This week on the IoT For All Podcast, Konnected Founder Nate Clark joins us to talk DIY IoT solutions, specifically in the home and commercial security space, and how consumers are taking advantage of DIY offerings to build infinitely customizable solutions to suit their own needs. Nate shares why DIY solutions can be so appealing, how Konnected has approached the task of educating the market and empowering users to build their own solutions, and where he thinks the security landscape is going.
Through his software development background, Nate discovered an opportunity in his own rental apartment to upgrade an unused security system. Since then, he’s been building solutions to bring affordable IoT solutions to all consumers through Konnected.
Interested in connecting with Nate Clark? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About Konnected: Konnected is an open-source solution for connecting wired sensors and switches to home automation platforms including SmartThings, Home Assistant, Hubitat & OpenHAB.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(0:55) Intro to Nate Clark
(2:42) Intro to Konnected
(5:45) Why do consumers choose DIY IoT solutions over pre-built ones?
(7:47) Are there any commercial use cases?
(10:14) What kind of know-how is required to use these kinds of products?
(12:33) Relationship with SmartThings
(14:19) DIY Security Landscape in IoT
(18:09) How do you approach the intimidating nature of DIY solutions like this?
(22:15) What does the future of smart security look like?
– [Announcer] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of the IoT For All podcast on the IoT For All Media Network. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, one of the co-creators of IoT For All. Now, before we jump into this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or join our newsletter at iotforall.com/newsletter to catch all the newest episodes as soon as they come out. Before we get started, if any of you out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor leverages IoT solutions development platform, which provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com, that’s iotchangeseverything.com. So without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast. Welcome, Nate to the IoT For All show, thanks for being here this week.
– [Nate] Thank you. Thanks for inviting me on.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I’m excited to talk about this topic. Let’s start out by having you give a quick introduction to our audience. Tell a little bit more about you, your background experience, kinda how you got into this space and we’ll go from there.
– [Nate] Yeah, sure. So my name is Nate Clark. I’m 40 years old, I worked in a tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area for a good chunk of my career. And so my background is mostly in software development and building web applications, and a little bit of mobile applications, and things like that for about 10 or 15 years. Towards the end of my time in San Francisco, it turned out to be the end of my time in San Francisco. I had a problem that I wanted to solve for myself which was that I was living in a house that had an old wired alarm system and it was a rental, and the landlord was like, I don’t know how to work that thing. So he’s like, do whatever you want with it. Which to me was, I was licensed to do whatever I want with it, which I did. So I tried to take it apart and figure out what was going on, how those things worked and realized that the wired sensors in the home were still perfectly functional, even though the alarm system itself was more or less obsolete. And it was basically, just a project for myself that I wanted to be able to monitor the sensors with a smart home app. And at the time I was using SmartThings which is a Samsung product and it already has a really nice built in security system app. And so that was the goal of mine was to connect those wired sensors to SmartThings so that I could monitor and control my home alarm system through the SmartThings app. And that’s basically, how Konnected was born.
– [Ryan] So talk me through kind of, how you went from using the SmartThings to connect your alarm system to building your own solution and kinda what the difference is there from kinda, I guess, current offerings in the market for turning old alarm systems, security systems into kind of a smart security system?
– [Nate] Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, the bulk of the DIY security industry is mostly focused on wireless things, wireless sensors and kind of an alarm system in a box. Some of the established competitors in that space would be Simpli Safe and Ring, and you can buy the alarm system in a box, and it comes with a few sensors that you stick up against the doors and the motion sensor, and things like that. And that’s great because it’s simple and easy for the end user to install but there are 30 or 40 million homes in North America that are pre-wired for alarm systems. They have the door and the window sensors already built into the door frames and a motion sensor in the living room. It’s hard to know exactly but we estimate that at least half of these are basically out of use because the alarm industry hasn’t really evolved too much in the last 10 or 20 years. And you still have the key pad on the wall, and you have to remember to arm and disarm it when you leave the house, and that doesn’t necessarily fit the app based lifestyle of today, and so the niche that I sort of fell into as I was kind of solving this problem for myself, was like, okay, what if we can build a smart device that can basically make the old wired alarm system, the old dumb wired alarm system smart. And nobody had really done that in a way that we approached it. There are a couple of other products that can interface within existing alarm system which is not exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to basically take those sensors themselves and the siren, and just make it a fully smart home based system. And the advantages of that are huge. Not only can you, of course monitor and control your security from a smart home app but also use all of those sensors for automation purposes too. I mean, of course you could go online and buy a Z-Wave motion sensor or door sensor but if it’s already wired in your house, then you never have to change the batteries, it’s super reliable, they tend to respond a lot faster, the wired sensors do then a wireless sensor and so the value proposition of being able to take your home with these half a dozen or more sensors that are more or less dumb and make them all smart and bring all of that into a smart home system is really, really valuable for the end user.
