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Deako co-founder and CEO Derek Richardson makes his pitch alongside GeekWire’s John Cook at the 2017 GeekWire Summit, Oct. 11, 2017. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

With $15 million in funding  and a “laser focus” on customers, Deako is ready for serious growth in the smart lighting market.

“We’re just rapidly scaling the business now,” said CEO Derek Richardson. Nearly 150 builders use Deako technology in their construction projects. And with the Seattle startup now operating in 10 states, the 25-person company plans to double its team size in the next 12 months.

Deako CEO Derek Richardson. (Deako Photo)

Founded in 2015, Deako sells a modular light switch that can function with either conventional or smart lights, allowing a homeowner to easily swap in high-tech, remotely controlled lighting.

But while Deako makes the technology simpler, it’s still spendy. The Deako Simple Switch, which does not have smart light capabilities but can be upgraded, costs $10.99. Their Smart Switch is $69.99 and the Deako Smart Dimmer is $89.99. You also need the back plate and face plate, which cost between $6 to $11.

There’s also a flood of competitors selling smart light products — Lutron Caseta, Leviton WiFi, Wemo, GE Z-Wave, Legrand Adorn. Even still, Deako  —a Bloomberg 2017 top 50 Global Start-Up, a Y-Combinator Alumni and GeekWire Summit “Inventions We Love” — claims to offer a suite of features that the competition doesn’t match.

Before launching the company, Richardson spent nearly 12 years at Cypress Semiconductor, an international company based in San Jose, Calif. Prior to that, he worked for Blackberry. His roles and training include electrical engineering, marketing, business management, software development and new product development.

But his motivation for building Deako is traced in large part to his gaggle of little girls, ages 4, 7 and 9.

“They’re running around the house turning on lights,” Richardson said of his daughters. Before smart lights, that meant roaming room to room each evening, flipping switches. That has changed.

“Every night I hit one button,” he said, “and instantly all the lights are turned off.”

The Deako suite of products. (Deako website)

And when the family is traveling, it’s easy to program the lights to come off and on during the day to make it appear that someone is home, he said.

The company has patented the technology and is not looking to branch out into other Internet of Things devices, Richardson said. He’s happy for success in a more narrow application. And while he might not qualify as a startup for much longer, he loves the innovation and passion of this phase.

“You get to work with some of the most creative, amazing people,” he said. “People who are there to build something that is unique and impactful and you’re solving a real problem.”

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

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Deako makes smart lighting so flexible that you can swap from simple to smart switches without turning off the power.

Inspiration hit us when: I needed to replace light switches in my cabin and found it was a nightmare to wire up each switch. Getting a smart lighting system installed professionally would have cost more than $10,000. I knew there had to be a better way.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: All of the above! It takes a lot to build a new IoT platform, from hardware, to mechanical, electrical, design, software, firmware, cloud, manufacturing, go to market planning, etc. We did as much as we could with Bootstrap funding and built a proof of concept product that helped us secure Angel investors and ultimately VC funding.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We’ve developed a whole new business model that can quintuple smart home technology adoption in new construction. Traditionally, contractors have to incorporate technology as they’re building a home, which requires a lot of money upfront. With our product, builders simply pre-wire a house to make it compatible with smart lights at no additional cost compared to a standard light switch.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Focusing on the new construction industry. A lot of tech companies will build a product, then figure out who wants it. We’ve done it the opposite way. We had a laser focus on home builders and created something that they wanted and could use. You can still retrofit a house using Deako light switches, but that’s not our primary market.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Trying to do too much with our first-generation product, which caused significant delays to market. We were trying to simplify the ordering process, the installation and set-up process too much. Thank goodness we are past that and in full production today!

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Bezos because he is the most focused on solving the problems that we are tackling.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Beach BBQs in the summer here in Seattle.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A passionate person who is on their way up in the world.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: It’s going to be a lot tougher than you can possibly imagine, but don’t freak out or give up. If you stay focused and be relentless, it will pay off in the end!

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