Kimberli Hudson Of Canary Instruments
Welcome to Founder Friday, where we’ll learn a little about the people behind some of the companies doing their thing at Highway1.
Today’s founder is Kimberli Hudson of Canary Instruments.
Who are you? (don’t forget your official job title)
I’m Kimberli Hudson, CFO and co-founder of Canary Instruments.
What’s your product called, and what does it do?
Canary Energy is a smart nightlight that gives you light-based feedback on your home energy usage, both instant and daily. We have colours to represent how you’re doing.
- Green = You’re doing great, spending way less than you want to.
- Yellow = You’re still good.
- Orange = You’re on budget.
- Red = You’d better watch it, you’re spending more than you want to.
- Fuchsia = You’re way over!
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m a serial entrepreneur; I started my first business at 17. This is my twelfth; I’ve never done hardware or even a tech business before! There never seems to be an end to things to fix or learn; with most traditional businesses, whether they’re service-based or brick and mortar, there are problems to solve and knowledge to gain, but they get kind of rote after a while, and that’s not the case with tech.
Where did the idea for this business come from, and what role did you play?
I’ve been friends with my two co-founders Lonny and Gabe for a really long time; they’ve worked together for 15 years, and the three of us have worked together on different sustainability and building projects around the world for the last 6-7 years.
Lonny and I were having breakfast one morning and we thought: “Hmmm; we should be able to make a business out of the ideas and knowledge we’ve gained as a team.” I’d done well for myself, even invested in other companies, and said, “Okay, why don’t we do it?” So we started figuring it out on the back of a napkin and sprung it on Gabe.
We all want to know how much energy we’re using, right? We have high electricity bills, we want to save the planet — but we found out numbers and data are boring. We did a lot of design sessions with potential customers: my business partners, being engineers, wanted to have numbers and data on the device, but customers told us time and time again that they wanted simplicity. They didn’t want numbers, they didn’t want another decision to make, they didn’t want something else they had to figure out — they just wanted something intuitive and simple.
So we came up with the nightlight. On the back end, we have rich data: a device that sits in your breaker box and connects to your computer or smartphone. It’ll allow you to go online and set your energy usage: how much you want to use, how much you want to spend, and see how much you’re spending, but you don’t have to look at it all the time every day.
How did you find out about Highway1?
Gabe and our project manager Lana came down here to a workshop Highway1 was holding; at the time, we were about to launch a Kickstarter. They came back and said “Why don’t we look at this? Maybe we want to pivot and launch this differently, with more support. Let’s just apply and see what we can do with it.” I’m glad we agreed; it’s a perfect fit for us.
What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far?
We’re early in the program, but I’m pleasantly surprised — as a serial entrepreneur, I’m used to always being in competition. It’s nice to have this many resources at hand; the amount of support Highway1 gives its companies is remarkable. That, and the diversity of learning and skills in our cohort is really amazing.
Can you talk about what the focus of your founding team was, and how you met the challenges (if any) of branching out beyond your personal experience?
We all read and research a lot! One thing all three of us have in common with our PM Lana is that we all have a drive to learn more and do something new, something innovative and different.
That’s really made it possible for us to get to where we were selling units 10 months after founding; we didn’t realize this at the time because none of us had done hardware before, but that’s unheard of. We’ve also had a lot of help along the way. One of our founders, Lonny, teaches engineering at Humboldt State University, and he has a huge network of people he’s worked with through the years, different engineers and designers; we’ve been able to contract with amazing people all over the world.
The four of us have a really amazingly diverse amount of skills; as a non-tech person, I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here, but having non-tech people like Lana and me around is actually a strength. We joke that if I can understand it and use it, it’s good for the general populace.
What are your goals, both while you’re at Highway1 and beyond?
Our main goals are to get to where we have a mass-manufacturable product, and to understand how we can make contacts in that space and run the process successfully end-to-end. Another goal is to work on our funding: we think we know where we want to go and I think I know how to do it, but this is above and beyond.
Yes, I’ve owned and sold a bunch of businesses, but this is a whole different animal; you can read about it all you want, but that’s not the same as having people to guide you. That’s what we hope to gain — that, and by the time we get out, to be ready to launch.
Beyond Highway1? We’re already installed in 270 homes, mostly low income housing projects we’ve been working with. The kids get it instantly; sometimes they have to explain it to the adults a little bit — we’re not used to things being simple, but to kids, it’s lights, it’s colors, and they get it right away. To see them running around turning off lights and plugging things in and seeing how the light changes — there’s an educational component around sustainability we’re really happy with, and we want to see where that goes.