University News

Startup looks toward future of smart devices

Techa could offer users greater control over appliances found in a home such as lights, ovens

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 16, 2015

Techa, a small startup founded by Socrates Zouboulakis ’17, aims to revolutionize how users interact with their electronic devices and eventually their whole homes.

“The dream is to have a home where there are no buttons, no switches, no levers — just an organic interaction between a user and their devices,” Zouboulakis said. He said he thought of the idea in 2013, when he was watching TV with the current president of Techa, Dong Seo, when he envisioned a remote that could control not only the TV but the lights, speakers, thermostat and more.

This idea quickly evolved into creating an app, as opposed to a physical remote, that would interact with all the smart devices in a home. While Techa is currently in the process of developing this app, the startup does not have nearly enough computer engineers, as “engineers are scared of startups,” Zouboulakis said.

Techa currently offers engineers an hourly rate as contractual workers, but the startup is looking to attract more engineers by offering them equity in the company, Zouboulakis said. Zouboulakis has funded the venture with $340,000 in high interest loans from private investors, many of whom frequently lend capital to startups.

Techa’s dream does not stop at the app, though.

“We can make an app and change the world, but then we need to take advantage of the world we created,” Zouboulakis said. Techa’s eventual plan is to build houses and apartments with every smart device on the market, such as controllable outlets, locks, ovens and lightbulbs, Zouboulakis said. The company plans to invest around $10,000 in upgrading each apartment into a “Smart Suite” complete with all smart technology and then sell the apartments for profit, he added.

Many of these devices, such as the Nest thermostat, currently have their own individual apps. Techa’s app will combine all of these separate apps into a single point of contact. To achieve this combination, Techa plans to work with the smart device companies to facilitate interaction between the Techa app and the smart devices present in the home.

Zouboulakis said his primary concern is that few people will adopt the app once it has been developed, given the fairly small market size of consumers who can afford the expensive smart technology — technology that is still in its infancy. “We are targeting the people who can afford a $300 Nest and $50 lightbulbs,” he said.

Techa’s Director of Marketing Shawn Verma MD’18 plans to combat this challenge with an aggressive advertising campaign on Facebook and in Brown publications. Verma said he hopes the advertising campaign will push consumers to think “I need Techa” immediately after buying any smart technology, despite the “sticker shock” of higher-than-expected prices.

The goal is to “clearly convey the different package options that will be available to our consumers,” Verma wrote in a follow-up message to The Herald.

While Techa does not have a specific market strategy yet, its leaders plan to offer various incentives for users to download the app — a strategy that many other technological ventures have used successfully, Verma said.

Security presents another challenge for Techa, as people must be prevented from hacking into the app and controlling a user’s devices, such as their door lock or security system, Zouboulakis said. Techa has multiple security engineers ensuring the system is not hackable, all of whom are overseen by a Brown student who previously worked on securities for Facebook.

The app will also have different security settings, such as one that requires a fingerprint to unlock your door. “Our app is no less secure than a pair of keys,” Zouboulakis said.