Podcast: Belkin International expands further into the smart home, with help from Seattle tech

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GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and John Cook with Kieran Hannon of Belkin International of Belkin International at Tune’s Postback conference. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Belkin International Chief Marketing Officer Kieran Hannon oversees the consumer electronics company’s four brands: Belkin accessories and connectivity devices, Linksys networking technologies, Wemo smart home devices, and the latest addition to the lineup, the Phyn water monitoring technology.

Phyn, which opened its headquarters in Torrance, Calif., this week, is a joint venture of Belkin and Uponor, the residential and commercial plumbing supplier. But it has roots in Seattle, from Belkin’s 2010 acquisition of clean energy startup Zensi, which was led by University of Washington professor Shwetak Patel, the serial entrepreneur and MacArthur Genius Award winner who continues to serve as Belkin’s chief scientist.

Wemo, meanwhile, has closely aligned itself with Amazon’s Alexa, making its smart plugs, switches and other smart home technologies work in conjunction with the tech giant’s virtual assistant from the beginning.

So it was fitting that Hannon was in Seattle this week for the Postback conference, staged by Seattle-based mobile marketing company Tune. We spoke with Hannon at Postback about Belkin’s evolution for this episode of the GeekWire podcast.

Listen to the conversation starting at 18:06 in the player below, watch the behind-the-scenes video above, and continue reading for highlights from his comments. Thanks to Tune for sponsoring this GeekWire Podcast at Postback.

On Phyn: It’s technology for the water industry. So, it’s a smart metering, intelligent water solution so we can measure, monitor, and manage water in the home. You can understand your water usage, how it’s been used, where it’s been used, and it’s got many, many benefits.

One you can imagine: water leaks. That’s what we want to stop altogether, since water is such a precious resource. Water damage in the home — if we can prevent that, that’s a big benefit as well. Then, over time, in wellness: Understanding the water usage, both from a quality standpoint and behavioral standpoint.

If you have elderly parents and the tap in the kitchen sink doesn’t come on at a certain time that it normally does, wouldn’t you like to know? It might be a great way to reach out. You could receive a text or somebody local could get a text and you could pop over just to check on them. So, there are many, many benefits.

On the future of the smart home market: The market is growing rapidly. And the beauty of what it’s doing is, it’s creating these frictionless experiences. And having a frictionless experience is where everyone wins.

You’ve all heard those examples of kids doing their homework and so forth, no longer talking to the parents with their questions. They just ask Alexa or Google Home. So, it’s a different world.

The market is growing 4X every year. When Amazon launched, they did about 3 million Echos in year one. Then they, very quickly, got to 3 million Echos per quarter and today it is at least double or three times that per quarter.

On voice technology: Voice has really opened up and accelerated smart-home adoption. We’re all human. We don’t want to stop doing what we’re doing to pull out the smartphone, open an app and go from there.  We just want to keep living in the moment. If you can use voice to do that, that’s a big part of it.

There’s also in-ear. With earbuds, there’s some amazing technology that’s been built-in, both from software and hardware standpoints. You have Doppler with their Here One earbuds. Skybuds is another great company that sells very well on Amazon. It can detect and sense what you’re doing at that moment.

So, if you’re leaving home in the morning, it can give you two a minute snippet of news in-ear. You never even have to pull out your phone. If you’re in the car, it can give you your latest book that you want to listen to. Or if you’re about to take public transport, it can give you the times of that transport and so forth. All in-ear. You never have to stop what you’re doing in that moment. You can be saying bye to the kids and getting that type of information.That’s a big part of how this acceleration is happening.

On the changing e-commerce marketplace: The trends on mobile search are huge. Google used to dominate there and now… in the consumer electronics space alone, over 65 percent of all percent of all searches start on Amazon, not Google. The world has rapidly evolved.

So, what’s driving some of that? Not just because you get a great experience and great prices on Amazon. What’s the other things that come with that? Great content. The star ratings and reviews: That is huge. We spent a lot of time monitoring the reviews. We don’t bring products to market when they’re below a certain star rating. We watch that very carefully.

The value of the feedback that we get online is immeasurable. … Four or five years ago, [marketing on platforms like Amazon] was about 1 to 2 percent of our total marketing budget. Now, across these types of platforms, it’s easily over a quarter to nearly half.

Advice for those hesitant to try smart home technology: Get one device — voice is a very easy way to start — and just explore. Just start exploring. That in itself is fun.

Follow Belkin International CMO Kieran Hannon on Twitter @kieranhannon and stay tuned for our interview with Tune CEO Peter Hamilton.

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