A Smart Approach for Doing Firmware Right


Nobody gets firmware right the first time. It’s a hard truth in the IoT space.

Many developers of smart products trip up at this step in their journey.

It’s not just the initial development that’s difficult either. As the product evolves, you need to constantly improve the experience—without breaking things in the process.

Alan Vardon, Director - Smart Home Division at Globe Electric, is well-versed in the trials and tribulations of firmware development, and he’s learned a few lessons along the way.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Transitioning an established company to the smart home space
  • The importance of initial and continuous testing with firmware
  • The challenges of working with firmware

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That was smart. You have such an amazing opportunity to communicate with your consumers. You owe it to them and your company to continue see improve upon the experience. You are listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey brought to you by vary. In each episode we have sharp, unfiltered conversations with executives about their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wish they'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOT connected devices and the journey. My name is Ryan Prosser, CEO vary, and today we're joined by Alan Varden, director of the Smart Home Division at Globe Electric. We're going to be talking about best practices for leveraging product knowledge to enable and scale firmware, something near and dear to our heart at very Alan, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for having me so Alan. I know globe has been around forever. For those that don't know, can you give us a little background on on globe electrical, what you guys are all about? Yeah, we're actually a closer nine year old company now based out of Montreal and Canada, and we're not a tech company. We're more of a lifestyle brand company and that's one of our advantages that we got into smart so we've done all this lighting and bold and stuff before and then we leverage that into the smart home space just a few years ago. So we do a lot of like like pictures and electrical stuff. And is it fair to say for somebody WHO's working in the smart home at a traditional established company like globe? I'm going to guess you you live on airplanes to and from China or before Covid is that a fair statement? Yeah, before the plague kind of shut us down, we we we're visiting very often. I've been in a few short years. I've been about ten times that China ready and you get so much done when you go over there right just the face to face. But yeah, we were living on planes going to shows and China and it was it was funny for it all got shutdown. That's right. Yeah, I mean it's the IT south. What is it? Southeast China seems like the center of gravity for Hardware Development for Iot.

There's just no getting away from it. So one of the things that I think is really fascinating about you guys a story is I guess it is this piece where you guys are really established. So you've been in the market for a long time and you look at over and over they teach you in business school. You know you don't see any of like the railway manufacturers made the jump into making cars. You know, you don't see these companies very rarely make the big leap into the next big thing. And yet here's make you know, having some pretty phenomenal success in the smart home space. It's seeming like well positioned to blow up that. I guess that outdated way of thinking. Can you talk about like what that's looked like for you guys? I think a lot of people out there in the audience maybe they're working for a really established company and they're thinking to themselves, all right, what does the Road Map look like for me to, you know, drag my established, ninety year old company kicking and screaming into the twenty one century? What are some of the challenges that you've faced? You know, how did you go about them? Give us world from an airplane on what that journeys look like. Sure. Well, well, our advantage was well, first we do have experience in these smart products on the non smart side, right, like light bulbs and fixtures and ELECTROC products. We had decades of experience so we knew how they work. But for the Smart Home Space, we've been keeping an eye and on it for years before we jumped in. So we detend, like I said, we go to China and go to shows and we'd see that smart was creeping up. So we did our research beforehand so we understood what the pitfalls would be of entering that space too early or too late. So we had some boxes that we need checked before we enter that space because traditionally we're not a tech company, right. So we need to align ourselves with a partner that could help us with the cloud management in the APP side, which we did, and then we just use what we use on the non smart side to be successful and applied it to smart. So it wasn't a decision that was made lately. So that that really helped us. And then I, like I said, we just all of our product...

