SHaaS Provider Zonoff Raises $31.8M; Hires Staples Home Automation Exec
Zonoff, the SHaaS (smart home as a service) provider for Staples Connect, has raised nearly $32M in round B of strategic & venture funding. Co. hires Peter Gerstberger, former home automation leader for Staples.
The Malvern, Pa.-based company, which also powers the Somfy Tahoma home automation system, has raised $35.6 million in total (Series A funding occurred in 2013, led by Valhalla Partners and Grotech Ventures).
Zonoff CEO Mike Harris tells me he’s pleased with the funding round, which is “particularly good for a software company that doesn’t make hardware and has no consumer brand recognition.”
He’s not divulging the strategic investors but says that there are “commercial agreements” in place and we should see some “pretty significant deals” in 2015.
He also says that there are a “ton of other interesting channels out there” beyond retail and the funding will allow Zonoff to “finally really go after that.”
The money also will help Zonoff to expand internationally.
Besides Somfy, which pushes the Tahoma system primarily through its channel of window-treatment dealers, Staples is the only other customer Zonoff has announced.
Today, Zonoff mostly competes with SHaaS (smart home as a service) providers Alarm.com (powering multiple security/home automation systems) and Icontrol (powering systems from ADT and the cable companies). Lowe’s Iris currently uses a platform from Alertme. AT&T Digital Life has its own thing going with Cisco. Wink, sold through Home Depot, has its own service.
Look out for Greenwave Systems (formerly Greenwave Reality), as well as Apple HomeKit and the Nest cloud-to-cloud ecosystem. Other cloud-to-cloud solutions such as IFTTT pose a threat.
In August of this year, Staples took its Zonoff-powered Connect home automation system to 550 U.S. stores, or roughly half of its locations. In those shops, Staples Connect has 16 linear feet of space “right in front of the store,” Harris says.
I have to take his word for it because I’ve tried about five or six Staples lately and none of them knew anything about Connect. He gave me a location to try, which is on my to-do list this weekend.
Staples, which is battling Lowe’s Iris in the my-hub-has-more-protocols-than-yours contest, just started shipping its version 2 hub, this one from D-Link (the original was from Linksys).
With the new hub widely available, says Harris, “Staples is now in the position they feel they can really promote the product.”
There has been a “huge lift” in education about the product, with Staples running a half- or full-page Connect ad in every Sunday circular. Currently, Staples is running a special for a free D-Link Hub (reg. $80) with the purchase of two Staples Connect-compatible devices retailing for $29.99 or more. Attachments run $50 for a Z-Wave motion detector and $55 for an appliance module—slightly more expensive than most.
On the technology side, Zonoff is exploring more use cases with wearables, as well as context awareness (one of our Top 5 Home Tech 2015 picks), or the “intuitive home,” Harris says: “You’ll see with our platform a lot more recommendations, based on [system] observations rather than having to program.”
He adds, “It’s easy enough to program, but people don’t know what’s available. The system might recommend, ‘Here’s a use case, do you think it’s interesting?’”
Zonoff Hires Staples Connect Guy
Zonoff recently hired Peter Gerstberger, who oversaw the launch of home automation at Staples. He joins the company as VP and general manager in charge of retail initiatives for Zonoff.
Gerstberger joined Staples in 2003 in the merchant training program, working his way up to director of new business development, where he led Staples’ foray into home automation. He’s been a regular in the smart-home speaker circuit, recently joining an IoT (Internet of Things) panel discussion at Parks Associates Connections.
Harris says he was somewhat conflicted about yanking Gerstberger from Zonoff’s first and currently only retail partner, but “he [Gerstberger] was really looking to find an entrepreneurial-type opportunity.”
In any case, Staples Connect was only one of Gerstberger’s jobs as a biz-dev exec. He worked on 3D printing and other business opportunities for Staples.
Staples Connect is way into launch mode, so it will move into a more traditional part of the retailer’s organization.
Now, on to more fun stuff.
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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 email@example.com
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