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Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina: Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions (Part 2)

Posted on Saturday, Feb 27th 2016

Sramana Mitra: Can we double-click down on what exactly happened in the first  couple of years? It sounds like you started with a hypothesis and that didn’t get any traction in the market. You had to pivot. How did you figure out what to pivot to? What happened? What struck the cord?

Bob Witter: We stuck with our core expertise, which was RF design. We just shifted a little bit. Instead of helping people get their own designs through the certification process, we actually started helping people design. It was just a matter of a lot of cold-calling and actually seeing where it went to a large extent. Where it kept going and where people really wanted help was on the design side.

Sramana Mitra: What kinds of customers were looking for this help?

Bob Witter: Back in 2003, it was very early in machine-to-machine market for cellular communications. Actually, a lot of people thought that that was the beginning of the hockey stick and it was really going to take off. Here we are 12 years later and we feel that we’re there again. At that point in time, there were a lot of people who had products on the market that wanted to connect them through cellular or other wireless technologies, and didn’t know how to do it.

They had expertise in building any number of devices but they didn’t know how to connect it over a wireless network. We had a lot of people who were coming to us to help them do that. At that point in time, there was a lot of interest in doing smartphone applications. We did do some smartphone application developments back then. The applications that we did back then were very simple and not quite as slick and sexy as they are today.

Sramana Mitra: What sized customers were you working for?

Bob Witter: They were all over the place. Some of them were new company startups. Our first big customer was Siemens out of Germany that wanted to go short-distance wireless within a home and office, and long-distance wireless using cellular. Siemens, in the first few years, was probably our biggest customer but we also had a lot of startups that found us through the local incubators here and the local universities, but also through a lot of the component manufacturers that we work with. In fact, that remains a pretty good source of leads for us. Over the years, we’ve really gained a great reputation from these component manufacturers. They see us now as a team that can really get a design in the market on time and to budget.

Sramana Mitra: What is your largest source of projects in terms of component makers?

Bob Witter: Today, it’s probably the cellular module providers. These are folks like Telit, uBlocks, Sierra and others like that. They’re looking at us because of their specific cellular expertise and our ability to design around cellular.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina: Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions
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