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 suchan amazing opportunity to communicate with your consumers. You owe it to them and yourcompany to continue see improve upon the experience. You are listening to overthe Air Iot connected devices and the journey brought to you by vary. Ineach 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 knownwhen they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOT connected devices and thejourney. My name is Ryan Prosser, CEO vary, and today we're joinedby Alan Varden, director of the Smart Home Division at Globe Electric. We'regoing to be talking about best practices for leveraging product knowledge to enable and scalefirmware, something near and dear to our heart at very Alan, thanks forbeing on the show. Thanks for having me so Alan. I know globehas been around forever. For those that don't know, can you give usa 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 Montrealand Canada, and we're not a tech company. We're more of a lifestylebrand company and that's one of our advantages that we got into smart so we'vedone all this lighting and bold and stuff before and then we leverage that intothe smart home space just a few years ago. So we do a lotof like like pictures and electrical stuff. And is it fair to say forsomebody 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 beforeCovid is that a fair statement? Yeah, before the plague kind of shut usdown, we we we're visiting very often. I've been in a fewshort years. I've been about ten times that China ready and you get somuch done when you go over there right just the face to face. Butyeah, we were living on planes going to shows and China and it wasit was funny for it all got shutdown. That's right. Yeah, I meanit's the IT south. What is it? Southeast China seems like thecenter 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 youguys a story is I guess it is this piece where you guys are reallyestablished. So you've been in the market for a long time and you lookat over and over they teach you in business school. You know you don'tsee any of like the railway manufacturers made the jump into making cars. Youknow, you don't see these companies very rarely make the big leap into thenext big thing. And yet here's make you know, having some pretty phenomenalsuccess in the smart home space. It's seeming like well positioned to blow upthat. I guess that outdated way of thinking. Can you talk about likewhat that's looked like for you guys? I think a lot of people outthere in the audience maybe they're working for a really established company and they're thinkingto themselves, all right, what does the Road Map look like for meto, you know, drag my established, ninety year old company kicking and screaminginto the twenty one century? What are some of the challenges that you'vefaced? You know, how did you go about them? Give us worldfrom an airplane on what that journeys look like. Sure. Well, well, our advantage was well, first we do have experience in these smart productson the non smart side, right, like light bulbs and fixtures and ELECTROCproducts. We had decades of experience so we knew how they work. Butfor the Smart Home Space, we've been keeping an eye and on it foryears before we jumped in. So we detend, like I said, wego 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 beof entering that space too early or too late. So we had some boxesthat we need checked before we enter that space because traditionally we're not a techcompany, right. So we need to align ourselves with a partner that couldhelp 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 besuccessful and applied it to smart. So it wasn't a decision that was madelately. So that that really helped us. And then I, like I said, we just all of our product...

...development experience and knowledge. We justapplied that too smart. So the one of the key takeaways, if I'mhere and your right, is if your company is going to enter the connecteddevice 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 leastthat's what's work for you guys. Yeah, if you jump in, if youjump without looking, you're you're going to get hurt. So, especiallywith this type of space, it's very public, right, you can't justput a product out there and kiss a goodbye. It's you will get feedbackfrom your consumers and if it's not done well, you get a negative feedbackand it's going to hurt your brand. So that's why we were very cautiousbefore entering. But when we did, like I said, our main advantageas a company is that we're we have a tremendous speed to market. Wedon't take two years of developer product. We go all in and we understandthat getting to market first, or or close to first, is extremely important. So once we decide we were in smart, we pooler resources and thenwe got in. But we did that background homework before entering the space becauseit's intimiting, right, if you mess it up, it can set youback. So I you're that's a good call out. I left out acritical 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 themarket 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 westarted, 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 tolauncher 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 andTV 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 companydoes his first launch. You're probably out there asking if screaming at the radioright now. Ask Him about firmware. Ask Him, but we'll see.You know, nobody gets this right initially. Talk about you guys as journey andyou 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'shard to do right. I think it's impossible to do perfectly. Can youtalk 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 havea really good team, they faced no adversity during the regular season and playoffcomes as an injury and they crumble. Right. So I was kind oflike that in a sense. We didn't crumble, but we didn't have anyreal 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 toquickly identify and rectify it. And as a company, again, we're notjust some run we're not like a pop up company. We have a strongcustomer service presents and team and we have TRU men. Put Your minut's valueon customer service. So we dealt with it and it just added to ourexperience. 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 themlike we did in the past because we didn't necessuit. We assumed it wasgoing to be okay and and that was I think the major lesson is don'tassume. You cannot assume firm where, if it's launched, it's going tobe 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 threemore 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 justinitial testing. There is continuous testing on all of our products. So yougot somebody out there. They're leaning forward in their chair following along right now. Maybe they haven't full considered firm where...

