Creators Of Beats And Guitar Hero Launch Smart Home Startup Leeo

Another day, another smart home company is coming alive. But this latest one, Leeo, has some pretty big names behind it–including the main people responsible for creating products like Beats headphones and the video game Guitar Hero as well as executives from CIA-backed big data company Palantir and robotics company RoboteX.

And after a year and a half in stealth mode, Palo Alto-based Leeo has already amassed a team of 60 employees and $37 million in venture capital from Formation 8, Visionnaire Ventures and German utility giant

What exactly does this smart home startup do that’s getting so much money and talent? Well, Leeo isn’t ready to talk about specific products it’s coming out with yet, but the company’s explanation of how it’s approaching the industry is a bit different than other smart home companies. From the very beginning, Leeo is focusing on working with hulking incumbents like telecommunication companies and utilities to help roll out services onto the company’s smart home product line. That will make Leeo a bit of a mix between an enterprise and consumer product company.

Leeo is already in talks with several of these large players through some of its investors. German utility E.ON is interested in how Leeo’s technology can help move into smarter energy consumption for its 26 million customers in over 30 countries.
Visionnaire Ventures’ co-founder is billionaire Taizo Son whose brother is SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. Leeo is looking closely at ways it could bring its technology to the big Japanese telecommunication company.

“We don’t see ourselves as disrupters and we don’t see ourselves as confrontational against what’s there,” Adam Gettings, co-founder and CEO of Leeo, told me in a conference room in San Francisco. “We’re here to help facilitate the transition to the smart home.”

This cozy service relationship with established heavyweights from the beginning is unique. Most smart home companies are coming into services as almost an after thought. In the past year, learning thermostat maker Nest has been slowly ramping up its energy services where it works with utilities to reduce energy usage during peak grid times by adjusting Nest thermostats in a particular utility market. And Samsung-acquired SmartThings, which makes a hardware hub and provides a cloud platform for smart devices to talk with each other in the home, has big plans to work with insurance companies and home contractors, but there hasn’t been much progress beyond small pilot programs.

“We’ve had a number of interesting conversations with these large incumbents who are now coming to realize that the Internet of Things is very real and it’s happening and it’s going to end up being important to them and their bottom lines in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Gettings. “So they’re getting a lot more interested, trying to figure out how to develop new products and service relationships where we take their current business models and move them more into a more data-oriented business model.”

And Leeo certainly has the talent to handle large amounts of data coming off the smart home. Its CTO, Luke Ivers, was an executive at secretive big data company Palantir. A crew of Palantir employees made the move over to Leeo with Ivers. Gettings sees a similarity with how Palantir succeeded in working with its customers to figure how to use and make sense of all that data they were collecting.

“Several years ago, companies realized that they had all this data that they weren’t doing anything with,” said Gettings. “Then companies like Palantir came along and said, let us help solve your data problems—you have all this data you’re not leveraging. Leeo is similar but it’s real time data in the home.”

One thing Leeo would tell me about its upcoming series of products–which the company plans to start releasing before the end of this year–is that they are designed to fit on top of already existing products in the home.

“A lot of these smart home companies come out with these brilliant disruptive products but they’re also disruptive to the consumer,” said Charles Huang, COO of Leeo. “You have to rip things out of your house. You have to install new things. We found that there’s already large incumbents who have been in this business for a hundred years. They already have products installed in people’s homes. What we’re trying to do is create some new technologies that make it easier for somebody’s home to become a smart home without having to rip apart half of your house and replace it with new equipment.”

Leading Leeo’s product design is Beats chief designer Robert Brunner. He had been consulting with the company since the very beginning and decided to join as chief designer two months ago following 
 acquisition of Beats. Brunner will remain lead partner at Ammunition, the design firm he founded and where he helped design Beats. COO Huang is also well versed in the consumer products world after co-founding video game studio RedOctane in 1999. The game studio released the wildly successful Guitar Hero in 2005 and was acquired by Activision in 2006. Huang started out as an advisor and investor to Leeo and soon joined as COO.

Gettings decided to get into smart homes after a friend’s house caught fire and they lost their house and pets. Before Leeo, Gettings founded a robotics company in 2007 called RoboteX, which builds robots that assist SWAT teams and law enforcement agencies in dangerous situations such as diffusing bombs. He wanted to build the same level of interactivity he was building into his robots into the home. The company name Leeo was chosen by Gettings because when he was first thinking up the company, the idea reminded him of a lion. Gettings “wanted to connote the idea of a protector or silent sentinel.”

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