Lessons Learned from Nest

November 19, 2012
By

If any one product has inspired people to want to be more energy efficient and green, it’s the Nest Learning Thermostat from Nest Labs.

The Nest has a lot going for it. It’s retro-cool, with its simple, old-fashioned round form. It’s operated with one-button iPad-like ease. It adds some digital spice with an easy-to-read temperature display. There’s color-coordinated backlighting to know whether you’re heating or cooling. It prompts more eco-friendly behavior with a leaf symbol that comes on when you set the thermostat at a more efficient level. And it can learn your patterns so you don’t have to program the thermostat yourself. Nest also allows control from a smartphone like an iPhone, which is a very cool way to sell energy efficiency. And for energy geeks, it can produce usage reports.

It’s all good, all smart, and about the closest thing we have to set-it-and-forget-it automation (or “artificial intelligence”) in the home and light commercial energy management space.

Nest Labs co-founder Tony Fadell, the ex-Apple guy who brought iPod-like simplicity to the boring old thermostat, was at last week’s Greenbuild Expo for a Q&A in the Residential Summit’s opening plenary, where he offered some basics lessons learned from developing the oh-so-cool Nest t-stat. And of course these should provide across-the-board lessons for selling anything in this space, whether you’re a green-tech product developer, contractor or marketer.

Background colors are cool, or in this case, hot.

Make it attractive.

The retro-mod form factor, ease of use and background colors all attract people to the Nest. It’s very visual and a hugely refreshing departure from the ugly programmable box hanging off a wall. It’s a small piece of decorative artwork. The Nest t-stat is so successful, Fadell says, not because it’s green but because it’s so engaging.

Make it a talking point.

In introducing Fadell, U.S. Green Building Council Chairman Rick Fedrizzi said he has four Nest t-stats in his house, and one day he found his college-age son and his friends huddled around a Nest and studying it. As Fedrizzi joked, a bunch of 20-year-olds huddled around a thermostat are not going to attract girls—unless that thermostat is the Nest.

Make it sexy and emotional.

People care about fun. They care about social engagement, says Fadell. The Nest t-stat has an emotional appeal, right out of the box. And it’s not just the looks. Fadell says about 70 percent of Nest owners are engaging with the leaf, which nudges them out of their comfort zone. You want to see the leaf when you’re using it. Sure, it’s a social engagement with a thermostat. But that is SO powerful.

You can geek out, if you wish, on energy history via the Nest app.

Also think about turning the heat or air conditioning up or down via your smartphone. People who buy home connectivity/automation systems through big service providers ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and others love the smartphone connectivity. But think they’d program their t-stat or operate it from a web portal on a desktop or even a laptop computer?

Mobile apps, apps, apps make this stuff sexy, sexy and fun, folks. Virtually everything green-tech should have an app, if applicable.

Not only that, Nest is a gateway. After saving energy by being cool with Nest, Fadell says people start looking at other efficient systems like high-SEER air conditioners and efficient appliances. “They want more of this stuff,” he says. But they also just want it to be cool, engage them and communicate well.

Do that, and green tech success is yours.

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