• The Most-Funded Connected Home Startup You Haven’t Heard Of

    investments-leeoYou probably haven’t heard of Leeo, a 1.5-year-old, San Francisco-based maker of smart home products and services. But investors are well aware of it, along with a growing number of engineers. Indeed, the now 60-person company has quietly raised $37 million in financing, including from Formation 8; E.ON, one of the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas companies; and Visionnaire Ventures, the fund of billionaire Taizo Son, who is the youngest brother of Softbank magnate Masayoshi Son.

    The attraction isn’t surprising, given the murderer’s row of operators that Leeo has assembled. Cofounder Adam Gettings was cofounder and CTO of RoboteX, a maker of first responder robots that he launched with his brother Nathan, who also cofounded the data analysis company Palantir Technologies and is now Leeo’s chief data advisor.

    Adding product development smarts is chief operating officer Charles Huang, who with his brother founded RedOctane, publisher of the best-selling videogame franchise “Guitar Hero.” And on the form factor side, Leeo’s chief designer is Robert Brunner, who was Apple’s first design chief and most recently the chief designer at Beats Electronics.

    It sounds like a winner. Just don’t ask what the company is making. (It’s not saying yet.) I talked with Gettings and Huang last week about their secretive company.

    Why start Leeo?

    Gettings: It was largely inspired by a friend who saw a fire from a distance and realized it was her home. She wound up losing the house and all of her pets and it was tragic for our circle of friends to be so close to the situation. [Afterwards], we started wondering how we could create a connection between the home and people so people could be better linked to their homes when they’re away. Our first product coming out [will address the issue], then a series of other products [will follow].

    Is this a smoke detector? Is it something that exists in the market that you’re improving on or is this a new device entirely?

    Huang: It’s a product that takes advantage of existing infrastructure. It isn’t difficult for consumers to use in their homes yet uses the benefits of connected devices.

    That was quite a non-answer! Should Nest Labs be nervous?

    Gettings: I don’t know. I think our design chops are pretty good. It’s an interesting space and relatively early when you consider how long Nest Labs has been around. Every day there seems to be new entrants into the [Internet of Things] market. The space will be very big in the future – it’s the next big evolution of the Internet.

    Huang: One thing we’re excited about is getting enormous incumbents involved through strategic investors, like E.ON [for which we’ll create] custom-designed smart home products and services. [E.ON has roughly 35 million customers in more than 10 European countries.] We’re also working with Softbank, which owns Sprint and has more than 180 million mobile phone subscribers to which they want to provide more products and services, including through their Sprint stores in the U.S. and their Softbank stores in Asia.

    Why this staggered launch announcement, with details about your funding but not about your product?

    Gettings: We’re very excited about building the team and assembling the product and it’s a chance for us to say hello to the world.

    Huang: There are a lot of interesting parts to this story, so we’re trying to tell it chapter and chapter and not overload people with one massive press campaign.

    Okay, tell us this: You’ve both formed companies with your brothers. What’s it like to work with your sibling?

    Huang: Great. You have an instinctive trust. You can almost know what he’s thinking before he says it. But you do behave just like you did as kids. One of you will say something and the other will respond, “That’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” like you’re eight years old. [Laughs.]

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