Hardware to Retail: Interview with SmashToast!


Hardware to Retail: Interview with SmashToast!

Hardware to Retail: Interview with SmashToast! 

Via Linkedin:

In our efforts to educate up-and-coming consumer product teams to the ever-changing retail environment, we looked inward and conducted an interview with a Retailbound client – Smashtoast – getting direct insights from their Founder, Barnabas Helmy.

As a hardware startup founded in early 2014 based in Chicago, Smashtoast created a compact universal remote for your entire collection of smart home devices.  You can find their product – Puck – at Walmart, Amazon, and Wellbots to name a few.

Benjamin:  How would you describe a one-minute history of SmashToast and your journey as a hardware founder?

Barnabas: In one word it’s been enlightening at the very least because I had done a software startup and an internet-based startup before, but I’ve never done hardware before except for my own purposes just tinkering around. It’s a lot more difficult to do hardware than it is software so, you know, that’s it in a nutshell.

One of the best stories I got early on was from a mentor telling me that he had gotten this amazing job, and there was so much to do that he just got stuck and it ended up being a catastrophic end to a great job.

His advice was basically – as long as you make an accomplishment every single day, it’ll build upon itself.  And that’s really been how we’ve gotten to the point where we are today.  In those early stages when you never see the light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to believe in the end vision and if you’re making an accomplishment every single day, they do build upon each other.

We’ve started in the Midwest and we’ve kept it in the Midwest.  I’ve traveled to the West Coast and spent a lot of time out there to learn and understand, but being from the Midwest has been an incredible experience and I’m so glad that we’ve stuck around here to work with our partners.

For example, there were a lot of hardware accelerators I talked to in San Francisco when I spent my month out there and, I can’t even remember the names of them now, but they were always asking, “would you move here?”  And I would say, if I moved here with the amount of money you guys give, there’s no way that I could make this work.  Like, it doesn’t make sense.  And they’d go, “well that’s the wrong answer.”

Well, it is the right answer because every bit of capital that they were willing to invest would be going towards living expenses and nothing would be going towards the product whereas in St. Louis, we won a $50,000 grant from Arch Grants and cost of living here is so much less when you’re spending $600 a month on rent for a home.  That money goes a long way and that’s kind of really helped us get to market.  Just being diligent and wise with our funding.

Benjamin: Having gotten to the point of selling your product in retail, how did you go about finding the right strategy, resources, and team?

Barnabas: Having qualified mentors and advisers has been really helpful.  Making sure that I have those folks and team members that cover all the bases, not just retail or finance or legal.  Someone in manufacturing.  Having someone you can call on and ask questions and not be afraid to ask has been absolutely crucial.

A lot of the advice they give has been premature to me at the time, I don’t know what the hell they’re saying, but it stays with me. When whatever they’re talking about does become relevant, I’m prepared for it because I finally understand what that advice meant.  It finally clicks in a lot of ways.

Also, tools like LinkedIn have been great, obviously, that’s how I found Retailboundand there’s a couple other tools I think have been really useful. When I was in San Francisco there was one called Conspire.  You can just put in someone’s name that you want to meet with and it’ll scrub your email and look for a link so that’s kind of a cool tool.  Another one is Reddit, the startup sub-Reddit helped me early on.  I don’t know if it’s still alive and well, but that was a crucial tool.

Benjamin: At what point did you decide that it was the right time to bring on Retailbound as a retail partner, and how did you decide among so many options?

Barnabas: To be quite honest, when you came up to me at CES last year or last season I had been reading your articles for quite a while and I’m assuming that you befriended me at some point or we had connected at some point.  I had read your articles so I honestly thought we knew each other when you called and said hello and introduced yourself so that was a really great introduction and it kind of helped.

Trust is everything with me.  Everything.  I’m methodical about making decisions with new partners.  So, that helped me quite a bit to just understand your voice and I felt like I knew who you were already so it added to that trust that you knew what you were talking about.

