One of the things that really motivates and drives me professionally and personally, is the idea of how technology can improve people’s lives in their homes. It’s incredible to live in a home equipped with technology built into the home’s infrastructure that provides convenience, great entertainment, and security. I want other people to be able to have that. Most home technology is installed by the homeowner, where they go to the store and they buy the device, and they take it home and try and figure out how to make it work. Sometimes it works really well and over time it has gotten a lot easier to do this. But most DIY devices are almost toys relative to today’s technology available through companies like SnapAV.
As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie Kindel.
Charlie has extensive and proven connected home experience, with a focus on creating world-class consumer and developer products, platform technologies, and partner ecosystems. He led product development at Microsoft from 1990 to 2011 and then created and grew the Alexa Smart Home division at Amazon. In his time at SnapAV he was instrumental in the acquisition of NEEO, was a driving force behind Smart Home OS 3, and is responsible for the product development of SnapAV’s thousands of products and services designed to make home technology professionals successful.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was always the type of kid that would take things apart in the house, like the toaster, and sometimes I wouldn’t even be able to put whatever it was back together. I’m a gearhead and I’ve always loved getting into the intricacies of devices and figuring out how things work. That led me down a path of getting a degree in systems engineering, which is a nice broad engineering degree that focused on how systems work. That led to me getting my first job out of college at Microsoft and from there on I ended up building a lot of products for both software developers and consumers. In the late 1990s, I started developing a personal passion around technology in the home and that led me to my first real job building the home networking features into Windows. At the time Windows didn’t have a networking stack and I was able to lead the team that built TCP IP networking into Windows.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think that it has to be when I visited Saudi Arabia to do a presentation on smart cities at a university near Mecca. The Prince of Saudi Arabia was there in the audience and after the presentation, he allowed the group I was with to drive back on the road to Jeddah, which is strictly only meant to be traveled by Muslims, which none of us were. But he gave us a special note to drive because it was late at night. On our drive back, we got lost and ended up driving near the Kabaa, which is a very holy place for Muslims, but you’re also not allowed to be there if you’re not a Muslim. It was both an incredibly stressful and incredible experience.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Like most people, when you come out of college and you go to a big company and you don’t know what you’re doing. You have no idea. In the beginning, I just tried to emulate everyone else who appeared successful at Microsoft. I was working on a technology called the Distributed Component Object Model, or DCOM. It was a part of Microsoft's strategy to expand its desktop operating system into enterprise scenarios. I was enamored with technology. We spent a year and a half building this technology and launched it at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference. We announced it to the world and gave out copies to the 10,000 people that showed up at the conference. All of them got a CD-ROM with the beta of this amazing technology. A couple of weeks later, this was back before the Internet and so nobody had the ability to download updates or anything like that, we got a note from a single customer telling us we had left the most critical header file off of the CD-ROM! That was just a shocking failure for me. I was absolutely stunned and devastated that I would spend all this time and energy building something to find out nobody cared enough to even try it. We thought we were building technology that customers would love and use, and only a single customer took the time to run the CD ROM and find that we’d messed it up. I realized then that I was doing it all wrong and that everybody around me was doing it wrong and that they were focusing on technology first and trying to build things with the hope people would use them. So, I vowed then and there to have my own principles for how to build products. The first of those principles is “always start with the customer experience, understand the customer value, and what customers really need, and THEN invent what’s needed to deliver that experience.” I’ve spent the remainder of my career striving to help others live by this principle.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It was around 2005 when I started working for a manager named Chris Phillips. I was well into my career. I had been at Microsoft for nearly 15 years at the time, and I had never really gotten real feedback from a manager until Chris. He coached me. He was harsh with me. He called me on my own BS and he had a great set of very simple tools and principles that he used to be successful. His guidance and lessons have really influenced me over the years.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
When I was at Amazon, I heard a speech from Jeff Bezos on the concept of good intentions, and basically, his argument was that everybody has good intentions, but good intentions aren’t enough to cause change or to drive progress. If you only depend on people’s good intentions, you’re going to get failures in the system so you have to figure out how to put just the right amount of process, or mechanisms, in place to help people live by their good intentions. It was a very well-articulated argument, and I’ve now worked to use just the right amount of “mechanization” to make sure that we are building the right thing for customers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Rule #1 — Start with the customer and work backwards from there. Rule #2 — Everybody is your customer. Rule #3 — There are not more rules.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.
I’ve lived in a highly sophisticated smart home since the mid-1990s, so it has been exciting to see how home technology and the availability of home technology has expanded. People are investing more in their home’s entertainment, security, efficiency, and so on for reasons ranging from personal comfort to higher resale value. Regardless, technology is an essential component of the modern and forward-looking home and that is very exciting, especially since SnapAV with all of our products, including Control4, are perfectly positioned to help the homebuilding industry grow and innovate.
Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?
Material science and design innovations have made modern homes extremely well-insulated and energy-efficient. This is purely the fundamental building technology that’s used in homes’ infrastructures. But now, you have intelligent lighting systems in homes that can tell you how much energy you’re using and when you’re overusing energy. In fact, sophisticated lighting systems can turn down or turn off lights in the house that aren’t being used to reduce energy usage.
There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?
“Smart home” as a term is often misconstrued because it doesn’t really tell the full story. It’s overused to some degree. I think about it generally as technology in the home that makes living in the home better. You know there’s not that much difference going back in time to when indoor plumbing was invented. That was technology for the home that made homes better, and all the other technology we’re seeing today has the same goal, whether it’s Internet connectivity, intelligent lighting, multiroom audio, or video home security and surveillance. Smart homes require an extension of intelligent technology that elevates typical experiences and capabilities, like sound, lighting, security, etc. Of course, there are also different levels of smart homes, from the minimal to partially-integrated all the way towards the dream: The invisible and ambient smart home.
Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?
The different scenarios where technology can be applied and that all of the innovation and invention that’s going on for homes is going to lead us to a world where almost every aspect of home living is technology-enabled in some way. Every device, every piece of furniture, every door, every shelf; they’re all going to have some form of technology in them at some point, and over time all of it is going to work more and more together, essentially becoming invisible or ambient.
Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?
The idea of sensors, particularly video cameras, in the home that can allow you to check in on your pets when you’re not there has really been a driving force behind a lot of smart home technology over the last five years. It is becoming increasingly necessary to have. And it really is delightful when you’re at work or away from home to be able to look in and see the dog is not on the couch or see the cats are playing. Then there are also automated pet feeders and automated dog doors that open only for your designated pet, providing another level of convenience.
How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?
Solar energy is finally becoming more affordable in many parts of the world and it’s truly taking off in some parts of the world. As a matter of fact, in some new home construction, solar systems are mandated. This is true in California or will be shortly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One of the things that really motivates and drives me professionally and personally, is the idea of how technology can improve people’s lives in their homes. It’s incredible to live in a home equipped with technology built into the home’s infrastructure that provides convenience, great entertainment, and security. I want other people to be able to have that. Most home technology is installed by the homeowner, where they go to the store and they buy the device, and they take it home and try and figure out how to make it work. Sometimes it works really well and over time it has gotten a lot easier to do this. But most DIY devices are almost toys relative to today’s technology available through companies like SnapAV. Once you get to the point where lighting, thermostats, security, audio and beyond pervade the entire home and are all integrated together, then you can fully experience the power and capabilities of modern home technology. But only a small percentage of people who are technology nerds want to spend significant time updating, monitoring, fixing, and configuring all the required technology. Today 95% of homes that have smart technology in them are DIY and the other 5% is professionally served. It’s my professional mission in life to flip that so 95% of home technology is professionally served. I’m lucky that my personal passion is so well aligned with the company I work for. SnapAV is the leader in delivering products and services to the home technology professionals and to making them successful. We are going to be the force that makes intelligent home technology available to everyone.
Additional Question: What global trends in homebuilding are you seeing?
We’re seeing the creation of an entirely new workforce that’s being developed around the professionals that service home technology. There are schools you can go to become an auto mechanic or to become a plumber, but there hasn’t been an institutionalized career path for people who want to get into home technology. As home technology continues to promulgate, there’s going to be more demand from customers looking for local professionals to help to install technology in their homes, whether it’s to do custom programming or set up a home theater. One of the trends we’re seeing is massive growth in all the small businesses that provide these services we call home technology professionals. But we’re also seeing growth in the education system focused on ensuring that these professionals are trained. SnapAV has its very own education program for networking called Professional Certified Network Administration (PCNA), and through this course technicians learned to be true experts in the home networking technology.
Additional Question: What trends are stemming from the pandemic?
When the pandemic started, our company’s leadership was very nervous, like a lot of people. We didn’t know how this would impact our company in our industry. Roughly six months in we’ve found very clearly, that people have decided to invest in their homes. They want to invest in their space because they’re there all the time. They’ve recognized COVID is probably not going away anytime soon, and even when it does go away, people are still going to spend more time at home than before and so everything from the home theater experience to the at-home office is becoming more important. The cinema experience has changed, and people are looking to invest in a nice TV set up with great sound. The home office needs a quality screen and good sound for video teleconferences. This is all becoming increasingly important. So business is good in our industry.
How can our readers follow you online?
My blog at https://ceklog.kindel.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!