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Simplehuman’s CEO on Why He Embraced the Idea of Selling a $250 Trash Can

Technology is useless if it doesn’t make life easier.

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BY Nancy A. Shenker - 14 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Starting my career in the pre-technology era, I am very accustomed to talking rather than texting. Plus, being from New York, I frequently use my hands to communicate, gesturing to add emphasis or other emotions. All of this means that this new era of intelligent devices--objects you can speak to and wave at--is a very comfortable one for me.

Voice recognition technologies are among the top trends of 2018. Most of us are familiar with Siri, Google Home, and Alexa. But the next frontier of voice- and motion-activated devices is going to involve bringing this technology to even more corners of your home.

I chatted with Frank Yang, the CEO and Founder of simplehuman, inventors of products primarily for kitchens and bathrooms (where people spend most of their non-working and non-sleeping time). He said at first he resisted creating a voice- and motion-activated trash pail. Do consumers want a high-tech trash can with a $250 price tag?

It appears they do--the company says the new product is selling well at major retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond. (Simplehuman would not disclose any specific sales figures, but says that it accounts for 60% of total company sales.) It's especially popular among consumers with physical limitations and cooks who want the garbage pail open and waiting for them (as much as 10 feet away) when they go to throw away messy garbage. Yang doesn't believe in technology for technology's sake, however. "Unless the tool makes you live more efficiently, it doesn't make sense," he says.

I asked Yang about his process for deciding whether or not (and how) to build technology into an otherwise "human" device. His perspective is:

  1. "Have a high bar for your products. Ask, 'Is this a product I would use myself and be proud to give to my very best friends and family?'
  2. Your product is only as strong as the engineering you put into it. It's critical to source quality materials from trusted partners -- never settle for 'good enough."

Yang talked about his development lab, where hundreds of ideas have been scrapped because they didn't pass the test. Before simplehuman launched their line of "smart mirrors" they spent two years rejecting options including a mirror with a USB charger and one with built-in bluetooth. But then the company focused on the two most important consumer features -- lighting and clarity. The mirror that ultimately made it to retail lights up as your face approaches. Yang knew he had winners with the trash pail and the motion-sensor magnifying mirrors when he started getting rave reviews from consumers and the products started selling rapidly.

As you evaluate new voice and motion technologies, ask yourself, "Will the time this will save ultimately justify the expense?" Motion sensors may reduce your utilities bill. And, if you generate a lot of trash, that $250 garbage pail might ultimately pay off.



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