With the Nordic smart home market growing steadily and increading 10% year on year in Norway alone, it is not surprising to see smart home startups coming from our region. However, this time we will talk about an Estonia-based startup Comfee (formerly known as Jalousier) solving a rather southern problem – venetian window blind automation. With the funding raised from their Ingiegogo campaign and admission to BuildIT hardware accelerator earlier this year, the Estonia-based Bulgarian family business has already gotten down to production of its first 100 devices to ship to their beta testers.
The product is a small white box that can be easily clipped on your window blinds and just as easily removed. Its key distinct feature is the ability of the device to make automated intelligent decisions when adjusting your blinds. Comfee does more than acting as an app-substitute for the old-fashioned remote control. For instance, it will tilt your slats automatically depending on the light intensity, weather conditions, temprature and a number of other aspects that you can select. It can also learn from your preferences so you do not have to repeatedly give in the same settings.
Because Comfee is accessible from any internet-enabled device, not only does it save you the hassle of adjusting your blinds manually, it also keeps your blinds in control while you are not at home. This prevents your room from overheating and allows your plants to get enough daylight when you are out on a vacation. Because the device is easy to install and remove, it is also well-suited for users renting their spaces.
‘Me and my husband Sergey are originally from Bulgaria and we have 12 venetian blinds at our home,’ Comfee co-founder Ksenia Vinogradova explains. ‘Because we grew tired of adjusting them all manually several times a day we headed online to find a solution that would do it for us. Yet there was nothing there. We could only find complicated motor-based devices that required drilling and screwdriving to install and were even more difficult to remove.’
At that time Sergey Vinogradov, a software and hardware engineer, was taking startup engineering course at Coursera. Since the course required practical action and since the problem of adjusting their blings manually has been left without a solution for a while already, he called his brother Dmitry, a designer and architect, to help him design what later became the first prototype of Comfee. Ksenia also joined the team as marketer and content creator.
‘We were inspired by several smartphone products such as Lockitron, SmartThings, Ninja Sphere and Canary,’ Sergey explains. ‘We aimed to make a simple, renter-friendly product that facilitates your life, not complicates it. We also made sure it is possible to integrate with other smart device hubs on the market using BLE and ZigBee protocol. Despite our Indiegogo campaign did not reach its goal, the wide interest from media and distributors showed that people actually needed this product. We got 15 reviews in just first two hours.’
The video below shows the initial product that is currently being tested by 100 beta-testers all around the world who first signed up on Comfee Ingiegogo campaign. As a reward, the testers get to keep their first device and will receive the updated version and a solar panel as a gift.
As the campany grew out of its garage and understood that it needed a design certified by experts to satisfy the global demand, Comfee was accepted to BuildIT accelerator. With great hardware mentors from around the world and invaluable feedback, iterated their design to make it more user-friendly and universal. Consequently, the startup landed several strong integration partners like Yoga Systems (Estonia), Homey (the Netherlands) and SmartThings (USA).
The latter is particularly important as next year Comfee intends to enter the US market due to its highest number of households owning a smart home and the greatest potential of smart home adoption. While this is the most rewarding route, it is also the most crowded one. All three closest competitors of Comfee – MySmartBlinds, ShutterEaze and EzWand are based in the US.
‘We are looking at the US market with 140 million households out of which 40% have window blinds and 12% have a smart home automation solution. ‘ Ksenia explains. ‘Despite our worldwide coverage, 75% of interest we have heard comes from the US. The key advantages of Comfee over its competitors in the US market are easy installation, sleek design, smart automodes based on changes in temperature, lighting, time of the day and its “learning schedule”.’
Comfee already has gathered letters of intent from 6 distributors in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Greece and Turkey. They are currently raising a seed round to expand the team and open an office in the US. Ksenia hinted to positive commitments from several angels, but did not disclose their names yet.
We are looking forward to more news as to Comfee funding round, the results of their product iteration after beta testing, as well as their next steps in bringing window automation to a new level. Meanwhile, we are glad to see Estonian accelerators attract ideas and talent from countries like sunny Bulgaria to our snowy Nordic region.