Founder's 10x10: The New Frontier of Data & IoT--an interview with Senseware founder/CEO Ser
With an addressable market of more than 450 million electric, water, EV and gas meters in service in the US today, the Internet of Things or “IoT” is exploding into the mainstream of every office building, home, multi-family and hotel property in a variety of applications. Historically, the “things” were wireless sensors that were deployed into a building’s mechanical systems—a sensor to monitor water usage, power consumption or a leak detection sensor to identify a flood in a building. All of these capital-intensive pieces of hardware were installed locally, one building at a time, and expensively integrated into some type of data collection and reporting interface for the building owner.
These mesh networks of sensors are providing real estate managers with new tools to operate their buildings and to enhance the level of services to tenants. With better precision and speed, service levels in buildings can be optimized to improve the tenant experience, which in turns leads to higher renewal rates for leasing, ultimately higher leasing rates and velocity drives higher valuation from investors. The impacts of IoT and data collection and visualization can do a lot more than save energy, it can literally transform the environments and experience for the tenants that inhabit these buildings.
Today, we are the beginning of a new era; the ground is quickly shifting towards the deployment of mass scale data sensing IoT devices, creating a rapidly expanding market. To realize the benefits of IoT, organizations must design and implement each layer of the IoT architecture at-scale, with the goal of efficiently tapping into the enterprise’s multiple functions to ensure tight integration with environmental, health, safety and sustainability metrics.
Over the past year I have spent long hours discussing these shifts with Serene Al-Momen, the founder and CEO of Senseware—a cutting edge IoT and data analytics platform. Serene was kind enough to entertain my questions in a recent discussion:
Tell me the genesis story of your company? What was your initial motivation to leave your previous org to pursue your vision?
Our original idea was to simplify aggregating sensor data for remote access and to support accurate data-driven decisions. We originally planned to apply this technology in the medical space because my co-founder and I did our Ph.D. research in that field. As we pitched the technology to different people, however, we could see that building professionals were keenly interested in the concept. Commercial buildings are burdened with a siloed sensor infrastructure. We knew that our technology could break open this captive market by giving building owners, operators and engineers access to real-time data and analytics. I have always wanted to start my own company (an entrepreneur at heart), so pursuit of this vision has been a dream!
Where did you do your undergrad, grad and PhD?
I received my PhD in Information Technology from George Mason University’s Volgenau School of Engineering, Master of Science in Information and Telecommunication Systems from Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Oklahoma State University. I am also PMP, CSM, SCJP, and ITIL certified.
My focus before Senseware was in project management for IT projects, enterprise architecture and process improvement consulting. On the technology side, I am passionate about and did my Ph.D. research in autonomic control systems. I worked mostly in small government contracting companies before Senseware.
Leading a company requires the ability to effectively communicate your vision, strategy and future of the company--what is your mantra?
Find a way, get it done, and do it right!
Share with us some your most critical experiences starting out, raising capital and recruiting for your venture?
When we commercialized Senseware, my second son was only 6 weeks old. I realized how teamwork is key to the success of our young company. The initial hires were critical to keep moving us forward. As unknown entrepreneurs, we had to be hyper focused on producing results and validating our vision. Our limited access to capital was a blessing in many ways because it pushed us to innovate. We got our hands dirty understanding the nuances of the market and are now positioned to capitalize. On the recruiting side, we experienced both success and failure. I learned startups are vastly different than other companies, even small companies. We look for motivated individuals that are passionate about our technology. From our experience, those that are willing to do the hard work behind the scenes are those that will find a way to get things done and do it right!
What are some of the technology advances and changes you envision in the next 5, 10 and 20 years in your space?
Smart building technology is at its infancy today. I envision real-time data and analytics fundamentally changing how people will interact with their surroundings. Decisions about day-to-day activities will be made in a much more sophisticated fashion; informed decisions will be the norm. In the next 5-10 years, we will see an evolution from knowing what is happening, to knowing why it is happening, to knowing what will happen. As such, I think a world will exist where you would be able to ask Alexa/Siri questions like:
Which building has the most irregular air conditions?
Why is my energy bill in building X more than building Y?
What building will most likely need my attention today?
What are some of the ethical questions you think about as AI, big data collection and robotics will have on our privacy?
What are the characteristics you look for in talent that you recruit into your company?
Innovative – willing to do the hard work required
Empathetic – a good listener to the team and customer
Pays attention to details and quality
Believer in the vision of the company
What are your most rewarding moments as a founder?
When companies started to search us out for our technology, it validated our vision for the market and timing of our innovation. It always gratifying to hear customers tell us why we are distinctive in the market.
What causes you the most stress and how do you manage these episodes?
Managing cash and meeting product and sales goals. Talking to my co-founder helps as well as being with my kids!
What big things are in store next for you and the company?
We’ve learned a lot about the market over the past few years as we’ve listened to the needs of our many types of customers. We are working on key partnerships and a new generation of our technology to be ready for adoption at scale.