– [Ryan] I guess what’s the reason they would do that as opposed to buying just all the smart sensors and things that are on the market today, is it during a cost standpoint? Is there an ease of use standpoint? What are you seeing when you’re engaging with customers as to why they kind of go the Konnected route versus buying, Ring and those kinds of things and it kind of installing them from scratch?
– [Nate] Well, kind of what I just mentioned is if the wired sensors are already in your house and especially if your house is a little bit larger and you have a dozen or more of them which a lot of homes do. It definitely is a cost savings because our product, the Konnected alarm panel and the new Konnected alarm panel pro can support any number of sensors and a few sirens and the outputs, and things like that. It’s infinitely expandable. And to do that with wireless sensors would be a bit of an upfront investment and then also changing batteries every six months to a year to maintain that. And then if it is a large house you also have to worry about the wireless signal and interference and things like that. There’s also the reliability and just the aesthetic of the wired sensors, which are nearly invisible because they’re traditionally like drilled into the doorframes, so you don’t even see them there, the wireless ones kind of stick on the outside of the door frame and are a little bit less nice to look at. So there’s that. And I think in a lot of people’s mind, and it is true that the wire sensors tend to perform more reliably and are faster to respond than the wireless ones. All around, it’s a great value proposition to basically take something that’s already in your house and make it smarter and better and more useful than it ever was before, even when it was brand new.
– [Ryan] Now, let me ask, is there other potential use cases outside of just doing it in the home, like, what other kind of projects have you guys taken on outside of maybe individual homes, what about like, office buildings, schools, things like that. Do you have any kind of real use cases attached to larger operations outside of just an individual’s home?
– [Nate] Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve especially with the launch of our new alarm panel pro product, which connects via ethernet and support power over ethernet. We’ve had a growth in interest from commercial properties and some professional installers, and access security, and access control installers. A couple of interesting use cases, we have a client down in South Florida that’s building a high-end residential condominium unit and they have leak sensors built into the walls in each of the units. And these are basically like, when water contacts the leak sensor then it opens or closes a circuit. And so they were looking to use the Konnected alarm panel pro to monitor hundreds of leaks sensors into a central dashboard that the building management can then get an alert if there’s a leak in any of the units. I thought that was a really neat use case, it’s not necessarily security related. We also have a school district in Northern California that is interested in and have started converting some of their old 20 year old Bosch security systems over to Konnected because in a traditional sense, commercial buildings, security is something that’s sort of owned by the facilities team and the IT team may be completely separate from security but those lines are blurring and blending more and more every day. And in this particular school district with a small staff they don’t necessarily have a facilities team that to manage the security separately and their IT department has kind of assumed control of it. And they wanted something that was more adaptable and functional for an IT department. And so that they can manage alerts through their alerting system and dashboards, and things like that. And the Konnected alarm panel pro is a neat solution for them. So they’re also interested in as another non-residential use case that’s been really interesting for us.
– [Ryan] So what is the kinda learning curve for somebody that would buy one of your products and kinda install it in their home? For instance, let’s say you take a home that is kinda has their security system and their sensors are all wired in what kind of technology background understanding do people need to have in order to do this themselves, or is it something that is pretty seamless that almost anyone can do.
– [Nate] A lot of people can do it themselves with no problem. I mean, let’s be honest, like, we do have to do a little bit of work to understand ’cause everybody’s home is different, like which wire goes to which sensor and things like that. And the traditional security installers or whoever originally built your house or your alarm system likely didn’t label things very clearly. Some that’s usually the case that we find. And so it, it takes a little bit of planning to do it successfully but it’s not technically complex at all, and we get this feedback a lot that it looks intimidating from the get-go and I admit to that, it is ’cause you’re you’re going into your closet and you see this bundle of a dozen or more wires coming out of the wall. And you’re like, oh my gosh, I hope I’m doing this right. But I have, I have plenty of videos on YouTube and we have step-by-step guides. It’s really like a matter of just, if you take it one step at a time almost everybody is successful. And we had to have great customer support that can help you if you get stuck. But it’s really a matter of just taking the wires from the old system and in turn, moving them over to our board, or in some use cases, we also have a product called the Konnected alarm panel interface which lets you keep the old system and also have the smart home control from your SmartThings or your home assistant platform and connect them in parallel more or less. And that works great also, that’s a little bit more complex installation but the most of our use case, most of our residential users are replacing an existing alarm system. And it really is just a matter of taking it step by step and it’s pretty hard to mess up.
– [Ryan] Okay. And when you mentioned SmartThings, I know you have plenty of experience from before and then what led you to build Konnected. And then I read something, do you guys have some kind of partnership or certification process or program with them? Is there some kind of relationship you guys have with SmartThings?
