Nature, Inc. is a Boston-based cleantech startup founded by Haruumi Shiode and Mash Ohtsuka, located at the Harvard Innovation Lab. The company is planning to ship its smart room air conditioner controller, Nature Remo, this summer. Recently, it completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help with the endeavor. Mr. Shiode answered some questions for CleanTechnica about the startup and its new product.
What prompted you to start your company, and in particular one focused on nature and people?
My aspiration to found, launch, and run an innovative clean energy start-up has been formed by several of my experiences in life, starting as a young teenager.
When I was thirteen years old, I found an old computer running BASIC, a primitive computer language, at my grandfather’s house and I convinced my parents to bring it home. It took me two months but I managed to create a program for Space Invaders. For a kid who liked writing and drawing, programming was like a tool to build a new world. This experience changed my perception of the world, made me take nothing for granted, and nurtured my habit to think logically and creatively.
Around the same time, my father launched his own company and created one of the first 3D racing games for PlayStation. When he was developing the game, he let me play the game for further improvements. Contributing to a real business development was inspiring. One day, I heard him shouting in our bathroom,“Ready Go!,” which I found in his game a week later. I loved seeing my father so motivated for his business, even working while in the bathroom. At that point, I decided to start my own business in the future.
After I graduated from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, I took a three-month, thousand mile sailing trip with my father on his boat. One night, seeing my father’s tired face, I suggested he get some sleep in the cabin. Alone on deck with the sound of the waves and surrounded by the beautiful phenomena of nature, I felt the wind blow, and, a couple of seconds later, the boat moved as if it replied to the wind. I experienced the perfect harmony of nature with something man had created. Snoring from the cabin broke the uplifting feeling, but this moment showed me that human beings are created to exist with nature on a genetic level and ignited my desire to bring nature into greater harmony with society.
After I joined Mitsui & Co, I had opportunities to visit several thermal power plant sites. Whenever I visit them, especially coal ones, I look at the scene and feel that something is wrong. The construction of the power plant comes with the destruction of nature and sometimes results in horrible accidents. This feeling grew even more when I took a small Cessna to visit a coal mine at remote frontier in Indonesia. The scale of the mine was unbelievably enormous and coal miners were riding on monster machines. Why are we destroying our precious nature and struggling to tame such monsters, which sometimes even endanger human life? Aren’t there any ways to better live with nature and avoid such accidents? I strongly believe that there is a way — distributed, smaller scale clean energy (including energy efficiency). My desire to expand clean energy transformed into an absolute commitment.
How did you get the idea to create Nature Remo?
Since then, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to leverage my experience, and I settled on the idea of energy efficiency, since that’s the cleanest source of energy. It’s also something where I can leverage my computer science background. I came to Harvard Business School specifically in order to start my company and make it global. I came across the idea of connecting room air conditioners to the internet in order to use this for demand management and came up with Nature Remo. Utility companies in Japan and the northeastern U.S. were both interested in the idea. Since then, I’ve been promoting the business, working on a prototype, and preparing to ship the product.
What exactly does it do, and what are the benefits to the customer?
Nature Remo is an IoT device equipped with infrared, power control and sensors that, along with a mobile app, enable users to control their ACs from anywhere. Compared to other products in the market, Nature Remo is a cost-effective and universal solution for room ACs.
With the Nature Remo, users can:
- Control their room AC from anywhere
- Pre-cool spaces and automatically turn off their AC when they leave
- Adjust temperature and humidity
- Save energy and reduce electricity bills
How many customers do you have so far, and what is the price?
We have 1,000+ backers from Kickstarter and 250+ from Makuake (the largest Japanese crowd funding platform). The retail price will be $119 but we sold with a discount for the crowdfunding campaign.
How easy is it to start using Nature Remo?
It is a very simple process as it does not require any wiring and screwing. You just need to connect Nature Remo to the home wifi and select the model number of your air conditioner. In case your air conditioner is not covered in our pre-programmed database, you can still use Remo’s learning capability where users match the button in the mobile app with the IR signal of your air conditioner. Remo has an IR receiver to record the IR signal directly.
Will you roll out the app in particular countries first, or all at once?
We will roll out the English version first and Japanese version comes next. The app will be available online.
You had a successful Kickstarter campaign, what will the funds be used for?
It will be used for working capital for the first batch, development expense, and creating mold, etc.
How much might a user of the app save on a monthly utility bill?
It depends on the baseline of the user. Based on our estimate, average user should be able to save $30-$50 per year. In other words, around $10 from their monthly bill as the air conditioner is only used during the summer in the US (it is used for heating as well in Japan).
Does the app work on all smart phone platforms?
We will support iOS and Android.
Does the app do any reporting of electricity consumption, air conditioning use in number of hours and minutes times used, and so forth?
The measuring capability will come with the Power Plug that we are planning to roll out later. Nature Remo includes two units, the Controller and the Power Plug. The Controller uses WiFi to connect to the internet and infrared to communicate with room ACs, and is equipped with temperature, humidity, motion, illumination and voice sensors. It can also detect motion in the room. The Power Plug supplies power to the Controller and can read power consumption and control the outlet.
How many employees do you have currently and do you expect to add more in the next year or so?
We have two founders (Mash Ohtsuka and myself) and several contractors (engineers and designers) who are helping our development.
What is your plan for the next 3 years?
We are trying to sell one million units in the next three years and will build channels to ramp up our sales.
Image Credit: Nature, Inc.