Smart lighting company Brilliant is looking for a buyer


Brilliant, maker of smart home controllers and smart light switches, is out of money. CEO Aaron Emigh confirmed in an exclusive interview with The Verge that the company has laid off the majority of its staff, shut down its support center, and is no longer selling its products. However, the company is maintaining its servers, and existing devices are continuing to operate in customers’ homes.

But for exactly how long is a question Emigh couldn’t answer. “Indefinitely, I hope, but ultimately, it’s not in my hands,” he said, explaining that the company has entered an asset sale phase and is looking for a buyer following the failure of its Series C round to raise capital or find an acquisition company. “[The company] will be sold. We have a number of interested parties, and we will run a very quick bidding process and sell it,” said Emigh. 

“Everything is still working; everything is still being monitored.”

Brilliant users began noticing something was up late last week. One Reddit user claiming to be a Brilliant reseller / installer posted that they couldn’t connect with the company. All of its products are completely out of stock on both its online store and on Amazon. YouTuber George Langabeer joined in on the speculation, saying customer support was impossible to get a hold of.

When The Verge spoke to Emigh this week, he said they are working to get customer support back up but will not be selling any new products until the company’s future is secured. “We took it all down out of an abundance of caution — we want to make sure we have a clear path when selling any product.” He assured current customers that “Everything is still working; everything is still being monitored. It’s my hope and expectation that customers won’t notice anything different as we transition to new ownership.”

Brilliant manufactured smart home control panels, smart dimmer switches, and smart plugs that work locally over Bluetooth mesh and with Brilliant’s app.
Image: Brilliant

That’s a very optimistic view. Even if a buyer is found, there’s no guarantee they’ll keep the lights on. And if Brilliant’s servers go dark, anyone who has one of these $400 smart switches wired into their walls will lose a significant amount of functionality. While Emigh says the smart switches will continue to control the lights they’re wired to and the intercom function between switches will work, there’s plenty that won’t.

You won’t be able to control cloud-connected devices from the built-in touchscreen, use the company’s smartphone app, add new devices to the system, or create or edit any Scenes you have set up. Emigh said some of the integrations are local (Sonos, Hue, LiFX, WeMo, Somfy, and Hunter Douglas), so those would continue to work — at least as long as their APIs were available. The built-in Alexa voice control would also still operate, but with no support or updates, it would be unwise to keep the switches online. Meaning eventually, it’ll just be a fancy-looking light switch.

The Brilliant Smart Home Controller (left) paired a touchscreen panel with a physical dimmer switch for controlling hardwired lights.
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

For those not familiar, Brilliant made wired smart light switches that could control your existing lights and other connected devices through its touchscreen panel. These include Philips Hue smart bulbs, Sonos smart speakers, Ring video doorbells, Schlage locks, and Nest thermostats, among others. The smart home control panels also had Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built-in and a camera and microphone that work as an in-home intercom system.

Founded in 2016, Brilliant was trying to solve two major problems of the DIY smart home: making devices from different manufacturers work together in your home and providing an easy way for anyone in the home to control things like lights, locks, music, etc.

But Emigh thinks they were too brilliant, too soon. The company, which raised a total of $60 million in funding over its eight years, failed largely because the smart home market did not take off as rapidly as predicted, said Emigh. “If it had achieved that 20 percent year-over-year growth rate, the market would be 4.3 times as big as it is today,” he said. “Launching a new product category in a slower market than was expected has been difficult.”

“Launching a new product category in a slower market than was expected has been difficult.”

Cost was also a big factor. The company’s home control panels started at $399 and went up to $549 per switch. That price really straddles the line between a DIY gadget and a pro-install product. With a relatively limited list of integrations, Brilliant just wasn’t attracting enough new customers to its hardware.

Emigh says they were trying to bring prices down and, in fact, had a cheaper, better, more powerful next-gen device ready to roll. “It has four times the processing power, an AI processor for edge control, and video analysis on the device; it’s a significant upgrade.”

But macroeconomic factors, such as tariffs and global supply chain stressors over the last decade, saw Brilliant raise prices rather than lowering them. The cheapest panel that today sold for $399, initially sold for $249. Emigh says they wanted to sell it for $199.

“Unlike larger companies, we could not afford to lower prices without shortening our runway and potentially going out of business years ago,” said Michael Williams, Brilliant’s VP of marketing. “This ongoing price competition in the hardware market has led to unrealistic cost expectations among consumers.”

Emigh also cites interoperability issues as stymieing growth. They wanted to be platform agnostic, but that was a tough nut to crack. One example he gave was voice control: “We had two voice assistants on board prior to launch, but one company wouldn’t let us launch with both working.”

So, they went to market with built-in Alexa voice control but without support for Google Assistant. But unlike other companies that faced similar struggles, Brilliant never gave customers the option to choose one or the other, which is how Sonos initially got around that particular restriction.

Despite the startup’s struggles, just flipping the switch on sales and support without warning customers is a bad move. Emigh says that was largely due to his optimism. “Up until the last, we believed we had an acquisition that was going to happen,” he said.

While Emigh says the company is still operating in as cash-efficient a way as possible and will continue to do so until its assets are sold, essentially, Brilliant is no more.

Emigh trotted out a common saying when a startup burns out, saying, “A lot of times, startups have the right product idea but the wrong market timing.” Brilliant may well have been ahead of its time — The Verge has written before on the smart home’s need for better control devices and Amazon’s recently launched Echo Hub is a similar product to Brilliant’s (for under half the price). But ultimately, being a very expensive product without enough functionality to back that up is what killed Brilliant.

The fatal flaw product-wise was trying to work with everyone when no one wanted to work together and then ending up working with too few. As the smart home market has struggled to grow, the big players have changed course — interoperability is the entire founding principle behind the Apple, Amazon, and Google-backed smart home standard Matter.  

For Brilliant, Matter came too late and is still too half-baked to be of much use to the product as it is today. But, with the right owner, there’s still potential for the device to become the brilliant controller the smart home needs. Of course, that’s the best-case scenario. The worst case is that people are stuck with expensive computers wired into their walls that do nothing but turn on the lights.


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