Alexa, build me a house

What happened: Amazon Alexa Fund and Obvious Ventures invested $6.7m Series A for Plant Prefab—a modular prefab home builder.

Who is Plant? They’re an LA-based modular, prefab builder focused on high end, single-family and low-rise multifamily homes. They build mostly in wood and have a strong eco-bent and fondness for connected homes.

Why Plant? One, there’s growing interest in modular and prefab in general, made most evident by the somewhat recent SoftBank-led investment in Katerra, as well as other investments in the last couple years like FullStack Modular, Kasita, and Blokable.

But according to Plant CEO Steve Glenn, the investment has a lot to do with providing Amazon a testing ground for their connected devices. He told Fast Company, “We will work with Amazon to integrate Alexa and other smart home technology they have into our standard home platforms…[and] working with them to create better integrated Alexa and other smart home technology solutions to help improve the quality of life and utility of people who live in the homes we build.”

This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into homebuilding. Amazon already has a partnership with Lennar—a large, single-family housing builder. But the Lennar partnership was mostly about providing a showroom for Alexa products—not necessarily a purpose-built platform for them. 

Nor is it a tech giant’s first interest in modular. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs has shown a keen interest in modular housing, and enlisted Factory OS last year to build out some workforce housing for Google.

While Plant could also be used for workforce housing (possibly for HQ2), it’s easy to imagine Amazon is scheming to solve one of the biggest pain-points of smart home adoption, namely integration.

At present, smart home tech suffers from interoperability issues between various devices and sensors. Because the tech can’t talk to each other, information is not networked—that network is essential for connecting various data points and learning a resident’s and home’s behavior. That learning can be applied to improving user experience, home security, maintenance, energy demand optimization, and more.  

Amazon’s partnership with an actual homebuilder could be seen as a harbinger of things to come—when a home is an open API platform for hard and soft tech that can interact and network with one another and extract meaningful data from homes and their users.

Or not.

At the end of the day, this is a $6.7m investment from a company with a $1 trillion market cap. For an asset-heavy startup like Plant, this amount could be a valuable lifeline, but for the online retail giant, it’s “why not” money.

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