8. September 2014–
Airfy asks us to imagine how it would be like to wake up in the mornings and have your coffee machine start brewing. What if when you left your house, your robot vacuum cleaner began zipping across your floors? The idea of smart homes is surely enticing, however, only a reality for very few people. Berlin-based startup Airfy is on a mission to change that – and the team assured me they are in it for the long haul.
On the surface, Airfy wants is to make “everything smart with technology.” With Airfy’s Beacon sensors, a smartphone and the Airfy app, you can program different products such as Philips HUE connected light bulbs, a Nest thermostat and a television to react to your movements and desires. The concept of smart homes is not new, and there are plenty of individual solutions on the market that have brought this type of technology closer to becoming mainstream. Airfy, however, wants to go one step further to become an all-inclusive solution to truly integrate household products.
Easier Said Than Done
As I made my way to Kreuzberg to meet with Airfy’s three cofounders, I anticipated our conversation to be focused on its smart home solution. However, a few moments into our conversation it became clear that the team had other important goals on its agenda if it was going to make its long-term vision a reality.
In order to bring its smart home solution to the masses, Airfy is working on an entirely different business model it hopes will capture the attention of big German internet players such as Deutsche Telekom. In a nutshell, Airfy wants to provide free Wifi to customers through advertising. Cafés, restaurants and the like will receive an Airfy router that shows users brand advertising for 10 to 20 seconds before they have access to free Wifi. The team wants the solution to generate enough revenue to turn heads at Deutsche Telekom.
“We have to work on something small to work towards the bigger vision,” says cofounder Mona Siewert. Cofounder Steffen Siewert adds, “If we can do this first project and Telekom believes in us, we come to the next interesting topic where the music starts playing. Imagine next year you will get a new router from Telekom, and it can program itself with the power switch.” Now, we arrive back to Airfy’s original goal.
Funding, Talent and Berlin
Airfy launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that started on August 21st. With still over two weeks left to go, the startup has raised over $22,000 – that is 212% of its goal. “It was to see if the market liked our idea,” says Steffen Siewert. The team explained that it learned early on that the product would always be a work in progress and would develop based on what the customers wanted.
Third cofounder Alexander Gabler gives his advice to other startups: “When you speak with the customer, they will tell you what they need, then you can develop your product one way or the other. But you have to release your product fast. It doesn’t have to be 100%. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to sell it. See who will give you money for your product.”
The three cofounders are originally from Bavaria, but decided that Berlin was the right place to start their business. “For the technology that we are doing, we need crazy people,” says Steffen Siewert. “Some of the people working here are from Nokia or have done a lot with the Internet of Things. We found the people that we need not in Munich but in Berlin.”
More Ambition, Larger Vision
I concluded by asking Airfy what it was still missing and Siewert’s response opened up an important discussion. He said, “We are currently putting our own money in the company, so we are missing money. Why? Because it is difficult to find an investor for our project. We are doing hardware, and we are working on a company with a long-term vision.”
I left Airfy with the understanding that it is unique. It is a startup looking to invest more time to make a bigger impact. This is an attitude and ambition level that Berlin could use more of on its course towards becoming a hub for innovation.
Airfy elaborated on the difficult path before it, but Siewert is confident that its journey would end where it would need to: “When we show what we have done to the right investor, they will believe in us.”