On the last day and in the last hour of the IoTWorld 2015 Conference, I met Victor Jablokov and Iain McDonald. They were the CEO / Founder and the VP of Hardware Engineering of Wallflower, respectively.
With all the amazing ideas, solutions, and products that were on display at the conference, Victor and Iain had what was possibly the most down-to-earth, easily understandable, simple product. And yet Wallflower had such applicability, I almost couldn’t understand why it wasn’t already a common piece of technology.
BS: Could you describe what Wallflower does in one sentence?
VJ: Take a deep breath… (smiling to Iain)
IMD: We protect homes through preventing the number one cause of house fires which is unattended cooking.
BS: How exactly are you doing that?
IMD: Our first product is a device that will connect to your stove. It will connect to any stove; it doesn’t matter if it’s brand new or 30 years old. And it will make that stove a connected stove. It can tell whether that stove is on and it can tell whether the user is present.
And if the stove is on but the user isn’t present, then that’s a problem. So we send a notification to the user and at that point he or she can say, “Everything’s fine. I’m at home. I’m taking care of the stove. Don’t worry about it.’ Or say, in fact “Yes – I realize I’ve left the house and please turn off the stove.”
BS: And how did you first come up with the concept of Wallflower?
VJ: I left my home and I left the stove on. And I was in-between companies and I did it a second time, well my wife did it a second time, and she said, “Why can’t I just turn the stove off with my phone?” We started looking for solutions and couldn’t find anything. So this company was born! Essentially that was it.
BS: It’s good it wasn’t borne of burning down your house.
VJ: Exactly. (laughs) I started researching the problem, the market. It was bigger than I thought. Then we started, you know, working on the concept and from there recruiting the engineering team and raising the initial bit of money. Then we got into a Microsoft Home Automation Accelerator back in the fall. And they’re partnered with an insurance company American Family Insurance. We got close to them and they put a little bit of money in us and now we’re in a pilot program with them to bring [Wallflower] to market.
BS: This makes me think – a lot of the companies here at IoTWorld, including many startups, are offering an all-encompassing ‘solution,’ to whatever your problem may be. Do you think your niche specificity helps you? I haven’t heard of another offering like yours whereas I have heard many times “We can connect all your IoT devices!’
VJ: I’m a true believer. This is my second startup. My first startup was a company called Yap, a speech recognition platform bought by Amazon. It’s now being integrated into some of their products. Wallflower is yes, a little bit of a niche solution, but it’s a big problem, it’s in a big market. And I think if you analyze the smart home products that have been very successful – for instance, Nest, Drop Cam, Chamberlain – they’re focused on one specific problem. They’ve developed a product that solves that one specific problem. [They’ve found] a pain point for consumers. Being too broad, I think, confuses people, and they don’t know how exactly it works. The fact that we’re focused on one problem gives us the opportunity essentially penetrate the market in a way that we figure out what the pain point is, and give the consumer the solution. You can always platform later.
It’s very obvious that we can do this mobile arm that is connects to your stove so that if there’s a fire in one part of your home, it can turn your stove off, it can turn your gas off so that it doesn’t get worse. We have a small team, limited funds, we have one chance to get this right. We only get one product into the market and then, hopefully, penetrate the market successfully.
If you look at chief marketers, the majority are not smart… and it’s very fragmented. No one’s really gotten the pinpoint that’s going to get consumers to start adopting [Smart Home devices]. Except for what? Security systems. It’s probably the biggest systems that have already been integrated and they’ve been around forever. So you could argue that Smart Homes have been around forever because security systems have been around for 20 years. But now they’re getting smarter and smarter.
But what people care about in the smart home is what? Security, property protection, and fire prevention. All of those are 80% of people when polled said they care about. It’s all about protecting your family and protecting your property. And so a lot of the other stuff is convenience. Turning your lights on and off and some of the other systems that are being created – convenience. Convenience is a thing that has to be priced correctly to adopt. Security and property protection don’t necessarily. There are benefits that outweigh the cost. Especially for people who have had a home fire or a kitchen fire. Cot only is it destructive as far as what it costs to replace, it’s also destructive to your life. You don’t have a kitchen for three months as you rebuild.
So what is that worth to you to never have that problem ever happen again? What if your kid burns himself? What is it worth for your child never to burn himself again? So you start talking about those kinds of situations. If a product that’s going to come out for 1700 dollars, the value far outweighs what the cost is going to be. This is why we’re focused on this one niche product. Yes, it’s a niche but it addresses a huge problem.
BS: I completely understand.
VJ: Fix one big problem well and that’s a company.