– [Nate] Yes, so I’ve been working with the SmartThings platform and team for several years and we finally did, the SmartThings has evolved quite a bit in the last couple of years but we’ve finally received our official works with SmartThings partners certification, which is very exciting. And that just means that our integrations are officially supported by SmartThings and all you need is the app of the SmartThings app which is free to use it. Our SmartThings integration works through, directly through their cloud platforms. So you don’t even need the SmartThings hub anymore which I’ve come to understand is sort of scarce right now since they started outsourcing the hardware manufacturing to AO Tech but that’s a different story. And so, yeah, the works with SmartThings partnership has been really exciting for us and it just validates the idea that people want the control over the existing infrastructure in their house and to bring it into a modern and consumer oriented smart home platform, like SmartThings. And I actually, anecdotally have a number of acquaintances who worked for SmartThings who use Konnected in their own home, of course. So that’s really great validation for us, as well.
– [Ryan] Oh, absolutely. That’s fantastic. So talk to me a little bit more about just on a higher level the kind of DIY security space in general. I’m not very familiar with it. I know when it comes to IoT, your raspberry pies or do we knows, there’s tons of the maker community out there doing incredible things with these devices but just from your perspective, what does the DIY kind of landscape look like as it relates to the security space from your all’s perspective?
– [Nate] That’s a really good question. Well, I’m gonna leave out like, the makers right now because people who are really into building and making, and that’s essentially what I was and I created my own Frankenstein’s version of what became Konnected and decided to refine it into a product. Most makers kind of stop it at the walls of their own house but they’re gonna do what they want to do. And there’s a whole bunch of things that makers can do it with, your right like, raspberry pies and the ESP 32, and boards like that. But the DIY security space is a big and growing industry, and there’s sort of a battle or a cold war going on between the traditional security industry who are kinda resistant to change from their subscription-based or contract-based model to the DIY security systems like, coming out of the tech companies, for example like, Ring and Simpli Safe and things like that, which also are relying on some subscription revenue but they also have a functional app that most of the time that you can use without paying a subscription. I think there’s a lot of churn in the market right now in terms of the security, in terms of DIY security systems because especially in this year of COVID the traditional security companies may have not gotten so many new installs because people don’t want a technician coming in their house in these COVID times. And so DIY and smart home stuff in general, have exploded quite a bit in the last year. And we’ve seen that reflected in our sales as well, which was really interesting. I think the lines are blurring a lot between home security and home automation, and that’s a good thing. And it’s going to depend on which platforms that consumers really gravitate to whether it’s the kind of security oriented platforms like, Honeywell Total Connect, for example, or alarm.com. Those are the commercial products that the traditional security vendors are selling versus the consumer oriented platforms like, SmartThings or or Ring for example, or Chrome assistant which is an open source thing that you can build yourself. So I guess long story short it’s a battle right now and there’s lots of different approaches. And I think the lines are blurring a lot. And so you’re gonna see more security products that have home automation features and more home automation products that have security features. And pretty soon, there won’t be a distinction between the two of them.
– [Ryan] And when it comes to kind of any DIY type thing, I think there’s always this like, factor of intimidation on not being able to understand how to do it well. And we kind of already talked about this a little bit but how do you kinda, what are your thoughts there as far as any type of smart device or we can focus on smart security here for a second again, but how do you kind of address that intimidating nature of a DIY smart security solution in general when you’re either marketing a product or talking with customer, potential customers, that kind of thing.
– [Nate] Yeah. So a couple of things, well, one, we try to create a lot of high quality content whether it’s written or video content on YouTube that really shows what you can do and how to do it. And so that solves a lot, people can learn a lot from YouTube and really enjoy that channel of education. But what I’m even more excited about is like, as a small company we’re trying to build a network of dealers and installers around the country, and around the world who can act as that do it for me installer kind of, and there’s a growing industry that I’ve seen. And I’ve talked to dozens, if not hundreds of people like this who are either independent or small companies who are trying to make a living or build a business out of doing smart home installations and setups for individuals. And so we’re trying to partner with individuals like that and small companies like that because Konnected is not a platform in itself. Like some of our competitors are because we take the approach of we wanna work with the greatest platforms out there and that people want to give the consumer that control whether that’s SmartThings or Home Assistant or Hubitat which are most popular platforms. And we’re working on others, like, for example, direct Alexa and Google assistant integration which I’m really excited about because those are very popular, but there is a lot of choice and a lot of potential for confusion for somebody who’s not already decided that, oh, yes I’m gonna be a Home Assistant home or I’m gonna be a Hubitat home, for example. And so use, leveraging the expertise of like your local smart home installer company is I think an approach that so far been working out well for us.