We do get slammed by thousands and thousands of emails and calls all the time.  And you know, the time was right for us after CES we had been getting hit by Walmart and other retailers and I needed somebody to help us navigate that because it’s not my forte.

There’s so many times you have to take a leap of faith and it’s so easy to get frozen by the fear. Even founding a startup is a gamble.  So if you’re risk averse it’s not the game for you.  It’s a constant game of just putting all the chips on the table and you have to be 100% behind the decisions you make, so I definitely feel like it was the right one.

Benjamin: Are there any specific traps or challenges to point out for a hardware startup that’s approaching the retail stage?

Barnabas: For a hardware startup approaching retail, I would say it’s very important to have someone on the team like Retailbound that understands the retail space because it’s not easy, it’s very expensive, and you’re not guaranteed sales whenever you enter into a retail space.  So, you know, having someone on your team that can make sure that the retailer that you choose to work with has the customers that actually want to buy your product is a huge, huge, huge thing and can save you a lot of headaches.  Because if you put 10,000 units in a store with the wrong target audience, you’re screwed.

I didn’t realize how clueless about retail I was until we jumped into it head first.  There is so much to learn among distributor sales reps and the actual retail distributor establishments that it helps so much to have someone take that off your plate that understands what they’re doing.

Benjamin: What excites you the most regarding the future of SmashToast?

Barnabas: After three years.  When I first started this company, I was told that “smart home” and “IoT” were the buzzwords, believe it or not.  And I was told you wanna try and “ride the wave”.  And I was like, I am.  This is happening.  This is going to be a big thing.

Now, especially after the last Consumer Electronics Show, we got a lot of recognition.  We had zero budget.  This year we’re gonna go back and we’re being highlighted in the smart home section.  We have some incredible opportunities at CES to pitch some big investors and it’s like everything we’ve been working for is finally coming to fruition.


We also got accepted or invited to Upfront. They don’t publicize it or anything, but they pick eight startups out of Eureka Park to pitch to 80-90 investors and distributors and stuff. And I was like, “holy cow.” So we’ve been chosen to kind of represent the smart home section for that. So we’ve been doing something right the last year.

We’re selling product.  We’re working on the next generation.  We’ve got some really exciting improvements to our product coming out, so all of the hard work is really just showing itself.  It’s a great feeling.  It’s still risky.  It’s still scary.  It always will be, I think, but I think I’ve just become a little calloused to the stress which is nice.

So, any other founder that might read this should know that you do become calloused to the stress.  Right now, it’s definitely exciting that we’ve finally managed to get it to retail and see product moving.

Benjamin: Thanks Barnabas for your time, and best of luck at CES!

Barnabas: Of course, anytime! Feel free to stop by and say “hello”.

  • You can find SmashToast at CES 2018 in Las Vegas in Hall G (Eureka Park) Booth #52125
  • You can schedule a time to meet Retailbound at CES by emailing – bertl@retailbound.com

Internet of Things to Tip $1 Trillion by 2020


Internet of Things to Tip $1 Trillion by 2020

Internet of Things to Tip $1 Trillion by 2020

Global spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) will grow 14.6 percent in 2018, according to a new forecast from International Data Corp. (IDC), to hit $772.5 billion. The category will more or less maintain that upward trajectory throughout the prediction period, averaging a 14.4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2021 and tipping the trillion-dollar mark in 2020.

Hardware will lead the way among technology categories in IoT spending in 2018, accounting for $239 billion “going largely toward modules and sensors along with some spending on infrastructure and security,” according to a news release. Services will follow hardware for the year and spending on software and connectivity will come in third.

Applications, analytics, platforms and security will lead spending on software for IoT next year, and software will be the fastest-growing technology category throughout the forecast, increasing at 16.1 percent through 2021. Services will grow nearly as fast, at 15.1 percent and will also outpace spending on IoT as a whole.

