How Ecobee Competes with Amazon and Google in the Smart Home Arena, and What’s Next

Ecobee launched its first smart doorbell last year, featuring a camera that integrates with its video-enabled thermostats. (Ecobee Photo)

Greg Fyke is the president and CEO of ecobee, a Toronto-based smart home company known for its pioneering smart thermostat and growing ecosystem of devices, including security systems and smart doorbell cameras.

A former Amazon Alexa executive, Fyke is based in Seattle, reflecting how remote work has shifted the geographic dynamics of the tech industry. Fyke, who was previously ecobee’s chief product officer, became CEO last year after the retirement of ecobee founder Stuart Lombard.

Greg Fyke, president and CEO of ecobee, at the GeekWire offices in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, Fyke discusses the emerging “golden age” of smart home technology; ecobee’s focus on simplicity, long-term functionality, and integration across ecosystems; the company’s competition with Amazon and Google; and its approach to automation and artificial intelligence.

Other topics include ecobee’s acquisition by energy tech company Generac, and their combined focus on energy management solutions, leveraging components like home batteries, solar energy, and intelligent control systems.

Listen below, and subscribe to GeekWire on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Keep reading for highlights, edited for brevity and clarity.

The company’s approach to remote work: I do spend quite a bit of my time still in Toronto, and love spending my time there. My paths crossed early on with Stuart, our founder, and we ultimately found a path to make this work, to get this started.

It was actually during the time period of COVID. That was obviously a challenging time for many. But one of the benefits from our perspective is it really allowed us to learn how to work remotely. It really forced us to be in a position where we were able to make decisions more remotely.

We document a lot more. And as a result, we’ve also been able to hire remotely, as well. It’s been great from a talent acquisition perspective. It’s made working from Seattle and leading from Seattle a lot easier, for sure.

The state of the smart home tech market: I’ve been in the smart home industry for probably the better part of 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot. It feels to me that we’re entering into a bit of a golden age relative to the smart home. We now have incredible choices as customers.

It’s also become more affordable in many different ways. The diversity of ability to control things is immense now. Obviously, we focus a lot on comfort, but it goes all the way through to controlling your irrigation systems.

The impact of artificial intelligence and automation: We already are there, to some extent, today. If you look at what we do, the heating and cooling in your home is something that we can learn over time.

We have the ability to understand your schedule, and whether or not you’re changing the temperature over a regular cadence. And if we find that there’s a pattern that’s developing over time, we’ll send you a way of enacting those changes within your schedule.

Automations are great, but you don’t want them to be surprising. You don’t want them to do things that you don’t anticipate. And so we do this transparently, so that you’re aware of that recommendation, and it’s ultimately your choice, giving agency to make that decision if you wish to change the schedule.

Competing with Amazon and Google: They’re certainly big companies. One of the benefits we have is, this is our core business, this is what we do. We get up in the morning, we think about this all day, we go to sleep thinking about this. And I think that focus and attention allow us to make some really smart choices.

The state of interoperability in the industry: Within the industry overall, it’s still mixed. Interoperability remains challenging in certain areas, but it’s gotten a lot better. And I think it’s progressively getting better as well.

As a company, we believe in customer choice. We are one of, if not the only, companies that really has support for the whole broad set of ecosystems in the space that we’re in: SmartThings, Alexa, Google, Apple products.

We do so because we know that customers have different homes, and have different products in their homes. We want to make it really easy to incorporate those other products in your home into a seamless experience.

Broader vision for energy management: There are some really core challenges that we’re seeing right now, as it relates to energy, climate, and weather patterns. That is coupled with a general drive from a regulatory perspective and innovations to meet the demand for greater electricity.

If you think about what’s happening with respect to electric vehicles, for example, and EV charging, you have a lot of increased demands on the grid, and it’s going to increase over time. To counterbalance this, you have renewables. You’ve got solar and wind storage coming on. They provide the promise of a much cleaner set of energy, but they’re also less deterministic. You can’t determine necessarily when it’s going to be sunny or when the wind is going to blow.

That leads to increased need for control and management of complexity. That is where that combination of Generac and ecobee becomes very powerful.

Audio editing and production by Curt Milton.

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