Charlie Kindel, founder of Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home division, has found his next gig, and he ended up there in part thanks to frustrations smartening up his own home.
Kindel is joining Salt Lake City-based Control4, a publicly-traded maker of smart home equipment and software, under the title of senior vice president of products and services. Kindel will lead a team of a “couple hundred” engineers working on a variety of projects, and he will be responsible for coming up with new product roadmaps as well.
Control4 was founded in 2003, and it has, through a network of dealers, installed equipment in more than 370,000 homes. It makes everything from connected lighting, to audio and video systems and pulls it all together with its software offerings that also support thousands of third party devices. The company, traded on Nasdaq, is valued at $675 million.
Kindel left Amazon in April, saying he planned to take a break. One of the main items on the checklist of the smart home veteran, who also spent 20 years at Microsoft, was refreshing the tech in his Bellevue, Wash. home.
Over the years, Kindel cobbled together a system using hundreds of devices, but it didn’t meet the expectations of someone on the cutting edge of smart home tech for decades. He realized that if his system wasn’t up to snuff, others had to be struggling too.
“I learned that it’s just not possible for a human being to have a home approaching anywhere near that level of refinement and sophistication and do it themselves,” Kindel said in an interview with GeekWire.
So Kindel decided to rip it all out and hire someone to put in a more holistic system. He ended up choosing a dealer affiliated with Control4.
Once he saw the tech in action, Kindel’s break was over after just a couple months.
Kindel thinks the smart home market has matured to a point where users are getting past the initial novelty of tinkering with the tech themselves and are ready to set up comprehensive smart home systems with help from professionals.
“It’s really clear to me that this is the future of the smart home space,” Kindel said of having a contiguous smart home system throughout the house, something Control4 specializes in. “As customers get through their journey of doing stuff themselves, maybe geeking out on it a little bit, they are either going to jump to this conclusion right away, or they’re going to get to it eventually, and once they reach a certain number of devices or a certain number of scenarios, they’re going to want it done right, and they’re going to want someone else to take care of the work involved with keeping it running and keeping it configured and customizing it as their family changes.”
Kindel says his new employer and his old one work very well together, calling Control4’s Alexa skill one of the best out there. Both Kindel and Control4 CEO Martin Plaehn insisted that Amazon and Control4 are complementary rather than competitive.
“We see a very big opportunity to help build out the products, build out the experience, really learn how consumers live in a connected world and be the infrastructure solution provider for connected homes,” Plaehn said. “And that’s very, very different than the consumer commerce mission that Amazon is on.”
But with Amazon’s ever-expanding ambitions, friends can turn to rivals quickly. There is recent precedent for a company trumpeting a big hire from Amazon and then facing a lawsuit from the tech giant.
Smartsheet last year brought in former Amazon Web Services vice president Gene Farrell to be its head of product. Amazon quickly sued, arguing that his knowledge of Amazon’s plans while developing products for what the company saw as a competitor put him in violation of his non-compete agreement.
When asked whether his move to Control4 could put him in violation of a non-compete agreement with Amazon, Kindel said “Control4 and Amazon have had a great partnership, and I think that’s going to continue.”
At least for now, Kindel will stay in that house that he’s having so much smart home work done on. He will commute back and forth between Utah and Washington for the time being. A Seattle engineering office isn’t in the plans at the moment, but Plaehn didn’t shut the door on the possibility.
Kindel, despite his status as a smart home icon, was always hesitant to show off his home to others because of all the “rough edges” in his set up. Kindel was intrigued by the low maintenance of this new system and that also piqued his interest in Control4 as a company.
“It’s the fact that it all worked all the time, completely reliable without me having to spend any time on it,” Kindel said of his favorite thing about the system.