Control & Automation

Savant CEO Bob Madonna Sets the Record Straight

Savant CEO Bob Madonna says company is refocused purely on professional integration channel, addresses lingering rumors in the market, and lays out a product roadmap including a new touchpanel, thermostat, switcher and voice control.

Savant CEO Bob Madonna Sets the Record Straight
"This company is going to be No. 1 in the luxury space and will be the most progressive company pushing automation in the right places, but not as fast and as quickly as we were doing it," says Savant CEO Bob Madonna.

Photos & Slideshow

Jason Knott · February 13, 2017

Savant is getting its custom-installation-market mojo back.

In a wide-ranging and candid interview, Savant CEO Bob Madonna laid out the company's market focus going forth, discussed numerous new product initiatives, addressed about rumors swirling about the company in the blogosphere, and admitted some missteps that have been rectified.

Meeting in Savant’s Hyannis headquarters, Madonna explained with refreshing openness why he returned four months ago as CEO to the company he founded, taking over for William Lynch, the former Barnes & Noble executive who headed the company for the past two-and-a-half years.

“I decided to come back in for a number of reasons. Number one was that I was concerned about the focus being taken off of the luxury side too much. It was time for me to come back and redirect some of the technology focus back to luxury. We are revamping the luxury line with a number of new product lines,” explains Madonna. “Savant wants to be the first out with technologies again… like it was with HDMI switching, integration with iPads and iPhones, etc. We prided ourselves on not only being first but also having the highest quality. We need to re-establish ourselves as being first in the market again.”

Madonna lauded Lynch for building the company’s cloud platform, improving the user interface and establishing Savant’s brand name among consumers.

“William did a great job establishing this brand name among consumers. That is why I brought him in,” says Madonna. “It was important for us to establish the brand more among the masses, which is what we did.”

"It was time for me to come back and redirect some of the technology focus back to luxury."
— Bob Madonna, Savant

He admits in hindsight that the company was too aggressive in its pursuit of establishing a consumer presence.

“The vision was to take what we have done in luxury and try to get it into a larger audience, establishing Savant as a consumer brand that would help bring more business in to the luxury market. That was the theory,” he says.

But Madonna says the consumer market is still fixated on single-point solutions versus a centralized control system.

“The consumer space has changed… it is not what we expected it to be three years ago. We thought the market would evolve to the point where you would need a central controller, but that is not what happened. It is a confused market space. You’ve got point solutions everywhere. You have apps everywhere. It is craziness,” he says.

Savant experienced that craziness first hand with its Savant Remote 1.x.

“We found that once consumers got through the setup, they loved the user experience. But it was difficult for them to get through the setup. It needs some type of professional installer. I don’t think anyone has a product that is fully DIY. It has to be a combination of DIY and Do-It-For-Me on some level to attain all the features. It is even more complicated than ever now with the cloud. I call it the cloud jam because everyone has their own protocol and they are all talking to each other,” says Madonna.

Now, Savant is laser-focused back on the custom channel. “We did lose our luxury focus,” admits Madonna, noting that the company devoted a lot of engineering manpower to building out the 1.x remote software that is sold in Best Buy Design Center and Magnolia Home Theater. “It takes a lot to build a piece of software. But it took so much energy and focus and it took some of the focus away from building luxury products. It was not by design; it was by accident. Some of it just had to do with the size of the company; some of it was because building a cloud infrastructure is a big job. This was about biting off too much and bringing something out too soon that the market wasn’t ready for.”

“We cannot take our focus off of our professional integrator channel… at all. Period. And we will not do that again,” he says emphatically.

Addressing Rumors on Layoffs, Company Sale

Madonna also took time to frankly address some of the rumors in the market regarding Savant. Soon after he returned to the helm, Savant combined its consumer and professional sales forces in to one.

“The only layoffs were in the consumer sales channel. It was necessary to do given our refocus. Did we have layoffs? Yes. All my competitors have had layoffs. It happens,” he says.

