Friday, December 5, 2014
How Blossom Wants To Save Water, Money Using The Cloud
Sure, it has been quite a wet week in Southern California this week—however, we're not out of California's long running drought yet. Can a smart sprinkler controller be the answer to the drought? Startup Blossom (www.myblossom.com) thinks it is part of the solution to the dry conditions across the West—and can help save lots of money for homeowners nationwide, by tapping into the cloud with a connected, smart sprinkler controller. The company—in the spirit of Nest—is hoping that consumers will help drive adoption of its product, which it expects to ship in January. We spoke with founder Manrique Brenes--a veteran of such companies as Skype and Cisco--to hear about Blossom's products, plus its link to such companies at Vizio.
What your product all about?
Manrique Brenes: What we're developed is a smart irrigation controller. It's a web based controller, which gives you direct access to the system with their phones or browser. It's quite different from what is out there now, for a few reasons. Most controllers out there now are timers, which basically do not react to water demand. They're just timers which go on every so often. We do this differently. Instead, we run a model in the cloud based on the weather and calculate actual water demand, and we adjust the schedule on a daily basis.
What's your background?
Manrique Brenes: I am a actually formally trained in water resources management. I went to school at UC Davis, and got my Masters there in Agricultural Engineering. I worked in the industry for ten years. After that I worked for five years in at Cisco working on consumer networking and enterprise networking. After that, I spent ten years at Skype, managing their consumer electronics partnerships and products. My team was responsible for all of their embedded projects, including TVs, phones like their Wi-Fi phones and video phones, anywhere Skype was embedded into products. My partner, Kaido Kert, also worked for nine years at Skype, where he was architect and lead of the engineering team of these projects together. He has worked in manufacturing a few, large back end projects in the Baltics as well. We have an interesting combination of consumer electronics experience, cloud based services, and I come with the experience in the field of irrigation.
Irrigation is not generally known as a leading edge market. How are you approaching that?
Manrique Brenes: We see ourselves in the home automation market, and not as an irrigation company. The story behind the company is simply, I had recently moved and was looking at my water bill, and saw that it had moved from costing me $65 to $70 a month to $180 a month. I think that's basically the story as a lot of people saw in 2012, whe it was cloud and cold and it was beginning to rain, and my sprinklers starting going off. We realized this was something we should be working on, and that's where we spent our next four months. We realized that there were over 40 million homes in the U.S. Who have a pressurized irrigation system. The average household in the Southwest US spends over $100 a month in water, with fifty percent of that spent outside the house, mostly on irrigation. Almost half of that is wasted. If you work the numbers backwards, there are over 40 million homes wasting $200 a year or more on water. That's a big market. We looked at what was out there, and what's been built, and believed we could fundamentally influence that. It was the confluence of our experience in cloud based services, our experience building consumer electronics, and the ability to great intelligence which wuld put all of those things together which was better than anything else. We gained investment money and funding for that, and we're now at the point of launching the project, most likely in January.
There are lots of established players in this market, who pretty much own all of the shelf space in this category. How do you get to market?
Manrique Brenes: The way we see the market, is we saw what Nest did with the thermostat by directly marketing that to people looking for a replacement. We see this as a retrofit business, initially, not new installs. We see our customers as people who are concerned about water consumption, are not happy with controllershat are difficult to understand and manage, and basically are clumsy. We provide a product that can be retrofitted in about fifteen minutes by anyone. It's easy to install, provides lots of saving, and lots of control. Our initial play to consumers is as a retrofit, and the value is to save money.
Sprinker controllers are a pretty seasonal business, have you thought about the issues behind that?
Manrique Brenes: There is a seasonality in the market, clearly. When we looked at the market, there are reasonable areas of the US that actually irrigate year round, including California, most of the Western and Southwest U.S., Nevada, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. They're all irrigating pretty much year round. There are a large percentage of the country which are seeing drought conditions. We do see the biggest demand in spring and summer, but we don't think that is insurmountable.
Can you talk about the backing you have from Vizio and Accton?
Manrique Brenes: We have partnered with those two to leverage a lot of what they provide. Accton is one of our partners, who are building out all of our manufacturing. We have been engaged with them from day one. This product has been designed to be highly reliable, and well tested and built to scale as a consumer offering from the beginning. We're optimizing the design so everything can be manufactured effectively at volumes that can have an impact on the market. Vizio has supported us with tons of guidance on every part of the business, from go-to-market, to logistics, and to customer support. They've provided a ton of guidance and support to us, and we're very happy with both of them.
What's the biggest thing you've learned so far from this?
Manrique Brenes: I think the lesson here has been the element of education, and how important it is to make people aware of the value and benefits we provide. Like you said, most people don't think about their sprinklers. Once you bring up the subject, they react to its positively. There is a big demand there now, and raising the awareness and bringing this to people will be one of the most critical things we do as a company, so we're going to address that from the beginning.