“By 2021, more than 55 percent of spending on IoT projects will be for software and services. This is directly in line with results from IDC’s 2017 Global IoT Decision Maker Survey where organizations indicate that software and services are the key areas of focused investment for their IoT projects,” said Carrie MacGillivray, vice president of Internet of Things and Mobility at IDC, in a prepared statement. “Software creates the foundation upon which IoT applications and use cases can be realized. However, it is the services that help bring all the technology elements together to create a comprehensive solution that will benefit organizations and help them achieve a quicker time to value.”

Manufacturing will lead industry spending on IoT, with a projected investment of $189 billion in 2018. Transportation and utilities will lag far behind, accounting for $85 billion and $73 billion, respectively, in 2018.

Spending across industries, which accounts for use cases that are not specific to any particular industry, such as smart building or vehicles, will account for almost $92 billion in 2018 and will be one of the fastest areas of growth.

“Consumer IoT spending will reach $62 billion in 2018, making it the fourth largest industry segment. The leading consumer use cases will be related to the smart home, including home automation, security and smart appliances,” said Marcus Torchia, research director for Customer Insights & Analysis at IDC, in a prepared statement. “Smart appliances will experience strong spending growth over the five-year forecast period and will help to make consumer the fastest growing industry segment with an overall CAGR of 21 percent.”

Insurance will follow consumer spending as the largest industry spender by CAGR, growing at a rate of 20.1 percent. Healthcare providers at 17.7 percent, cross industries at 17.1 percent and resource industries at 6.7 percent will round out the top five.

China will be the country that spends the most, at $209 billion, in 2018, with most of that coming from manufacturing, utilities and government. The United States will follow, with manufacturing, transportation and consumers leading the way toward $194 billion in spending.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.


PUCK – Simple & Affordable


PUCK – Simple & Affordable

A perfect holiday gift – PUCK

Smart home devices could save energy and help seniors age in place


Smart home devices could save energy and help seniors age in place

Smart home devices could save energy and help seniors age in place

The smart grid-enabled switches can be used to control home energy use and manage a fleet of gadgets, including thermostats and appliances.

An Illinois initiative is exploring how the devices could also improve life for seniors and provide more independence to people with disabilities.

Manufacturers have struggled to generate interest in their products among seniors and people with disabilities, but some researchers and health care professionals think the devices, with the right adaptations, could make life safer and easier for those consumers.

“They weren’t designed to accommodate their needs and preferences, but rather those of more tech-savvy consumers like the millennials,” said Doug Newman, program director for the Seniors Independent Living Collaborative.

Newman’s program is funded by the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation, which also provides funding for Midwest Energy News.

The initiative is an interdisciplinary collaboration amongst family and consumer science researchers, gerontologists, and engineers from Eastern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Partnership for Intelligent Energy Efficiency and the Seniors Independent Living Collaborative. Ameren is a utility collaborator on the project.

Utilities have similarly struggled to get seniors and people with disabilities to adopt smart home devices, but Newman said their research suggests that could change if the products were marketed more directly to those groups. The potential benefits include allowing family members to check-in remotely via the devices.

The group for more than a year has been conducting focus groups and examining how to make the smart devices easier to use by seniors and those with disabilities — for example, by enlarging the screens and buttons and streamlining the user experience.

In January, the team will launch a two-year program to design fresh consumer resources, training material for installers, and build a consumer test lab to evaluate devices and new designs.

The research and designs will be funneled back to Ameren and the device manufacturers.

“Seniors are the fastest growing segment in the state and in the country,” Newman said. “These devices can really help reach them, but in their current state they are not designed to do that easily. The learning curve is too great.”

Senior market largely untapped

The market for seniors is vast and expanding as Baby Boomers age. In 2010, there were 40 million American seniors, and that number is expected to more than double in the next three decades. A survey by AARP found that 87 percent of adults older than 65 would prefer to stay in their current home and community.

“People want to live more independently, so the number one priority is their safety,” said Peter Ping Liu, director of the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education at Eastern Illinois University. “We will explore how smart home systems can make people safe and secure—for their concern and for their caregivers.”

