By David Wu, venture partner at Maveron
There is no lack of lore around the Internet of Things. Cisco’s magic number of 50 billion devices connected to the web by 2020 has plastered the tech blogosphere; at least a half dozen hardware accelerators, incubators, and designated firms have emerged in the last 24 months; and even a quick look at Amazon’s Home Automation store that launched earlier this fall shows that we have officially begun the transformation of our homes and offices into what once was a scene from the Jetsons.
At Maveron, we’re excited, too. Beyond the $14.4 trillion market size, connected devices sit squarely in the center of the opportunity to bridge our offline and online lives, allowing the possibilities software has created on the web to extend to the physical world as well. There is huge potential not only to create massive, meaningful businesses, but also to build them off of innovative products that customers love, depend on, and integrate into their daily lives. But as sensors, robots, devices, wearables, gizmos, and gadgets emerge in rapid succession, what early indicators can differentiate cool products from potentially standout, category-defining consumer brands?
We believe August, the connected home company started by CEO Jason Johnson and award winning industrial designer Yves Behar, is in the latter camp, and our thesis behind our recent investment outlines our current ideas on making this distinction.
1) It’s not only a product, but also a brand—and that brand tells a story:
We’re big believers at Maveron that the difference between a cool product and a consumer brand is often not differentiated technology or even functionality, at least not on their own. Instead, the best consumer entrepreneurs are experts at wrapping those capabilities in a narrative that captures their customers’ hearts and minds to generate extreme excitement—something that flicks an emotional switch so consumers not only use it, but love it; not only install it, but talk about it to their friends.
From our first meeting with Jason, we saw that he was crafting that kind of brand we look for. August is launching with a line of smart locks. The lock, which can be installed on a door in less than 5 minutes, allows the user to control access to their home from their smartphone, both for themselves and guests to which they can grant virtual keys. They can designate the time period the key is valid for, receive notifications upon exit and entry, and unlock their door when they approach it–without even removing their phone from their pocket–through the power of Bluetooth low energy. But while that’s August’s product, the brand isn’t about locks, but, instead, about a combination of safety and convenience. August allows people to worry less about anyone entering and exiting their home. It’s that brand promise—and our conviction in Jason and his team to deliver it–that got us even more excited than the lock itself.
2) The product is an object of desire—which means it leads with design.
We believe that the best consumer brands delight their customers, and delight starts with standout design. Two primary schools of thought seem to have emerged surrounding connected devices. The first involves prioritizing speed to market and rapid manufacturing to reach early adopters quickly and wow them with an ability to do something new. The second involves a potentially slower product release, but prioritizes perfect design and shipping only beautiful devices. As soon as we met the August team it was clear they shared our conviction in the latter. Designer Yves Behar is the lauded mastermind behind products like the Jambox and Jawbone UP, and brought that level of detail, care, and craft to the August lock. Basically, the device looks awesome and you’ll be proud to show it off in your home—and we think that matters a lot.
3) You interact with the brand in your daily life—and do so in a way that’s meaningful and often.
The winning brands in the connected device category are likely to create not just one product but a series, moving from a solving a single problem (how I monitor my daily activity, for example) to an entire problem set (how I think about my health as a whole.) We think the more personal, important, and recurring the first problem can be, the greater the chance the brand has to develop loyalty that will let it transcend beyond that first product or device. Our home—and the people who come in and out of it–is among the most personal, cherished parts of our lives. We love that that’s where August is beginning.
4) It has the chance to be a significant part of an ecosystem.
A key element of the connected world is not just individual devices but the dialogue between them—the Jetson’s scenario when you pull up to your driveway, the door unlocks, the lights go on, the temperature sets, the music plays. One step back, your home talks to your office and car, and interacts with data about your health and activity levels. We believe that for this category to succeed at the anticipated scale, the ecosystem has to develop along with the individual players. As a hub to the rest of the home, August is positioned to be an important voice in the conversation between devices.
We’re thrilled to announce our investment in Jason and be part of the August story as they create a standout consumer brand in the connected home category.
David Wu is a venture partner at Maveron and is an active investor and entrepreneur. Connect with David on Twitter or LinkedIn.