Three years ago, Tyler Hall sat in a small booth on the far end of one the largest electronic shows in the world, hoping to get some attention for a startup company called SmartThings.
Last year, he was in the spotlight booth of the Consumer Electronics Show, a few months after SmartThings had been purchased by Samsung.
“It was a ‘wow’ moment,” said Hall, 30.
The Tucson native persuaded Samsung to open a satellite office downtown, from which customer care for SmartThings is run.
Opened in September 2015 with eight employees, the Samsung division in Tucson now has 37 and is expanding this month, said Adam James, the Tucson office manager.
Samsung SmartThings Hub connects compatible smart devices including lights, speakers, locks, thermostats, sensors and more.
It makes some of those smart devices, but also works with more than 150 other devices like Philips Hue lights, Bose speakers and Netgear Arlo Cameras as well as Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Works well with others
A water leak sensor can detect and notify a homeowner of a leaky faucet. An electrical outlet adapter can get the teapot heating up as you drive home from work.
Because SmartThings is an open platform, others can create apps to work within the system.
Hall learned about SmartThings through his tech contacts and joined the emerging business in 2012. The team then launched a Kickstarter campaign to seek funding for the app.
“I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” said Hall, a 2004 graduate of University High School.
Samsung purchased SmartThings in 2014. Reports in trade publications put the sale price at around $200 million.
Operating quietly on the second floor at 20 E. Congress, many people express surprise to learn that Samsung is in Tucson, Hall said.
“We’ve been so heads-down, going through the transition,” he said. “We weren’t trying to keep it a secret.”
This month, the company will expand into the basement space of the building and add several employees.
A 2008 graduate of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona, Hall started his first company, Student Experts, with four partners.
It began as a “white-glove tech support” company, providing labor and assistance to small businesses looking to expand their technology. In three years it grew to 100 employees.
The tech-support arm of the operation merged with company Mural.
UA talent pool
Student Experts, which now provides internet and content-marketing services, has an office above Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink at 101 E. Pennington St.
Hall moved to Washington, D.C., for a year for SmartThings, but wanted to return to Tucson, where he believed the talent pool of students graduating from the UA was under-appreciated.
After Samsung bought SmartThings, Hall promoted the idea of having a satellite office in Tucson to draw the young talent together.
As vice president of operations for Samsung’s SmartThings, Hall now commutes between offices in Tucson and Mountain View, California.
His visits to Tucson always coincide with Wildcat home games.
“It’s the weirdest coincidence,” he said with a grin.
Hall’s home is a “beta playground” for running the app and adding to its capability.
“It’s a wireless version of home security,” he said. “When you go to bed, you can click ‘Good Night’ and it will turn off the lights, set the thermostat and lock the front door.”
The system can be set so lights turn on as you move from room to room.
If you’re out of town, the app can send a notification if a door or window is opened. A camera can be added to get a video clip of who comes in.
“Then you’ve got the burglars on film,” he said.
Broker Bob Davis, with Tango Commercial Real Estate, was a judge when Hall and his team won a 2008 new venture competition at UA.
“He is a very smart and equally organized, visionary and collegial,” Davis said.
He said Hall was instrumental in convincing Samsung to expand to Tucson because of his love for the city.
“His view of Tucson in general, and downtown in particular, as an environment where emerging tech companies can be successful is clearly based on availability and affordability of a talented workforce,” Davis said.
Hall shrugs at the kudos but is admittedly in awe of the journey.
“This,” he said with open arms, “is as cool as it gets.”