...development experience and knowledge. We just applied that too smart. So the one of the key takeaways, if I'm here and your right, is if your company is going to enter the connected device space, you know, and you're coming from this very traditional background. Jump in with both feet or wait until you're ready it, or at least that's what's work for you guys. Yeah, if you jump in, if you jump without looking, you're you're going to get hurt. So, especially with this type of space, it's very public, right, you can't just put a product out there and kiss a goodbye. It's you will get feedback from your consumers and if it's not done well, you get a negative feedback and it's going to hurt your brand. So that's why we were very cautious before entering. But when we did, like I said, our main advantage as a company is that we're we have a tremendous speed to market. We don't take two years of developer product. We go all in and we understand that getting to market first, or or close to first, is extremely important. So once we decide we were in smart, we pooler resources and then we got in. But we did that background homework before entering the space because it's intimiting, right, if you mess it up, it can set you back. So I you're that's a good call out. I left out a critical piece of the globe, secret sauce. Prior to jumping in with both feet. One of the things you guys did really well was like assessing the market place, really looking at where the gaps were and saying, okay, we think we can nail this. Let's go hard, let's go fast, let's get it right and no looking back. Is it's more accurate characterization? Yeah, exactly. And the APP stuff was new to us and when we started, but now, like every other category we jumped into four years past, we're gaining experience and we're growing our team on the APP side as well. So I like I mentioned, we partnered with the right company to to launcher APP and everything, but now we're learning and gaining that experience as well. So we're just better positioning ourselves for the next couple phases for smart. So okay. Then this next question, I think for folks out there and TV land that have been a part of...

...the journey from, you know, nonsmart products into smart. So they you know, they're at a traditional company does his first launch. You're probably out there asking if screaming at the radio right now. Ask Him about firmware. Ask Him, but we'll see. You know, nobody gets this right initially. Talk about you guys as journey and you talked about APPS and APP development being somewhat new to your company's culture. Will come back to that, but I want to talk about fur more. This is where a lot of people trip up. It's hard, it's hard to do right. I think it's impossible to do perfectly. Can you talk about you guys's journey here so on? Our initial laws actually went very smooth. So it's kind of like a sports team, right, you have a really good team, they faced no adversity during the regular season and playoff comes as an injury and they crumble. Right. So I was kind of like that in a sense. We didn't crumble, but we didn't have any real form more issues for for quite a while and then when we experienced it, you know we had experience up in that point that we were able to quickly identify and rectify it. And as a company, again, we're not just some run we're not like a pop up company. We have a strong customer service presents and team and we have TRU men. Put Your minut's value on customer service. So we dealt with it and it just added to our experience. But it was almost a wakeup call, right because up top point. It was going so, so well and we're thinking teams. For granted, we were relaunching items and weren't necessarily taking the time to look at them like we did in the past because we didn't necessuit. We assumed it was going to be okay and and that was I think the major lesson is don't assume. You cannot assume firm where, if it's launched, it's going to be okay, or if you adjust something it's not going to break something else. That's always the trouble. Right you fix one thing, your break three more things. So we learn that lesson relatively early. It wasn't right away, but it happened and since then we've been making sure that there's not just initial testing. There is continuous testing on all of our products. So you got somebody out there. They're leaning forward in their chair following along right now. Maybe they haven't full considered firm where... being as important as you know what you're talking about. We certainly have very I think understand it. Know a thing or two about firmware difficulties. But what would you say to that person? What, how should they be thinking about firm where? So they got this great hardware product, they're feeling great about it right on their parade a little bit on firmware, where does some things that they need to be thinking about that they probably aren't thinking about right now? Well, it's what the user interacts with, right. That's their gateway to the product. So you can have all these cool features and everything, but if it's impossible to figure out for the average consumer, it's going to leave a negative taste for them. So you got to make it as simple as possible for the average user. Honestly, sometimes it really depends on the market. Right we're for the mass market, so we have to make sure that there's a lot of features but it's easy to digest. So that's how we approach it it. But that step one just make sure it's usable and step two is just keep an eye on it. Like just make sure that you just don't leave it alone, because a lot of times you'll see companies they they develop a product, they have this neat Ui package and firm more for that product and then three years later it's still exactly the same thing. But was smart. You have such an amazing opportunity to communicate with your consumers. You owe it to them and your company to continue see improve upon the experience right, and when you're doing that you have to make sure you do your homework and make sure you don't break the thing as you're trying to improve it. Have you guys had any issues where you have like mass bricked things or, you know, cause something to be unworkable at scale out of the field? Happens to everybody. Well, can you share with a salad? Yeah, that was, I think, the major wakeup call for us. So it was a repeat of an item that was doing well for us and there was a firm or update, but on the update it wouldn't allow for certain routers in the market that were relatively new to have the product pair to it. So we started getting these, you know, complaints and questions and tickets open to their customer service team and we're scratching out, going well, that doesn't make sense, and then we eventually figured it out and...

