Interview with Andrew Thomas of SkyBell

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The world of startups is constantly moving and evolving. With the exponential growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and automated technologies in recent years, innovative new companies are often funded, acquired and transformed from startups to industry leaders extremely quickly. 

We first met Andrew Thomas, Co-founder and CRO of SkyBell, at our 2014 Internet of Things Summit in San Francisco, where he where he presented expertise on customer demand in the smart home space. Since then, SkyBell has been named the best smart video doorbell, raised $600k through crowdfunding, and has been incorporated into connected home systems by companies such as Honeywell, SmartThings, I-control and Nest.

Looking ahead to IoT Day on 9 April, we caught up with Andrew to learn more about the latest developments at SkyBell and in the home automation industry.

What originally led to the development of SkyBell?
The SkyBell story started in 2013 when my co-founder Joe introduced me to the idea of a video doorbell. We thought a video doorbell was the perfect way to make a home safer while also adding convenience to your every day life. By seeing who’s at your door from a smartphone, you can enjoy a safer home and answer the door whether you’re home or away. When we realized that no one had acted on this idea, we immediately got started by filing patents and launching one of the most successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns at that time.

What personally motivated you to found the company?
My personal motivation was to create a company that develops a product for good. In the months leading up to launching SkyBell, I dreamed of being a tech entrepreneur. When the idea of starting a tech company that makes a product that makes communities safer, it was an easy decision to make.

What has been essential to the success of SkyBell?
SkyBell has been a success thanks to our determination and vision. Since we started, people have told us we would not succeed. Yet we believed in our idea and we pushed forward every time it looked like we were defeated. In terms of vision, we focused on building a video doorbell that would be good enough for commercial customers, not just a direct-to-consumer product. As Chief Revenue Officer of SkyBell, I’m grateful to have cultivated deals with strategic B2B customers that have solidified SkyBell’s position as the preferred doorbell for partners.

Why do you think you had more success with crowdfunding than more traditional funding routes?
SkyBell’s success came from the amount of hours I put in to research and preparation. I spent hours trying to find patterns that successful campaigns all shared. Once I discovered the elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign, I focused on creating a compelling video that showcased the product and on writing a campaign page that built trust with the reader. By the end of our campaign, Fast Company called us an “Indiegogo sensation”.  

What is the biggest challenge you've faced?
The road to success is not paved – and we faced a number of significant challenges. The biggest one was definitely when we launched our first product after the Indiegogo campaign. Due to limited funds, resources and time, we didn’t catch an issue in our Wi-Fi module. This resulted in high failure and return rates. It almost crushed us, but luckily we dug out of the hole and learned from the experience. Now three years later, SkyBell HD was named “Best Video Doorbell” by CNET.

Where do you see the home automation industry in 5 years? What will be vital to organized growth?
In five years, home automation will have expanded from “smart home” to “smart life.” By that time, cross-product and platform integrations will be pervasive and users will have their entire lives connected. It will likely be built around the home, with products and platforms like HomeKit, Google Home and Amazon Echo leading the way. Yet there will be new opportunities as more data is created and shared as smart home products integrate with smart cars, wearables, smart offices and smart cities. Success will go to those who can see how consumer’s lives will fundamentally change forever – and meet them there.

Can you tell us what you are working on now?
We are always working on new products and services that redefine what home security looks like in a smart world. The new Skybell Trim Plus video doorbell will be ready soon – providing customers with an extremely thin form factor that fits on door frames. You can expect to see some new software innovations as well.

Why is it important to bring together experts in IoT and automation at meetings and events?
It’s important to bring the top experts in IoT together so we can share ideas around the critical matters facing our industry – most notably user awareness and adoption. The leaders of the space need to continue creating better user experiences with their products and cultivating narratives that clearly explain user benefits to consumers. This will increase overall adoption and accelerate growth in IoT.

The IoT market is increasingly competitive as the popularity of connected devices grows. Do you have any advice for startups entering the field?
My advice for startups is to stop looking at any hardware that has already been developed and focus on software and services. Identify opportunities to gather, parse and present data so it’s useful for niche users or customers. Also, don’t look only at the smart home. There’s lots of opportunity in smart city, industrial IoT, smart health and more.

Learn more about the evolution of IoT at the Machine Intelligence Summit in Amsterdam on 28-29 June, taking place alongside the Machine Intelligence in Autonomous Vehicles Summit.

Confirmed speakers include Sven Behnke, Head of Autonomous Intelligent Systems Group, University of Bonn; Roland Vollgraf, Research Lead, Zalando Research; Neal Lathia, Senior Data Scientist, Skyscanner; Alexandros Karatzoglou, Scientific Director, Télefonica; and Damian Borth, Director of the Deep Learning Competence Center, DFKI. View more here.

Early Bird passes expire on 12 May. Use our discount code IOTDAY for an additional 20% off ticketsBook your place now.

Can't join us in Amsterdam? The Machine Intelligence Summit will also take place in Hong Kong on 9-10 November.

Opinions expressed in this interview may not represent the views of RE•WORK. As a result some opinions may even go against the views of RE•WORK but are posted in order to encourage debate and well-rounded knowledge sharing, and to allow alternate views to be presented to our community.

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Connected Home Home Automation IoT Connected Devices Sensors Wireless Connectivity IoT Day Security Systems Machine Intelligence

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