Life360 partners with smart home companies, plants its flag as the connected family's digital hub

By Michael Carney , written on December 17, 2013

From The News Desk

When Life360 unveiled its plans earlier this year to develop a novel connected-car integration in partnership with BMW, then a new strategic investor, the company’s true vision for the ultimate, always-connected family social platform began to come clear. Life360 hopes to be more than a means of locating and communication with family members – both on a day-to-day basis and in times of emergency. Rather, the company's founders see it as a family hub for the "Internet of Things," as the growing ecosystem of connected devices around us all has come to be called. Today, the company is announcing the next step in achieving that vision with a series of smart home partnerships.

Life360 has partnered with The Duchossois Group, a private equity firm with a portfolio of a half-dozen smart home products including the Chamberlain internet-connected garage doors and Brivo Labs access control panels. As part of the deal, the company has also raised an additional $7 million in funding, extending the $10 million Series B round announced in July. The latest round included Duchossois and other new, but undisclosed investors.

“The biggest limitation of existing smart-home systems is they aren’t family-aware, meaning they typically don’t know the location of multiple family members,” Life360 Chris Hulls says. “By making homes family-aware, we can drastically improve the utility of everyday home utilities like door locks, thermostats, and home security systems.”

Life360 will slowly integrate its location-aware system into the Duchossois family of products until the company’s mobile app (iOS and Android) is able to function as a digital hub for the connected home. With home security companies all looking to enable geo-fencing the benefits are not hard to imagine. Door locks can be set to lock automatically when all family members leave the house, or parents can set system rules that auto-enable the locks when the kids are home alone. Similarly, the heat and AC can be auto enabled when one family member is en route to the house and 15 minutes out.

By knowing the location of not one, but all members of the nuclear family, Life360 and Duchossois will be able to enable an entirely new level of smart home automation. Of course, each connected device maker could develop their own mobile, location-aware technology, but the barriers to getting users to install and use such a service are non-trivial.

Life360 already has 25 million registered families, “many millions" of which are active, according to Hulls. With the average size of its “active family” being 2.7 members, the company presumably has ten(s) of millions of active users within its network. Duchossois will get to quickly tap into this existing network, many of which presumably already own its connected devices and another portion of which are likely to be in the market for these technologies in the near future. Of course, it’s not just about selling more devices, but about making them more functional and improving their user experience.

According to Hulls, Life360 has a handful of other similar partnerships already inked but not ready for announcement. One such partnership is with a mobile handset manufacturer, he says. And while he wouldn’t specify further, it’s worth noting that Life360 was featured in the launch promotions for the new Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. He also indicated that company has partnered with one of the top two US mobile carriers (AT&T or Verizon).

The fact that the Duchossois relationship is a non-exclusive one should be viewed as a good sign for the company as it tries to position itself as the ubiquitous digital hub for the connected family. Life360 will have to compete with high-priced systems from legacy smart home installers, as well as independent platform competitors like Revolv. But each will face the same problem of limited family-awareness. Unless an entire family is willing to download and actively use new apps for each system they install in their home – think Nest, Sonos, Lockatron, Dropcam, Chamberlain, Brivo Labs, and so on – then a central hub becomes a critical element of the connected home. Life360 has the advantage of having already built a large and loyal mobile audience. The only companies that may be able to compete are existing location-aware mobile platforms like Google, via Android, and Apple via iOS – not to mention that having retail stores wouldn't hurt.

Life360 has raised nearly $24 million to date and is growing at an impressive clip. But the company has yet to prove that it can monetize effectively. There is a premium Life360 product available for $5 per month that offers OnStar-like concierge and emergency assistance functionality and other benefits. But the company has hardly pushed this product, Hulls says, insisting that his focus is squarely on increasing the size and engagement level of the company’s user base.

“We’re not quite Instagram, but we’re close to juggernaut size,” he says. “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re focusing on blowing out.”

The company stands to make a profit on any sales of internet of things hardware products that it sells through its platform, but it’s unclear that this will be enough to justify its current valuation, which given the capital it's raised to date is almost surely nine-figures. Hulls is hesitant to declare that premium home automation features will be incorporated into the paid version of the app. So for now, it appears that investors are will to take the company at its “build it and the monetization will come” promise.

It’s hard to think of another social or location-aware platform that’s better positioned than Life360 to serve as the hub of the connected home. The company has shown itself capable of attracting premium partners on the hardware and has assembled enough cash and investor good will to focus on building out its family-aware network free from near-term monetization pressure.

Smartphone usage is at an all-time-high and still rising, while the connected home appears to be approaching a major inflection point in terms of awareness and adoption. There couldn’t be a better time for Life360 to realize it goal of becoming the connected family digital hub. The final question to be answered is, is that a business worth being in?

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