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Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina: Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions (Part 3)

Posted on Sunday, Feb 28th 2016

Sramana Mitra: When did you hit upon this as a key go-to-market strategy for sourcing projects and being brought into projects?

Bob Witter: It was specific to these vendors. These are the relationships that we started to build in the first couple of years of our operation. We knew a lot of these vendors through our experience in the cellular business. We cold-called on them a lot and asked them if they had opportunities come in to them looking for design teams to build their devices. We hit them up every month and say, “Anything new?”

Sramana Mitra: So very early on, you figured out that these component vendors would be good sources of leads for you in terms of new projects?

Bob Witter: That’s right.

Sramana Mitra: What was the ramp of the business? You said you started in 2003. You’ve now been in business for more than 12 years.

Bob Witter: In the first year, it was Chris and myself. We had a contract worker. By year five, we were over a dozen employees and we stayed there for quite a while. Getting over 20 employees seemed to be a difficult hurdle to get over. I’m not sure I can tell you why that is today, but we got stuck in the mud there for quite a while. Today, we’re just over 60 employees.

Sramana Mitra: How long did it take you to cross the $1 million revenue threshold?

Bob Witter: We were headed quickly towards that in 2009. Then the recession hit and sent us back down for a year and a half. It was about seven years before we crossed the $1 million mark.

Sramana Mitra: How long did take you to get to $5 million?

Bob Witter: We hit $5 million in 2013, so it was another six years.

Sramana Mitra: What caused the acceleration? It took you seven years to get to $1 million. Clearly, something clicked in gear between 2010 and 2013 that helped you ramp faster. What were the key strategic drivers of that accelerated growth?

Bob Witter: There were a couple of things that happened. One is that the take off of IoT finally started to happen. We were early in that. By that point in time, we were known as experts by a ton of the component vendors and a lot of carriers in North America looked at us as experts in that area. That helped a lot. The industry has taken off and we had established ourselves as experts in that area.

Sramana Mitra: What are some examples of IoT projects or products that you have been involved in?

Bob Witter: The biggest one by far is our deployment of IoT for the cylindrical gas market. The cylindrical gas is the stand up cylindrical tanks that you see in industrial locations, educational facilities, and even in the flower shop. We deployed that about five years ago. That has been our largest success to-date.

Sramana Mitra: What do you do for that industry?

Bob Witter: We monitor the amount of gas, through pressure, that is in those tanks. It allows them to market a bottomless tank marketing scheme where they’ll monitor the tank instead of having somebody at the shop to read a meter and call it in when it needs to be refilled.

Sramana Mitra: Is this one customer that you do it for or multiple customers who provide the same product in that industry that you do this for?

Bob Witter: Our strategy was to find a single client that could act as a distributor for us. It helped us to avoid some of the pain and agony of supporting many customers at the same time. We hooked up with a gas company who is also a global gas provider by the name of Wright Brothers in Cincinnati, Ohio. They’re member of co-op of over a hundred and fifty gas companies around North America. They were able to distribute the product and service and sell to all these other gas companies.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina: Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions
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