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Some members of the Wyze Labs team. (Wyze Labs Photo)

The four founders of Wyze Labs are all former Amazon employees, and they’ve hewed closely the company’s well-known leadership principles in developing what they’re touting as a high-quality, affordable, smart home camera.

It’s an edge they may need, as they’ve recently found themselves in direct competition with the tech behemoth.

Launched earlier this year, the 25-employee startup, based in Bothell, Wash., is scrambling to keep up with demand for its $19.99 WyzeCam camera. Just days ago, Amazon began selling its version of a smart home camera, the Cloud Cam, for $119.99.

“Just like Amazon, we operate on a low margin, high volume, high efficiency, customer-centric and value-driven business model,” said Wyze Labs CEO Yun Zhang. “We believe as long as we focus on value and efficiency and always strive to provide the best customer experience that we can, the business will succeed in the long term.”

Zhang and his gang may have out-Amazoned Amazon on this one. For $100 less, the WyzeCam’s features include digital zoom, two-way audio, night vision and a magnetic base for easy installation. It can detect movement and recognize the sound patterns of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, sending alerts to your smart phone.

In comparing WyzeCam with Cloud Cam, Zhang calls out his product’s free and additional features.

WyzeCam offers 14 days of free cloud storage (via Amazon Web Services), while the Amazon product provides 24 hours for free and subscriptions for longer storage (it’s $9.99/month for 14 days of storage). Both offer motion detection alerts, but the WyzeCam can also detect sounds from smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors.

There is no limit on how many WyzeCams can connect to the Wyze App; Amazon Cloud Cam connects three cameras for free, and up to 10 for a monthly subscription. For continuous recording, WyzeCam users can buy and install a microSD card, while the Cloud Cam does not have this capability.

Wyze Labs Photo

Both WyzeCam and Cloud Cam offer 1080p HD video. One plus for the Amazon camera: it’s integrated with the digital assistant Alexa. That’s not true for WyzeCam, said Zhang. At least not yet.

And the Cloud Cam is an essential component to Amazon Key, the service announced last month that will allow people delivering your Amazon orders to enter your home to drop them off.

The home security camera market is increasingly competitive, including big players such as Logitech, Netgear and Google’s Nest. One consumer electronics site is already recommending WyzeCam over Amazon’s offering.

“It’s our goal to democratize the smart home market,” Zhang said, “and empower everyone to enjoy technology.”

The other Wyze Lab founders are Dave Crosby, Elana Fishman and Dongsheng Song. The four met while working at Amazon. After leaving the company, they collaborated on other projects in the consumer tech sector and eventually decided to focus on affordable, smart home technology products.

We caught up with Zhang for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Yun Zhang, CEO and co-founder of Wyze Labs. (Wyze Labs Photo)

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We make high-quality smart home products that are affordable to everyone.”

Inspiration hit us when: “One of the co-founders, Dave Crosby, runs a popular YouTube channel featuring his father-daughter singing duo. As he was on the road a lot, he was looking for a smart home camera to stay connected and protect his family with. Everything he found on the market was either overpriced for their quality and or extremely unreliable. So we thought, ‘Consumers deserve better than that!'”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’re VC funded. Our seed investor is iSeed Ventures.”

Our “secret sauce” is: “We focused on what we would want as a consumer and organized our business around that. What would we want? Affordable prices for quality, accessible products. And it looks like many people agree with us!”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “To launch WyzeCam, our first product, we laser focused on tech-savvy users. We believe they’re the ones that really get how challenging it is to do what we do. Once we exceed their expectations, they will naturally become our brand ambassadors. We all know how often they get asked for recommendations and troubleshooting suggestions from friends and family.”

Wyze Labs Photo

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We were caught off-guard by how enthusiastically we were received. We didn’t have enough inventory on hand to fulfill the orders that were made immediately after launch and we’ve been working as hard as we can to catch up. It’s a good problem to have for a company as far as problems go but we do feel bad about the delays!”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos, hands down. Most of us worked for him at one point or another, and his relentless customer focus is what we admire the most. We’re working to apply the same principles to our own business.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Regular happy hours and fun office parties. This Halloween we had a costume contest and made terrariums for our desks.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Being customer centric: Our business can’t survive without it and it’s the heart of everything we do. For every job function we hire, this is a core requirement.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Focus on products and users. It’s a positive feedback loop. Build a great product that provide the best possible customer experience, and the rest will take care of itself.”

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