North Carolina, at one point, had a large concentration of cellular technology companies. Some of that talent has come together around IoT, including Bob Witter, CEO of Device Solutions.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of circumstances?
Bob Witter: I was born in Springville, New York. It’s in the western part of New York. I grew up in central New York. I went to school at State University of New York and graduated in 1981 with degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics. I started my career in Rochester with Eastman Kodak company in the medical products division that was brand new at that time. I learned a great deal about how to do medical products that has certainly served me well even today at Device Solutions.
When I left and came south, I got into the cellphone business in 2003 with General Electric. I stayed in the cellphone business for almost 20 years. That’s where I was able to break my teeth on cellular and ride it up and down for many years. I learned what was good about big business and what I didn’t like about big business, and that eventually drove me and my partner to start our own business. We’ve been at this for about 12 years now.
Sramana Mitra: What were the circumstances under which you started in 2003?
Bob Witter: That’s interesting. I had been around the cellular phone industry and had worked for several different handset manufacturers. In 2003, I was working for Sony Ericsson. I was forced to lay off a fairly large team of engineers for the second time in my career. At that time, I had a decision to make whether I was going to stay in the phone business with Sony or if I was going to do something different. After laying people off twice in my career, I decided it was time to do something where I had more control of what was going on. I talked to Chris and we got together. I left Sony Ericsson and the two of us bootstrapped Device Solutions.
Sramana Mitra: At that time, what did you think you were going to work on in the company? What was the premise of Device Solutions?
Bob Witter: We had a lot of experience in the cellphone industry in getting new cellphones through the certification process and the approval process that carriers have. We really thought that we could help, especially overseas manufacturers to get their phones in North America. We knew, from being in that market, that a lot of the overseas companies were having a lot of trouble getting through that process.
What we found pretty quick is they didn’t really want our help. It wasn’t a great business model to start with. The other part of it was we did have a lot of experience in designing cellular phones, which isn’t trivial and requires a lot of RF knowledge. That’s the niche that we fell into within the first year. It’s not so much about helping others to get certified. It was about helping others design RF products and get them certified in the US whether they were overseas companies looking to design a device or companies here in the US. That’s where the company steered itself in the first couple of years.