"I am not here to sell this company. Period. I would not be wasting my time if I was going to sell this company." 
—  Bob Madonna, Savant

Meanwhile, the engineering team has been beefed up. Madonna combined the cloud infrastructure engineering teams of Savant and its sister company Racepoint Energy, which is the company Madonna formed three years ago when he handed over the reins of Savant to Lynch. He notes that “it didn’t make sense for both companies to be working on the same thing.”

In the end, the Racepoint Energy engineering team absorbed the Savant cloud engineering team that was based in San Francisco. Today, Madonna estimates the company now has between 80 and 90 engineers.

Another rumor he tackled head on was that Savant shut down its Experience Center in NYC.

“Totally not true. Total lie,” he says. “There was a group there who was using it as an office that made no sense. All that space we were using to show off consumer-grade products was being used as office space, so I reset that. The Experience Center is open and is actually getting a whole new facelift with all our new products.”

Another rumor that surfaced that Savant itself was up for sale.

“A total lie,” he says. “I came back here to rebuild this professional service. I would not be wasting my time if the company was in trouble. I had to reset it and do some restructuring in sales. That is a hiccup. I am not here to sell this company. Period. I would not be wasting my time if I was going to sell this company. There is no way I am selling this company. This company is going to be No. 1 in the luxury space and will be the most progressive company pushing automation in the right places, but not as fast and as quickly as we were doing it. That is where we stumbled a little.”

He continues, "Between the cloud, the UI and the consumer focus, William [Lynch] built a lot of the pieces that this company needs. We are just going to apply them slightly differently at a more conservative pace.”

Aggressive New Product Roadmap

At Savant’s recent dealer conference in Denver, which drew 600 authorized integrators, Madonna says the group was re-energized. “[The conference was the] best one we have ever put on. So many dealers came up to me thanking me for coming back. I almost felt like a rock star,” comments Madonna.

The reason for all the excitement is the slate of new products that the company is rolling out over the next several months, all of them focused on the luxury professional installation space. CE Pro will cover each of these debuts in more depth as they hit the market.

The products (photos here), some of which still do not even have official model names yet, include:

Ultra HD over IP 4K switcher – The first product to hit the market is a new 4K/60 4:4:4 HDR video distribution over IP switcher with 0 frame latency. The unit's centralized 10GbE switch enables Ethernet connectivity throughout a project, with both fiber and copper options.

Automated Shades – Savant has made its first foray into the shade control business with a Savant Shades. The sleek units do not hide the shade in a clunky box but instead reveal the rolled-up shade. Madonna believes shades are an important aspect to energy control, which is a focus of the company.

Touchpanel Thermostat – Available in Q2 2017, a new Savant thermostat is will hit the market. The unique aspect of the t-stat is that it can double as a whole-house controller because its touch interface is identical to the UI in the Savant remote.

Wally Touchpanel – The Big Wally and Little Wally dedicated touchpanels will also hit the market in Q2. These touchpanels fit into a single-gang box and also use the identical interface as the Savant Remote.

Door Entry System – Targeted at MDUs, the Savant door entry system connects to the cloud with a camera and touchscreen.

Racepoint Energy – Working with its sister company, Savant integrators will be able to offer smart electrical energy that enables the homeowner to see exactly which circuits in the home are utilizing how much power. Racepoint  itself focuses on nanogrids and microgrids for renewable energy for residential and commercial.

Smart Bulb – Hand in hand with its focus on energy management, the company will be releasing a smart bulb with Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to change colors and brightness levels. 

Metro Wireless Tabletop Controller – Grown out of the company’s Litetouch acquisition several years ago, a new battery-powered tabletop controller for its Metro Wireless lighting control is on tap.

Amazon Echo Interface – Savant’s controller now interfaces with Alexa, allowing scene commands for music, video, shades and lights.

Wi-Fi Remote – The Savant Remote, which was previously solely Bluetooth, will now have a companion model with Wi-Fi capability. The existing 8.x remote will stay on the market at a $500 price point while the Wi-Fi version will be $800.

“These are pretty exciting products we have put together,” adds Madonna humbly.

See a few of these new products here.



  About the Author

Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]

Follow Jason on social media:

Jason also participates in these groups:
LinkedIn · Google+

View Jason Knott's complete profile.



