When a product with new technologies is announced, whether it will be welcomed into the market strongly depends on whether it gets attention from the demographic known as “early adopters.” In order to capture the hearts of this so-called “neophile” demographic that is sensitive to trends, you have to incorporate appeal geared toward “geeks” in your product.
By “geeks” here, however, exactly what kind of people do we have in mind? What is their age distribution? Their family makeup? As opposed to the Japanese word “otaku (geek)” which often presumes single men, “geek” is nothing more than a word that refers to a special inclination to have a depth of knowledge regarding a certain niche area.
In this feature, the BRAIN PORTAL Editorial Department covers SevenHugs, a smart home IoT firm from France. After engaging in mass production and sales of its sleep-aid IoT device, hugOne, in 2015, the company is currently developing the world’s first contextual remote control: the Smart Remote.
While CEO Simon Tchedikian is a self-proclaimed geek on one hand, he is also a father of two. We spoke with Mr. Tchedikian about what the future of smart homes he proposes is like and about the intersection between technology and family.
A UX design that cuts back on complexity
−− So you had worked in the area of semiconductors in your previous job, right? Can you tell us the details leading up to you leaving that job and founding SevenHugs in 2014?
Simon Tchedikian (below, “Tchedikian”):
I have known the founding members when all is said and done for over 10 years from my time at my previous job. In the semiconductor industry, several hundred engineers work over long periods of time to create just a single chip set, but since it was all about just the internals of products, it was practically impossible to express all the user experiences and designs that you yourself wanted to go after.
However, what the members including myself really wanted to express was an experience that would allow for any and all technologies around the world to be used in a straightforward manner at home. That is, we wanted to create a moment that would allow people to really get a sense that technology had indeed improved their QOL (“quality of life”) via a product that could easily be taken up not only by geeks, but also by people who are not sensitive to information in the area of IoT, or for that matter, even children.
—— So the reason both hugOne and Smart Remote are strongly family-oriented products has to do with this background. By the way, was SevenHugs founded at the time the concept for your first product, hugOne, had advanced to a certain extent?
Tchedikian: No, what got us moving down the road to start a business was coming up with the Smart Remote rather than hugOne. However, I knew that this product would require more funding and a longer research and development period, so in order to develop a product amid shorter time constants, we first began researching indoor air conditioning. It was then that we realized that there were a great deal of people who had concerns about the air indoors, but it had not led to products being purchased.
So we gave up on developing a product concerning air conditioning at that point, and hugOne came about when we shifted gears instead to a product that revolved around improving sleep.
—— While there are existing solutions leveraging smartphone apps to improve sleep, what was the reason for hugOne being developed as hardware?
Tchedikian: Tracking your sleeping conditions using a smartphone app creates an extra cumbersome hassle of starting up your smartphone every night before going to sleep, launching the app, and placing it at the base of your pillow. That cannot induce sound sleep in a smart manner.
With hugOne, aiming for improved sleep without such stress is something that we kept in mind from the beginning. Just by placing a small, specialized sensor under the sheets, it tracks the sleeping conditions of all family members sleeping in different rooms, and on top of that, it also allows for monitoring the temperature, humidity, and air quality in the room. If you connect it to a smart bulb or thermostat, it automatically adjusts the lighting and temperature in a room for comfortable sleep.
I think that anyone having the ability to control such complex tasks using just a single device is precisely the moment when smart technology really demonstrates its true potential.
—— So the product design of the Smart Remote is the result of thoroughly hammering out that view of technology.
Tchedikian: Precisely. Smart homes are such a rapidly growing market that the industry as a whole is expected to reach the scale of $28 billion dollars in revenues in 2019; however, as a variety of smart household appliances such as smart bulbs and smart locks continue to increase moving forward, there is not yet an established way to control these appliances all together. Right now, it is standard to use mobile apps as a means to control IoT products. However, there is the hassle every time of starting up a smartphone with a number of apps installed, searching through the phone for the apps linked to each of the individual devices, and launching the apps…. If you consider that this hassle is going to swell as the amount of IoT products rises, then technology, on the contrary, ends up increasing the original issues that should be solved.
The concept at the core of the Smart Remote is to be “a controller that centralizes the controls which have become cumbersome as the result of the increase in smart home products.” Just by registering which device is in the direction the controller is pointed in using indoor GPS, you can control everything with a single Smart Remote, from adjusting the brightness of lighting, to adjusting the volume of TVs and speakers, all the way to adjusting the temperature of a room.
Lessons from mass production
—— In the two years since starting the business, you have shown rapid expansion with the mass production and sales of hugOne and the development of the Smart Remote on top of that. Can you tell us what factors made this possible?
Tchedikian: We had a wealth of experience in the fields of electronics and software, and it was a strength of ours that we were able to promptly select product components that were suited to mass production. That, and there is a huge network of hardware startups in France, and it was well-known in that neighborhood that a lack of knowledge on electronics posed a hurdle to mass production.
Any startup would use a platform like Arduino and development would proceed smoothly until the prototype phase. But then, since they cannot just carry that design over into mass production as-is, they would lapse into this situation where it would cost them a great deal of time to eventually rework the design and rewrite the software.
—— So the SevenHugs team avoided such a situation by leveraging their experience from previous positions. Having experienced mass production and sales, is there any advice aside from that which you would want to give to subsequent IoT startups?
Tchedikian: With the development of hugOne, the battery inside the device created interference with the wireless antenna that covered a wide range and the antenna stopped functioning properly, so we suddenly ended up looking for a partner to rework the design of the antenna section. So, if you are a team thinking about using wireless sensors in your product, I think you should work alongside an expert on antennas including Wi-fi and Bluetooth from the design stage.
This is the same with respect to other parts as well. If subtle revisions crop up after reaching the final design, it throws your whole schedule way off. Having overcome that kind of difficulty, our team can approach the development of the Smart Remote with confidence, but bringing in a member with mass production experience on the team from the initial design stages is ideal for startups that are taking on mass production for the first time.
—— That was very helpful advice. Thank you for today!
Regardless of how much technology progresses, for people living under one roof, the fact that household appliances demonstrate their true value when shared by all members of a family rather than just satisfying one single user will not change.
“The three members who participated in founding SevenHugs are each fathers with families, and the three of us have a combined seven children. Since we give each one of our children a hug before going to sleep, which makes for a total of seven hugs, we named the company SevenHugs.”
Even from this story, you get a sense of the passion of SevenHugs as it shoots for a future where smart home technologies are shared regardless of generation.
As Mr. Tchedikian says: “There are many people in Japan who are family-oriented and prefer simplicity (less is more), so I feel that it is an extremely attractive market.” We look forward to the day that future comes to Japan.