This is an exciting time for actioning on long-talked about innovations that seemed so far off until pervasive computing emerged over the last 18 months. One of the most talked about and hoped for of these has been the automated home. Gene Roddenberry showed us what it could be like on TV and Bill Gates talked about it in his 1995 book “The Road Ahead” in great detail but a generation later are we finally witnessing the start of this for the common (read: non-billionaire or deep space traveller) person?
The vision Gates painted was impressive – almost biosphere-like individual home climate and energy controls and custom digital art displays – but it was too big, too visionary and, well, too expensive at the time to really appeal to the rest of us. It took a few small, simple devices to really start the ball rolling and resurrect the child-watching-Star-Trek in all of us: A thermostat (The Nest), some lightbulbs (Philips Hue) and a music player (Sonos). These grabbed our attention because they were affordable. These grasped our imagination because they signaled the beginning of an inevitable era who’s time was finally arriving.
As more and more companies enter this market – each with a specialized offering or two – it will become increasingly difficult to coordinate the permissions and configurations of each of the services – let alone the number of apps it will take to manage them all. That’s where Mike Soucie and his team at Revolv come in. They want to automate all of this for you, turning your connected device into a lifestyle automation tool – a single place you turn to program whatever device you use to control the services inside your home.
The real power of Revolv is the ambient nature of the app itself: Program it and forget it but when you get close to your home it turns your air conditioning on; As you get closer still it turns your lights on; Closer still your garage door opens and your front door unlocks. All without launching anything. All without thinking. You get the point.
In this episode Mike walks us through the thinking behind starting the company (how they ended up forming a team, pivoting when they got into TechStars, finding funding and creating the vision), the focus on lifestyle automation and not entering the home automation market, the challenge of starting a hardware/software company and a number of lessons he’s learned along the way with Revolv and his previous startups.
Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
1. The smartphone as the key to home automation 1:25
2. What is Revolv – the back story 2:50
3. How influential was Nest to your business? 6:45
4. Not home automation, but lifestyle automation 8:10
5. Are companies like Nest receptive to your approach? 9:50
6. The Revolv product pitch 10:35
7. What was the business you decided against to start Revolv? 13:39
8. What are the challenges running a hardware/software company? 15:10
9. The serendipity of pulling together the perfect team 17:30
10. How did the idea for Revolv emerge? 19:40
11. How did TechStars influence the business? 21:45
12. Why avoid security and surveillance as a business? 24:45
13. The Revolv GeoSense process 27:15
14. Lesson #1: Why limit the product to supporting only the top 5-10 connected home products? 29:25
15. Why raise money? Why not raise more than what you have? 31:00
16. What are the challenges for getting physical product to market? 34:20
17. Lesson #2: Don’t take a loss on hardware – ever 34:55
18. Lesson #3: When do you go to China to manufacture Revolv 35:35
19. The multiple revenue opportunities brought on by mobile 37:05
20. Selling by saving money vs selling piece of mind 41:13
21. The UI-ification of hardware is becoming the differentiator 42:27
22. How do you determine how much is too much automation for your users 45:10
23. When would you pull the plug on a company like this? 48:55
24. How Revolv builds an open culture for the company 51:10
25. Lesson #4: The burden of the leadership team doesn’t need to be such 52:40
26. How do you sell an experiential product like this? 55:55
About Mike Soucie
Mike is the co-founder and head of marketing at Revolv Inc. (www.revolv.com) formerly Mobiplug Inc, a Boulder CO based start-up that unifies your smart home on your smart phone. Revolv builds solutions that deliver the simplest and most affordable smart home experience from existing wireless connected devices, and provides a next generation automation experience based on a single application using ambient intelligence in the cloud.
Before Revolv, Mike was the co-founder and CEO of Electric Rain, Inc., a 3D and multimedia software company that enabled Adobe Flash designers to create and integrate 3D into their Flash web sites and projects. Mike grew the company from a basement start-up to a $2mil / yr company, and licensed its technology to major players such as Macromedia, Adobe, Autodesk, and Microsoft.