...as being as important as you knowwhat you're talking about. We certainly have very I think understand it. Knowa thing or two about firmware difficulties. But what would you say to thatperson? What, how should they be thinking about firm where? So theygot this great hardware product, they're feeling great about it right on their paradea little bit on firmware, where does some things that they need to bethinking about that they probably aren't thinking about right now? Well, it's whatthe user interacts with, right. That's their gateway to the product. Soyou can have all these cool features and everything, but if it's impossible tofigure out for the average consumer, it's going to leave a negative taste forthem. So you got to make it as simple as possible for the averageuser. Honestly, sometimes it really depends on the market. Right we're forthe mass market, so we have to make sure that there's a lot offeatures 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 keepan eye on it. Like just make sure that you just don't leave italone, 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 thenthree years later it's still exactly the same thing. But was smart. Youhave such an amazing opportunity to communicate with your consumers. You owe it tothem and your company to continue see improve upon the experience right, and whenyou're doing that you have to make sure you do your homework and make sureyou don't break the thing as you're trying to improve it. Have you guyshad 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 repeatof an item that was doing well for us and there was a firm orupdate, but on the update it wouldn't allow for certain routers in the marketthat were relatively new to have the product pair to it. So we startedgetting these, you know, complaints and questions and tickets open to their customerservice 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 ahigh volume scow. First it was a great product for us and we wereable to rectify it. But if, like I said, if we hadalmost like being too cocky right. They think if we went back and reallydid more that deep divetesting we would have caught it sooner. But in hindsightand glad it did happen because it shaped our perspective moving forward. But thatwas part of our learning process and based on what I'm seeing, it doesseem 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 updatedin my APP and now my camera doesn't work. We're updated in my APPand now all my groupings going, re schedules going. So it happens allthe time. But it's really what sets US apart and other bigger, bettercompanies were better. But bigger companies apart and other companies apart is the abilityand the willingness to fix it. Some companies just don't right. We're inthe kind of the wild west right now, smart where there's so many companies doingso 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 Ialways 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 youhave 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 reasonis, you have to solve that in order to arrive at the other sideand have something that's unique and valuable. Can you talk about what wrong sideof impossible looked like for you guys at Globe? What did you have tosolve? 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'sa floodlight with a camera and it's that type of product has been on themarket for a while. We've had a lot of success up to that pointwith our lighting, which was our GB and tunable white. So you geta full spectrum of color, which on that type of product wasn't in themarket 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 huggingthat had to go back and forth. You know, there's a lot ofdetails that went into it, but we eventually did figure it out andit was really close to the wire.

Two so we committed some stock toa customer and it was getting closer and closer to the delivery date and wewere still having issues. So the camera would stop working, or there's thecamera was not communicating with the light and the light was going on at randomtime. So it was a simple enough idea, but again we pool orresources, we focus in fixing the problem. But again that was another lesson forus. It's too we need to you can't again assume that adding somethinglike 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 notfigure it out. So we're glad that we did. It did launch afew months ago actually, and it's been doing quite well for us right sofar. We expected to do much, much better. As you know,the word gets out, but it's been a cool product for us in agood 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'sproduct that's borne out, you know. So we're turning the page now intotwo thousand and twenty two. What are some things coming down the pipe atGlobe in terms of how globe is thinking about smart how globe is thinking aboutconnected devices, how globe is thinking about itself even, you know, withthis new growth theories. That causing some introspection. What can you talk aboutwhat 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 goingto continue to grow as more and more people are investing in smart homes andsmart devices. It's just going to grow. Up until now we focus on theinside of the home. I think the focus for us in two thousandand twenty two is going to be the outside. So a lot of landscapelighting, 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 withit and the Uis great, we're just going to be adding more and morefeatures to it. So that's really our focus is, you know, improvingupon what we've done and also looking at other area the homes, that wehaven't tackled yet and adding to our overall...

