Interview with Ed Hemphill, Co-Founder of WigWag

By Zach Williams

Smart Home Technology is a budding industry that’s starting to really take off. In my latest interview I have a chance to chat it up with WigWag Co-Founder Ed Hemphill. The WigWag system is the first real attempt to answer the problem of being able to control multiple devices from multiple brands.

WigWag is a relay system that allows users to control multiple smart home products all from a singular app, which is a real answer to one of the most major pain points in the smart home technology space.

You can learn a little more about WigWag by checking out their KickStart video below. Their campaign had resounding success, and they’re now accepting pre-orders in their online store.

Question #1

Zach Williams: WigWag recently unveiled it’s latest smart home product, Filament Smart Color LED Light Bulbs. What sets Filament light bulbs apart from other smart home lights?

Ed Hemphill: What sets Filament apart is not so much the bulb itself, although the bulb is quite good, but it’s that it’s part of the WigWag system. WigWag’s primary focus is allowing consumers to control all kinds of different devices without having to go through 10 different apps.

So if you go today and you buy other brands like a Phillip’s Hue bulb, an Insteon bulb, Z-Wave, LIFX or any of these other products that are connected bulb products, they all have their own app and they just don’t work well together. The real problem for consumers is that you have light fixtures that take different kinds of lightbulbs and rooms that have more than one light, well hopefully otherwise your rooms would be dark. We didn’t have this problem until recently because in the past lights were just on or off, but now with bulbs that can change color or be dimmed to change the amount of white light, you need a richer interface in order to offer that feature. And once people start using these types of features, they don’t want to not have it anymore, it’s a very nice thing to have. 

So, what we’re focused on as a company is to make a hardware and software platform that will allow people to control multiple devices in one without having to be at all a tech geek, and that’s what sets Filament apart, because you can immediately put it in a room and immediately control that light and all the other smart lights in the room through one app.

Question #2

Zach: You had a really successful KickStarter Campaign. What do you think set you apart from the average smart home product?

Ed: A key differentiator for us is we run an open source software stack that we’ve created. The software will be released to the public when we start shipping our WigWag relay in October. Because it’s completely open source, that means that people can take that and try it, they can add new devices and customize it if they want to.

This is important to early adopters as well as all of us who want to quickly get support for new devices that are constantly coming into the market. The issue with all the new devices that are introduced is they all have some slightly different way of communicating, so the open source makes us stand out from that crowd. Even if they all use WiFi, they’ll have a different API or some other slightly different communication method that makes them hard to connect and hard to get them to talk to each other, so our open source is a big differentiator.

The other major differentiator for WigWag products is that our platform is hybrid, so you don’t always have to be connected to the Cloud for things to work. This is a big benefit because for a lot of products they require full aceess to The Cloud at all times for things to work, and with the WigWag relay system you don’t have to be connected to the internet at all. And that’s important because you don’t want your lights to stop working when your internet gets a little clunky. That isn’t going to encourage people to use smart home automation.

Question #3

Zach: What other gaps do you see in smart home technology that consumers are looking for companies to fill?

Ed: One of the big gaps that we’re still in, and we’re trying to solve it as well as others, but it’s going to take time. But today what we have is a lot of products that do a lot of things really well, for example NEST is really popular. NEST handles your air-conditioner really well,but the issue is that it does that one thing and that’s all it really does. Consumers are really looking for a cohesion between all the choices of products.

For instance, if it’s really hot outside and my home knows I’ve been standing outside with my kids for the last three hours it should know to make my house a little cooler when I walk in. But today we just don’t have the scensory in place and we don’t have the infrastructure in terms of connectivity in place to really make that happen. And what that really means is you need a system that’s able to detect different types of sensory devices such as motion or your something else that’s able to determine that you’re outside and then also able to control the thermostat. 

Question #4

Zach: As an insider in this industry, what do you see as the next thing in the smart home technology space?

Ed: What will make Smart products really powerful in the long term is using lots of different sensors [to work together] in the home to make your home “breath,” to make your home adapt to you as you walk in. So that when you go into your bathroom the lights should slowly dim up because you want to be able to see but no one wants to be blinded by their lights at 2 am. But you also don’t want to stumble around in the dark and fall in the toilet either.

Today we’re not getting those nuances, but those nuances require a lot more sophistication in sensors and in control systems and so I think in the next couple of years you’re going to begin to see that. You can do that stuff in really, really high-end homes, but people are paying out their nose for it. [In the coming years you’ll see these currently high-end features] available in ways in which the average person can afford them and install it quickly or builders can install it quickly. People want something that they can put a sensor somewhere and be like “done.”

Question #5

Zach: You know, a lot of times we deal with companies who think they can’t do smart home technology but they aren’t necessarily thinking outside the box. What would you say to brands in the home improvement industry who think their products don’t need or can’t conform to smart home technology standards or features?

Ed: Eventually they’re all going to because the price of being able to do it is going to go down. Let’s talk about outlets for example. We can all appreciate the desire for outlets to be able to be controlled by a remote. When you go into Lowe’s today, the kind of outlet that a builder would typically buy is like literally $.90 per outlet for 12 outlets. Trying to get a builder to buy a $40 smart outlet is quite a challenge, and then you consider how many outlets you have in your home and you see that quickly the expense becomes pretty high. So the early adopters are never going to be the people that are building.

The bottom line that is if you want that outlet to be at a cost that is attainable and comparable to current prices it’s going to have to be around $10 – $15, and that’s going to take a while. We’re going there, it’s going to get there, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.

Question #6

Zach: Do you see a correlation between the increase in smart home products and DIY Consumers?

Ed: I think we’re getting more DIY because on a higher level economic scale the price of labor has increased. A lot of people are willing to do a little bit of work themselves because you go out and price even a carpenter to do something in your home and it turns into a $500 or $600 project when you know you can go out and buy all the stuff you would need for that project for under $100.

The other thing that I’ve found, I mean I don’t do a lot myself, I do things partly myself. Like if I need my brakes changed I will purchase the brakes myself and then take it to a local place to have them install them. I think it will consumers will be the same way with Smart Home products. I think you’re going to see people that are interested in buying the product and then they will want an expert to come set it up. NEST is a good example of that. They have a whole section on their website for people who want to buy the product and then hire someone to come wire it up. But that’s still kind of do-it-yourselfer in a sense because you’re still acting like your own prime contractor. I think labor costs and just generally costs across the board are going to push people more towards do it yourself.

Question #7

Zach: Are you finding that that’s who you’re really marketing to?

Ed: Yeah. Most of our customers at least from KickStarter and the pre-orders that we have are not necessarily makers or programers. The majority of our folks are people that want to put something automated in their home. They have a vision for what they want and know they can’t go out to ADT or another cookie-cutter solution and get what they need and that’s actually a huge part of our philosophy in our product line. 

The truth is, people go out of their way, even in Townhomes that look exactly the same, they go out of their way to make their homes different. So you can’t expect that to not happen in automation too. People are going to have a vision for what they want to happen when they walk in their home and that’s who we want to market to. So I think giving people the dials but in a way that they can get progressively more complicated is the answer. If you make it too complicated up front they will be overly daunting. But at the same time if you don’t give them enough controls up front then their going to get frustrated

Find out more

Be sure to check out WigWag’s website and keep up to date with their goings on. An innovative team like this is sure to be coming up with fresh things all the time.

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