Some of my fondest memories from growing up in northern New Jersey center around the in-ground pool my father installed at our home when I was in my teens. For my dad, the pool was a labor of love and a not too subtle device for getting my mom, brothers, and sister to spend time together for afternoon barbeques and family swims. But for all the joy that it brought him, there was one thing that he truly hated about pool maintenance: treating the water on a regular basis so that it was safe to swim in.Despite the virtual elimination of polio beginning in the 1950s, my Depression-era father remembered how the disease devastated the lives of countless children, who sometimes contracted it from swimming in unsafe water. While the fear was irrational, he became almost obsessive about water treatment. He spent a lot of time on it, and hated the sheer work that was involved and the complexity of performing the necessary tests. Enter pHin I suspect most pool owners take a more casual view of water quality. That’s not to say that the majority of pool owners do not care about their families swimming in potentially unsafe water, but proper pool care can be a costly burden. ConnectedYard, a San Jose-based startup, recently entered the billion-dollar pool care market with an ingenious “smart” device called pHin, a complete pool care solution that makes laborious pool care a thing of the past. The pHin "smart" pool maintenance solution. CONNECTEDYARD At the heart of pHin’s solution is a sleek looking battery-powered pod (about the size a Big Gulp Slurpee cup) that essentially “lives” in your pool and monitors water quality on 24/7 basis. The Wi-Fi-enabled devices send results to your smartphone when prompted and send alerts when a thorough cleaning is needed. The pHin solution keeps users updated on water quality via smartphone app. CONNECTEDYARD By itself, this monitoring capability is incredibly valuable to pool owners; however, this is just where pHin’s functionality begins. It also provides owners with pre-calculated water-soluble chemical packets (not unlike the detergent pods that you use in your dishwasher), and when it’s time for your pool to be cleaned, the pHin smart app directs users on how many to drop into the pool. pHin offers incredibly precise data readings, allowing consumers to identify exactly much chemicals they need to improve water quality. This removes all guesswork, basically eliminating the chance of overtreatment—a problem not as uncommon as you might think, which can result in skin irritation. pHin works with chlorine, bromine, and saltwater pools, as well as pools, hot tubs, and swim spas of all sizes. pHin’s “smart” business model While the pHin solution is certainly innovative from a sheer technology standpoint, I’m also impressed that ConnectedYard integrated the retail pool channel into its business model. Many smart device makers tend to go down the direct sales channel route and build a direct relationship with consumers. Instead of going this route, ConnectedYard’s business model wisely leverages the famously close relationships pool retailers already have with their customers. ConnectedYard chose to actively recruit retailers to sell pHin and participate in the revenue stream for selling chemicals. For that reason, pHin works with all chemicals. Additionally, ConnectedYard provides retailers with an electronic online dashboard tool that essentially extracts cloud data from the pHin pods that pool owners are using. This allows for more customized and personalized services. The retailer portal provides another business model advantage for pHin—legacy retailers will appreciate the repeat traffic, upsell opportunities, value add services (e.g. winterization), and new lead generation. Put simply, ConnectedYard’s mission is not to put legacy pool supply retailers out of business. While many “smart” device companies shy away from supporting the retail channel, ConnectedYard is smart to leverage the assets of the brick and mortar dealers. pHin is available in a “monitor only” configuration, priced at $349, which includes the pHin Smart Monitor, a Wireless Bridge (which is needed to connect to your home network), and a year of chemical monitoring (after which it costs $99 per year). For peace of mind, I suspect many pool owners would opt for the $599 per year offer; this includes all of the aforementioned hardware and 130 pounds of chemicals to support pools with water capacities ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 gallons. Acquisition by Hayward Industries is a powerful vote of confidence ConnectedYard received a strong boost in early April when it announced its acquisition by Hayward Industries, one of the leading global manufacturers of residential and commercial pool equipment. Few startups get this type of validation so early in their lifespan, by an established company in the same market space they participate in. Certainly the resources that this acquisition provides will help ConnectedYard scale its business. It will also gain exposure to Hayward Industries’ large dealer network. For ConnectedYard’s part, it will continue to operate in San Jose so that it can leverage the Bay Area engineering talent pool and explore other product categories beyond smart pool care. Recently, ConnectedYard recieved two innovation awards from CE Pro and Electronics House and was named a finalist for a 2018 IoT Innovator Award. CONNECTEDYARD Future plans Co-founders Justin Miller and Mark Janes were remarkably modest when I asked them about ConnectedYard’s plans beyond pHin. While the company certainly has interest in exploring other “smart” yard market opportunities, it is committed to becoming the de facto “best in class” provider of smart pool care solutions in the United States before expanding into other international markets (another sensible move since the U.S. market represents about 30% of the global residential pool market). With 10.4 million residential pools and 7.4 million hot tubs installed in the United States alone (according to the Association of Pools & Spa Professionals), the total available market (TAM) opportunity for pHin is unquestionably significant. pHin is a powerful example of the potential of what a smart home care device can and should do. It provides a useful service for homeowners and gives them peace of mind that their pool water quality is safe. Pool owners should rejoice.
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