4 min read

Abstraction Traction [Nexus Newsletter #120]

Hey friends,

Over the past few months, I've had a front row seat to an inspiring trend: there's an exodus of folks leaving big tech to focus on climate tech. And lucky for us, some of those mission-driven tech experts are getting bit by the smart buildings bug.

I met with one such startup founder (former Uber) last week. He asked for my advice on product strategy in the smart buildings industry.

I said something like this: 'Think about how Uber used Twilio's communications APIs to enable voice and messaging conversations between drivers and riders. There are abstraction providers like Twilio at your fingertips—please don't build the full stack on your own.'

Let's unpack that.

As Shaun Cooley explained so well on episode 50 of the Nexus podcast:

Look at text messages. Over the years, I have built far too many direct integrations into carrier SMS gateways. Every carrier had a homegrown SMS gateway. They were entirely built and operated by the carrier.

You had to sign an agreement with the carrier. You had to know how to speak to their particular SMS gateway. You had to maintain a database of phone numbers of like so you could send the message to the right gateway (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, etc).

And so, then you get a company that comes in like Twilio that says look: all the complexities that have existed inside this environment can be abstracted away through a very simple API. You don't need to worry about all the plumbing underneath. Everyone doesn't have to keep repeating the exact same task over and over again.

Buildings are like this, except instead of a few carrier gateways per country, we have a few per domain. For every portfolio of buildings, there are dozens of siloed and complex domains: From HVAC, lighting, access control, metering, etc. in the building to utility bills, IoT sensors, and enterprise systems in the cloud.

On one hand, complexity is a good thing—domains like HVAC control are complex. We need experts to be able to do their thing without oversimplifying it. On the other hand, complexity can and does hold us back when we're trying to enable better outcomes. News flash: our Net Zero Carbon targets don't care that about the metering system's lack of interoperability. An office worker doesn't care about why there's 3 different access control systems on their path from the street to their desk—they just want to get their sh*t done.

And just like how Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, and many more have leaned on Twilio to reduce user communication complexity, newcomers and established players alike can lean on the Abstraction Providers of our industry.

And while I've talked and written (a lot) about the concept of the Independent Data Layer, today I want to add some nuance to that. Because our buildings involve so many domains, we need many different abstraction providers.

Want to connect to distributed energy resources (DERs)? Enode is removing that complexity.

Utility bills? Urjanet has abstracted away thousands of utilities.

Smart locks? Try Seam.

Just like with the IDL, the more abstraction providers become successful, the faster the industry moves as a whole.

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I wanted to share this trend for two reasons:

  1. Believe it or not, I think we need more startups in this industry: API-first abstraction providers. There's still white space... abstraction provider for CMMS, anyone?
  2. No one is going to be an expert in every domain. Collaborative approaches are the only way. If you're starting a startup today, do you really need to build the whole stack yourself?

What do you think? Which abstraction providers am I missing?

Hit reply and let me know,

—James Dice, Founder of Nexus Labs

P.S. If you like this, you'd like my deep dive on the Independent Data Layer.

✖ At the Nexus

Here’s everything worth sharing from Nexus HQ this week:

★ PODCAST: Mesa's simple smart buildings kitEpisode 93 is a conversation with Rachel Steinberg and Josh Chappell of the Mesa product team at Google. We dove deep into the Mesa Smart Building Kit, including its history as part of Sidewalk Labs, how it works, how easy it is to install, use cases, business case, and who’s using it so far.



  • Subject Matter Expert Workshop: Pro member Pete Swanson, Digital Technology Lead (AUS) at Mott MacDonald, presented last week on his experience in navigating how to brief with clients, how to understand what they really want, how to convert that into something a contractor can practically implement, the best ways to address the inevitable value engineering / cost management process and 3 key ways to ensure that when you deliver an Elephant your client isn’t expecting a Giraffe.
  • Member Gathering (TOMORROW): Pro member Lee Hodgkinson, Head of Sustainability & Technical Services at Dream Unlimited (one of Canada’s leading real estate companies with approximately $10 billion of assets under management), will chat with the group about Dream's plans for Net Zero and the technology involved.

Join Nexus Pro now to get the invites and access to the recordings.


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★ (RECORDING) Monash University: The Kraken EmergesExploring the lived experience of how various commercial digital building solutions can be utilized to develop building data models, create a secure common data layer and enable cloud based advanced analytics and supervisory control.


★ ON LINKEDIN: I can say with some level of confidence and personal experience that the one thing that attendees of an ESG conference do NOT need is another refillable water bottle.


★ LINK OF THE WEEK: Core principles of a Building Operating System

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👋 That's all for this week. See you next Tuesday!