Startup Chapter 2 – Chimera IoT In The Beginning
Years ago now, in 2014, a senior engineer at Sun Edison had an idea on how to use high bandwidth messaging for IoT and wanted to start a company called Chimera IoT. He approached Philip Regenie the current CEO of Zanthion and asked him if he would help him start the business. He had already contacted Ken Foster of Momenta Partners and arranged a meeting in Palo Alto to discuss his idea and the IoT potential of messaging. Ken Foster told them that there were no legs in messaging. This was before Slack whose valuation currently stands at $7.1 Billion. The core team dropped its focus on messaging and started focusing on IoT.
|Lesson Number 1 – Never listen to investors or know-it-alls. What they look for is who is already doing it and how.|
While working for Sun Edison Phil had proposed they use used phones for gateways in the field with automatic failover from one phone to another. He recommended this because you could purchase robust used Android phones for $29.95 with a lot of processing power, built-in cellular, WiFi, and BLE, all functions being designed into the new Sun Edison Gateway selling for $119.95. With Android Play Store Sun Edison could leverage their provisioning and dispositioning of devices in the field making it less expensive to maintain their systems.
|Lesson Number 2 – Look for low-cost open source solutions that leverage a huge ecosystem of R&D with a known distribution channel.|
Sun Edison didn’t take this advice but Chimera IoT did and decided it should be a core principle for all their future development. They went looking for the best Android BLE engineers in the business and acquired as their partner Steven Rudenko who is sometimes CTO and always the Director of Software Development for Zanthion.
While working at Sun Edison, Phil was set with the task of optimizing the relationship between R&D and the enterprise control room. After a short week of analysis, it became obvious that the first thing that must be done is to measure the performance of the control room and of the service being provided to it in order to support their requirements. Those measurements were an instant black eye for both the operations center and the R&D team supporting them. The operations center delivered poorly defined specifications for their needs to the R&D team and the R&D team wrote software that was ill-aligned with customer care objectives. In fact, customer satisfaction relied on a broken paradigm of operation center attendants looking at huge displays of performance, analyzing hierarchical alarms, dissecting problems on remote gateways, and making calls to roll trucks to fix issues in remote solar fields regardless of the cost of the truck roll and what was fixed in the field.
|Lesson Number 3 – Understand what are the system problems and measure everything related to them.|
Phil suggested that they do economic analysis on the prioritization for the customer based on the total revenue generated for Sun Edison and total expected future revenue and the cost of revenue being lost to the companies with equipment and communication failures. He also suggested that with this data in hand you could roll trucks automatically with routing software to optimize their utilization.
|Lesson Number 4 – People’s time is your most valuable commodity. Use it wisely and automate everything for just in time delivery that you can.|
These ideas were not adopted by Sun Edison but were built into the product design for Zanthion. It is, in fact, where the notion of crowdsourcing responses came from. Zanthion made it a priority to automatically notify the nearest stakeholders to a seniors problem who have compassion for that individual. Phil had learned that for seniors when there were disastrous events such as falls or sickness one of the most negatively impactful causes for future health was the length of time to first touch by someone that is connected to the senior.
Phil has worked in technology for over 35 years and in that time been a part of quality control initiatives for Honeywell, Intel, UBS, AT&T, and medical clinics. Quality control for all of them required some of the same easily performed basic principles:
- Measure the qualities that determine the effectiveness of a system
- Have a process for identifying root causes
- Identify root causes
- Measure the components in the system considered to be a part of the root cause
- Prioritize issues by corporate values
- Decide on an effective method for fixing the top issue
- Implement the method
- Measure the components, resource usage, and system
- Predict future issues
- Go back to step 1
|Lesson Number 5 – Design into every product quality control, root cause analysis, and predictive analytics.|
The technical initiatives of collecting data from sensors, ensuring quality data, and transporting the data were achieved in a relatively short time by the team. It was found out years later that the engineer who had started the company had stolen the messaging code off a web site and although he claimed origination the code was 95% completed when he downloaded it.
Fortunately for Chimera IoT, his wife got involved in the business by intercepting his phone calls and demanded that he leave the company and get 10% of the stock after just 3 months of work. The team was devastated but saved from an ineffective CTO with integrity issues running a future corporation. Phil doesn’t like to quit on anything when it gets hard so he doubled down and started fishing for employees.
There is a reason Sun Edison went bankrupt, they suffered from financial and technical corruption. Phil knew about the financial corruption but it took him a year and a half to understand what technical corruption is. He learned this lesson by hiring person after an ineffective person from Sun Edison for technical staff. To a person, they would take on a task and serve themselves while learning what they wanted to leverage their next job. Not a single person except for Steven Rudenko in the first hires put the needs of the company in front of their own needs regardless of stock options or salary. In 2 years Chimera IoT went through 14 employees and 9 board members. Although some of our board members were incredibly valuable like Paul Hoffman and Michael Wi, the majority were coasting on their name and provided no actual value to Chimera IoT. They were more than happy to take stock but unwilling to work for what they were paid.
|Lesson Number 6 – People invest in an idea equal to the amount of skin they have in the game. Many are more than willing to take something and give nothing.|
During the formidable period of Chimera IoT Philip’s mother was dying. She had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure when she was 89 years old before Phil moved to California and took the job with Sun Edison. In fact, the reason he moved to California was to take care of his mother. It turned out she took more care of him, but that is another story. Phil’s mom took the path into old age that many will take. When her eyesight started going she stopped driving. As she aged she fell occasionally which made her walk less frequently. As the cycle continued Phil heard the phrase often, “I feel like a bird on a perch.” His mother, like so many seniors, was trapped on her couch waiting for input from the world, her remote in hand, the TV blaring, living in the malaise of age. The rest of us go on with our lives but for seniors, they wait for the warm hand to open the cage door and reach in for that moment of care.
Like so many others with aging parents, Phil found his mom on the floor, with her emergency pendant pinned beneath her body when he got up in the morning to get ready for work. She had been in her bedroom on the floor for over 8 hours. Phil had gone to bed after kissing her goodnight and watched TV and falling asleep. He never heard her call for help. These incidents, the incidents that happen in senior’s lives that steal their faith in themselves and strip them of dignity, can be overcome with technology and social process.
That is the goal of Zanthion, to put dignity in the lives of senior’s and their family till the day they die.
|Lesson Number 7 – We will all grow old and die someday. Let’s make the trip enjoyable.|
Philip Regenie – Founder and CEO – May 28, 2019
Chapter 3 – coming June 4th…