  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Lighting · Motorized Shades · Whole House Control · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · Multiroom Video · AV Matrix Switchers · News · Media · Slideshow · Savant · All Topics
CE Pro Magazine

Not a Magazine Subscriber?
Subscribe Today...It's FREE!!

Comments

Posted by TotalControlRemotes on February 27, 2017

Savant does not a company like Apple to “hitch” off of.  Mr. Madonna is an incredible innovator with amazing vision.  Some of the things he has been working on since he left the company if you care to take a look have been ground breaking.  The fact that he is coming back is nothing but good news.  It is true that Savant had a period where it was searching for its identity, but I think that has been clearly defined an is back on track.  Only time will tell how the new products perform, but there is clearly a change in philosophy and optimism which I am glad to share in.

Posted by Master Remote on February 14, 2017

No problem Ibaltz.  I can agree to disagree with you.

Posted by lbaltz on February 14, 2017

Master Remote, we have obviously had different experiences so probably best to agree to disagree.  All the best in the future.
LB

Posted by Master Remote on February 14, 2017

The follow up comments to this seem like planted reviews of bad restaurants.  Timing is everything in the technology industry.  Ibaltz since you referenced me directly if you have been involved with Savant since 2007 you will know better than anyone this isn’t just about a mass market remote control misstep.  If the ipad hadn’t come out in 2010 Savant would be gone.  They were selling TP’s with Mac’s as back end servers which every one failed.  Every single one!  Then it was remotes with iPods in them which every single one failed.  Phone systems that couldn’t dial 911, software releases that broke peoples systems from basic functions inducing more truck rolls.  This was not the promise given when Savant launched.  Instead of fixing these issues and becoming an easier company to do business with they introduced the worst licensing scheme to generate revenue from thin air all the while not having products that were anywhere near competitive in the marketplace.  Then the grand daddy of them all, lighting control.  Purchase one of the worst companies out there and force your reps and dealers to sell it while alienating good partners like Lutron only to crawl back to them for help after they realized they sucked at software development for lighting control.  So, with the latest announcements we have TP’s again(we know how that went last time) Energy Monitoring/management(how did that go for everyone last time?) 8.3 to fix all the issues with the 7.0, .1, .2 then 8.0, 8.1, 8.2 etc.  Then jump in to the shading business to again slap the face of the partner they just asked to save them from themselves and lighting control.  Our industry deserves better.  And, thankfully there is better choices for both dealers and the consumers they serve.

Posted by lbaltz on February 14, 2017

I agree with all of the comments above with the exception of Master Remote’s post.

Our team is very excited by the new road map and we’re looking forward to working with Bob Madonna again.  We completed our first Savant training in the fall of 2007 and we haven’t looked back.  Were we happy with loss of focus on the CI Channel? No, but that is now behind us.

I didn’t hear Bob blaming anyone in the interview above and if Master Remote truly believes the Savant Remote/Host (which will be programmable with Blue Print in 8.3) will be the same as the brands he mentioned above, I guess he’ll just have to wait and see. Lutron, Nest and Ecobee are not comparable home control systems and writing Apple off is just a bit premature (probably, more than a bit).

I’m betting we’ll have long forgotten the Savant’s one major misstep (Savant Remote 1.X) by this time next year.

Posted by wavedesigns on February 14, 2017

How do you sell a luxury control system? Is it a departure from your client’s current lifestyle? Have they had a universal remote before?  Have they spent a large sum of money on a big promise in the past? And how do they feel about those things today? I have built the second era of my business on answering all those questions.  I have time and time again painted a picture of what a family can do when we get done with your project… Since partnering with Savant in 2009, I am yet to break that promise.  There have been hiccups, there have been bumps, yes.  But there has not been a company, and a staff, and an owner that I am yet to deal with in any of my manufacture partners that has been there to innovate, fix, re-engineer, re-code and most of all, listen to the things that us dealers say that we need. 

Bob coming back to many of us like seeing you favorite band getting back together, and now you get to watch them do it all over again.  All of the products they showed at the conference where total hits.  The man and the vision are back again.  Did we all tell you yet that we missed you?

