• Jess

Light Switch Innovation and an Innovative Light Switch: Stories from IBS 2020 (2 of 2)

I’ve been known to pick on Katerra. Over the last couple years, Katerra has made themselves an easy target with big ideas and bigger fund-raising rounds (I heard a rumor last week that they closed another $1.2 BILLION funding round?). They want to take on all things construction and make it happen overnight. If you’ve read any of my prior work, you know I’m a staunch advocate of slow, steady, incremental innovation in construction. That said, there are thousands of little things that can be improved quickly, like the light switch.

While on the IBS show floor I chased down Mark Mitchell. (I literally saw him from 60’ away and circled out of the booth and conversation I was in to make a point to say hello.) We had a great conversation and shared perspectives on the show floor. I broke out my $5 line (that’s 10X better than a 50¢ word) about “light switch innovation”. He stopped me right there and asked, “have you seen the light switch at Katerra’s booth?” We continued our conversation, but I was intrigued about an innovation in light switches.

I poked around the Katerra booth late in the day on Thursday. They were filming with Dave Cooper so I wondered around out of the shot until I found their Kova Lighting section. I inquired about “the light switch” and was promptly shown a truly innovative light switch. It’s claim to fame? Wireless connectivity between the switch and the fixture. Obviously the retrofit and remodel markets are a perfect use for this switch, but I was taken aback when the Katerra rep told me it would save $800 per unit in new construction through the elimination of wire (and labor) between the switch and the fixture. (The savings may be up for debate, but there is a there, there)

On the surface, a wireless light switch isn’t that terribly innovative. After all, we have Internet of Things enabled litter boxes and Alexa controlled bird baths. But to see something as simple as the light switch being disrupted is awesome. The only thing that had changed about the light switch in the previous 20 years was the color. This one particularly strikes home for me as I’ve looking for a switch to control a garbage disposal that wouldn’t require a complete kitchen remodel. The options for commercially available switches are not that great.

After seeing Katerra’s light switch I stopped but another switch manufacturer’s booth and asked if they had a wireless switch available. An older gentleman, who was about 6’5 and obviously hired back in a day when tall people were believed to make better salespeople, sauntered over and dismissively told me they had one in development. Perhaps he was tired of the question based on people who had an experience similar to mine or he didn’t fully realize how much a threat Katerra suddenly posed to his business. Regardless,

Katerra’s light switch is evidence of how quickly incremental innovation can displace a behemoth of a particular construction category who failed to innovate themselves.

So, I owe an “atta-boy” and “atta-girl” to Katerra for progress in their quest to take over construction. High fives, fist bumps, and a job well done to those involved with “the light switch”. Katerra deserves credit for this endeavor. I look forward to seeing what else Katerra can bring to market!

P.S. If you don’t follow Mark Mitchell on LinkedIN or subscribe to his weekly email/blog, you should. He has the best marketing insights for construction, and specifically the building materials industry, as I’ve seen. He does a great job of recirculating his content and his insights are always on point.

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