How a Kickstarter Campaign Succeeded in Making Home Security Smarter
How one startup made home security make sense for modern consumers
abode co-founder Brent Franks talks about how the company - born on Kickstarter and raised by Reddit - has revolutionized the home security industry.
We sat down with abode co-founder Brent Franks to talk about disrupting home security, why he chose enterprise-level support tools before they had a customer base, and how a visually-impaired customer helped him see the company’s products in a whole new light.
Founded in 2014 by Franks and former ADT executive Christopher Carney, abode was designed to be the most flexible and comprehensive all-in-one DIY smart security solution. With a vision of providing ease, simplicity and choice, abode combines a no-contract home security platform with comprehensive smart home functionality. The solution works for homeowners and renters alike, with no hard installation required.
What was the moment you realized that you were onto something with abode?
Well, it happened when I realized that, unlike music and transportation, home security was a huge industry that hadn’t been disrupted yet. The security world had always been kind of a laggard in terms of technical innovation, and as the prevalence of personal tech like iPhones and tablets started to skyrocket, home security was still hard-wired and clunky. The gap between where home security was and where it could be was significant - that's when I kind of realized that you know hey, there's a good market opportunity here.
Did you have a personal interest in home security before abode?
Honestly, growing up in central Pennsylvania I never felt the need for a home security system and didn't feel like it provided any value for the amount of effort it took to install. My interest in home security has actually always revolved more around the technology: how it works, what makes it consumer-friendly, and how to make it professional grade. I think a platform like abode appeals equally to two kinds of dwellers: Those who love technology and want a connected home, and those who have always relied on traditional home security systems and need a modernized option.
You have a background in software development, sales, and startups. How do these skills benefit your role in getting abode off the ground?
They taught me about customer support. I had spent a lot of time in call centers listening to phone calls, watching agents, and conducting time trial studies. So we married up our team’s collective experience to try to figure out how we can support customers without anything other than platform in this case.
Speaking of which, I’d like to talk a little about the support tools you use. You integrated SalesForce and Stripe way early in the game, and Simplr shortly thereafter. Why did you choose to enterprise-capable platforms right out of the gate?
We wanted to build a business that could scale to millions of customers. Even though it seemed illogical, we invested in enterprise-grade tools that would allow us to achieve that scale.
Our thinking was: let's build it for scale now rather than having to rip stuff out, recode it, and duplicate effort down the road.
Abode is kind of a Kickstarter legend, exceeding its initial funding goal by 50% with over 450 backers. We’re seeing more and more successful Kickstarter campaigns that are launching product services. Do have any advice for folks looking to do Kickstarter or who have done Kickstarter and are now are trying those levers become a company out of it?
We were fortunate enough to have a successful Kickstarter campaign, but I think had we had known a little more or if I were to run another kickstarter campaign I think we could hack it to be a lot more successful than we were. Here are a few tips:
- If I were to do it again, I’d probably hire a PR or marketing firm to really help publicize the campaign. Even though we met out funding goals, I think we could’ve done a better job with press before the campaign.
- Be laser focused! One thing we did which really worked for us was going into the campaign kind of laser focus of what we wanted to provide and what the product would be. You see a lot of Kickstarter campaigns that are either moonshot ideas or they promised the world everything. We stayed laser focused and just kind of kept heads down on delivering upon that promise. Some of our backers - people who have backed tons of different campaigns - have told us that by far we are the ones that have delivered on exactly what we said we were going to do.
- Do the research before the campaign. We talked to a lot of people before launching on Kickstarter. Once you launch the Kickstarter campaign, put some questions out there to learn your users and figure out which features should be rolled out first.
- Don’t forget: You can't be everything to all customers. If you do that you run the risk of being nothing to everyone. I recommend figuring out what you're going to be and be strong at it. You can always add things later. The markets are very large and you can always iterate and innovate over time to capture more market share. At this point, the biggest currency you have is time.
It’s hard to talk about (or Google) abode without bringing up Reddit. When did you first noticed that Reddit was such a valuable resource for your company?
Yes! We first knew something was up when we noticed a lot of traffic being driven to our store from Reddit. Once we realized how many people were talking about our product on Reddit, our whole team became active members of the Reddit community.
Not only are you guys constantly listening to your customers online, but you’re completely dedicated to living the customer journey IRL (case in point: replicating abode homes). Can you elaborate on that philosophy?
So, everybody that works at abode is given a full range of products that we offer and they're expected to install them in their home and use them on a daily basis. We do this for multiple reasons: One, it builds a much stronger knowledge of the product. Two, it allows us to experience firsthand any issues that a customer encounters or a product feature that they may love. Finally, we want our customers to know just how well we know - and stand by - our product.
You had a great experience with a customer who reached out after he reviewed the product on his podcast. Tell us about that.
One of our customers runs Mystic Access, a podcast for visually impaired and blind users. On this particular episode, he had bought abode, set it up, and just started going through all these cool use cases that we had never even thought of. For instance, our application was written in a way that it's compatible with screen readers and it allows the visually impaired community to use our program.
It made me realize there’s just a lot we take for granted. For example, the customer set up a system so that if his door opens it reads a notification and he knows the front door is open and he knows somebody's been in his house. [He was] able to tie his smoke alarm to a Smart Lock through our system. So if the smoke alarm goes off, his doors automatically unlock, saving him crucial seconds that you know we would just run to the door and open it. That was probably the single most liked kind of customer use case story that we’re really really proud of and I think is a testament for what we're doing and that we're serving a lot of different types of customers.
Everybody deserves to feel safe and secure in their home.BAny parting tips for other customer support-focused businesses and startups?
1. Customers own the brand. Establishing a close relationship with them, hearing their feedback, and being available to them is critical.
2. Be authentic. There are some very inherent benefits of working with a smaller company, at least as an early adopter customer, because you can provide better customer service. You know there's things that you can do better at companies that are a startup. And that's why the customer is choosing you.
3.Get to know the First 1,000. Insight and knowledge from your inaugural users are worth so much more than the $100K+ that big companies pay for market research and studies. These customers are so willing to talk to you. You know if you reach out to them and you survey them they've made an investment in your either product or service and they want you to succeed.
Recently, the company switched up its starter kit offering to give customers a more affordable entry point to home security and allow you to build the system that works for your family. The new Essentials Starter Kit is $279 and comes with everything users need to get started. Once you have the kit, you can easily add devices like cameras, keypads, and additional sensors to create a custom kit that’s right for you.
At Simplr, we’re a scrappy startup based in SF (never heard that one before I bet). We’re an eclectic group from diverse backgrounds, but we’ve all got the same mission: get this startup up and running. Part of this process? Sharing insights from companies we love and admire.
Want to share your customer support-centric startup findings with us? Leave a comment below and we’ll get in touch.
In the meantime, give us a check - we’re here to make sure other SMBs have access to incredible customer support services.