How almost burning down my house launched a technology company
My name is Victor Jablokov, and I’m going tell you how almost burning down my house led me to become the founder of Wallflower Labs.
The team at Wallflower has worked hard to build our first connected device, the Wallflower Smart Monitor for electric stoves. It’s been a long road and full of challenges, but we’ve finally launched a device that we think should be a part of every home. The story of how we got here is an interesting one, and I hope you enjoy reading about it.
In the Spring of 2013, my family and I moved to Boston, MA from Charlotte, NC. The home we bought had oil heat, an electric stove, and no access to natural gas (unless we paid the gas company a lot of money just to run a line to our residence). None of that thrilled us, but it didn’t stop us from falling in love with the house and purchasing it. It was during our first summer in Boston that our first close call with the stove occurred.
We’ve just finished eating breakfast, are late and rushing out the door, and as usual, our toddler is refusing to put on his shoes. He’s screaming, it’s chaos, we finally get him in the car, and go! Thirty minutes go by as we’re driving to our destination when my wife asks, “Did you turn off the stove?”. I respond, “Hmmmmmmm… Holy S%^t! No!” and start panicking.
I’ve always been a very responsible person and had never done this before in my life. Frantically, we turn the car around and head home, fighting Boston traffic. As we turn the last corner and the house comes into view, I half expect to see fire trucks and an inferno.
Luckily, the house is still standing. I park the car and run in. Thankfully, the kitchen isn’t on fire. I rush towards the stove and sure enough, it’s on, but luckily nothing is on it. Whew! I let out a huge sigh of relief. The home is safe and the family is safe. We move on with our lives and forget about the incident.
Fast forward a few months to the Fall of 2013. At this time, I am extremely focused on identifying problems that a new technology company could solve. Ideas aren’t hard to come up with, but good ideas are few and far between. One evening, my family and I are at a relative’s birthday party. We’re there for hours, having a great time, eating dinner, enjoying wine, and socializing. Finally, the birthday cake comes out, we sing, and start having dessert.
All of a sudden, my wife stops and says: “Oh no, I left the oatmeal cooking on the stove!” Panic. We quickly grab our toddler and rush out the door, not believing we are experiencing the same problem within such a short period. Neither of us ever forgot to turn off the stove before we had kids and now we did it twice in less than a three month period!
Same story as before: we rush home, our hearts jumping out of our chests as we turn the corner. House is still standing, check. I pull into the garage, and I don’t smell smoke, check. Rush into the house and run over to the kitchen. There it is, the stove is still on, the pot is on the stove, and what used to be oatmeal can now be used as a hockey puck.
Thankfully, we made it home before a fire started. My wife then asked a simple question, a simple idea, that started this journey, “Why can’t I just check on the stove with my smartphone?” I thought that was an excellent idea and my immediate reaction was to find that product since surely someone MUST HAVE already developed a smart home device to solve this problem…
I searched but couldn’t find a solution. Then I began to ask others if they’d ever experienced this issue and started to learn that forgetting to turn off the stove was much more widespread than I’d ever imagined. When I began to review insurance statistics, I was shocked to find out about the number of lives lost, the injuries, and the number of home fires caused by stoves. That was when I realized someone needed to build a solution.
Fast forward to today: what has the team at Wallflower Labs delivered? We’ve developed a product that prevents home fires by monitoring your existing stove, turning it into a smart stove, and alerting your smartphone if it’s on for too long or you forget to turn it off. Some of its core features are:
- Simple: Installation takes just 5 minutes and doesn’t require tools. Just plug it in.
- Alerts: Sounds an alert behind your stove and notifies your smartphone anywhere in the world when the stove is on for too long or if you forget to turn it off.
- Smart: Learns your cooking behavior and knows when the stove has been on for longer than usual. It also warns you if you leave home with the stove still on.
- Versatile: Supports multiple users and multiple stoves in multiple homes.
The Wallflower Smart Stove Monitor is also:
- Affordable: Turns your existing stove into a smart stove for less than $199, instead of replacing it with a lesser, connected stove for $1500 or more. Other fire-prevention retrofit solutions cost $300-$600.
- DIY friendly: Most other solutions require installation by a trained electrician.
- Invisible: Hides behind the stove while most other solutions are visible and clash with kitchen aesthetics.
- Compatible: Most competing products use legacy technology and won’t integrate with other smart home products, which is on our roadmap.
The funny thing is that Wallflower would have never existed if Amazon hadn’t developed the Alexa platform and the Echo connected home devices. My first startup was a speech technology company (Yap) purchased by Amazon to help build the voice engine for Alexa, which has become one of the most successful voice assistants of all time. The purchase of my last company by Amazon helped pave the way for me to start Wallflower, which I believe has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on society.
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Victor Jablokov is the CEO of Wallflower Labs, a technology company based in Boston, MA that is developing products to reduce home fires caused by cooking. Learn more at wallflower.com.