Austin home energy monitoring system maker Curb is ramping up quickly after a successful crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo in 2015.
Fast-forward a little more than a year later. In December 2016, Curb inked a partnership with energy management and automation giant Schneider Electric. Under the terms of that deal, the startup’s proprietary hardware and software will serve as the intelligence core for Schneider’s Square D smart load centers.
Curb was also invited by CES organizers to participate in the show’s first-ever Smart Energy Marketplace, an area run in part on an independent energy microgrid. Curb’s home energy monitoring hardware was installed in the microgrid so it could monitor and show, in real time, the area’s energy generation and usage including the cost of charging an on-site Tesla. Nearly 200,000 people attended the annual event, held in Las Vegas Jan. 5- 8.
Focusing on usage
Curb CEO and former Boeing rocket scientist Erik Norwood came up with the idea for Curb when working for a solar firm. He founded Curb in 2012.
“I found that if you’re trying to lower energy consumption and your energy bill, you need to figure out how energy is being used inside your house,” he said. “There were smart outlets and smart thermostats, but there was still a big gap in meaningful, actionable information.”
At first, Curb was a software and data company that ran on other pieces of hardware. But Norwood realized there was nothing on the market that could capture the data he was looking for, or selling at a price point consumers would be willing to adopt.
So in 2014, he began to focus full-time on Curb and starting building the company’s own hardware.
Norwood went through the Capital Factory accelerator incubation program. That’s when he met Eric Gould Bear who became a mentor and investor in Curb and Bill Chatterjee, the company's COO.
Forging a team
Norwood and Chatterjee started collaborating more with Bear, who ultimately contributed close to $500,000 into Curb across its first rounds of seed funding. The company overall raised $3.5 million with participation from Austin-based Silverton Partners and Floodgate, the Central Texas Angel Network and others.
Bear – an award-winning inventor with more than 100 patents and apps to his credit – had a background in product design and product management in hardware and software, and had held executive positions at Microsoft and Yahoo. He got excited about what Curb was doing – so much so that he went on to join the company as its chief experience officer.
“Along came Norwood whose hardware and software had a positive impact on the planet and people’s sense of interconnectedness,” he said. “Plus, he’s just an incredibly smart guy who is creative and coachable … I had so much fun working on the product strategy with him that I decided to jump in with both feet.”
After selling about $180,000 worth of Curb systems on Indiegogo (their goal of $25,000 was met within 24 hours), the team realized there was strong market demand for the product.
Norwood believes the partnership with Schneider only further validates their efforts.
“It’s great to have such significant validation from a third party and a major player in the energy space so quickly after getting our initial product out the door,” he says.
Curb currently employs about 20 people, the majority of which are full-time employees. Norwood anticipates there will be a lot of hiring in 2017, particularly in sales and business development.
“Much of our time and human capital has been spent on the product side, and now we’re gearing up on the sales and marketing side,” he said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of the capabilities of our system and the things we can do with it. So we’ll also be investing in software and data science so we can build additional features on top of the system we’ve built.”
How it works
So what is Curb exactly? In a nutshell, Curb offers a hardware solution that goes inside the home and inside the electrical panel.
“If you want to get intelligence on what’s going on inside your home, that’s the one place where everything connects,” Norwood said. “You need to make a breaker panel smart if you want a smart home.”
That solution monitors a home’s energy consumption in real time, down to the source.
“We do have some competitors who use electrical meter data and put it into a database,” he said. “But smart meter data isn't very granular or effective. At best it takes 15-minute snapshots of total consumption to come up with averages.”
But the good thing about such systems is they leave customers wanting more, Norwood believes. And that’s where Curb comes in.
“They will look for alternatives and find our product,” he said. “Then they realize they can get actual real-time information down to individual appliances.” Indeed, a 2014 research report by Forrester found that 56 percent of about 4,500 people surveyed were interested in getting a “small, inexpensive device to help monitor home energy use.”
Now that you have all this information, what do you do with it?
“Curb can bring awareness through push notifications – letting you know when things are out of whack,” Bear said. “It can tell you when that chandelier in the dining room is using much more energy than normal and when your HVAC system looks like it’s leaking. It can even tell you that you might have left your oven or curling iron on.”
Curb describes its system as holistic energy monitoring. It can tell you things like how much juice that Xbox is using even when someone is not playing on it, and how much solar is being produced.
“What Curb can do in real time is phenomenal,” Bear said. “When people start getting aware of what things cost – even if they’re not necessarily environmentalists, it magically changes their behavior.”
Scott Turner, a local homebuilder and real estate agent, purchased a Curb system when it was selling on Indiegogo and was one of the first people in Austin to have it installed in his home. (It now sells for $399, but was sold at a discount during the campaign.)
“Seeing my energy usage in real time, and being able to isolate the sources using the most energy in a graphical and easy-to-understand way, made me really care about it,” he said.
Turner was so impressed with the technology that he is testing out the possibility of installing the systems in all the new homes he is building as owner of Riverside Homes.
“I feel like it would be a benefit to have it installed from day one in a house,” said Turner. He is no stranger to smart homes, having built one for HGTV in 2015.
To Turner, Curb is an example of where the industry is headed.
“Curb seems to have very robust software and does things that aren’t easy to do in energy monitoring,” he said. “Ultimately, I think products like this are the way green building is going.”