...sortment to make sure that when auser investing low, they can invest all the way if they choose to,for their home. What do you think would have a bigger impact? Ifyou could only turn one of these knobs to eleven? The other one hasto stay where it's at? Price or features and functionality in the Smart LightSpace? If you could, if globe could really just put one of thosetwo 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 newand 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 befeatures, 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 towant to get that volume. You want to you sell it to thatcustomer. 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 experiencewith 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 twobucks cheaper than everyone else. Right. So you guys are big players inthe space. Now. You know, you made play some really smart bets. Who out there in Iot land are you looking at outside of Globe andthat you think is doing good work? Bonus points if this is, youknow, somebody that maybe others haven't heard of. Like, are there folksin adjacent spaces? Obviously not, other lighting competitors with the globe is numberone. That's it. But you know, as far as you know, maybein the switch space or maybe in a totally different space that you interactwith personally, who's doing really good work in Iot connected whatever that you're lookingat and saying, man, I got to tell more people about this productof this company. There's a lot. It's I find there's very few likea 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 outof nowhere and they had a really well priced indoor camera that dominated the marketand then they just expanded slowly. Right, they have bulbs now, I believe. I think they have some scale, they have plugs. So they dida good job, I think, and there I saw their site tolike. They look like they thought it out well. Phillips has been aroundforever, so I think they're the standard that a lot of companies look atbecause if they were, I think, really first to market. But thoseare 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'mjust looking at like some of the key takeaways for today, just reviewing someof the things we've been over. It seems like secrets to success for youguys have our many. But to the jump out at the top of theprogram you talked about, Hey, do your homework, identify the gaps andthen hit it hard with everything you got. And I think each one of thoseI've seen companies mess up, you know, and I've seen a lotof 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 ofhalfway and see what sticks. We in fact, I think we see thatfar too often. And and then the other piece. Not many people are, I don't know, as jazzed about firmwhere as we are. But firmwareis 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 seemslike, you know, one of the things you guys have gotten right isnot trying to be perfect but trying to be really good and being better,you know every day. So when you see problems, owning that, investingand testing. Is there a third one that you think I've missed? Thathas 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 thatand 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 smartright away and be successful right you have companies that had no business being inlight bulbs, making smart light bulbs all of a sudden because smart light bulbsare thing to do. They won't last. We saw that with led balls yearsago. You had a hundred companies all of a sudden making Lee Bulbsand now you have a handful maybe left on the market, the ones thatwere there at the beginning and they're still here now. So yeah, it'sreally it's speak to market. For us, it's doing the work and just relyingon our experience and our team just to get it done. There yougo. So do your homework. firmware is hard and invest in the experiencelessons learned. So Allan enjoyed having you here today. For folks that wantto keep up with your story, where's a where can we point to peoplethat want to follow on after today's episode? Well, Globe Electric we do havean instagram page, we have a linkedin page. We're going to belaunching a new website soon, so it's going to be extremely interactive. Idon't have a launch date yet, but that will be noted on our linkedinand 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 andif anybody wanted to follow your story directly, Alan Harden is findable person on Linkedin. Correct. I am Yes, all right. If you're listening onApple Podcast, please don't forget give us a five star. Writing. Ifyou 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'thave to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enoughon your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managers can change apivotal moment for your business into your competitive edge varies. Close Knit crew ofambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideasinto a reality on time and up to...

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

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