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.

Jobvention – Automatic Sourcing Job Board

Jobvention.com is a job site that allows small and medium sized businesses to post a job and get talent referrals in 48 hours or less. Jobvention uses a combination of search and data analysis to match talent from around the web with businesses that need help. Founded in Seattle in 2013, by Microsoft and Amazon alumni, Alvin Loh and Hui Dai.

Jobvention.com has disrupted the market with its Search String Generator, companies can simply type in the key words for a job position and receive 5-10 qualified candidate leads in 48 hours. Compared with the efficient matching service at Jobvention.com, other job search websites (such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com) depend on the job searchers to register on the website and to apply for the particular position, and the recruiters need to go through the painful process of filtering through tons of resumes manually; or the head hunter needs to actually “connect” with the people on LinkedIn to get their contact information. The search tools on Jobvention.com is quite powerful, other than the candidate pool in its own candidate pool, it can also links job postings from other websites such as Craigslist and Google Apps for Business. Moreover, it aggregates information for a single post by synchronizing messages in the Gmail inbox, and present them directly as text within the app, which saves a ton of time, you don’t need to go back and forth for a job post.

Jobvention.com is mainly after the market of small and medium businesses, and the major use case is online recruiting. To target those customers, Jobvention.com has positioned itself as between Monster.com and craigslist –– it is much cheaper than Monster.com, and more professional than Craigslist. The major channel in which Jobvention.com reaches their customers is through direct mails, other channels include Facebook and Twitter.

Entrepreneur Report- OneBuild

OneBuild is a supplier, manufacturer, and real estate developer of prefabricated, steel residential units. The units are built in China and then shipped over to Seattle. The pods are then transferred over to the construction site and stacked on top of each other like Lego. This type of construction technology saves time and money, and has ultimately introduced a new construction method to the Pacific Northwest.

OneBuild’s one-bedroom units could be considered micro housing, as they are approximately 350 sf, while the two-bedroom units are 700 sf. The company is targeting individuals seeking an urban lifestyle, as the concept of OneBuild is ideal for infill, urban development. OneBuild is essentially disrupting an existing market and creating a new one. They are disrupting the current small sf unit size multifamily developments. Demanders of this type of space may view OneBuild as innovative and a more appealing option than the typical wood framed, relatively cheap construction of normal multifamily developments. OneBuild is also creating a new niche for themselves in the market with the goal of attracting new customers. This type of construction, while popular globally has not yet taken off in North America. It is OneBuild’s goal to attract new demanders of space through their unique approach of modular, prefabricated living.

OneBuild’s positioning is clearly defined by the innovative approach to construction and living that they offer their target market. It takes but one glance of their product to understand the uniqueness of their brand.

Belltown Apartment

N-Habit Belltown (www.onebuildinc.com)

Due to the small size of the units it is clear that this style of living is not for everyone. It is however, perfect for the young professional who values urban living, quality, and innovative technology.

OneBuild is trying to reach their consumers primarily through word of mouth and by physically visiting their projects. They have set up social media channels, but they truly feel that one cannot appreciate the uniqueness of their product without actually seeing it in person. It is OneBuild’s goal to continue to reveal that the construction industry can be revolutionized and that it is moving forward with cost and time effective construction techniques.

Entrepreneur Interview: Kevan Brown – Northwest Hoops Leagues

I decided to interview Kevan Brown – an entrepreneur who is currently enrolled in the Foster School of Business Evening MBA Program at the University of Washington. Kevan started Northwest Hoops Leagues: a Seattle based company that provides a high quality recreational basketball league for players 21 years and up. In addition to the competitive nature of the game, Kevan provides players with stats, a profile specific to each player, box scores, and photos accessible through Facebook and the League’s website (http://northwesthoopsleagues.com/). Unique from the other basketball leagues available to players, Kevan provides the entire schedule for each season so players can plan for games more in advance.

