Here’s the big irony about air conditioners: As product design goes, they’re just not that cool. The window units are clunky and visually unappealing, almost like sticking an old Zenith TV into your otherwise lovely window to the world. Windmill is a new AC brand hoping to change that perception.
Debuting today, Windmill is a startup that’s rethinking air conditioning with updated technology (cleaner! quieter! greener!) and Apple-era design and user joy. Co-founded by third-generation AC engineer Ryan Figlia and entrepreneur Mike Mayer, Windmill units are built from scratch to break from industry convention, and priced so you won’t sweat the cost.
I’m a sucker for disruptors. Unlike air-cons of yore, this one is sleek, quiet, surprisingly efficient—and affordable at $395. I talked to Figlia and Mayer about the launch:
What’s Windmill’s origin story?
Mike Mayer: My background is in startups and tech companies and I’m always thinking about business ideas. Ryan is a longtime friend. One extremely hot summer day two years ago, I was being a good little brother and helping my older bro, Danny, move apartments in New York. There was this gross yellowing old air-conditioning unit and I thought, wow, maybe there’s room for an idea here. That’s when we called Dr. Cool.
Ryan Figlia: That’s what they like to call me. I’m the third-generation of an air-conditioning family. My grandfather and father had a station wagon they’d take around New York City to clean and install units. Later, I was a helper on the truck. I carried and installed the units and worked my way up to service and then sales. After some time I got antsy and started my own commercial AC business. You can’t avoid air conditioning in my family.
What needed fixing with this age-old household appliance?
Mayer: You look around and all window ACs look the same. Same size, same back. We wanted to build one with a modern ethos that consumers could be proud of. Design is the biggest thing we’re going for. Apple was certainly one of our inspirations. Our goal is to have Windmill blend into the modern home—a thoughtful beautiful product. We like products with smooth round corners that evoke soft modern appeal. We did an exhaustive exploration alongside industrial designers and engineers and came up with a design I think Ryan’s grandpa would be proud.
What’s the biggest challenge in a niche industry like this?
Figlia: Most air conditioners you see are made in a handful of factories in China. That’s why they look the same. We had one of the largest manufacturers meet us in New York, and we explained all the things we wanted to change. He actually got up and laughed at us. We ended up going with a smaller factory that could meet our needs rather than just slap on a logo or change the front panel.
And what’s actually different about Windmill?
Mayer: We have rounded corners around the entire unit. The display fades after 60 seconds so it’s almost invisible as an appliance. The front panel is magnetic and pops off so you can easily change the filter.
Figlia: It’s quieter, the airstream flows up and outwards rather than straight at your face, and the Windmill is smartphone compatabile. You can connect it to your phone or Alexa to turn it on and off, control the modes and crank it up before you get home.
But it’s impossible to install, right?
Mayer: Super easy. There’s almost no pre-assembly. You can put it in yourself. We also have a nationwide partnership with TaskRabbit for installation and removal of the old unit. And we are on track for same-day delivery in New York.
What’s the five year goal?
Mayer: To have wonderfully happy customers, who fall in love with the product. We want people to walk down the street in a city like New York and look up and see the distinctive units and go, ‘Wow, now those air conditioners are really cool.”
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.