Safety features could include remote detection light systems that are outfitted to turn on when a person wakes up at night. Another is a notification system to alert caretakers when help is needed.

“What happens if your electricity goes out at night and you are on oxygen?” said Linda Simpson, a family and consumer researcher atEastern Illinois University. “The smart grid can pinpoint that and an alarm can go off.”

Utilities already keep track of seniors who have power-sensitive medical devices and will dispatch people in the case of an outage, but the smart grid could provide another level of security, Newman said.

Focus groups

On November 30, researchers hosted two consumer focus group sessions at the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. The event was billed as a smart grid consumer independence project.

The goal of the session was to assess what seniors and people with disabilities were taking away from smart grid marketing materials. Participants were asked to navigate Ameren’s online account and use a home energy management device.

The devices attached to Ameren’s smart meters sat on long conference tables surrounded by pastries and other snacks. The benefits of the smart home devices are not always self-evident, and the participants provided feedback as they set-up the system and read through brochures.

Martha Brown, 66, said she had concerns about security but liked the idea of using the online account to guide her decision making.

“Right now, I get a bill, but I don’t know how to make that go up or down in a way that suits me” she said. “If I had this [unit], I’d make better planning choices.”

Gayle Strader, an 80-year old resident of Charleston, didn’t want any new gadgets.

“I use my computer and my smartphone,” Strader said. “I’m trying to get rid of things in my house. I think for another generation, it might be fine.”

The focus group wasn’t designed to sell the equipment, but some people were impressed.

Katie Armstrong, 71, thought it was a great idea.

“I would be interested in having the system that they showed us and that [smart] meter in my home,” Armstrong said.

Organizers said they came away with useful information from the feedback and observations. Kathleen O’Rourke works with Simpson as a professor and graduate coordinator atEastern Illinois University’s School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“It allowed us to meet [the participants] where they are at in terms of their residential living environments,” O’Rourke said.

Mary Irwin is a case manager for CCAR Industries, a client and family support facility in Charleston. She brought a dozen clients to participate in a separate focus group geared towards those with disabilities.

The energy management units were “a good starting point,” she said, but one obstacle could be the language used in the materials, which she said was too complicated and relied on too much jargon.

“Everyone is into gadgets and these folks more than anyone,” she said. “If that control can lead to more independence – that’s good for everyone.”

By Kevin Stark

PUCK is as easy as 1-2-3


PUCK is as easy as 1-2-3

PUCK is as easy as 1-2-3

Step 1: Buy PUCK & download app

Step 2: Sync PUCK and app

Step 3: Control your electronics from your phone – no more searching for that remote!!!

PUCK – Throwback Thursday Interview


PUCK – Throwback Thursday Interview

Throwback Thursday to January 2017 when SmashToast CEO and inventor of the PUCK, Barnabas Helmy, was interviewed by local news in Champaign, Illinois!
As stated in the interview, PUCK works with a variety of devices including a television, space heater and Apple TV. PUCK is different from our competitors because it is a wireless solution to connect traditional infrared-remote controlled devices to the smartphone. We focused on simplicity over confusing features, and our modest price point ($29.99) gives our customers a low-cost solution to enter into the smart home revolution.

Customer Review – Parent Hack with PUCK!


Customer Review – Parent Hack with PUCK!

Customer Review/Parent Hack with PUCK:

“So super simple to set up and download the app. I fell immediately in love with this product when my 8 year old daughter came in my room at 5:30 AM in the morning. I could turn in the television and satellite box from my bedroom 40 ft away (and in another room) and asked her to watch cartoons in the livingroom while I got an extra hour of sleep. Great product!!! Works with almost anything that accepts an IR signal and requires no line of sight! 😃

Thank you for the review! Please keep them coming.

