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Philly-spawned DIY security pioneer LifeShield gets a fresh start

The Philadelphia spawned pioneer in self-installed home security systems wants your business. Is it deserving?

Philadelphia spawned  LifeShield home security systems offer attractive merchandise and sharper prices to customers who install the gear themselves.
Philadelphia spawned LifeShield home security systems offer attractive merchandise and sharper prices to customers who install the gear themselves.Read moreLifeShield

An alarm went off in Mike Hagan's head when he heard that the Philly-spawned LifeShield home security business was up for grabs at an attractive price.

Now, his mission is to put LifeShield back in the "should-be-considered" column for those shopping for a home security monitoring service.

It's evident that LifeShield has some attractive selling points for security system seekers — including no-cost installation (because you do it yourself), $29.99 monthly rates, and unique technology. But will that — and a laser focus on direct-to-consumer marketing — be enough to get the cash registers ringing at LifeShield?

At the moment, LifeShield's subscriber base is "north of 30,000" said Hagan. By contrast, XfinityHome, Comcast's five-year-old, professionally installed home security service, just rang up its millionth customer sale (at $24.99 "introductory rate" to $39.99 a month). ADT — the giant in home security — has eight million-plus subscribers.

"But only 22 percent of American homes are protected with security systems," said Hagan. "The field is still wide open for innovation and growth."

A serial entrepreneur who ran Nutrisystem Inc., Hagan first acquired a stake in LifeShield in 2009, five years into its evolution, when the company was called InGrid and was still riding high as the pioneer in the install-it-yourself home security space.

"The inventor, Louis Stilp, was way ahead of the now-prevailing DIY trend," earning 20 patents for the product, said Hagan. But while the service zapped alerts over the internet grid instead of slower phone circuits, InGrid didn't resonate with consumers. And, as this tech tracker recalls, its first-gen hardware was clunky.

Hagan and his team worked to fix some of that, including renaming the product LifeShield Home Security. Four years later, the business was sold profitably to DirecTV, which wanted to get into home security, following rivals Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc.

While he segued into steering Hawk Capital Partners in Bala Cynwyd with partner Jim Mirage, Hagan kept watching from afar. He now says DirecTV did good things with LifeShield, putting Stilp back in charge, and investing in R&D to develop a smarter platform and sleeker "Apple-like" components, including the control panel and the free tablet controller in every equipment package with a three-year commitment.

The subscriber base tripled. But then, after AT&T bought DirecTV, LifeShield became expendable. "AT&T already had their own security business, Digital Life," he said. "So LifeShield was a redundancy."

A spate of 2015-2016 negative reviews online suggest AT&T poorly managed LifeShield's customer support. A hoard of new rivals also emerged, such as Abode, Canary, Frontpoint, Iris by Lowe's, Scout, SimpliSafe, and Vivint, which challenged and validated LifeShield as an alternative to the ADTs and Guardian Protection Services of the world, in Hagan's mind.

"So, when AT&T decided to let LifeShield go, Hawk Capital made a deal to buy it back this year, re-establishing home bases here in Wayne and Langhorne." Many of the 100-plus-member support team never left town. Hagan acknowledged getting the company for a "good price," but denied it had been a "fire sale."

One of LifeShield's distinguishing points is its Quadruple Defense system, which offers four modes of threat communication — internet, cell, text, and landline — for $29.99 a month. "The internet connection [to the monitoring service] is incredibly fast, while the cell connection guarantees an alert still gets through, even if a bad guy cuts your wires or the power goes out," said CEO David Tanzer.

In ADT land, monitoring systems with a wireless cell connection now cost new subscribers $36.99 a month. An ADT phone representative will ask for $10 more a month to add a wireless hookup to an older, home phone-connected system (though a customer threat to quit earns that offer "at no extra charge").

LifeShield's free gear, with unlimited defect replacements, could be another advantage — as the hardware for starter systems from SimpliSafe and Abode costs $229.96 and $299, respectively, and Canary wants $169 for its all-in-one security camera/monitoring system.

LifeShield also "needs to reinstate the 30-day money-back trial that we used to have," admitted Hagan. And many online critics say the company should be more forgiving when an existing customer moves into an apartment that won't allow a LifeShield install; the company still holds the client to a $15-a-month early termination charge for the contract's duration.

(Vivint, another service with "free" equipment, demands full payment of its 72-month contract, priced at $53.99 to $69.99 a month, for early exiters.)

With DIY systems that require upfront payment for the component parts, there are no long-term contracts. Dissatisfied customers can still return gear for up to 60 days, and professional monitoring service can be as cheap as $14.99 as month from SimpliSafe.

LifeShield also offers a panic button on its included Asus tablet, and camera monitoring/recording in higher-tier, $39.99 and $49.99 packages. But users will have to wait until the next software update — coming sometime in 2018 — for the system to perform other tricks. These could include flashing "smart" house lights when an intruder invades, or asking the system to arm and disarm by voice command through Amazon Echo — a trick currently available in the Moni system — which Hagan argues "could easily backfire if not executed exactly right."