The type of market that the company is pursuing is a working professional who is physically active and has played basketball in the past. Kevan wants to bring a level of competition available for all skill levels. As mentioned above, the unique attributes of Kevan’s basketball league is providing the boxscore, stats, and player profile to each player. Kevan’s not trying to re-invent the wheel, but what he is doing is providing Seattle with a league unlike his own with the unique attributes that he provides his basketball players.

Going into year 2 of his basketball league, Kevan is continuing to position his company as a recognized brand within the recreational basketball community. His league is currently full, consisting of 10 teams and a waitlist of teams wanting to compete in future seasons. The Northwest Hoops League is now a recognizable brand, but it took Kevan time to experiment through several social channels for brand recognition. When Kevan first reached out to his first customers, he tried using Facebook Ads and bought ad space online to advertise his basketball league. Unfortunately, the success of these channels to attract new basketball players did not result in what Kevan was looking for. Instead, Kevan says that the best channel to get new basketball players and to grow his brand is through word of mouth from current players talking to their family and friends.

In talking to Kevan, I got a sense of the time, emotion, and energy he has put into his Northwest Hoops League. I want to thank Kevan for letting me interview his experience as an entrepreneur and I wish him the best of luck with his company and the pursuit of his MBA. Thanks again, Kevan!

Mirador Biomedical

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Mirador Biomedical, Seattle based company incorporated in 2009, is dedicated to develop simple-to-use and economical medical devices. One of the primary devices that Mirador is producing is a compass vascular access, a pressure transducer for central venous catheter insertion that enables physicians to simultaneously view their hands, the patient, and the pressure. Similarly, the company also provides compass lumbar puncture device, a disposable medical device that provides opening pressure reading; quantitative pressure measurement during spinal taps; used for lumbar punctures; and enables physicians to simultaneously view their hands, the patient, and the pressure.

Mirador’s devices are currently being used in many hospital settings (like the ICU, the ER, and the OR), but also offers applications to care providers working at the point-of-injury access to technology previously only available in the hospital. The expansion of the platform, Mirador’s technology, is a significant milestone for the medical field, which is accelerating the commercialization of Mirador products. Recently, Mirador’s devices have won FDA clearance to officially market its medical devices for a new set of uses, which physician have been asking for months. Mirador knows that hospital will pay for its technology to help prevent costly medical errors, and because it provides greater convenience in everyday workflow than existing methods that relay on clumsy cables and equipment; giving an unique market to Mirador.

It is clear that Mirador has chosen an industry that is exponentially growing and very profitable. Mirador’s strategic alliance with hospitals and physicians across the northwest as well as the focusing their intellectual forces into only pressure monitor devices have made them standup in their market and acquire numerous set of customers. Many would say that Mirador is rapidly expanding its business, market, clients and I agree. They had chosen a service that is high in demand and will be vastly use in multiple patients (e.g., age, sex, and body complexity); making Mirador’s devises unique in their industry.

Mirador Biomedical main goal is to offer simple-to-use medical devices that make procedures safer, faster and easier.

Outcome Concept Systems

Outcome Concept Systems (OCS) is a company that provides solutions for home care and hospice services as well as healthcare analytics. It provides a service for home health and hospice organizations to determine ways to improve performance, increase patient satisfaction, optimize the use of resources, and benchmark performance. The goal is to improve the decision making of the organization through analysis of data. OCS also provides healthcare analytics to assess new market opportunities in healthcare, understand potential partners for mergers or acquisitions, and review your own financials. The company is targeting healthcare providers in the home care and hospice space.

OCS has done a good job of becoming a leader in the field, using their credibility after 20 years of work to acquire and retain customers. The company achieves good visibility by putting out a HomeCare Elite List each year that highlights the 25 most successful home care providers in the country. The company also puts out a list of the top 100 and 500 providers. If you wish to see how your organization compares to those on the HomeCare Elite list, you can request a report. In this way, organizations can see the benefit of using the OCS technology to assess their business and glimpse how the OCS metrics work. OCS also appears at conferences, publishes white papers, and hosts webinars on topics that are useful to home care or hospice organizations. By maintaining leadership in the field, OCS retains customers who use their service.