news: a subsequent drop in valuation and the departure of its recently hired president Sameer Samat, who returned to Google. Re/Code broke the news.

The new funding is from the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), which means the funding comes directly from the government of Kuwait. The terms of the deal are peculiar in that -- multiple sources told ReCode -- they drop the overall valuation of the company by half, from $3 billion to $1.5 billion, but give employees a larger pool of equity, causing their shares to maintain value.

Notably, KIA invested $750 million in BlackRock back in 2010, and BlackRock has $300 million invested in Jawbone. The round also included some contributions from existing investors, including Seqoia Capital and some funding from departing president Samat, according to Re/Code.

Samat only joined Jawbone seven months ago, in May 2015. He actually came to Jawbone from Google originally, though he's going to work for Google Play, a different division of the company than he did before -- he headed up Google Shopping and Google Express before. He'll continue to serve as an advisor to Jawbone. 

As evidenced by its apparent absence from CES this year, Jawbone's had a rough time of it lately. Rumors that the company might be in trouble began in May when Bloomberg revealed that the company's $300 million investment from BlackRock Capital was actually more of a loan, and one with harsh terms at that. Bloomberg also noted that Jawbone was being sued by Flextronics for allegedly not paying its debts and by Avoca Technologies, a Canadian distributor of Jawbone products, and Lorom Industrial, a Taiwanese cable manufacturer, for failing to make good on payments. Shortly after the BlackRock funding, Jawbone laid off 20 employees.

But the company's most high profile lawsuits have Jawbone as a plaintiff, not a defendant, and they've been aimed at competitor and market leader Fitbit. In one suit, Jawbone alleges that Fitbit poached employees who downloaded sensitive data about Jawbone before leaving the company. In another, Jawbone sued Fitbit over alleged infringement of three patents Jawbone obtained when it acquired BodyMedia in 2013. Fitbit also sued Jawbone over different patents, and Jawbone filed a counterclaim against that suit.

In July, a report emerged that Jawbone is trying to get the US International Trade Commission to block Fitbit’s imports into the US based on the same complaints that form the basis of the two lawsuits against Fitbit. And toward the end of August, the ITC confirmed that it planned to investigate Jawbone’s claims, according to Legal Newsline.

In November, the company laid off an additional 60 employees, 15 percent of its workforce. The layoffs extend across the company, but the restructuring included the closing down of the company's New York City office and downsizing operations in Sunnyvale and Pittsburgh.