A flood leads to a flood of ideas

A basement flood is something you notice — often when it’s already too late. As a property owner, you do your best to monitor the perimeter during heavy rains and keep your sump pump working properly. But what happens if you are on vacation? Or if you own a vacation or rental property? For George Tsintzouras, President and Co-Founder of Alert Labs, a simple leak in a rental property ultimately led to a unique business venture.

While on a business trip, George got a call from a tenant letting him know of a flood. Even though the tenant detected a small leak months earlier, he neglected to mention it. As George scrambled to stop the flood, he wondered if there was a better way to monitor his property. Being a landlord, it wasn’t the first time he’d shelled out for preventable expenses. George needed an intelligent way to check real-time utility usage, with the goal of water conservation and saving money. Research showed a gap in the market — no devices monitored what was happening in the basement. George took his idea to a couple of friends and Alert Labs was officially another Waterloo Region startup.

As a new company, Alert Labs recognized that they’d have to look externally for certain skills until they could afford to hire in-house. They initially turned to our team at SnapPea Design for help with brand identity and the device’s industrial design. Of course we were happy but before we could start we wanted to explore and understand their customer experience and business case. We love to work with our clients to examine, break and rebuild their products to ensure the design, engineering and experience combine in a compelling way.

In the case of Alert Labs, their product relies on accurate data and, initially, it had a complicated install. George knew the install had to more simplistic and we helped to explore solutions that could provide the same value but in a less complicated or invasive way.

It became clear that, if we could solve this problem, Alert Labs could scale their offering to all property owners.

To sell to the masses, it was paramount to make the device easy-to-install — without the help of specialized technicians. George knew it was vital that the product reported — and work through — power outages, monitor temperature and humidity, send texts and alerts in emergencies, and provide real-time and historical data. He understood the problem better than anyone, we just helped to turn the focus of data to a complete and compelling experience to their users.

Flowie and Floodie sensors

We discussed the product capabilities and used our design and product expertise to refine the ideas into actual concepts. We reviewed the install process, using critical user experience requirements as the basis for the solution. We provided the initial industrial and mechanical design of the product, along with the user experience for the app. We worked with their team to make sure the users didn’t just see data, they understood what it meant and how it impacted them. We knew the Alert Labs solution needed to present analytics, trends and highlight abnormal usage to be understood by the average consumer. Throughout the process, we kept our approach practical; with the users foremost in mind, we considered how, when, and in what conditions they’d use the app and the product. Because of our contributions, Alert Labs accelerated their product design pace, shortened the time to market, refined their unique value proposition, and expanded their customer base.

From George’s perspective, he and his partners found it invaluable to have so much experience under one roof — from branding to industrial design to strategy. In the early days of the company, they couldn’t hire a full-time designer, but they knew it was critical to have an excellent user experience and a clean and simple UI. “[SnapPea] did the heavy lifting and bridged the gap until we could hire a full-time employee.” Also attractive to the Alert Labs team was our pedigree. “Having someone local, with that much experience, who was willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard, was crucial in getting the product to market quickly.”

Now, two and a half years later, Alert Labs has expanded their product line and is setting their sights on a $20 billon market. They’ve attracted new investors and they continue to iterate their product design — even adding an in-house, full-time UX designer.

Looking back at the experience with us, George provided advice for new companies:

“A lot of young companies don’t think about using a third-party consultancy firm like SnapPea. But, they need to consider it. They need to weigh that option against their own ability to execute their vision. In the long term, a contractor might end up being less expensive. It might not seem that way, but the value and ROI of using a firm like SnapPea pays off.”

For SnapPea, it was a great experience to meet and get to know the Alert Labs team, and we look forward to the chance to collaborate with them again in the future.

Alert Labs is an IoT technology company based in Kitchener, Ontario. Alert Labs builds affordable monitoring solutions for residential and commercial property owners. Alert Labs’ simple-to-deploy sensors can be placed on water meters, sump pumps, near toilets and other appliances to detect water leaks, floods, power issues, abnormal temperatures, and other events. Customers receive real-time alerts and insightful data analytics via SMS, email, and the Alert Labs app.

Snap Pea Design offers Product Development Services, working with you and your team to design, build, problem solve, engineer, and create. They design beautiful things that can scale, be manufactured, and align with your business values — focusing on how people interact with your product, services, and the environment around them.

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