Recently on the “This Week in Startups” podcast Silicon Valley investor and CEO of Vayner Media, Gary Vaynerchuk was the featured guest and one of his insights added a unique dimension to the way I think about product development. Gary asserted that all great products are actually in the time business; meaning they all give us back a resource of which we have a finite amount.
The specific example he used was Uber. He explained that Uber is not selling car rides but instead focused on getting people where they need to go quicker and we are even willing to pay a surcharge to preserve our time. Another example was Amazon which is the master of this technique dating back to the development of one-click ordering to one-hour delivery to the most recent Amazon Dash.
As I thought about ways this might apply to the industries in which I am particularly interested I turned my attention to the concept of the “smart” home. Over the last 5 years several companies have emerged as leaders in this field and all are marketing themselves with different value propositions but the one thing they are all offering their consumer is: more time.
Nest is far and away the most recognized product in this category and its primary marketing message is that it “pays for itself.” I would certainly advocate that all homes should have a smart thermostat for efficiency reasons but the main feature of Nest is its ability to learn user occupancy habits. While we may not spend more than 1-2 min a day setting our thermostat this time adds up over the course of a year to about 12 hours. The future of these occupancy sensors have enormous potential. Imagine 10 years from now if deliveries, home repairs, etc… are scheduled automatically based on when you are home according to the sensor in your thermostat or light bulbs.
Speaking of light bulbs, what Nest did for the thermostat several companies are attempting to do for the light bulb. There is no clear winner in this space as of yet, but Phillips Hue, WeMo, Lifx, and Stack are all vying for poll position. Again, all of these companies have different value propositions for the consumer but all are selling time savings in the form of not worrying about flipping a light switch, forgetting rather or not you turned off the lights, or in the case of Stack helping you rest better and wake up in a way that helps us be more productive with the limited time we have during the day.
These products combined with smart meter data being rolled out in some states present an exciting future where homeowners can make informed decisions about big purchases. For instance, thermostat, light, and smart meter data could be used to let homeowners know which appliances they should upgrade, if they should install a rooftop solar system or new more efficient windows. Once a decision has been reached, the project would be scheduled automatically from the sensors placed in the thermostat or light bulbs. This kind of possibility explains why so many companies from different industries (AT&T, Direct Energy, Comcast, and NRG) are vying to “own” the home.
While our society can sometimes seem “anti-technology” as evidenced by books and movies focused on dystopia via innovation the smart home presents an opportunity for us to live our lives more efficiently in terms of both time and money.