Are You Afraid of Automation Startups?

Hopefully, Colorado vNet's issues won't put CE pros off automation start-ups. That would be bad.

Julie Jacobson · November 10, 2009

Colorado vNet’s closure, and subsequent acquisition by Russound, has led CE pros to wonder if they should do business with home-control startups.

The debate rages with 65 comments and counting across several of our vNet stories.

They are concerned — and they should be — that:

  • Their inventory is worthless
  • Work in progress is a complete write-off
  • Existing installations must be built from scratch as soon as a single controller fails

Some industry folks suggest never doing business with newcomers; others say never do business with VC-funded companies.

So, assuming vNet does not pull out of this, should they decide to only do business with established home control companies?

All Companies Were Once Startups

Home control is a special category in the custom electronics business. If a speaker manufacturer or structured-wiring vendor shuts down, no biggie. But if a company with proprietary light switches, wiring topology and controllers drops out, you and your customers may be doomed.

But the answer is not to shun start-ups.

Every home control vendor was a startup at some point. And for the most part we’re still left with the original five: AMX, Crestron, Elan, HAI and Vantage (plus LiteTouch and Lutron for lighting control). We can count Control4 and HomeLogic as perhaps the only two success stories in the 15 years I’ve been covering this industry. Remote-control vendors Philips (Pronto), RTI and URC are getting there.

That’s not enough. On, “B” writes, “It is funny how everyone rags on Crestron and AMX but they are still kicking.”

“Zyg” replies that his investors “specifically instructed my organization to seek out alternatives to the big two in automation. To put it frankly, they are sick of being force-fed AMX and Crestron.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with the “big two” — they are successful for a reason — but the industry needs choice. That won’t happen if integrators never take a chance.

Take a Chance on a Newcomer

Might I suggest taking such chances on newcomers that use more standards-based solutions and conventional wiring topologies? In such cases, your inventories and existing installs will be less worthless than those with proprietary solutions. You might be able to repurpose PC/Mac-based interfaces and hubs, for example. Many ZigBee Pro- and Z-Wave-enabled light switches, thermostats and remotes can be used with multiple controllers.

There are a good five or six established home automation vendors that rely on flexible standards-based products and architectures. They just don’t have a large following among custom installers.

If you’re looking for something “new,” take a look at Charmed Quark, Cinemar, HomeSeer, JDS Technologies, Promixis and Stardraw. With a combined 53 years in the home control business, these companies offer standards-based solutions and rich, customizable controllers.

If they go out of business, you’re still left with usable hardware and software.

NOTE: Are you wondering why I didn’t mention Savant among the successful startups? My threshold is three years of solid achievement and a critical mass of dealers. Savant is, of course, headed in that direction.—JJ

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

Blogs · AMX · Charmed Quark · Cinemar · Colorado vNet · Crestron · Elan · All Topics
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