Dan Liberman from SmartThings

I interviewedDan Lieberman from SmartThings, a 3-year-old startup. Dan Lieberman has a very diverse background and expertise in technology development and has worked at RealNetworks, Cisco, frog design (to new a few) before joining SmartThings about 3 years back. Dan joined SmartThings as strategy director and technology architect but has recently moved to research and standards.

SmartThings is a platform solution for smart (or connected or automated) homes; homes which are equipped with lighting, heating, access control and electronic devices which are interactive and can be controlled remotely with a phone or computer. Smart homes typical consists of a central unit called the Hub which communicates and controls the various sensors and actuators such as motion detectors, temperature sensors, electrical switches, security cameras, light bulbs distributed all over the house.

Smart home is a relatively new market, which has sprung up in the last five years. However, even in this short time frame, a host of established companies such as GE, Philips, Belkin and small companies have entered the smart home space with smart devices (sensors and actuators which go into homes) offering, which has made this market highly fragmented and competitive. With so many different sensors and actuators from different companies, there is a lack of interoperability between different devices, which leads to very poor user experience for smart homeowners. As a result Smart home technology is still very nascent with limited adoption.

SmartThings understood this key aspect of the market from the beginning and positioned itself as a platform solution. SmartThings developed their own hub, the central device, which communicates and controls all the smart devices in the homes and interacts with the cloud platform and a smartphone app. The hub looks like a typical Wi-Fi router and plugs into the existing routers through an Ethernet cable. The hub supports ZigBee and Z-Wave, the two commonly used communication standards for smart devices and can communicate and control majority of smart devices. The hub connects to a secure cloud solution through the existing Internet infrastructure and the cloud and the smartphone can be used to control the smart devices.

The key motivation for users to transform their house into a smart home is use cases; the smart home should accomplish something their current home setup does not. For example, a smart home with security cameras, motion sensors, automated locks and alarms is a great sell as a secure home. SmartThings focused on couple of such use cases and sold starter kits, which consisted of the hub (with complementary cloud solution and smartphone app) and a few (5-7) sensors to enable different use cases. Additionally, they understood that for their platform to be successful, they needed a developer base, which would develop applications for their platform. This was essentially the app store/play store model, interesting applications on SmartThings platform would lead to more customers buying and locking down to their platform.

SmartThings developed their technology with software/application developers as their central focus. The developer applications and all the intelligence was pushed into the cloud and the hub just served as a gateway to pass commands between the cloud and the smart devices. SmartThings developed an abstracted API, which enabled the developers to write applications without the need to worry about the end devices. For example, if a developer wanted to control light bulb, he/she can just call it LightBulb1 and the platform would associate it with the available light bulb irrespective of the manufacturer and the communicate protocol used by the smart light bulb. This ease of application development attracted the developer community.

SmartThings acquired it first set of customers (and investors) i.e. both home users and developers through a Kickstarter project. Their Kickstarter campaign was hugely successful; in fact it is among the top funded projects on Kickstarter. As it’s common with all Kickstarter projects, product delivery was delayed. During this time, SmartThings used customer forums, website and email to give regular updates, receive feedback and keep user in the loop. This created a strong customer relationship and a valued and trusted user community. SmartThings primarily focused on organic marketing and gave traditional online tools (facebook, twitter) a miss for most part. They invest a lot of resources on customer engagement and awareness using video series, content marketing on blogs, articles and posts to promote SmartThings and smart devices in general. They hired a top PR firm and ensured that every positive article on smart homes had a SmartThings reference which was easy given their Kickstarter popularity.


Blog 4: Xfinity Ads

My roommate just moved out so for the past week I have been looking for a new service provider for cable and internet. I have been browsing Comcast and century link websites to figure out the best plan for my home. As a result, a majority of the news websites I typically visit now have xfinity (Comcast) ads.

