Real-Time With Randi Zuckerberg

LAS VEGAS -- While walking the CES floor here Tuesday, we stopped by the Whirlpool booth to chat with Zuckerberg Media CEO Randi Zuckerberg, who has been consulting and serving as a spokesperson for the development of a potentially disruptive new technology developed jointly by Whirlpool and Procter & Gamble: an in-home, on-demand dry-cleaning system called Swash. Zuckerberg, a former Facebook executive and older sister to Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, touched on how rapid advances in technology are changing the way consumers live -- creating new benefits, but also new concerns -- and how they interact with brand marketers.

MediaPost: Whirlpool is here as a consumer product marketer, but it’s also becoming something of a media platform as it transitions to connected devices. What’s your connection?

Randi Zuckerberg: It’s a real passion for me. I see the potential of where all of this is going to have a truly smart laundry room in your house, as part of a smart home. I think this is just the first step.

The Swash device is actually a joint venture between Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and I was brought on by the Procter & Gamble innovation lab a little over a year-and-a-half ago to consult as they were developing the product. What really drew me to it was that I like to look at areas that haven’t been disrupted in a while, and clothing care and laundry is something that hasn’t changed in a long time. I mean, we’re still doing our laundry the same way today that we were in the 1960s. It was interesting for me, because they were creating almost a Keurig for laundry, you know, the Keurig coffeemaker? It’s almost creating an entire new category of on-demand laundry and dry cleaning and clothing care.

That was really exciting to me. But even more than that, I see the future of where they can go with this, where you can have a clothing care system that tells you when you’re running low on detergent and automatically reorders it for you. And you can have a clothing care system that’s connected to your smartphone so that you can set it to run when you’re out of your house. That was why I initially signed on to work with these companies, because I believe the unison of Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool is most set up to revolutionize the smart home that way. Five billion consumers using Procter & Gamble products around the world, and Whirlpool developing the technology, is a really powerful partnership. Instead of working with a small Silicon Valley startup, I wanted to see if these two giant companies could move fast and be nimble, or are they too big. And I was actually blown away by how fast this got to market from conception.

MediaPost: What’s the penetration of Swash now?

Zuckerberg: It just launched for the Christmas holiday and even then, it’s still in beta. I got one of the very first beta devices in July in my home, and since then there have been two more iterations of the product. It’s still very new, but it’s available now in Bloomingdales, Best Buy and a few other places.

MediaPost: And you’re the spokesperson?

Zuckerberg: I’m one of the spokespeople. I mostly have been helping from the “tech-savvy mom” perspective.

MediaPost: Which has to be the sweet spot for this product?

Zuckerberg: I think so, but they think they actually have a lot more male buyers than they originally anticipated. They originally thought it would be heavily moms buying this, but so far, it’s been a pretty even split of men and women.

MediaPost: Interesting -- is that because men take more ownership of dry cleaning than laundry care?

Zuckerberg: As it turns out, men do a lot more dry cleaning than women, because women reuse their garments more times before they dry clean it. Men do it more often, and the device cuts your dry cleaning bill down by 50%, so it saves money. It basically pays for itself in about a year. It won’t necessarily replace all professional dry cleaning, because just like having a Keurig coffeemaker doesn’t mean you never go to Starbucks anymore or that you never brew a conventional pot of coffee. Swash still has limitations. It doesn’t get out stains, so if you have stains in your clothing you still need to take it to a dry cleaner. It’s not replacing the dry cleaner -- it’s just a new, on-demand, quick clothing care category.

MediaPost: The other trend on display here is the connected device aspect where everything is becoming media, so consumers are receiving information -- and giving information -- to everything they come in contact with. Do you think we’re getting to the point where we’re almost too connected?

