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Richard Branson's latest investment: Santa Monica company making video doorbells

A doorbell befit for the online video age is gaining major supporters.

Ring, a Santa Monica tech start-up that sells a doorbell with a video camera, announced a $28-million investment Wednesday coming mostly from business mogul Richard Branson and the venture capital arms of top home builder J.F. Shea Co. and big home insurer American Family Insurance Group.

They bought into the 4-year-old start-up’s goal of reducing crime, said Ring Chief Executive James Siminoff.

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“We’re definitely focused on the ring of security we can build around a community, around a home,” he said. “We’re stopping one burglary a day, and we’ve caught multiple burglars, so we’ve already become a very important part of homes." 

People who use the $199 “smart doorbells” can chat with visitors via a smartphone app regardless of their location, which Ring says deters would-be thieves who often want to be sure no one’s home.

If someone at the door doesn’t tap on Ring, motion-detection technology triggers smartphone alerts. Video recordings saved online for $30 a year provide a way to identify perpetrators.

Siminoff said he wants to learn about “the dynamics” of communities and crime from the new investors. He’ll use their money to hire people with video analysis and data-crunching skills to develop other uses for the videos.

Ring, which doubled its office space in Santa Monica last week, has 120 employees. The company had raised $10.5 million in the past year.

Among Branson's many other tech investments are online clothing shop Tradesy and ride-hailing app Sidecar.

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