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Sep 13

The Birth of Comfy (Or, How an Unlikely Team Built an Unlikely Company)

Leah Busque, CEO of TaskRabbit, has recounted how often she is approached by people saying “I had that idea years ago!” and her response is always to say, “Yeah, I bet you did! It’s a great idea!” Leah then follows up to say that having the idea for a new technology or service is often the easiest part; creating it, and building a business out of it—that’s the hard part.

At Comfy, we too are often approached by folks who say they also had the idea that people at work should have a way to personalize their comfort through an app. So, how is Comfy still the only company delivering an app that allows occupants to dynamically and immediately control their workplace, one that is being used by huge companies like Cisco, Intel, WeWork, and thousands of users across the world?

While the Comfy app is simple and intuitive, it’s really quite sophisticated under the hood, and requires an interdisciplinary mindset and expertise in several different industries to execute well. Our team has strengths in software engineering and design expertise, of course, but we also must have a deep technical understanding of building management systems, like HVAC and controls, intimate knowledge of the real estate and building industries, and SaaS business experience, in order to create that magical connection between the digital and physical workplace.

Our company story is one of a unique group of people who were fortunate to come together at the right idea and right time, to elegantly solve a problem that resonates with every office worker in history: temperature! In fact, the four of us on the founding team quickly realized we were all working on different facets of the same problem, in our own worlds.

Beau Trincia (who was working at IDEO but worked previously as an architect) designed a concept called Comfort-on-Demand for a Metropolis Magazine competition with our friends Taylor Keep and Nash Hurley- that was an inspiration for Comfy. His design and creativity brought that idea into the world and continues to bring so many of our new ideas into fruition today.

At the same time Andrew Krioukov and Steve Dawson-Haggerty were PhD students at UC Berkeley, writing papers on how to create extensible software platforms for energy systems (like the ones in buildings). Their vision was to create software that you could ‘write once, run anywhere.’ There’s even a video of Andrew talking about this passionat a computer science symposium.

Meanwhile I was working on improving the relationship between people and buildings, through my research at UC Berkeley and on the corporate real estate team at Google. I’d done research on how people are more satisfied with buildings when they have greater environmental control. I also published a white paper on the proven impact buildings have on health and cognition. So I brought the industry perspective, and excitement around the many possibilities of people-centric buildings.

Beau, Andrew, Steve and I came together in 2013 while working on the LEED Dynamic Plaque and began talking about the opportunity for enterprise technology as a means to bridge the gap between people and buildings. We combined Steve and Andrew’s vision for interoperability, my vision for creating better relationships between people and their buildings, Beau’s creativity and passion for bridging the digital and physical, and thus Comfy was born. From my perspective, the only way to solve this complex problem of workplace comfort is with a diversely knowledgeable team.

Many ‘origin’ stories of companies start with a mix of inspiration, good fortune, and a lot of hard work. That’s definitely Comfy’s as well—none of us could have foreseen how successful our company would be at improving people’s lives, or how well-timed we were in starting the company, or how fast we would grow.

Today, I’m impressed daily by the range of skills and expertise that our 60+ person team brings, in terms of professional background and the passions they all have for what we do at Comfy. We face lots of interesting and exciting challenges as we expand our solutions to meet the needs of our customers and users. Without these diverse perspectives, we’d never be where we are today, and we look forward to the next phase of growth.

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