Comfy allows office workers to control their immediate room temperature via their phone, and is leading the workplace technology wave, as employers increasingly focus on the connection between environmental quality and worker productivity. In June, Comfy raised US$12m in Series B funding from leading investors including CBRE, a global real estate brokerage. President Lindsay Baker gave us a snapshot of the market leader in office thermal comfort:
How did Comfy come about and how did you get involved?
Comfy started a handful of years ago when Andrew and Steve, our CEO and CTO, were PhD students in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. They were involved in a research project around software and buildings, and created the prototype of Comfy after tinkering with systems at a building on campus. It worked pretty well, so they started navigating the idea of starting a business. That’s when I met them, we got the company off the ground around 3 years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since!
Emergence, Microsoft and CBRE are an amazing set of investors / partners – what was the capital raise process like?
We are very fortunate with our newest investors. They all share the vision for the impact we can have on people’s lives, and share in the excitement that we have at being in the right place at the right time for the market. Emergence is well known for investing in successful SaaS companies like Salesforce, Box and Yammer, and have been really helpful so far as we learn some key lessons for our upcoming growth stages. Microsoft is obviously a legend when it comes to positively impacting productivity for us in our work lives, and so they’ve been great as new partners. And finally the investment from CBRE has lent a great credibility to us, given their status in global real estate. They look at a lot of real estate technologies, so we are very happy to earn their attention. The capital raise process is a lot like building a new account or partner – it’s all about finding shared value, so it’s exciting to find it with such great organisations.
I’ve read about the investment being for further product development / expansion, could you elaborate?
We as a company are in a great place in the market. We’ve shown our unique ability to get high engagement from occupants with a CRE app that also does some pretty tricky work with systems integration, controls etc. So now we are looking to some great opportunities to use our platform and skills to eliminate other pain points that occupants have with their physical environments at work. There’s a lot to be done, but the good news is that the real estate industry is looking for ways to improve worker productivity and we have a unique ability to help do that. Stay tuned for the details 😉
Is the investment from CBRE any different given they are one of the world’s largest building managers?
As has been reported, we are currently piloting Comfy with CBRE in a set of locations. We’ve all seen press releases about startups and big companies in our space promising big future partnerships, but we’d rather make headlines once we’ve made it happen, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Comfy looks like a tenant focused product. Is there a way to work with developers / landlords?
Comfy is a product focused on anyone who cares about how it feels to go to work every day. Typically that’s been employers who have control over their buildings, because they see the impact of employees who aren’t as productive as they can be. But all of us in real estate bear some of this responsibility, it’s just a question of monetizing that. So yes, we do now have some awesome clients who are landlords who see Comfy as a differentiator – a way to attract and retain tenants. But I’ve been in the real estate industry long enough to know that this type of thing wouldn’t have initially gotten traction with landlords because they needed to see the pull from tenants. So we went first to owner/occupiers, and now that we’ve proven our value, we are excited to be getting the attention of landlords.
Are you guys working on the Delos Well Rating in any way or seeing it influence what you do?
I’ve known the folks at Delos since they got started, and some of the work that I was doing before Comfy (along with many others) was influential to them in starting the system. The connection between health and buildings has been a long-standing pursuit, and Delos is doing great work driving this message into the marketplace and supporting some awesome research to prove this connection. I’ve not had time to work directly on the standard recently, but we are definitely supporters in their work.
In terms of integration with other platforms (Redwood Systems, Intel, Lutron, and View) – are there any more planned?
There are indeed other integrations planned, but none announced yet!
Can you tell me more about the AI and how it works?
To clarify, Comfy delivers streams of warm or cool air to building occupants at the press of a button in the app. Over time, those requests are run through machine learning algorithms to help predict and optimize the temperature for a particular zone (or area where people sit). Basically we use an equation that runs over and over again, for every HVAC zone that we support, and the output of that equation determines the maximum and minimum temperatures in that moment for that zone. So it’s dynamic over time, in other words.
User data accumulates over time, and that equation keeps running, and thus the computer can gradually migrate to settings that it ‘learns’ over time. That equation is also called an algorithm. Our algorithm takes into account a few numbers: the time of the week, the indoor temperature, and whether someone wants it to be warmer or cooler. Then it crunches all of the data points for those numbers, and cranks out its guess for what the perfect temperature is, for that room, at that time. The great part is also that if the algorithm doesn’t nail it, people have an easy way to get an immediate change as well.
As I am sitting in Singapore, what are the plans for international expansion?
We are excited to be getting interest in Comfy from across the globe. We are happy to support clients in 4 different countries today and we are considering international markets to potentially establish more of a presence proactively, but either way, the great part of what we do is that it’s very feasible to deploy and support remotely, so we’ll keep doing that for now!
What’s the vision of Comfy in 10 years?
Today, there is a big disconnect between what our bodies and minds need to be productive and what our office buildings provide. We believe that people can reconnect with buildings so that our workplaces become truly thoughtful and responsive to us. There are many facets of that re-connection, lots of work to do.
My favourite image is that someone walks into their office, maybe a location they don’t usually visit, and the building knows this person’s preferences, maybe it’s a quiet, naturally lit, cool spot, and they get a little notification that tells them that a perfect spot is available for them to sit that day, and asks if they would like to book it for the day. Then it helps them navigate there, gets their documents pulled up on the workstation, and they can settle in comfortably and seamlessly. When they need a little less light, they can easily dim the windows without hassle. When they need a nearby room for a meeting, it’s easy to book, find and set up. All of these interactions should be as easy and as masterful as making a sandwich in your kitchen, but today they are filled with frustration. Maybe not the craziest vision, but it would help a lot of people have better lives at work.
Finally, Is your office air conditioning utopia?
Ha, well, our current office is a lovely space in beautiful downtown Oakland. We do have Comfy in our space. If it’s a utopia, I’d say that’s more because we have an awesome team of people who I’m proud to work with. And of course we also keep ice cream and sweaters on hand, just in case 😉
See Comfy in action on youtube.