...that was really our wakeup call. But it did hurt us a bit at the time because it was such a high volume scow. First it was a great product for us and we were able to rectify it. But if, like I said, if we had almost like being too cocky right. They think if we went back and really did more that deep divetesting we would have caught it sooner. But in hindsight and glad it did happen because it shaped our perspective moving forward. But that was part of our learning process and based on what I'm seeing, it does seem to happen everyone, even to the best of us and the biggest companies, and you'll see it all the time going an APP store. I updated in my APP and now my camera doesn't work. We're updated in my APP and now all my groupings going, re schedules going. So it happens all the time. But it's really what sets US apart and other bigger, better companies were better. But bigger companies apart and other companies apart is the ability and the willingness to fix it. Some companies just don't right. We're in the kind of the wild west right now, smart where there's so many companies doing so many products you just you don't know right now. That's right. Speaking of like technically difficult things, you know, one of the things I always love to ask leaders on this show is this concept of, you know, the wrong side of impossible. So you know these technical challenges that you have to solve. No one else has solved them. Maybe they haven't tried, they have an identified the opportunity, they just couldn't. Whatever the reason is, you have to solve that in order to arrive at the other side and have something that's unique and valuable. Can you talk about what wrong side of impossible looked like for you guys at Globe? What did you have to solve? What did that journey look like? Give us some color there. Yeah, we had a product actually with it's a flood caam, so it's a floodlight with a camera and it's that type of product has been on the market for a while. We've had a lot of success up to that point with our lighting, which was our GB and tunable white. So you get a full spectrum of color, which on that type of product wasn't in the market yet. So we thought, okay, cool, that's relatively easy to add, but in hindsight it wasn't it. There was a lot of the hugging that had to go back and forth. You know, there's a lot of details that went into it, but we eventually did figure it out and it was really close to the wire.

Two so we committed some stock to a customer and it was getting closer and closer to the delivery date and we were still having issues. So the camera would stop working, or there's the camera was not communicating with the light and the light was going on at random time. So it was a simple enough idea, but again we pool or resources, we focus in fixing the problem. But again that was another lesson for us. It's too we need to you can't again assume that adding something like that for smart can be a simple fix, because you never know. Sometimes that type of product is not the market for reason. Someone could not figure it out. So we're glad that we did. It did launch a few months ago actually, and it's been doing quite well for us right so far. We expected to do much, much better. As you know, the word gets out, but it's been a cool product for us in a good experience for us so far. That's great, and you just said this, but that has been a big win for you guys. Right, that's product that's borne out, you know. So we're turning the page now into two thousand and twenty two. What are some things coming down the pipe at Globe in terms of how globe is thinking about smart how globe is thinking about connected devices, how globe is thinking about itself even, you know, with this new growth theories. That causing some introspection. What can you talk about what we're going to see as the years were all on from globe? Yeah, so globe view smart as a future for us right like it's just going to continue to grow as more and more people are investing in smart homes and smart devices. It's just going to grow. Up until now we focus on the inside of the home. I think the focus for us in two thousand and twenty two is going to be the outside. So a lot of landscape lighting, more security lighting items, decker outdoor lighting items, holiday lighting items. So really the focus would be on the outside of the home and overall, just continuing the improvement of the APP experience right, like I mentioned before, even though, let's say our light ball, we've done quite well with it and the Uis great, we're just going to be adding more and more features to it. So that's really our focus is, you know, improving upon what we've done and also looking at other area the homes, that we haven't tackled yet and adding to our overall...