Zuckerberg: I think there are pros and cons. I wrote a book last year called “Dot Complicated” [Untangling Our Wired Lives] talking about exactly how technology is making our lives more amazing, but also makes them more complicated. And we run the risk in a truly connected life of our lives getting hacked. Imagine that now someone can hack into your house -- your alarm system, your baby monitor, or even your washing machine? The thought of that is pretty scary. Seeing what’s been going on with Sony, the reality of that is becoming a lot closer than it’s ever been before. But for me, things like the smart nursery is a tremendous opportunity to improve our lives.

MediaPost: How has that impacted your life as a young mom?

Zuckerberg: I have a three-year-old and a three-month-old and the ability for me to have a smart nursery that’s telling me my baby’s temperature and if it’s breathing okay is very important.

MediaPost: What devices do you use?

Zuckerberg: I use the Nest baby monitor right now and the Nest thermostat. And I use Dropcam. For me, as a new mom, there’s no such thing as too much information about my baby. That’s something where I feel I’m really benefitting from the information coming from connected devices and having a lot of media coming my way. I have control and I can choose not to use it, but I’m fascinated by it and I want to know everything from how he’s breathing to how much milk he’s drinking. But I do think there are areas where we’re starting to have information overload.

MediaPost: Is there a problem with unsolicited information -- especially the kind that comes from brand marketers or promotions coming at you out of context? These are all new opportunities for media exposure. One of the benefits of these products is they are saving people time, but on the other hand, their contribution to media proliferation is taking time away from people too.

Zuckerberg: Well, first of all, these devices are also saving people a lot of money, which is a real consumer benefit. The Nest device reduces people’s heating bills significantly. A device like Swash is saving people money on dry cleaning bills. But there was an interesting cartoon I saw when Google bought Nest. It showed someone logging on to Gmail and showing them ads to buy insurance for their home burning down and then they see on Nest that their house is on fire. It’s not so far from reality, and that will become an interesting line to blur when we start seeing ads targeted to us based on things that are going on inside of our homes. It will be interesting to see how brands can maintain trust with consumers, while also using that information to market to them.

MediaPost: Well, I know you’ve had a long day doing a lot of interviews like this. What was the best question any journalist asked you today?

Zuckerberg: Well, someone asked me if you were traveling on a crowded airplane and came home and put your clothes through the Swash devices if it would remove the germs from it.  I had to look it up, but the answer was that the heat would germs. They’re also working on putting anti-bacterial agents into the pods. But that got me really thinking, because I have two little kids and I would like to keep them from being exposed to any germs I picked up from flying.

MediaPost: If that’s the case, I’d like to bring a Swash on the plane with me.

Zuckerberg: I’ve also been asked a lot about health tech devices and parenting. One of the most interesting things I saw on the floor was an odoscope that connects to your phone, so if your child wakes up during the night screaming with ear pain it can guide you through doing an ear exam and then a doctor on-demand will look at the images and can write you an antibiotic prescription. It’s exciting.

MediaPost: It sounds like you’re quite busy, but what do you plan to do next? Are you getting back into media?

Zuckerberg: About half my time I do consulting for large brands like Whirlpool and Procter & Gamble on disruptive, innovative products. The other half of my time I spend creating my own media, mostly related to tech and lifestyle. I have two television shows that are in the works right now and I do frequent correspondence for the “Today” show and I have my own Sirius XM radio show.

MediaPost: When will your TV shows launch and what platform will they be distributed on?

Zuckerberg: One I can talk about for sure. It’s an animated children’s series about a little techie girl. It’s in collaboration with the Jim Henson Company. That will launch initially in Canada and then hopefully move to the U.S. The goal is to educate children about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and issues like that, but also to make tech fun and accessible.

MediaPost: It sounds like “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” goes tech?

Zuckerberg: Exactly. The other show, unfortunately, I can’t talk about yet, but it encourages women in entrepreneurship. Basically, I’m really passionate around anything to do with women, moms, parenting and technology, which is why working on Swash has been such a perfect fit for me. It’s right in that intersection of tech-savvy homes, parenting and lifestyle.

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