LEHI — Megan Jones' decision to have a high-tech monitoring system installed in her Holladay home was precipitated by a terrifying experience she had a couple of years ago.
After returning home one afternoon, she heard what she thought was a delivery arriving. But when she opened the door, she encountered a man and woman who were actually stealing her packages. The man grabbed Jones, held her down on the ground and told her not to move. The criminals then left with the packages.
Even though police later found the opened boxes a few blocks from Jones' home, no one was ever apprehended.
"Something that started out as just stealing packages turned into an assault," Jones said. "It was very, very scary."
A short time later, she did what an increasing number of homeowners across the country have done and had a new, smart home system installed that combines security devices with high-tech options that can be easily controlled and monitored remotely with a smart phone app.
To address her needs, Jones turned to Utah's Vivint Smart Home, the country's No. 1 smart home service provider, by subscriber, according to a report released by Strategy Analytics in January.
Besides leading the pack in their business market, the company is also the state's biggest tech employer with 4,000 of its 11,000 employees based in Utah.
While the technology employed by smart home systems — think video camera doorbells, heating/air conditioning with smart controllers, and computer controlled door locks and light switches — is advancing at an incredible pace, Vivint President Alex Dunn, a BYU graduate and one-time chief of staff to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, said a great analogy for the state of the industry is self-driving cars.
"When you look at where autonomous vehicle technology is now, with features like lane assist and collision avoidance, that's kind of where we're at in smart home innovation," Dunn said. "The home isn't quite self-driving yet, but it's where we're headed."
What does it mean to have a home that can almost "drive" itself? Dunn said Vivint employs a variety of sensors, coupled with a computer-based, artificial intelligence-driven control system, that can not only give homeowners the ability to control and monitor their home systems from afar, but the system can actually "learn" the habits of its owners and make adjustments that can, in Dunn's words, "take some of the burden off the shoulders of homeowners and their families."
Smart Home packages from Vivint start around $550 for a basic setup that gets you the controller, and a set of door and window sensors. Purchasers can finance the package and will also be charged $39.99/month for 24-hour monitoring. Adding video monitoring equipment, like the company's video doorbell or video cameras, also requires opting in to a video monitoring package that will provide real-time remote access to the cameras as well as archive storage and will run $49.99/month, a price that includes the round-the-clock security monitoring.
The company also offers a slew of additional devices that can connect with your home heating/cooling, garage door operation, video cameras with two-way audio and more. The systems that include automation can be controlled with the in-home control pad, Vivint's smartphone app or via voice commands through a customer's home assistant like an Amazon Echo or Google Home.
The company, which was founded in Provo by former BYU student Todd Pedersen, got its start as an alarm company in 1999 but evolved into the smart home market, rebranding as Vivint in 2011. In 2012, New York City private equity giant Blackstone Group acquired the company for $2 billion. In September of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported Blackstone was seeking a buyer for the company and, with current valuation, could see the price top $6 billion.
That remarkable value jump has been fueled in large part by Vivint's sales success and, since its inception, door-to-door sales have been at the heart of the company's business model. According to Dunn, knocking on doors still accounts for the lion's share of new customer acquisitions. But, inside sales are a growing part of the equation and Vivint has inked recent deals with retailers like Best Buy and Sprint to sell their systems in brick-and-mortar locations.
That growth has been accompanied by some growing pains, including criticism and actions by regulators related to questionable tactics used by some in-home sales people. Dunn said the company has worked to minimize those issues, which he said are just part of the challenge of operating a door-to-door sales force of over 3,000.
"With the very nature of direct to home sales and the amount of interactions we have, there's going to be issues that arise," Dunn said. "In the end, we always want to do things the right way."
That includes, Dunn said, creating a "pre-installation survey" that is conducted after a sales call to ensure that the customer is getting what they want at the price they expect. The company has also added a 30-day opt-out clause for older customers.
Much as the world of the "internet of things" — physical objects like appliances and home devices that can communicate information and be controlled through a network — has exploded over the past couple of years, so have the opportunities for smart home companies like Vivint. A market report released in July by Zion Research estimates that the smart home industry, which generated just over $24 billion in 2016, could swell to over $53 billion by 2022. Researchers said the primary drivers of this growth will be "energy efficiency, home security, entertainment, convenience/productivity, remote health monitoring and connectivity."
Vivint is working to stay at the front of the pack of smart home service providers and, while they earned $750 million last year, are still coming up short on profitability as they continue to invest heavily in growing their customer base.
Matt Eyring, Vivint's chief strategy and innovation officer, said current smart home automation is advanced enough to glean enough savings to help offset the cost of a smart home system and it's only going to get better.
"Our customers who have heating and air conditioning controls as part of their automation package are saving $120 a year on average," Eyring said. "Larger homes are saving even more and it doesn't require anything of the user."
Eyring said his company typically installs about 15 smart devices in a customer's home but expects that number could reach as many as 50 options as new internet of things gadgets come on the market. Those new sensors, connected to Vivint's AI-driven system, could do things like let a homeowner know when to service their furnace, if a plumbing issue is eminant or if termites have surreptitiously become tenants.8 comments on this story
Even with only having some very basic in-home devices, Jones said her initial qualms about the system have given way to appreciation.
"I was apprehensive and definitely concerned at first that we wouldn't get our money's worth out of it," Jones said. "Now, I wouldn't have a home without it. There's been a lot of crime in our area and we feel much more secure with the system in place.
"And, as parents of two toddlers including one with a severe peanut allergy and asthma, knowing a babysitter can push one button and be immediately connected with emergency services just gives us some extra peace of mind."