Although I eventually bought an xfinity (Comcast) package, personally speaking, the ads were more annoying and distracting then helpful. I chose Comcast because of the two service providers in my area, Comcast gave me a better deal. The Comcast ads were focused on features which are of no interested to me. However, the ads did serve as a periodic reminder to me to go and finalize the order for internet and cable. Here’s a snapshot of the ad I saw:

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.19 AM

Blog #3: Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi 2 is the second version of the popular credit card form factor computer, hugely popular for teaching computer science in school.  The new version sells for the same price, $35 and features:

  • A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU (~6x performance)
  • 1GB LPDDR2 SDRAM (2x memory)
  • Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1

The second version has upgraded to an ARM7 core which can now run of ARM GNU/Linux distributions, including Snappy Ubuntu Core, as well as Microsoft Windows 10. If I were Eben Upton, the CEO of Raspberry Pi, I will contact the following people:

Leo Kelion (@LeoKelion): Technology desk editor of BBC news

Klint Finley (@klintron): Wired Reporter

Luke Westaway (@lukewestaway): CNET Senior Editor

Assignment 2- Philz Coffee

Philz Coffee is based in California specializes in drip coffee. Unlike Startbucks, Tully’s and other coffee houses, Philz Coffee specializes and only sells simple drip coffee; each cup is handcrafted and made one cup at a time at the retail stores. Philz value proposition is very simple: they believe in doing only one thing and doing it right which brewed coffee. Customers can pick from over 20 different coffee blends and the beans are ground to order and then poured into a filter for each individual cup which is very unique for brewed coffee. They use more grounds per cup than a typical drip coffee machine which results in a richer and stronger brewed coffee.

Philz Coffee started in 2003 in a small grocery store in San Francisco but has since then expanded to a number of locations in the state of California. Philz’s coffee has a very strong web presence with a website, facebook, twitter account and a blog post. Philz’s coffee uses videos to highlight it’s history, its humble beginning, the fact that is a family owned small business fulfilling it missions of providing great drip coffee with unparalleled customer satisfaction. Philz Coffee supports the green initiative and fair treatment of workers, regularly holds events on important days such as milk day and MLK day and using it’s website, facebook and twitter account to reach out to it’s audience. It also has an online store linked to it’s website for selling coffee beans.  After going through their web presence on Facebook, twitter, their blog posts and the reviews on yelp, foursquare, quoara and tripadvisor I believe they have been successful in targeting and communicating with their target audience which is young, tech savy coffee lovers in the silicon valley.

Sensoria – Marketing Analysis

Solutions such as FitBit, Jawbone and smart bracelets/watches are flooding the market to help users track their physical activity and provide data analysis and feedback. Although these devices are very popular and useful for tracking running times, distance and pace, they do not tell the whole story. With any physical activity be it running or workout in the gym, the proper technique is vital for both safety of the user and the effectiveness of the physical activity.  For example with running, injury to ankle, calf and knee are very common with improper footwear, terrain and technique and can have long term impact. Unfortunately, existing devices and solutions in the market cannot track runner’s technique and promote good running technique.

Running is a very popular physical activity undertaken and a large proportion of fitness concious demographic use running as their primary activity. Past few years has seen a variety of footwear such as Vibram five fingers, thin sole shoes and bare feet running shoes in the market which aim to promote good running technique. However, a tracking and feedback solution for proper running technique is still missing.

Sensoria’s smart socks solution fills this gap by using conductive fibers and textile sensors embedded in socks for tracking the user’s running technique in addition to the speed, duration and distance.  The smart socks are very light and can be worn and washed as regular socks. Before starting a run, the user attaches an anklet to the smart socks (using magnetic connector) which logs the data from the sensors in the socks which track the foot movement and placement and communicates this data to an app on the smart phone using bluetooth. The app logs the data and provides workout history, real time feedback for correctly running technique and can be customized as a virtual running coach.

Sensoria’s smart socks are targeted at fitness conscious public which undertake running as a regular activity and using devices such as FitBit and fitness apps on smartphones. By augmenting their running workouts with smart socks the users can run with the right technique, get better results and prevent injuries. In addition to smart socks, Sensoria has fitness T-shirt and bras which can track heart-rate and breathing rate for a holistic fitness tracking experience.