We talked to Canadian entrepreneur Trung Pham, the CEO, and founder of RYSE, the company behind the next-generation retrofit motorization product. RYSE is designed to bring smart-home capabilities to existing window shades using an add-on motor gadget: The RYSE SmartShade. RYSE’ Smart shades are designed to retrofit existing shades. The SmartShades can integrate with Alexa, Google Home, and HomeKit through an optional gateway. He is what he said.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Trung Pham: Fortunately, we’re all doing as well as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit every business and individual in different ways. But, we have adapted by taking a people-first approach and making sure that everyone involved with creating, delivering, or using our products is safe.
Specifically, there are 3 things that we’d like to think we did pretty well:
- Allowing our employees to work from home.
- Offering contact-free shipping options.
- Listening to our user’s feedback.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded RYSE.
Trung Pham: RYSE was born when I (Trung Pham) was in the process of designing a new apartment I just moved into in Toronto. Since I didn’t have the budget for motorized shades, I opted for roller shades that are manually operated and controlled via a beaded chain. That summer, in 2014, the excessive heat led me back to the dealer I purchased my shades from; I wanted to upgrade the ones I had purchased a few months back to get them automated. This was when I learned that once you have manual window shades installed, it’s nearly impossible to motorize them – there were no retrofit solutions. It’s when I had my “Eureka” moment!
The company was then founded in early 2015, where we spent the first two years in R&D, developing our 1st-gen product. Being a non-technical solo founder, I myself focused on building the right company, recruiting the right team members, and focusing on the vision, strategy, and focus for our company.
In 2018, I pitched my company to fellow entrepreneurs on the hit show Dragon’s Den, where I received considerable interest, securing a deal with two of the Dragons on the show. From there, the company really took off; to date, the company has picked up quite a bit of traction with over 30,000 units already shipped — generating USD 4.5 million in online sales. As RYSE begins to expand into the realm of commercial real estate, we were able to secure a $3.85 million Canadian cleantech grant to begin piloting in commercial buildings. These small successes have to lead us to where we are today, growing and learning all along the way – while prioritizing each of our customers.
You can watch the video on Dragon’s Den below.
So did that appeared on a hugely popular show propel you into instant fame? Slightly joking, but tell us about that experience and what happened to you immediately after the show.
Trung Pham: Not necessarily actually; the Canadian market is much smaller than the US, and we are a more conservative country, while the majority of our sales (over 90%) are from US customers! So my goal would be to pitch to the Sharks on Shark Tank and enlist them as our investors, partners, and evangelist.
How does RYSE innovate?
Trung Pham: Technology can be a complicated thing, and it’s our job to make it as simple as possible. We focus on stripping away the complexity from our products – whether it’s the installation, setup, or actual use, our products need to be simple to use and simple to explain to anybody. We need to create an inviting, non-threatening experience that is truly plug-and-play – that’s really the start of our innovation journey.
We believe that innovation is really about having built and being able to provide an efficient and affordable motorized window shade solution. With RYSE, you can now quickly and seamlessly upgrade the window shades you already own and automate any blind or shade with an App with Voice control capability with Alexa, Google Home, and Siri/HomeKit via our SmartBridge. The RYSE gadget works with any shade or blind that has a beaded chain or cord loop, regardless of size or weight.
When we think about new products, we go through the NPI process – New Product Introduction – which is very different from software development which typically goes through “Sprints” – weekly development of new features or bug fixes. When creating a physical product, much of the leg work is done at the very beginning, from researching what our customers want, looking at competing or alternative solutions, and developing a set of requirements for our new products that are innovative and unique to us. You’ll see this in our new product launches later this year, next with the RYSE SmartDrapes – a device to automate curtains and drapes that run on a rod or rail.
Tell us more about your industry.
Trung Pham: According to Technavio, the global smart shades market is poised to experience healthy expansion through 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 56.6% until 2024, within the $158 billion (2018) Smart Home market.
We are working daily to lead the smart shade space, and as time progresses, our brand is becoming synonymous with the best IoT smart shades in the market.
In Q4-2021, we will launch SmartDrapes, which will motorize any curtain, drape, or rod. Rodes are most popular in hotels, and they are, interestingly, making a comeback in luxury apartment buildings.
Further down the line, in 2022, we are planning to launch SmartBlinds with tilt and lift Venetian blinds, horizontal blinds, or mini blinds that have a wand or drawstrings, which are more commonly used in private homes.
Also, in 2022, we’ll be launching cordless belongs and shades that will enable users to pull down to open and close their blinds. This system will grow rapidly in off-the-shelf blinds and residential spaces due to child safety measures.
There has been some exciting activity in the industry over the past few years as well (see next question for details!).
What are your plans for RYSE; are you looking to run the company for decades to come, or are you looking for an exit?
Trung Pham: RYSE has positioned itself to potentially be an attractive acquisition target by larger companies in our space.
The smart home industry has seen some large exits, with the big tech giants acquiring many start-ups. Some notable exits include, Assay Abloy acquiring August Lock, Google acquiring DropCam for $550 million and Nest for $3.2 billion, as well as Amazon acquiring Blink for $90 million, and more recently Ring for $1.2 billion.
Direct competitors like Somfy, who invented motorized shades, have a strong history of acquisition in both the smart home and smart shades category. LeGrand is another European player who had acquired qMotion shades in the past and, more recently, Netatmo, a smart home player.
Can you tell us more about your choice and dedication to build a solution that is energy efficient?
Trung Pham: As urbanization progresses, demand for smart homes and connected buildings is burgeoning, leading to increased investments in green and energy-efficient technologies, expanding the breadth for thermal comfort devices, like smart shades, in upcoming years.
We wanted to build a solution that was easily deployable into existing infrastructure and that could yield a favorable payback period from energy savings for building owners – not to mention a “cool” and affordable luxury as all our products will be retrofit based.
How were you able to secure the cleantech grant?
Trung Pham: The grant is funded by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (sdtc.ca) and requires us to partner with commercial buildings that are forward-thinking and willing to test our technologies. The purpose of the grant is not only to develop technology that can reduce GHG emissions in a live setting but also help prove this technology out with early potential customers that are a “foot-in-the-door” into the wider market. A successful pilot in one of our partner buildings – that includes Quadreal (a $44 billion landlord and developer) – allows us to potentially scale and deploy our technology to their remaining portfolio of hundreds of buildings.
Thanks to the grant, we developed our SmartShades for commercial use, which is the first retrofit solution to automate existing installed window shades and optimize them for both comfort and energy efficiency. Our advanced algorithms and suite of intelligent sensors automatically raise and lower window coverings throughout the day to reduce energy consumption and harvest natural light. These solutions are really what enabled us to secure the grant.
How often should one install smart home technology?
Trung Pham: Every person is different, and this really is a personal preference. There are those like myself who love gadgets and gizmos and always want the latest trending technologies. We’ll start with the typical smart home devices like voice speakers, smart thermostats, and security systems as the bare minimum. After this, we’ll move on to the “cooler” devices to enhance the experience and comfort in our homes, such as smart shades and lighting.
Your final thoughts?
Trung Pham: With more than $4.5 million in revenue and over $185K in pre-orders for its second-generation device, we have established a clear demand for RYSE SmartShade. The global Smart Shades market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 56.6% until 2024, within the $158 billion (2018) Smart Home market.
Join the Dragon’s and the RYSE investor community by investing today at https://invest.helloryse.com/.
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