5 Ways Technology Can Transform Your Home in 2018


5 Ways Technology Can Transform Your Home in 2018

There’s no doubting that technology has changed the way we live. Let’s face it – when was the last time you got through the day without checking your smartphone at least twenty times? Although technology has its downsides (like how self-service supermarket checkouts are making older people lonelier, and how children are being exposed to inappropriate content on sites like YouTube), it has a wide range of benefits, too. Below, we’ve rounded up five of the biggest ways technology can transform your home for the year ahead.

Home hubs will make you organized

Turn on the television this festive Christmas, and you’ll probably see one or two adverts promoting the latest smart home hubs. Amazon brought the technology to the mainstream with its powerful Echo speaker, and now search giant Google is catching up with Google Home. Apple, too, will enter the smart-speaker market in 2018, although its HomePod product was delayed until 2018 citing development delays. Installing a home hub could not be simpler – just plug it in, pair up your compatible devices and say ‘Hello, Google’.

Meters will make you richer

Smart energy meters are being rolled out in countries around the world, including in the United Kingdom. Such meters are designed to visualise your gas and energy usage, helping you better manage your money and understand how much you’re spending on a typical day. As this technology becomes even more mainstream in the future, there’s no doubting that homeowners will become more energy-savvy and make sensible decisions – like switching off their television sets and appliances when they’re not in use.

Solar panels will make you greener

Installing a solar panel to your roof can save you hundreds of pounds over the year, as you’ll be producing electricity. The cost of installing a solar panel can be high, but some companies offer to install them for free in exchange for a percentage of the energy. Remember that, before you can take advantage of such technology, you need a reliable roof, so get in touch with roofers in Middlesbrough like Findley Roofing & Building for a free, no obligation roof check. After all, there’s no point in installing expensive solar panels to your roof if it needs to be repaired or replaced within a year or two!

Robots will make you lazy

Dyson has always been an innovative company, and its latest product line-up is no exception. Amongst its new vacuum cleaners is the Dyson 360 Eyeᵀᴹ Robot Vacuum Cleaner, which takes up minimal space in your home and cleans your home whenever you tell it to. All you need to do is take it out from its cupboard and charging dock and press the on button, and its clever sensors and methodical path-like approach. The app also allows you to schedule you’d like your home to be cleaned – it even works when you’re out of the house!

Pet-tech will make you Doctor Dolittle

If you’ve ever wondered what your furry friend gets up to when you’re at the office, then this could be the product for you. Furbo is an industry-first dog camera that allows you to snoop on your dog and see how they’re doing. Thanks to its speaker and microphone, you can even talk to your dog and get alerted whenever it barks. But that’s not all – the clever design allows you to dispense food and treats for your dog, which you can control through a smartphone app. It’s one of those products you don’t know you need until you get it…

Some people will feel uncomfortable with sharing their home with so many Internet-connected devices, but the truth is that they’re the future. These items will make your day-to-day life just that little bit easier, help you save money and get things done, and they’ll prepare you for a future of home automation that increases your safety and comfort. Whether you’re a tech buff or you are internet-phobic, we hope that you have fun exploring these new technologies!

By Awais Ahmed

At SmashToast, Customer Feedback is Valued!


At SmashToast, Customer Feedback is Valued!

Below is a review we received yesterday on our wonderful PUCK smart home product. Please know that we listen and HEAR your thoughts and suggestions. Whether positive or negative – we feel your comments are all constructive!

“I’m impressed! It works exactly as it was advertised. My wife put the kitchen tv remote in the dishwasher several months ago and it didn’t survive, so the Puck will make it much easier to use that tv…”

How and why the remote ended up in the dishwasher is a mystery. We are sure there is an interesting story behind that! Please keep the reviews and stories coming.

Going to CES 2018 in January? SmastToast will be there!


Going to CES 2018 in January? SmastToast will be there!

Going to #CES2018 in January?  Stop by our booth at Eureka Park and say hello to PUCK – SmashToast, Inc. Showcase Page!  We’ll be unveiling some cool updates to the product line that will make your home smarter!

Copyright All Right Reserved 2018 SmashToast, Inc.