I had the good fortune to sit down with Jason Johnson, CEO of August Home. Jason is of course an early smart home pioneer, and August’s lock is the number one selling smart lock in the world. August has also been a pioneer in smart home research and integrations.
Jason gave me a tour of his home and we sat down to chat about how he got started and what he thinks about the future of smart home. I could immediately tell that Jason is a down-to-earth guy who just really loves smart home tech. My notes from our conversation are listed below.
Disclosure: Jason Johnson graciously allowed me into his home to probe, ask questions, and take pictures of absolutely everything. Even his toothbrush.
Stu: What prompted you to start August Home?
Jason: I had a very personal experience where I was traveling and a friend was staying at my house. And she lost the key to the house and was locked out and had no way to get in. In fact, I had to call a friend to go through my neighbors yard and go through my fence – and he’s a really skinny guy – to go through the dog door to let her into the house. From that day forward, I thought that there had to be a better way to give people access, without having to worry about keys being lost or stolen.
What has been the biggest challenge in building the lock and also the company?
Probably the biggest challenge has been handling all of the feature and integration requests. We’re very fortunate that most of the big companies want to work with us. Whether it’s Apple, Amazon, Google’s Nest, or Samsung – they all want to work with us. And we have to prioritize these things. Even after you prioritize them, after you put all of these things into the app, these things have to talk to a lot of systems, and also unlock your door for you every time! And so it was a lot of things behind the scenes that people don’t appreciate that made this happen.
The cornerstone of Jason’s smart home and successful business
Where do you think smart home tech and August Home will be in 5 Years?
We’re fortunate that smart home as a category is really taking off. Five years ago there really wasn’t smart home momentum.
First Nest put a lot of energy into it. Then several of the IP camera makers. And then of course most recently you have Alexa. I think that the momentum of Alexa <At this moment, Alexa woke up and wanted to know what we wanted.> and Google Home. So the momentum has arrived and people are embracing the idea of smart home. That’s great for us.
Maybe you have an IP camera, or maybe you have a Wi-Fi thermostat. And you’re thinking, what’s the next thing? People are discovering, Ah, there’s a company that makes a smart locks. And the great news is that we’ve been fortunate to become the leader as the number one seller of smart locks.
August built the mounting plates for the doorbell and keypad to interlock for seamless installation
We’ve chosen to really focus on access. For us that means making the most beautiful and feature rich devices that get people safely and reliably into their home. Or allow them to give other people access. Whether it’s a house cleaner, dog walker, or Airbnb guest.
That’s really where we focus and where we want to make a better and better experience for people by building more products in that same vein. But we are also making sure that our products work with the systems that people care about. So when Amazon came to us and asked if we wanted to develop for the Echo devices, Alexa, as the first lock on that platform, we thought that would be pretty cool. And as it turns out, it’s been extremely cool. We did the same with Apple’s Siri, and we did the same with Google Home. And so you’ll see more of that. August working with more systems and partners, and also more partners to give access and control.
Wink control panel
What inspired you to build out your smart home as much as it is?
I’m definitely a DIY guy – I like to use tools. As soon as I bought this house 10 years ago, from the moment I closed escrow I started thinking about putting speakers in the walls, replacing light switches with connected light switches. Basically, I wanted to connect as many things in the house to make it as smart as possible in a cost effective way. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I wanted to do it in a way that was reasonable. So over time I added these things. Insteon light switches, and there’s speakers behind these panels by the way. <Jason moves home-made canvas wall art panels to reveal two massive connected speakers hidden behind>
So I added things over time. I got one of the very first Nest thermostats. A lot of stuff here I got right when it came out.
Jason get’s the best of both assistants with Alexa and Google Home, all connected by eero.
You’ve broken your house into scenes. Walk me through these.
I think about the start of the day. In the morning, the Lutron shades rise and that’s what wakes us up. I come out here and I read on my iPad, and then at 7am Insteon turns on the stereo system that powers the Sonos. It’s a small detail because I don’t want the stereo on at night being an electricity drain. So the amplifier is turned off. Then it turns on and the Sonos starts playing music. What I’ll do is turn on Amazon Kid’s Bop, which is a kids station with high energy music. That’s how I wake up my son up. So then the day begins.
When I come out of the shower and I head to my closet I ask Alexa what the weather is and that’s how I make my decision about what to wear. And then it’s more of less powering down with voice and then locking the door.
Amazon Echo, Sleep Sense Pill, old-school Radio Shack alarm clock
Coming home, as I walk up to the door, the August lock automatically unlocks. I also have it integrated so that when August unlocks the door, it also turns on the lights. With Bluetooth, we know definitively when this phone is in front of that lock. You can’t falsify that. You’re either there or you’re not. So when I come up the stairs, that authentication happens. Then the lights come on and I have it set so that the door automatically locks at 8pm.
I have a movie time scene. If you push the Logitech Pop button or you say “Alexa, turn on movie time.” it triggers the scene. The different lights that lead downstairs to the movie room turn on, and the lights that are in the movie room are optimized for watching a movie. Which means very bright lights up front and behind the television, and dim lights behind the couch for ambient lighting. Also, the Samsung TV, Apple TV, and the Sonos 5.17 comes on.
After, you can say, “Alexa, turn off movie time.” and it powers down the AV and turns off the lights.
For bedtime, the scene turns off all the lights in the house, turns down the Nest thermostat, and locks the door.
What advice do you have for people looking to build out their own smart home?
I’m a believer in starting with things that solve very real problems. If you have a dog that seems to get crazy during the day, set up an IP camera so you can record and find out what’s making him crazy. Maybe it’s a car alarm going off across the street. Maybe it’s a cat that comes up to the window and taunts him. So an IP camera can help you figure it out. I have a neighbor that has something eating from their fruit tree so I recommended the Arlo outdoor camera with built in 4G.
If you have house cleaners and dog walkers coming and going, you don’t want to give them a physical key that can be copied or stolen. Give them a key to your smart lock.
For energy savings I’m a big fan of connected thermostats so that you’re not bothering to heat the house when nobody is home.
Pick a point solution that you care about that is actually going to help solve a problem for you and then build on that. Because the good news is is that if you get a Nest thermostat, or August Lock, or Canary camera, all those companies integrate their products with other stuff. So then if you do go out and buy one of the other ones, chances are they’re going to talk to one another.
Original Sonos. Jason’s house is museum to smart home like no other.
Here’s the list of gadgets Jason has in each room and by scene.
Arrive Home (triggered by iPhone’s Bluetooth proximity to house)
– Outdoor lights come on – Phiips Hue
– Door unlocks – August
– Indoor lights come on – Wink
– Music plays – Sonos
– Temperature increases – Nest
Thermostat – Nest
Lighting – Insteon with linked switches
Kitchen/ Dining Room
Intelligent oven – June
Display – Loop
Thermometer – iDevices Bluetooth
Audio – Sonos controller
Charging – Leviton USB wall jacks
Camera – NestCam
Wireless router – Eero
Coffee Maker – Keurig; auto-on/of
Dog feeder – PetFeeder WiFi
Camera – PetCube
Moisture sensor – Edyn
Irrigation controllers – Melnor WiFi, hacked to support AC
Walking through Jason’s house was like a museum of smart home history. It was quite amazing how he tied everything together into scenes that made his life more comfortable for him and his family.
August Home has grown from a small start-up to the leader in door locks and smart home security. After seeing Jason’s passion first hand, it’s no wonder why they have been so successful.
Are you building out your smart home? Let us know what you have, and if you’ve set any scenes, in the comments below!