Whatever you call it -- the Internet of Things, connected homes, smart homes -- Jacquelyn Jaech knew it would become one of the big themes from the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"They had conferences on it, they had whole areas dedicated to it," said Jaech, vice president of marketing for Seattle's SNUPI Technologies, makers of the new WallyHome wireless sensor network for detecting moisture in homes. "There were tons of companies that were showcasing what they were doing, and a lot of them were going after the early niche market. We're still seeing people looking for an application that resonates with the general population."
Jaech and her husband, SNUPI CEO Jeremy Jaech, hope WallyHome ends up as the must-have hardware for homeowners looking to spare themselves the expensive grief of mold and water damage. The $299 kit includes six sensors that monitor moisture, humidity and temperature around the home. SNUPI (Sensor Network Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure) uses the existing wiring in homes to create a wireless network, all controlled by a hub that plugs into a standard outlet.
Why moisture detection? "It's a big market," said Jaech, who has a track record of founding and selling successful software companies like Visio and Aldus. "Some of the research into this technology was driven by insurance companies who were trying to figure out how to solve their single biggest claim, which is water damage."
SNUPI cites a claim that in 2011, 14 million homeowners sustained $11 billion in property damage caused by water, freezing and mold. So while Jaech believes the SNUPI communications platform, targeting homeowners, and the moisture detection application combine to give WallyHome some market advantages, other opportunities await.
"There are a lot of other sensors we could put on this platform for the same customers," he said. "There are a lot of things going on in the air quality space right now, a lot of new requirements around carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. We can go into some security sensors."
SNUPI may also license the technology for other possible commercial and military uses.
The WallyHome sensors are easy to install, and they provide dashboard data and alerts to desktop computers and smartphone apps.
SNUPI is doing a slow rollout for WallyHome -- the kits go on sale at www.wallyhome.com January 20th -- but Jaech eventually hopes to have retail partners lined up soon. In the meantime, the company will go on tour to home shows throughout the country, beginning with the Seattle Home Show in mid-February.
SNUPI Technologies and WallyHome are the latest adventures in Jaech's entrepreneurial journey, but now he's dealing with hardware, and he's had to face different funding and production challenges.
"When you're just doing software, and you need to make another million copies, it's easy. It's digital. Here you actually have to buy the parts, assemble things, shoot plastic molds and all that," he said. "In some ways it's easier. Every time you have a success, you get a universe of people who are happy to work with you, fund you, etc. That always makes you more likely to be successful. But it's also harder in some ways because now you're dealing with physical goods."
While crowdfunding methods like Kickstarter have helped other startup hardware companies in gaming and other niche industries create beta products faster than before, it didn't really help Jaech with WallyHome.
"One of the things I discovered was that venture capitalists didn't really want to fund us until we had a working product, and that would have required we do a Kickstarter campaign," he said. "One of the problems is that the people who pay attention to Kickstarter campaigns and tend to promote the products that are up there, and send money to them, tend to be hobbyists and early adopters. That's certainly not the market we're going after."