Japanese entrepreneur Takeshi Homma, whose Silicon Valley-based startup has embarked on a project to build next-generation “smart homes” in the United States, sees himself not only as a problem solver, but also as a an innovator.
In 2016, Homma left his management position at Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Group Inc. at the age of 41 to found Homma Group Inc. He did so with the aim of designing the convenience of a futuristic residential, using smart home building technology. Coming from a family of builders, one grandfather of whom was an architect and the other ran a building materials company, Homma was fascinated with building houses from an early age.
“When I was a kid, home building was familiar to me, and I became interested in interior design, among other aspects of construction,” Homma said in a recent interview.
In a two-story house for rent built by Homma Group in Portland, Oregon, the ceiling and banister light fixtures turn on when someone steps on the steps leading up to the house. Some 30 sensors distributed throughout the house detect movement and all lighting is controlled automatically.
“We’ve made it a life where you don’t have to touch wall light switches,” said Ryo Inoue, Head of Architecture at Homma Group.
Not only does the house turn lights on and off automatically, but it also adjusts brightness and tones, blending into the everyday life of its inhabitants depending on the time of day. For example, the house dims the lighting when someone gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Homma thinks that having the house have automated lighting helps reduce frustration when a child, for example, repeatedly forgets to turn off the bathroom light.
“A parent will get angry with a child who forgets to turn off the light. This could happen in any household. If you leave the lights on in the first place, the electricity bill goes up, but if they are controlled automatically, you can save,” Homma said.
After creating Homma Group in 2016, the Japanese entrepreneur placed the startup’s center of activity in California’s Silicon Valley, the global hub for technology and innovation.
Besides his family background related to construction and architecture, Homma says there were two other reasons he turned to the homebuilding market in the United States.
Homma, now 47, was named managing director of Rakuten in 2012, where he was responsible for designing business strategies for global digital content while based in Silicon Valley.
He was inspired by the emergence of IT startups there that are rethinking old industries through innovation like Tesla revolutionizing electric vehicles and ride-sharing service Uber Technologies that has brought new solutions to the taxi industry.
It inspired him to re-enter the world of entrepreneurship, nearly two decades since he ran a startup as a web designer in college days. “I had thought of living a peaceful life as an employee, but then I decided that I also wanted to create a future and bring innovation,” he said.
The final reason, and perhaps the most important, is that he saw a problem in the US housing market. Although the residential houses had superior functionality compared to Japanese houses, such as good insulation, Homma realized that there was little progress in house building efficiency.
Since prefabricated bathrooms and system kitchens are not common in the United States, with artisans usually building them on site, it is typical for a house that can be built in one year in Japan to take two to three years. in the USA. .
Homma further explained that because American builders tend to be conservative in their thinking, he believes they avoid using new materials and equipment as much as possible, focusing only on the building itself while s not interested in technology.
Unlike in Japan, where houses have a relatively short lifespan before they are demolished and the land rebuilt, in the United States old houses are renovated and live on. So, if a homeowner wants to create a “smart home,” they have to adapt it by purchasing and installing various devices. Having to download a slew of apps onto your smartphone to operate these devices only complicates things, Homma says.
“So by incorporating Japan’s efficient building practices, I thought it would present a great business opportunity to bring computing into US residential construction,” Homma said.
As the coronavirus pandemic has made working from home much more common, people are increasingly looking to improve the multifunctionality of their homes. The 2,230 square meter community development in Portland features 18 units, with courtyards equipped with Wi-Fi, allowing residents to work outdoors in the open air.
Utilizing its knowledge of home rentals while bolstering the development of built-for-sale homes, Homma Group also plans to provide “smart home” technology to other companies.
“Under pandemic conditions, layout needs have changed, with people wanting both open spaces and privacy,” he said.
Homma Group will now focus on the challenge of revolutionizing the US housing industry amid slowing demand due to a less favorable interest rate environment, which will drive down housing prices. real estate, and a potential recession.