Also, the best part of all of this is we get to program all of them on one of the most truly awesome pieces of software ever written.  Blueprint is so far ahead of the game in so many ways. It looks and works better than anything else on the market.

Those of us that were there couldn’t be more excited again for the future.  The CI world welcomes you back Bob!!!  We’re all glad to have you back!! Everything looks awesome, let’s shake up the world again.

Clint Bright
WAVE Designs, Seattle, WA

Posted by briang atlanticsmart.com on February 14, 2017

It has been nothing less than excitement around the Savant community with Bob back at the helm.  As a whole here at AST, we have encountered amazing success with the Savant platform for about eight years now.  I will admit that most of the longtime dealers were really struggling to understand what the direction was over the last two years.  The frustration of the company loosing touch with the voice of its dealers and the attempt to bring a DIY piece to market was challenging to understand.  So it was a relief to hear the company admit its shortcomings and even more shocking to see the owner stand on stage in front of his dealer base and actually be honest.  That is when we all knew Bob was really back!!

Moving forward, I don’t think I have seen a company in any industry move so quickly.  The amount of new products and software that are set up for the future roadmap is very reassuring.  It is exciting to have Bob’s vision back running this ship.  I think the entire room at last month’s dealer conference was happy to hear the goal of this company is to leave the DIY products to the DIY market and Savant’s future is to be the best in the luxury automation/control marketplace.  It really sounds like they are getting back to their roots and listening to the dealers again.  It truly is refreshing to see the drive of an entire staff focused on the same goal.  It takes a great leader to get the whole team to follow a vision. 

If Savant can keep up this pace, the future of the company is going to leave others wondering what happened.  I am glad to be part of the team and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Brian Grimo
Atlantic Smart Technologies

Posted by KevinRoach on February 13, 2017

I look forward to Savant taking back the luxury market space with a refocused product road map and leadership team that listens to it’s dealers, as Savant has always done in the past. No other home automation system gives the end user the ability to customize their experience like Savant does with the intuitive, elegant, and smart Savant 8.3 app.  I look forward to seeing Bob Madonna’s vision and leadership guide the next several years of technology innovation, customer experience and ultimately healthy profitability for my business!
Kevin Roach
SES Design Group

Posted by Spencer on February 13, 2017

I find this interview to be a breath of fresh air in our space. Refocusing the strategy on the luxury segment as opposed to the ever shifting consumer landscape is exactly what was in order. I would equate this strategy to the auto manufacturers pivoting to high margin SUV models and Hybrids. Why build the loss leader compact car if you don’t have to? Great array of products on the way at first glance. Given the engineering prowess of the parties involved, I have no doubt that we will see Savant as the choice solution for luxury buyers as the competitors struggle to chase every cloud to cloud feature of the day. As long as the ease deployment and reliability remain paramount, they have a bright future ahead.

Posted by Navot on February 13, 2017

My company, Spire integrated systems, have installed maintained and serviced many control systems over the years, i have seen the good and bad in every single one of them. i have seen every control company take the mass market approach and fail. Unfortunately Savant with the help of KKR took that same road as Crestron Adagio,AMX home and other failed platforms, go for the low end market and like others it failed. Savant old approach, and now with Bob’s return their only approach, is to aim at the Luxury market with product and services that fit our clients.
Focus is a difficult trait to maintain and sometimes loosing it for awhile gets you in enough pain to never do that again. 

The new Savant 8.3 release and slew of new products will move savant back to it׳s roots as a powerful and reliable product that let’s end user create their own experience and not be bother by programing charges and buggy “code”.

My only suggestion is for Savant to be more open to outside cooperation with vendors in our space. You can’t always be the best at everything.

We all make mistakes, true leaders like, Bob Madonna, was willing to stand in front of 500 of his dealers admit his mistakes and show a way forward. Plus he has the attitude of “i’ll show you” that will take this company in the right direction. 

Good luck and ” stay thirsty my friend”

Navot Shoresh
Spire integrated systems Inc.

View all comments.

