Zonoff, once a promising SHaaS (smart home as a service) provider, abruptly shut its doors earlier this month, reportedly after a proposed acquisition by Honeywell fell through at the 11th hour. Ring, the popular provider of smart video doorbells, swooped in and hired the entire Zonoff team – all 75 of them including former CEO Mike Harris – within three days of Honeywell’s last-minute snub.
“We get to hire some amazing people,” says Ring founder James (Jamie) Siminoff. “We’re super-excited to work with a team of people we respect.”
As he and Harris tell it – without naming Honeywell or any other outside forces – Zonoff suddenly imploded and was all set to disperse when Ring stepped in.
As long-time industry friends, Siminoff and Harris quickly planned to set up an office near Zonoff’s Philadelphia-area headquarters and keep the entire Zonoff team.
“He really moved incredibly fast,” Harris says. “We went from a face-to-face meeting to everybody on the team being offered a position within 36 hours.”
And when Harris says “everybody,” he means “literally, 100% of the team,” from the most senior executives to HR, product development and quality assurance.
Harris is president of the new Philly-based division called Ring Solutions, and “the roles kind of stay the same” for everyone else.
He explains, “Ring didn’t do any deal with Zonoff; we’re employees.”
That means Ring doesn’t acquire any Zonoff IP, but it acquires the entire team that created the platform in the first place.
Of course, it also means that Ring escapes any patent-infringement claims against Zonoff, namely, the one filed by Icontrol (now part of Alarm.com) in 2014, and still pending.
For his part, Siminoff doesn’t need the “assets” of Zonoff, except for the human resource variety.
“The people are the asset,” he says. “I can’t do what they did, not even with money, or just by hiring a bunch of people. You can’t just do that.”
Just ask Google/Nest, which acquired Revolv in 2014 strictly for the engineering talent. They shut down the products and killed the other Revolv assets.
Siminoff is effusive about Ring’s gain in all of this: “What we got out of this was this unicorn of a team. My money can’t even reproduce it. They have knowledge. I wouldn’t even know who to hire.”
He explains that Ring has been completely focused on “very individual products” over the past couple of years. 2017 was to be “the start of integrations, playing well with others.”
To do that, Ring needs to be “more of a platform,” he says. “Now we have a bunch of the best people in the world at that. That will really speed us up.”
Indeed, Zonoff currently integrates with more than 100 different products and services. The company was/is the SHaaS provider for Somfy Tahoma, Staples Connect, LG Smart Security, and Dixons’ Connected World Services.
Ring has been trying to create an integration-platform on its own, but “now it looks embarrassing how we’ve done it in the past,” Siminoff concedes. “Now I see how it’s really done. We would’ve just hacked around with it.”
About that intellectual property thing
Since it didn’t acquire Zonoff, Ring won’t be party to Icontrol’s patent-infringement claims. But the company will have to tiptoe around those patents as the original team reinvents the Zonoff platform.
Today, much of the important SHaaS IP is concentrated in the hands of just a handful of interrelated companies: Alarm.com (with Icontrol), Honeywell, ADT and Comcast/Xfinity. (More details here.)
Does that worry Siminoff? Not really. The patents in question are primarily focused on cloud-based integration of professionally monitored security systems and home automation.
“We don’t fall into that category,” Siminoff says.
Even so, he explains, “I don’t back out of a market because of a fight. I’m a fighter. I never liked bullies.”
To be sure, Ring has the financial wherewithal for a fight. The company has raised some $200 million in the past year.
“We’re now building the best cameras, the best doorbells,” Siminoff says. “Now we can tie it all into an ecosystem. I have the budget and now the expertise.”
Is the Ring deal bad for the industry?
Without a doubt, “the real winner here is Ring,” says IoT consultant Avi Rosenthal.
He suggests, however, that Ring's wholesale hiring of the Zonoff crew is bad for the smart-home industry in general.
“Ring gets to keep the brain trust that was Zonoff, instead of the industry benefitting from the disbursement of the talent,” Rosenthal says. “I have clients that would be very interested in hiring these people.”
Ring does win, but it’s a sad day for Zonoff and the original team, which includes shareholders that won’t reap the financial rewards they strived for.
“It’s bittersweet,” Siminoff says. “I’m not going to gloat.”
Read the complete story: The demise of Zonoff