Sramana Mitra: What were you trying to build?
Carl Ryden: I wanted to build software that helped manage configurations of home electronics. You can drag them on and it would tell you the best way to hook up your home stereo. It was called hookitupright.com. I built the application and put a lot of time and energy into it. We moved to Atlanta. I disassembled our things. I got a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT and I can’t get this thing to work with remotes.
What I realized was it was terribly lonely – building something by yourself. I have a friend named Ken Garcia. I met him when I was in the venture business. I invested in a company that was invest-able because he was there. It was a spin-out of Cornell University. It’s a waste water treatment business. When I invested, there was probably revenue of a couple of million dollars. By the time we finished, its revenue was $100 million. They sold it to Eco Labs for $212 million.
Ken had left and started a vacuum cleaner company. He was a swimmer at Cornell, so he exercises a lot. He was in a hotel room doing sit-ups and he said, “I bet this floor is disgusting.” He knew from the waste water business that you would use UV light to disinfect water streams. He invented a vacuum cleaner with a UV light on it that disinfected while it vacuumed. The company was called Halo. He got it manufactured and sold on Amazon. Then Oreck Vacuum Cleaners bought that from him in late 2008.
As soon as they bought his company, Ken called me. When I was in the venture business, there were times when people aren’t honest. Truthful is telling what’s true. Honest is telling what you need to know. They were truthful, but not honest. I never saw anyone fight harder for shareholders than Ken. At no point, even after the deal was closed, would you ever look back and go, “He was never fully honest with me.” That built a huge amount of respect. We stayed friends the whole time.
We were talking about things we might do together and thinking about patterns of businesses that we wanted to build. What I wanted to do was cloud-based software that would not only deliver primary value through its use but also secondary value through the unique and valuable data stream that it would generate. We started talking about the patterns and the frameworks of what we might want to do and why it would be attractive.
I said, “The previous company has done nothing with it. A lot of the employees and customers are probably disgruntled. I think I can do that over again now and do that even better.” Ken, before he was in the waste water business, rolled up the commercial landscape industry. He took it public as Landcare USA. Ken said, “I can tell you five stories. Doing it over the second time is so much easier.” The first time, though, you’re guessing and feeling your way through. The second time, you have the answers in the back of a book. We started in May of 2009 with nothing. I was writing the software. We got our first client in January of 2010. We added almost a bank a week ever since then. We now have 200 banks and have 75 employees.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you start this company with Ken?
Carl Ryden: May of 2009.
Sramana Mitra: You’re still running this company?
Carl Ryden: Still am, yes.