Posted by Master Remote on February 13, 2017

This is such a typical response from Savant. It is not us it is them. The market wasn’t ready…

It is a remote. The same item that Logitech, URC and others have been selling for years.  It is also laughable regarding the cloud excuse. Others like Lutron, nest, ecobee etc have all figured this out but Savant can not. That is the simple truth. It is a sad reality when you realize your platform is not relevant or necessary. In 2010 the world was Savants oyster. Hubris and a difficult to work with platform got them where they are today. Not a counsumer unable to use their “incredibly advanced” remote. Take one look at the consumer reviews on bestbuy.com. It simply didn’t work, not that it has cloud limitations or was too advanced. All the best integrators have moved on and these new products won’t bring them back to a glory day. That time has passed. There isn’t a company like Apple to hitch the wagon to this time around.  Stick a fork in it. It’s done.

Posted by Navot on February 13, 2017

My company, Spire integrated systems, have installed maintained and serviced many control systems over the years, i have seen the good and bad in every single one of them. i have seen every control company take the mass market approach and fail. Unfortunately Savant with the help of KKR took that same road as Crestron Adagio,AMX home and other failed platforms, go for the low end market and like others it failed. Savant old approach, and now with Bob’s return their only approach, is to aim at the Luxury market with product and services that fit our clients.
Focus is a difficult trait to maintain and sometimes loosing it for awhile gets you in enough pain to never do that again. 

The new Savant 8.3 release and slew of new products will move savant back to it׳s roots as a powerful and reliable product that let’s end user create their own experience and not be bother by programing charges and buggy “code”.

My only suggestion is for Savant to be more open to outside cooperation with vendors in our space. You can’t always be the best at everything.

We all make mistakes, true leaders like, Bob Madonna, was willing to stand in front of 500 of his dealers admit his mistakes and show a way forward. Plus he has the attitude of “i’ll show you” that will take this company in the right direction. 

Good luck and ” stay thirsty my friend”

Navot Shoresh
Spire integrated systems Inc.

Posted by Spencer on February 13, 2017

I find this interview to be a breath of fresh air in our space. Refocusing the strategy on the luxury segment as opposed to the ever shifting consumer landscape is exactly what was in order. I would equate this strategy to the auto manufacturers pivoting to high margin SUV models and Hybrids. Why build the loss leader compact car if you don’t have to? Great array of products on the way at first glance. Given the engineering prowess of the parties involved, I have no doubt that we will see Savant as the choice solution for luxury buyers as the competitors struggle to chase every cloud to cloud feature of the day. As long as the ease deployment and reliability remain paramount, they have a bright future ahead.

Posted by KevinRoach on February 13, 2017

I look forward to Savant taking back the luxury market space with a refocused product road map and leadership team that listens to it’s dealers, as Savant has always done in the past. No other home automation system gives the end user the ability to customize their experience like Savant does with the intuitive, elegant, and smart Savant 8.3 app.  I look forward to seeing Bob Madonna’s vision and leadership guide the next several years of technology innovation, customer experience and ultimately healthy profitability for my business!
Kevin Roach
SES Design Group

Posted by briang atlanticsmart.com on February 14, 2017

It has been nothing less than excitement around the Savant community with Bob back at the helm.  As a whole here at AST, we have encountered amazing success with the Savant platform for about eight years now.  I will admit that most of the longtime dealers were really struggling to understand what the direction was over the last two years.  The frustration of the company loosing touch with the voice of its dealers and the attempt to bring a DIY piece to market was challenging to understand.  So it was a relief to hear the company admit its shortcomings and even more shocking to see the owner stand on stage in front of his dealer base and actually be honest.  That is when we all knew Bob was really back!!

Moving forward, I don’t think I have seen a company in any industry move so quickly.  The amount of new products and software that are set up for the future roadmap is very reassuring.  It is exciting to have Bob’s vision back running this ship.  I think the entire room at last month’s dealer conference was happy to hear the goal of this company is to leave the DIY products to the DIY market and Savant’s future is to be the best in the luxury automation/control marketplace.  It really sounds like they are getting back to their roots and listening to the dealers again.  It truly is refreshing to see the drive of an entire staff focused on the same goal.  It takes a great leader to get the whole team to follow a vision. 

