"NEST For the Rest of Us": An Apartment Renter's DIY Platform Called RADLABS


Responding to the brief “to design a growth startup built upon the platform of an existing company” in their Lifecycle and Flows: Better By Measure course, designers Andres Iglesias, Brandon Washington, and Lucy Knops looked at Nest—creators of the smart thermostat, along with other innovative home monitoring devices. Through system mapping, the team identified two gaps in Nest’s business model and created a new, speculative platform: RADLABS.

The first gap in the Nest system is that the product only works with homes that have central heating and air conditioning. This leaves out a huge segment of the population—apartment renters—who either do not have central air and heat, or who may not directly control their heating and cooling systems. Here the team saw a huge market segment not served by the brand.

"Rental apartments are typically too hot or too cold, and the renters themselves often do not have the power to control their own apartment’s temperature."

The second gap in the Nest system is one that the company actually celebrates: taking the individual out of the equation. The Nest device and platform learns homeowners’ habits over time, and then makes adjustments to the thermostat based on those behaviors. As a result, the individual loses agency—no longer needing to actively make energy usage decisions. Here, the team saw an opportunity for putting the individual back at the center of the system.

RADLABS took these initial insights and then developed a concept using the Lean Startup model. Through extensive desktop and primary research, they discovered that the principal pain-point for apartment renters is that their apartments are typically too hot or too cold, and that often they do not have the power to control their apartment’s temperature.

After several pivots, the team focused in on the customer segment of people renting older apartments in the Northeast—where it can be scorching hot in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. The temperature efficiency in these apartments is very low (technologies are chronically out of date), and renters are often at the mercy of building owners and superintendents to set the temperature range.

Also, renters typically move often. Every apartment is different of course, and the team saw a need for customizable solutions. Some novel solutions exist, in fact, and there are several heating and cooling “hacks” that renter’s use, but these hacks are seldom shared and rarely tested.

RADLABS offers a platform where tips, tricks, and hacks are shared, and where the team designs, tests and sells their own thermal kits.

"Heat Flow" is the first product kit in development. It maximizes a steam radiator’s output by using a fan array to redirect the hot air and properly circulate it throughout the room. Each Heat Flow kit is designed to be easily assembled, installed, and then de-installed so that renters can move it with them from apartment to apartment.

The kits are sold on the RADLABS site, where video tutorials, along with placement tips and tricks, are also available.

Mapping out financial projections for the next five years, the team saw the need to round out their offering. In the second year of the business, RADLABS plans to produce “collaboration kits”—product kits designed by outside designers, but manufactured and sold by RADLABS. These kits and their video tutorials will help build the RADLABS community, driving users to the site and increasing participation. In addition, they will investigate selling ad space on their site, taking inspiration from the freemium model so successful on the DIY project site Instructables.com.