Shining a Light on the Future of Connected Homes

With the popularity of Amazon Alexa, the trend of connected homes is fast developing. Imagine a future where your home can make adjustments according to your blood pressure, heart rate, and environmental conditions to improve well-being. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, guest Erik Charlton, CEO of Noon Home and previous Head of Business at Nest/Google, discussed both initiatives to enhance wellness through lighting as well as the future of connected homes at large.

Starting with their first product in smart lighting, Charlton drew from his experiences at Logitech and Nest (acquired by Google) and used human-centered design to create their hardware. Customer feedback has been positive, and Charlton sees it as a good launching point as they build off existing infrastructure and look toward a future where the necessary datasets are available to enable advanced AI.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Erik Charlton Portrait
Erik Charlton (CEO, Noon Home)

Saikat Chaudhuri: Tell us about Noon Home, the products and services that you offer, and how the name came about.

Erik Charlton: Sure. Noon Home is focused on enabling wellness through technologies in the home, and our first product is focused on lighting. We do smart lighting controls that coordinate all the lights in a room. You replace your existing light switch, and then we have one master switch that then controls and manages all those lights in the room.

The reason we care about it, and the reason it’s really interesting that a lot of people don’t realize, is how much light affects our emotions. Bright lights can overstimulate us and enhance or strengthen emotions both in positive and negative, while softer lights can calm and soothe us. We can make rooms that are dreary and gloomy or fun and exciting or romantic based on how you blend and coordinate those lights. Being a father and having a family of multiple teenagers, the ability to set and define that mood for me was really important. I love where the roadmap will go and we’ll talk about that later. But the light switch is the most strategic spot in the home for smart lighting.

Chaudhuri: I love that. We hear the term mood lighting when it comes to the Dreamliner and other modern-day aircraft too, and that’s to help you with the jet lag. But I think you’re taking it one step further.

Charlton: Absolutely. There’s a lot of really interesting work. We see it as part of our role to evangelize how we can use technology both in making your home more beautiful, but also making it more livable and comfortable for the family.

“We see it as part of our role to evangelize how we can use technology both in making your home more beautiful but also making it more livable and comfortable for the family.” — Erik Charlton

Chaudhuri: I like this wellness emphasis that you placed right at the beginning. That’s part of the mission of the company?

Charlton: Absolutely. Part of our founding mission, and what made me so excited about the company, is when you hear people talk about smart homes, I think they’re really talking about connected products. But imagine a home that senses your blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, occupancy, or environmental contaminants. We see this great broad open space where technology and hardware and AI integrate to deliver those experiences. But our first starting point is wellness through light.

Chaudhuri: I love that. You teased it and I have to ask now about the feature roadmap. I can’t resist and leave that for later.

Charlton: I’ll go a little bit further. To really enable the kinds of experiences I spoke of, you need whole home sensing. And to do that with a puck in every room (looking at Amazon Alexa) I don’t think people want to do that. There are lots of appliances in the kitchen, you could try and do it there. There are 1.4 thermostats per house, but there are 26 light switches in a house. And that location, it’s tied to power and it’s at entries and exits. So that’s the key to where the smart home goes; that light switch location enables those experiences. Nothing to announce here other than that we’re working on those things, we’re testing the field, we’ve got stuff running in the labs and we’re going there.

I do believe that the key for consumers is starting with a best-of-breed product, doing one thing extremely well. And then they’re willing to have a conversation with you about what else it could do. So, we want to be best-of-breed lighting first and foremost. And then we’ll go on a journey. I call them little breadcrumbs, little product features that get customers to say, “Oh, I trust you now to do something a little bit more than I anticipated.” And you roll those out until you transform the experience.

Most of us experienced that iPod only played music before it took photos, played movies, and made phone calls. I think that kind of journey is that the right way to unroll experiences with consumers.

“The key for consumers is starting with a best-of-breed product, doing one thing extremely well.” — Erik Charlton

Chaudhuri: I love that, the consumer approach and how you’re doing this. So I want to ask you a little bit. You were with Nest on the founding team and, of course, Nest was sold to Google and it’s been doing okay. What prompted you to start this up instead of staying with Nest under the tutelage of a Google in order to help scale that stuff?

Charlton: For me personally, I’m a startup guy and my career goes back to lots of little companies. I was employee three at Nest, you know, experiencing incredible growth. When we were acquired, we were about 350 people, which is still on the smaller side, but a year later when I left we were 1,100 people. And it’s a different animal. I was dealing with inventory dispositions and expediting inventory for promos and the passion of “How do you create value and deliver new value to the customer?” was being traded off for more efficiency decisions. And there are people who are better at that than I was and more passionate about it. That’s why it was time to move on for me.

Chaudhuri: That makes a lot of sense. And being a serial entrepreneur, obviously, you’ve got the wherewithal and the guts to be able to move on and not to say, “You know what? I’m someone who’s done this once, I’m very happy about the exit and let me just stick with it.” Google is certainly a great company and has its role to play, but the startup that keeps on pushing the boundaries is a very exciting place to be. So, how do you come up with these new visions, whether it’s the vision of what the smart home could do or the ideas around how you could approach the customer differently? What is your approach to managing all these innovative things in the company?

Charlton: Yeah. There are a couple of different tools and so there’s no one way. I’d say maybe a guideline is the ability to hop between holistic and very, very fine detail. I don’t believe, and other people may disagree, that you can meditate and have these incredible insights about what the future is. I think any of us can do that and we’ll come up with similar visions of what it means. But the real insights come from working the problem and learning how to cut through to incredible levels of detail. That’s how you find what others haven’t. For installing the light switch here, I had the team break down the 15 steps of installing a light switch and we had two innovations come out of it. Other things we’re like, “Okay. You need to put that in the user guide so people know to do that.” But if you just said, “Oh, let’s make the light switch install easier,” nothing comes out of that. But actually methodically recording people do it, then you find these insights.

“The real insights come from working the problem and learning how to cut through to incredible levels of detail. That’s how you find what others haven’t.” — Erik Charlton

Chaudhuri: Yeah. With that anthropological approach that IBM started a long time ago and with human-centered design, it seems that you embraced that. But I like the other points that you’re alluding to. Experimentation and adaptation is really important because none of us can forecast the future and really see what’s ahead. There are a few different scenarios and people have some idea, but until you try it, it’s very hard to actually make it happen.

About Our Guest

Erik Charlton is an entrepreneurial adviser, board member and independent investor. He was most recently Head of Business at Nest/Google. For the first 3 years of the Company, Erik led Nest’s product marketing, central marketing and sales organizations. 

Prior to Nest, Erik was Logitech’s VP of Product Marketing for the Pointing Device (a.k.a. mouse) business. Early in his career, he cofounded Jarna, Inc., a mobile application platform company that was acquired by Visto/Good Technology in 2003. 

Erik’s earned a BS and BA from Stanford University, an MS from Art Center College of Design, and an MM from Stanford University Graduate School of Business as a Sloan Fellow. He is named in 9 patents, entrepreneurial and comfortable leading cross-functional teams introducing products under significant market uncertainty.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.