IoT Startup Debuts on Shark Tank, Wins Big

Ryan Fant, Nayeem Hussain, and Will McLeod are co-founders of Keen Home, an entrepreneurial venture recently featured on the TV show Shark Tank.

The company had already won a slew of awards for its flagship product, the Smart Vent, and it made Shark Tank history for one of the largest valuations since the show began.

In a recent interview with PTC, Hussain discussed the Shark Tank experience and how smart technology will change the future of homes.

How did the appearance on Shark Tank come about?

Several years ago, we entered an Inc. Magazine competition, 2014 Coolest College Startups, and we were finalists, which caught the eye of a producer for Shark Tank. When the producer approached us, Keen Home was only about two years old. We hesitated initially, wondering if it was the right time to put our foot forward in front of Shark Tank’s international audience of 10 million people.

We ultimately decided it would be a good fit for us, and from there, it seemed the stars were aligned, as we submitted an application, and made it to the semifinals. We had weekly meetings with the producers, where we were drilled on our one-minute pitch. Late in 2014, we made it to the finals and flew out to California for an audition in front of the full production team. Ryan and I once again passed, and then got invited into the Tank for the filming of the show.

We had raised $1.5 million in venture capital already, so he and I had confidence going into the Tank that there was nothing we hadn’t answered before. We went into this adventure with the motto “let’s have fun,” and take advantage of this opportunity not many people get. There are 35,000 people who try out, and only 140 are luckily enough to get on the show.

We were in the Tank for about an hour and a half. Our product is a smart technology air vent for homes and, we ended up with a $750,000 offer from Shark Robert Herjavec for a 13 percent share of our company. As we speak, we’re still working out the details with his company.

How do you see smart technology, like your Smart Vent, changing homes in the future?

The world is on the precipice of this kind of technology, as many things are becoming connected. There are wearables and entertainment products that are playful, but Keen is interested in using this technology to bring comfort, security, and peace to people at home.

Today IoT technology is often used as a reactionary means, but in the next five to 10 years, people are going to be able to use intelligence from smart technologies as alerts. It’s one thing to be alerted, but the real value comes from predicting. You can think of it this way: the 1.0 version of this technology is reactive, and 2.0 is proactive and aware intelligence.

Right now, people take care of their homes, but imagine homes taking care of people through intelligent devices with sensors and data collected from many homes. The hardware can collect data such as temperature, atmosphere, mold, and air quality, and then there are algorithms that can measure what people do in their homes, what they like, and more. You can then aggregate the data with software to find out what norms are, and then predict and create awareness in homes.

How did this venture start?

Ryan and I were in business school together at New York University Stern School of Business. We both have the entrepreneurial itch and are willing to take risks, so in our second year, Ryan suggested that we enter the Entrepreneurs Challenge at the school.

We used Ryan’s idea of a product that would control air vents with a smart phone, and we’ve pursued it ever since feet first. It’s not a rocket-science concept, but the timing was right. Wireless and battery technology is really coming of age – a few years ago, we couldn’t have done this, but technology has caught up to the idea, and allowed us to create a successful product.

The Smart Vent is wirelessly connected and opens and closes to intelligently direct air throughout the home. We did tests, and used that intelligence to help coordinate efficiency and comfort in homes, discovering that people can save more than 10 percent of their energy bills after installing the vents. People can preorder the vents now or buy them at Lowe’s this summer, when the product is officially launched.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurial engineers?

It’s a great time to be an engineer. There are all sorts of tools out there now like 3D printing that didn’t exist before. You can leverage these to fail fast and iterate, deploy it quickly and do it again and again in a very iterative process.

It all comes down to this: does this product solve a problem and are people willing to pay for it? If you don’t have both, it will be tough to succeed.

And advice for getting on the Shark Tank?

That’s a bit like winning the lottery. If you have something interesting, create a buzz about it. The show’s producers are always looking for great ideas. So generate some buzz and apply for it!

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