Connected Home Platforms: 7 questions with the CEO of Zonoff Mike Harris
This is the eighteenth segment in the Postscapes Interview Serieswith some of the top people influencing the Internet of Things.
Can you give us a little background about yourself?
I’m a serial entrepreneur that is passionate about solving problems consumers face when managing personal technology. I’ve founded and led a number of venture-backed tech companies to successful exits, including a NASDAQ IPO.
My previous startup was AnySource Media, which we launched in 2006 and was acquired by DivX in 2009. The original embedded software developed by AnySource still serves as the foundation for DivX TV, which can be found on LG’s line of connected Blu-Ray players. Just as AnySource provided core technology for “connected TV,” Our vision for Zonoff is to provide the core technology for the “connected home.”
My current company Zonoff provides the technology that connects the Internet of Things to everyone. As the “brains” of the Connected Home, Zonoff provides a comprehensive software platform that enables partners such as electronic device makers, service providers and retailers to deliver new products and services to the consumer mass market.
What are you currently working on or are most excited about?
Zonoff’s mission is to become the common platform that enables all devices and services – regardless of their wireless standards – to communicate with each other. We have a big announcement coming up in the fall that will represent a significant milestone in achieving this vision and driving mass market adoption of the connected home.
There are many moving parts in this industry, and we’re excited to continue talking to all of the major stakeholders — including channel partners in retail, consumer electronics, telecom, cable, and security.
The Connected/Smart Home ecosystem has seen something of a resurgence in the last year. How do you see this area developing in the next 1-2 years. (Tech breakthroughs, consumer education, etc)?
All the major trends are coming together. Broadband connectivity is pervasive in most communities. Consumers are very comfortable with smartphones and tablets. The cost of the hardware continues to come down. And the wireless standards are consolidating; today there are over 1,500 devices that are Z-Wave or ZigBee certified. All these trends are coming together to create a “perfect storm” over the next 2 years that will initiate mass market adoption. But we see consumer education as a key driver of this as well. People don’t care about the technology behind the scenes. They just want to be able to do certain things that will help them save time or money, or help them stay connected to their loved ones – whether they are near or far away. And once people see the benefits of these connected home solutions in their own life, they will start to add new ones. Then they will start to tell – or show – their friends, and the whole market will benefit.
Of course, there are some significant milestones that need to be achieved before the smart home reaches the mass market. To see the long term impact of the Internet of Things, we need to look beyond the peace of mind and security applications that exist today. The real impact will come from the long-standing industries that are adapting today in order to bring this massive market together over the next few years. We believe that the large consumer brands are key to accelerating the process for the mass market consumer, because they are the companies that consumers have known and trusted for decades.
The fact is that very few people will go out of their way to make their house a “smart home” from top to bottom, right off the bat. The concept is just too broad for most people. But… if those same people can start small and solve one nagging problem that saves them time or money, or makes life easier – then they will solve another problem, and then another. And before they realize it, they will be living in a smart home.
How do you see Zonoff separating itself from other competitors in the space?
To the average consumer, the space can appear to be confusing – or even gimmicky – right now. There is proven technology out there, but there are also new technologies appearing each month via crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. However, the average person doesn’t have the time, desire, or skills to safely hack together a lock, a liquor-cabinet alarm, or disco light that tells you when you clothes dryer is finished. These types of DIY gizmos appeal to that very small percentage of consumers who enjoy hacking or making.
But Zonoff is focused on the mainstream consumer market – those people who just want to be able “plug and play” a few trusted big brand devices together and have them work to save them money or time. Period.
Unlike some other players, we’re not trying to build a consumer-facing brand; instead our vision is to work with big established brands who want to deliver a turnkey connected home solution their long-standing customers. We bring our channel partners not only a seamless technology platform and a simple user experience, but also a strategic and sustainable business model that creates both diversfied and ongoing revenue streams.
Our software allows our channel partners to work together without sacrificing their own individual intellectual capital or control over the customer experience. This enables our partners to maintain control, while providing their customers with the best possible experience that is compatible with both open and proprietary wireless protocols.
How do you view the term “Internet of Things”?
The Internet of Things is a catch-all term used to describe the rise of smart devices that can communicate with other devices. It’s such a broad term that you could be talking about your car as easily as you could be talking about your security system or health care. At Zonoff we use it to describe this fragmented industry of smart devices that have the potential to connect us to each other and our devices to live a more seamless life.
The fact is, consumers don’t think of their home in terms of “things” – smart or otherwise. It’s about how you live your life everyday and making that better.
A better way to think of the term in the connected home space is to imagine what you’d like the items in your home to do for you – whether individually, or more importantly together. Do you want a low cost IP camera to send you a picture of your kids walking in the door after school? Do you want your blinds to open or close at a certain time of day, or do you want your lights to turn on when you unlock your front door? Do you want to be able to put your entire house to sleep at the touch of a button? The Internet of Things describes this exciting moment we’re in now, and Zonoff is taking the lead in creating a common thread among the many devices so they can work with each other to improve our lives. We look at the power of this inter-connectivity as “one plus one equals three.”
Where do you see the IoT and its technologies creating the most impact?
The possibility of leveraging the Internet of Things to make the home come alive is at a tipping point for mass market adoption – it’s not just for enthusiasts anymore. The technology exists to create a truly intuitive home that understands your interests and priorities, and can tie together all the sub-systems in your home including lighting, climate control, door locks, entertainment, window coverings, HVAC, and others to get you what you want, when you want it. So we see the greatest impact for consumers in establishing “peace of mind” while also saving time and money.
The key factor for mass market adoption of smart home technologies that leverage the Internet of Things requires well-known, trusted consumer brands adopting these technologies and offering compelling solutions to their customers.
Shout-outs: Any sites/people/articles or books that have inspired you lately?
This market is moving rapidly from an enthusiast niche to the mainstream. You can see this in the large circulation blogs like GigaOM, PandoDaily, but also in mainstream print magazines like Wired and Fast Company. We also think that the open standard organizations like the Z-Wave Alliance and theZigBee Alliance are doing a great job in helping to raise awareness, and providing common specifications that are helping this market take-off.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
If you would like to contact Mike or learn more about Zonoff and their platform visit Zonoff.com or follow their latest at @ZonoffInc and @mbrharris.
Header Image Credit: Staple’s Connect (which is built upon the Zonoff platform for Hub, App and Cloud software.)