In 2016, I had the privilege to interview Haruumi Shiode about his cleantech startup and its smart room air conditioner controller, Nature Remo. Shiode revealed many details then about his company and what inspired him to create it. Some were quite personal, like this travel scenario, “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.”
He recently shared more personal background on LinkedIn that one might not expect from someone with an MBA from Harvard, “I come from a family where no one had gone to college or university, not even our extended family. I was determined to pursue higher education, and once I narrowed down what I wanted, I spent years preparing myself for the process.”
Having worked for a handful of startups and tech companies, in my experience it isn’t that common to find such openness on personal matters. Rather, one might expect to hear some much more generic talking points or marketing speak coming from a young founder or executive. Perhaps it’s his candor and relatability that have helped Nature do well. In fact, a new product, the Nature Remo 3, launched September 23 in the U.S. and Canada.
How does Remo 3 work, and what is the cost?
The Nature Remo 3 is a tiny wall-mounted device that uses built-in sensors and a connected smartphone app to consolidate every infrared (IR) home remote and automate the operation of most devices. Now, for $129, you can create a smarter home by controlling your TVs, fans, air conditioners, space heaters and robot vacuums from one centralized hub mobile app. When linked to a smart speaker or voice assistant, you can also control home appliances with your voice. The Nature Remo 3 allows users to create automation triggers like GPS location and timers, while built-in environmental sensors for temperature, humidity, lighting, and movement automatically operate home appliances.
Are your products only available in Japan or other Asian countries?
We have now made the Nature Remo mini, a temperature sensor-only version of the Nature Remo, available in Australia and Singapore as well. Our newest product, Nature Remo 3, is not available there yet.
How have you been able to partner with the likes of Google and Amazon?
We are able to partner with Google and Amazon because we are the smart remote pioneer with a successful track record and hundreds of thousands of devices sold. Our strong user reception also helped to move giants like Google and Amazon. In a brand new survey of nearly 10,000 Nature users, our NPS score was 30 points in Japan where even Netflix scored at 3 points.
Do you have investors or is your company self-funded?
Yes, we have investors. Energy Environment Investment, the only energy focused investor in Japan who has the likes of Shell Ventures and power companies as LP, was the lead investor in our last round. Delight Ventures also invested us in the same round. Delight Ventures is the CVC of DeNA, the top tech company in Japan. Its founder, Tomoko Namba, and I are both Harvard Business School alumni and I got to know her through the alumni network.
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
The pandemic has been challenging in many ways, and Nature has experienced our share of ups and downs. Our team used to go to Shenzhen almost every month when preparing the mass production of a new product. As the design has been a critical part of success, we have a very high standard of QC. Being unable to physically visit China, it brought a big challenge for us. However, as this is the 6th product in our company history, we have established best practices to effectively work with a factory and managed to overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic.
The pandemic has also accelerated Nature Remo’s adoption in Japan and ultimately led to our decision to launch the Nature Remo 3 in the US. As people now spend most of the time in their homes, smart home devices have been playing an important role to make their lives easier and simpler. I read that since the pandemic started, 70% of Americans are tackling home improvement projects. Similarly, people around the world have been looking for ways to make their Shelter-in-Place less mundane and convenient. With the Nature Remo 3, we hope to offer the same conveniences and efficiencies to the American market as we have in Japan.
What are your business plans for the next several years?
Our mission is to drive a sustainable coexistence with Nature through technology. We realize that by 1) disseminating the IoT devices to bring home appliances online and 2) utilizing the connected devices as demand management capacity. These would be our focus on the next several years.
The connectivity offers not only the convenience to end users but also the demand side resources to the utilities in order to curtail the peak load. We conducted a pilot with Kansai Electric, 2nd largest utility in Japan, to prove the viability of the idea to use Nature Remo as demand side resources as it can make the “dumb” AC smart.
The demand response is the cleanest source of electricity. Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has passed Order 2222 which opens up U.S. wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources (DERs). This order could have a profound impact on the value of DERs in U.S. markets.
Especially in California, climate change has become a critical issue as evident in not only the current wildfires but also the recent rolling blackouts due to high temperatures. We hope to solve those issues as well.
Why do you think you have been successful so far?
There are three main reasons for Nature’s success. Firstly, our commitment to design, including the usability, speaks to our customers. Since its inception, Nature has been developing its products with a strong focus around design. Based on our research, Nature Remo was the world’s first infrared remote control to have an all-white case. We spent almost a year perfecting the white case. Now, our customers also love the aesthetic of our products. With their compact and sleek designs, Nature products fit perfectly into any home.
We have been also listening to our users’ voices very carefully. I used to search for our product on Twitter every hour to really understand what our users felt and said about our product. Now, we have automated the process and periodically post on our Slack channel so that everyone on the team can immediately hear the voice of the user.
Secondly, Nature Remo can unlock the potential of smart speakers. The Nature Remo is compatible with smart speakers such as Google Home and Apple Homepod. When linked to a smart speaker or voice assistant, Nature Remo helps you control your home appliances with your voice. We have been partnering with Amazon and Google to bundle our products as they are complementary to each other.
Finally, part of our great success in Japan is because our product helps our customers create automation triggers like GPS location, timers, and embedded sensors (motion, light, temperature, and humidity) that fit into their daily lives. Humans are surprisingly lazy by nature.
When we first use a smart speaker, we get excited about the fact that we can control physical home appliances with our voice. However, once we get used to it, we even feel bothered to talk to speakers. With our automation features, you can automate your routine based on the triggers mentioned above.
You can also find my blog post related to our commitment to design here.