...sortment to make sure that when a user investing low, they can invest all the way if they choose to, for their home. What do you think would have a bigger impact? If you could only turn one of these knobs to eleven? The other one has to stay where it's at? Price or features and functionality in the Smart Light Space? If you could, if globe could really just put one of those two things on steroids, price spring, price way down through some breakthrough or, you know, roll out some of the things you're talking about that's new and different, unique in terms of functionality or offerings. Ideally it's both. Don't give me both. Yeah, but you know, for me it'd be features, because that's how you truly differentiate yourselves from everyone else. Right, if you're looking at a standard LD ball, it's price, because you're going to want to get that volume. You want to you sell it to that customer. If it fail, if they're going back right to buy another one. For smart if you make that investment and you have a kick as experience with great features that continue see improve and you get new features through it, it's I think that's more valuable long term than maybe having a ball that's two bucks cheaper than everyone else. Right. So you guys are big players in the space. Now. You know, you made play some really smart bets. Who out there in Iot land are you looking at outside of Globe and that you think is doing good work? Bonus points if this is, you know, somebody that maybe others haven't heard of. Like, are there folks in adjacent spaces? Obviously not, other lighting competitors with the globe is number one. That's it. But you know, as far as you know, maybe in the switch space or maybe in a totally different space that you interact with personally, who's doing really good work in Iot connected whatever that you're looking at and saying, man, I got to tell more people about this product of this company. There's a lot. It's I find there's very few like a globe that kind of focuses on almost everything. You'll have like a wise, who's did an amazing job on their...

...cameras. Right, they came out of nowhere and they had a really well priced indoor camera that dominated the market and then they just expanded slowly. Right, they have bulbs now, I believe. I think they have some scale, they have plugs. So they did a good job, I think, and there I saw their site to like. They look like they thought it out well. Phillips has been around forever, so I think they're the standard that a lot of companies look at because if they were, I think, really first to market. But those are or two I kind of look at. I think they've done a good job. The Old Phillips Underdog Story. We don't hear that. No, but that's cool wise, nice little shout out for wise. It's so I'm just looking at like some of the key takeaways for today, just reviewing some of the things we've been over. It seems like secrets to success for you guys have our many. But to the jump out at the top of the program you talked about, Hey, do your homework, identify the gaps and then hit it hard with everything you got. And I think each one of those I've seen companies mess up, you know, and I've seen a lot of companies mess up all three of them. You know, don't do the homework, don't think too much about the gaps and then get in kind of halfway and see what sticks. We in fact, I think we see that far too often. And and then the other piece. Not many people are, I don't know, as jazzed about firmwhere as we are. But firmware is hard and critically important to success. And even apple bricks their phones. You know, apple one of the most valuable companies in all the land. firmware is hard and getting it wrong is a big problem. And it seems like, you know, one of the things you guys have gotten right is not trying to be perfect but trying to be really good and being better, you know every day. So when you see problems, owning that, investing and testing. Is there a third one that you think I've missed? That has been one of the keys to globe success in the last few years? Well, like I said, it's really the experience. You can't teach that and we've been fortunate for the fact that we just have a wealth of it. So on the hardware side I have tremendous confidence that whatever product we do, we know how to do it properly.

If the firmware was new for us, as we mentioned, but we're gaining experience in that as well. But it's really you can't just open up a company and expect to do smart right away and be successful right you have companies that had no business being in light bulbs, making smart light bulbs all of a sudden because smart light bulbs are thing to do. They won't last. We saw that with led balls years ago. You had a hundred companies all of a sudden making Lee Bulbs and now you have a handful maybe left on the market, the ones that were there at the beginning and they're still here now. So yeah, it's really it's speak to market. For us, it's doing the work and just relying on our experience and our team just to get it done. There you go. So do your homework. firmware is hard and invest in the experience lessons learned. So Allan enjoyed having you here today. For folks that want to keep up with your story, where's a where can we point to people that want to follow on after today's episode? Well, Globe Electric we do have an instagram page, we have a linkedin page. We're going to be launching a new website soon, so it's going to be extremely interactive. I don't have a launch date yet, but that will be noted on our linkedin and our instagram pages for sure. So we also have a facebook page. So any major social media page or site we have a page on cool and if anybody wanted to follow your story directly, Alan Harden is findable person on Linkedin. Correct. I am Yes, all right. If you're listening on Apple Podcast, please don't forget give us a five star. Writing. If you enjoyed what you heard, my name's Ryan processer. Appreciate you. Guys. Show it up today. We'll see you on the Internet. You shouldn't have to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enough on your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managers can change a pivotal moment for your business into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a reality on time and up to...

...your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk in maximizing opportunity, will help you build an Iot solution that you can hang your hat on. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at very possiblecom you've been listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a writing. Have a question or an idea for future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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