– [Ryan] Yeah. We had a guest on from Mr. Electric. You know, electrician company that have different groups around franchises around the country and they have become kind of a local source for smart home installations. They kinda come into home, see a problem, and they can fix it, or they can upgrade you to ton to the smart side of things. And so that kind of approach is being seen as successful in other areas as well. So I totally get where you’re coming from. I think that the approach is spot on as from a strategic perspective, so that’s great.
– [Nate] And I guess I should add that Konnected really shines when you combine it with other smart home stuff. Like, for example, a simple automation is turn on the front porch light when the front door opens. And in order to accomplish that you would need either a smart light bulb or a smart switch, which your electrician or smart home guy, or you could install yourself. And then a door sensor on your front door which Konnected can obviously handle if you have that wired in. And so those types of synergies that when you install Konnected with lighting, for example, or a thermostat, for example, it really just creates more value. And that’s what the smart home do it for me installers can help a customer to understand and be successful.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Now I wonder as we wrap up here I wanna ask you kind of a broader question, but how do you see kind of the current smart security landscape? Let’s say, to just generally talking about the smart devices not let’s remove the DIY for a second and then mixing that back in with the DIY side, as you said, that’s a very big and growing area. How do you kind of see the future of smart security, where is it now and kinda where do you think it’s going let’s say 12 to 18 months and beyond that.
– Oh, wow. I wish I had a crystal ball and I could tell you. I think a lot of things are happening in the security industry in general. And one thing that’s industry wide that a lot of people are talking about is the sunset of 3G, which is happening, I think scheduled for 2022, but although they may have pushed it back. And the reason why that’s important is because a lot of security systems that were installed in the last 10 or 15 years have cellular communicators using 3G data to call into their monitoring station. And so those are all gonna all have to be changed out or upgraded in the next 12 to 18 months in order to, when 3G no longer works. So that’s kind of forcing the industry into selling products and services that have additional value other than security. I think that’s one of the main shifts is as we kind of grow into this millennial and Gen-Y generations or the generation of cord cutters, they don’t necessarily see the value in spending 30 or 40 bucks a month on security monitoring which is like three times their Netflix bill. And you get more value out of Netflix on a monthly basis than you do out of some monitoring company. If there’s any trend that I can predict it’s just that the monthly costs are gonna go down as more and more people are bulking at that, at those contracts and things like that. The rest of it, it’s hard to predict. I mean, we’re seeing some of the traditional security installers moving into the smart home space and trying to add value that way. And just as many of them who are just digging their heels in and resistant to it, and think that security is security, and smart home is just a toy. And so I don’t know which mentality is going to win out. I think I have my suspicions, but I don’t have a crystal ball.
– [Ryan] I hear you. Well, I appreciate the insights anyways. And your thoughts ’cause this is not a topic that we’ve covered a lot about. I’m not as familiar with the, we talk a lot about security, but not so much on the DIY side. And you raised some very, very interesting points. I think our audience is gonna get a ton of value out of kind of learning about this ’cause I guarantee you a lot of our audience, there’d probably a lot of them are the early adopters of new technology in the IoT space. They have tons of devices in their homes but at the same time, there’s probably a good portion of them who would be willing to go the DIY route. They just don’t know much about it. And I think this is going to be a really good education piece. And for them to understand that, look, if you guys are in a home that has kinda wired end older system there’s something you can do to make it smart to kinda meet up with the standards of everything else that you have in your home. So, but this will be a great conversation for them to learn about and maybe we can find a way to get even more information like, articles and things that you write out to our audience. And I think they’d find a lot of value in it. So I really appreciate your time, Nate, this has been great. And thanks for being here.
– [Nate] Thank you. Thanks for having me.
– [Ryan] What’s the best way for the audience to kind of reach out, to learn more kinda engage after they listen to this and want to have questions or want to just kinda discover a bit more about what Konnected does.
– [Nate] Yes. So go to our website, konnected.io that’s spelled with a K, K-O-N-N-E-C-T-E-D dot IO. And then I also have a YouTube channel. If you can search for Konnected with a K, you’ll find it where we have a lot of our, how to installation videos as well as promo videos and things like that. And really active Facebook group the Konnected users group on Facebook, where you’ll be able to see a lot of stories and photos, and questions, and answers from our user community.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, we’ll make sure we link all that up. Get that out to our audience when this goes live. And again, Nate, this has been fantastic. Thanks again for your time and appreciate your being here.
– [Nate] Thank you.
– [Ryan] Hi, everyone. Thanks again for joining us this week on the IoT For All podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a rating or review and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you’re listening to us on. Also, if you have a guest you’d like to see on the show, please drop us a note at ryanatiotforall.com and we’ll do everything we can to get them as a feature guest. Other than that, thanks again for listening. And we’ll see you next time.