If Savant can keep up this pace, the future of the company is going to leave others wondering what happened.  I am glad to be part of the team and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Brian Grimo
Atlantic Smart Technologies

Posted by wavedesigns on February 14, 2017

How do you sell a luxury control system? Is it a departure from your client’s current lifestyle? Have they had a universal remote before?  Have they spent a large sum of money on a big promise in the past? And how do they feel about those things today? I have built the second era of my business on answering all those questions.  I have time and time again painted a picture of what a family can do when we get done with your project… Since partnering with Savant in 2009, I am yet to break that promise.  There have been hiccups, there have been bumps, yes.  But there has not been a company, and a staff, and an owner that I am yet to deal with in any of my manufacture partners that has been there to innovate, fix, re-engineer, re-code and most of all, listen to the things that us dealers say that we need. 

Bob coming back to many of us like seeing you favorite band getting back together, and now you get to watch them do it all over again.  All of the products they showed at the conference where total hits.  The man and the vision are back again.  Did we all tell you yet that we missed you?

Also, the best part of all of this is we get to program all of them on one of the most truly awesome pieces of software ever written.  Blueprint is so far ahead of the game in so many ways. It looks and works better than anything else on the market.

Those of us that were there couldn’t be more excited again for the future.  The CI world welcomes you back Bob!!!  We’re all glad to have you back!! Everything looks awesome, let’s shake up the world again.

Clint Bright
WAVE Designs, Seattle, WA

Posted by lbaltz on February 14, 2017

I agree with all of the comments above with the exception of Master Remote’s post.

Our team is very excited by the new road map and we’re looking forward to working with Bob Madonna again.  We completed our first Savant training in the fall of 2007 and we haven’t looked back.  Were we happy with loss of focus on the CI Channel? No, but that is now behind us.

I didn’t hear Bob blaming anyone in the interview above and if Master Remote truly believes the Savant Remote/Host (which will be programmable with Blue Print in 8.3) will be the same as the brands he mentioned above, I guess he’ll just have to wait and see. Lutron, Nest and Ecobee are not comparable home control systems and writing Apple off is just a bit premature (probably, more than a bit).

I’m betting we’ll have long forgotten the Savant’s one major misstep (Savant Remote 1.X) by this time next year.

Posted by Master Remote on February 14, 2017

The follow up comments to this seem like planted reviews of bad restaurants.  Timing is everything in the technology industry.  Ibaltz since you referenced me directly if you have been involved with Savant since 2007 you will know better than anyone this isn’t just about a mass market remote control misstep.  If the ipad hadn’t come out in 2010 Savant would be gone.  They were selling TP’s with Mac’s as back end servers which every one failed.  Every single one!  Then it was remotes with iPods in them which every single one failed.  Phone systems that couldn’t dial 911, software releases that broke peoples systems from basic functions inducing more truck rolls.  This was not the promise given when Savant launched.  Instead of fixing these issues and becoming an easier company to do business with they introduced the worst licensing scheme to generate revenue from thin air all the while not having products that were anywhere near competitive in the marketplace.  Then the grand daddy of them all, lighting control.  Purchase one of the worst companies out there and force your reps and dealers to sell it while alienating good partners like Lutron only to crawl back to them for help after they realized they sucked at software development for lighting control.  So, with the latest announcements we have TP’s again(we know how that went last time) Energy Monitoring/management(how did that go for everyone last time?) 8.3 to fix all the issues with the 7.0, .1, .2 then 8.0, 8.1, 8.2 etc.  Then jump in to the shading business to again slap the face of the partner they just asked to save them from themselves and lighting control.  Our industry deserves better.  And, thankfully there is better choices for both dealers and the consumers they serve.

Posted by lbaltz on February 14, 2017

Master Remote, we have obviously had different experiences so probably best to agree to disagree.  All the best in the future.
LB

Posted by Master Remote on February 14, 2017

No problem Ibaltz.  I can agree to disagree with you.

View all comments.