by Aaron Tilley, Forbes
Alex Hawkinson just wanted to give his house a voice. In February 2011 Hawkinson, an executive at technology startup ReachLocal , headed up with his family to their remote cabin in the Colorado Rockies only to find it soaked from the inside. Several months earlier the power had gone out and a pipe had burst. Moisture had made its way into every crevice. Fixing the place ended up costing more than $100,000.
“It struck me: I couldn’t believe the house didn’t have a voice,” says Hawkinson, 41, a midwestern-raised serial entrepreneur. “I have a handyman who lives half a mile down the road. He could have shut the water off, and we would have had no issue.”
He went searching for some way of making sure this never happened again but soon found himself with a lapful of sensors and no simple means of connecting them. They all used different apps and wireless technologies. What began as a side project to give his house a voice turned into an idea for a company that could connect the ever-growing list of connected gadgets on the market: thermostats, locks, alarms, lights and Crock-Pots.
SmartThings, the firm he founded a year after the Colorado trip, is now doing a brisk business selling a $100 hardware hub with a smartphone app and cloud service that connects thousands of gadgets. It also sells more expensive kits crammed with third-party sensors and devices for home security, temperature control and water detection. The firm, based in Washington, D.C., already has 5,000 developers using its software to build applications to run various combinations of gadgets in useful ways. For example, your fitness tracker could tell your coffeemaker when you wake up so you have a fresh pot ready in the morning, or a moisture sensor could tell when a pipe is leaking and alert you via smartphone to turn the water off. SmartThings plans to introduce paid apps, à la Apple’s App Store, next year.