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Summary:

Only a small percentage of the population needs the Cozy connected radiator cover, which makes it an interesting test case for building niche products and crowdfunding a business.

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Radiator Labs is a company trying to sell a connected radiator cover that allows consumers to keep their rooms in steam-heated buildings at a comfortable temperature. While it has a Kickstarter campaign aimed at convincing consumers to shell out $300 for the Cozy cover, its real goal is to take its covers and the data they generate to help landlords in the Northeast make their buildings more energy-efficient. It’s a reasonable solution to a very real problem, but is that enough to build a business?

Marshall Cox, the creator of Cozy, says he’s been building this idea for the last three years, and started out hoping to get building owners on board. While consumers may find the problem of an overheated apartment annoying, for landlords it represents a colossal waste of money. So Cox’s product doesn’t just cover the radiator and control the temperature, it also tracks data about the apartment — data that can be used to help determine problems with insulation or drafts.

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But selling a product on energy efficiency is tough these days. “I’m trying to be a clean tech company three years after everyone stopped investing in clean tech,” he says. But perhaps the buzz around the connected home can sway buyers and investors. That’s the hope he has in going after the tech-savvy consumer market on Kickstarter. After all Nest, the makers of a connected thermostat was recently purchased by Google for $3.2 billion.

So far, on the consumer side, his biggest success has come from parents who are concerned about the temperature in their baby’s room. Even if it’s 90 degrees in the nursery, opening the window to the noises of New York City during nap time, may not be ideal. But, Cox has another problem. the number of apartments with radiators is relatively small — maybe 7 million units he said. That would translate to roughly 25 million radiators. There’s also a commercial market with about 40 million radiators.

And it’s not growing. Basically his market is limited to pre-war apartments on the Northeast that use steam heat. No one is building these anymore, although one advantage for him, is that they are also expensive to retrofit and remove as part of a renovation. “Only an apartment full of multimillionaires” would undertake such a task because they’d never recoup the investment he said.

Given all the talk about crowdfunding, the hardware revolution and the benefits offered by Cozy it seems like an interesting test case for whether a company that has a a highly niche product that requires dedicated hardware can find success. For example, Cox expressed frustration at Kickstarter’s limits on how he presents his planned product (it doesn’t allow renderings, only animations) but decided to use the service because it had the most mainstream recognition and his audience is decidedly less tech savvy than the early adopters of Silicon Valley.

With only nine days to go Radiator Labs has only reached about 40 percent of its $100,000 goal and only had 55 people pledge to buy that actual product. Having lived in a steam-heated building, I know this is a problem, so am intrigued if the market finds Cozy and thinks it is the way to solve it.

Updated: This story was updated at 5 PT to reflect the correct number of backers buying the product so far.