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Comfy raises $12 million for app to end office thermostat wars

TechCrunch TechCrunch 8/06/2016 Lora Kolodny

Building Robotics Inc., better known as Comfy, raised $12 million in Series B funding for building automation software that helps companies save energy on office air conditioning, while gathering employee-contributed data about the use and occupancy of a workspace.

Emergence Capital led the investment joined by real estate services company CBRE, and Microsoft Ventures.

According to company President Lindsay Baker, letting employees tweak the temperature around their cubicle can improve productivity and happiness. “It’s a very real thing that temperature and light can slow us down, distract us, make us hungry or impact our hormones,” she said.

Baker explained that Comfy is a simple-to-use app that employees put on their phones and use to request warm or cool air in a zone where they work. The app uses employee-contributed data, and combines it with usage data and patterns, to tune every zone in an office building based on the routine preferences of people who work in each zone there.

The Oakland, Calif.-based startup faces significant competition from building automation businesses ranging from other tech startups including SCIEnergy, or BuildingIQ, as well as large, energy management tech vendors like Honeywell International, Johnson Controls or United Technologies.

What sets Comfy apart from the competition, Baker says, is its “occupant facing” mobile app.

Other companies in the space typically build apps and analytics for building managers, or sell sensors and other hardware that is installed and distributed throughout an office to gather data about occupancy and usage, but without individual feedback from employees on their preferences.

Comfy charges its clients based on the square footage of their office, and does not charge to install its system initially.

Emergence Capital founder and General Partner Brian Jacobs said his firm backed Comfy because of its cloud-based, and employee-friendly approach to the market.

“We’ve looked at hundreds of companies in building automation and none of them felt like they could be the leader in this market because none of them were getting employees engaged in controlling their own environment,” he said.

The firm learned in working as an early investor in Salesforce, Yammer and others, that “employees will use what they want, “ and “employers only get ROI if employees use the things they invest in,” the investor added.

Comfy will use its funding for hiring, and intends to double from 30 to 60 full-time employees in the next year, Baker said. The company also plans develop new features and functionality to serve clients in different industries.

Healthcare facilities require something very different than hotels when it comes to making occupants comfortable, and employees productive, Baker explained.

Comfy is also exploring ways it could use indoor positioning in its app, as well, so a worker’s temperature and lighting preferences could automatically follow and be set for him or her wherever they go around the office in a day, or be turned off when they leave.

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