Bob Nunn: Innovating to Make IoT Sensors Pervasive
Everactive’s CEO Bob Nunn sits down with Carey Ransom of the Operate Podcast to talk startup management, innovation-driven growth, and the future of the networked world.
Bob Nunn is CEO of battery-free startup Everactive, a deep tech company that self-powers IoT devices. They have pioneered ultra-low-power circuits, and we talked a lot about the company’s history, evolution and current status on the show. Have you ever realized how big of a market industrial steam trap monitoring is?!? Bob considers Everactive the biggest opportunity of his career, by far, as this market grows exponentially in the coming years.
Bob calls himself a “trust-first” manager and we talked about that philosophy, as it has helped his team to thrive during the pandemic, even as they’ve had to go remote, like many other companies. Bob shared his operating principles as a 30 year executive, as well as the qualities he looks for in other company leaders.
Bob has worked successfully with startups for over 30 years across various stages. He’s also raised a lot of capital, nearly $100M with Everactive alone. He previously ran a company, Fulcrum Microsystems, which he successfully sold to Intel, and spent several years there in senior roles.
Bob is also a fellow UCLA Bruin. There was so much wisdom and perspective from this accomplished business executive in the episode – enjoy it!
Intro Voice: Welcome to the Operate podcast where we give you a perspective of company building from the perspective of the builders themselves, this is how we operate.
CAREY RANSOM: Welcome to the Operate Podcast, I’m Carey Ransom. Today’s episode is sponsored by Huntclub, a new category of search firm that leverages the power of relationships and referrals to find you the best talent for your organization. They’ve used technology to transform thousands of subject matter experts into the world’s most powerful talent network and they’ve got about 10,000 industry leaders that refer top talent nationwide to the exciting positions that come through Huntclub. If you want to learn more, you can reach out to me or you can go to Huntclub.com and tell them that Carey sent you!
I’m super excited to have Bob Nunn with me on the show today. And before we get to hear from Bob, let me tell you a little bit about him. He is currently the CEO of a batteryless startup called Everactive, and they are a deep-tech company that self-powers IoT devices. They’ve created and pioneered an ultra-low-powered circuit capability and we’ll talk more about that today. I also want to talk to Bob, he calls himself a trust-first manager, and I love that philosophy. I think we’ll have some good discussion about that and I think that’s probably served him really well during this last year and the pandemic. Everactive has really thrived during it, especially as they had to go remote like many other companies. So we’ll talk about how that philosophy really helped.
He’s worked successfully with a number of startups over 30+ years in various stages of company growth. He’s also raised a ton of capital, including almost 100 million at Everactive alone. He previously had a company called Fulcrum Microsystems that he was the CEO and he successfully sold that to Intel and he spent several years there in senior roles as well, so we’ll talk about some of his experience in the Intel culture. Finally, Bob, like me, is also a UCLA Bruin. So it’s always great to have a fellow Bruin on the podcast, Bob it’s really great to have you today.
BOB NUNN: Well thanks Carey, thanks for the intro and it’s great to be with you today.
CAREY: Well I gave kind of a quick intro to Everactive, coming out of Intel obviously you had a tremendous number of choices. What led you to get involved specifically with this company?
BOB: Well actually, the big decision was to decide to go back into a startup, knowing all the work and effort that goes into that. but once I made the decision that I wanted to go back into startup, there were four things that I looked for and – I think has been true throughout my career. The first thing is, I look for something that’s a big opportunity. Really, we talk in cyberspace about changing the world, but it’s really true and the companies I’ve gotten involved in there’s been the opportunity to have a major attack on society. So that was one of the things, I wanted to find a big opportunity to do something that could have a major impact. And then of course the second thing is: if you’re going to take a big shot like that you need to have the right financial backing. So, defining an opportunity that was appealing and then having the right financial backing was kind of a bar that I set to really start looking at companies. But then the other key thing was really the technology, that powers the breakthrough you know that is a defensible you know where is it coming from what can you do with it.
BOB: And then the most important thing is really the people that are involved. So throughout my career, I’ve always joined companies after they’ve got started. In one case, it was just the two founders. I came in to help them get started but I’ve never taken that grand leap of starting a company myself; I’ve always come in after there’s at least the germ of the idea. Or in the case with Everactive, the technology already existed and was proven. And in this case it was really the people. It was the founders Ben and Dave and the team that they had put together already when I joined that really attracted me, it was just a great group of folks.
CAREY: That’s a great background I think. A very instructive model that I think a lot of people could use for how they think about it. You know interestingly, I’ve worked in a huge number of startups across my career through the early to growth stages. And somewhat similarly, in most cases, I was not the founder but I came into a situation that covered a lot of those characteristics that you just described. So I like how you’ve summarized that, I think my audience will get a lot of value from that model.
BOB: You also mentioned I’ve been involved in a lot of stages and I have everything from the two guys and the dog all the way through. Companies have gone public or been sold and when I joined Everactive that was my favorite stage. That was another thing I was looking for. It was something where the initial part of getting the technology together and kind of trying to put it together and something useful had been done. And it was really a question of how do you take this to market, what’s the value proposition for the end customer, what is the business model you know, how are you going to scale? So those are the things that I’ve learned throughout my career that I enjoy the most. So at this point as you mentioned 30 years in, it was like okay this is a perfect fit of the people, technology, the opportunity. And that’s one of the things. The opportunity of the IoT is so large it’s just an amazing large biggest opportunity I’ve ever faced in my career.
CAREY: Yeah it is. I mean we were saying just before we started how, while we feel like we’ve been hearing about it for a long time, it’s still very early days. So let’s talk about a couple of customer uses just to orient folks a little bit more to Everactive. So you know, share a couple of early customer examples.
BOB: Yeah, I’d say one of the problems with the IoT is there are just too many use cases. So it’s just you know it’s a plethora of opportunities and it’s easy to get confused and that’s what we’ve seen with some of the early entrants into the fp. They tried to become this platform across all these different opportunities. ‘If I can just have this little slice, yeah then I’m going to be a big company.’
When you remove the battery out of the IoT devices the opportunities just multiply. So it really just opens up this whole new world of what you’re capable of in terms of connecting to the physical world.
So one of the challenges for a company like Everactive is really to focus in on: what are you going to do with this huge opportunity? How are you going to solve a problem for a customer? You know how do you focus in on that? And the process we went through was really to look at various markets and we honed in on the industrial segment. Primarily because it was a place where monitoring or sensing technologies have already been adopted and so we wouldn’t have to teach people about how to use sensors, but we would be on a mission to teach them to put those sensors everywhere. So by removing the battery you can drive this concept of pervasive monitoring everywhere. And then within that segment, we decided the best way to go to market was to solve a complete problem for a customer. So instead of giving them a piece of the solution and then having them be responsible for adding the other pieces to make, to solve their problem we said let’s go from soup to nuts and provide a full solution on something.
So we picked the steam distribution system. There’s a valve within that system that is critical to its proper operation called the steam trap, which actually removes the condensate out of the steam distribution system. And we said all right let’s go monitor steam traps but let’s do it in a way that we make it super easy for the customer to use. And because it’s batteryless it’s super easy to maintain. And then we decided the best way to solve that for them was as a service. So we actually go in and provide all this technology, all this deep batteryless neat stuff that we do. But ultimately, we’re charging them a service for providing them insights as to what’s going on with their steam system or with this particular asset, the steam trap. So that requires that level of focus in all the way down the chain to really come up with something that has a unique value proposition for the customer, where they go ‘Hey you know what if you sold my steam, if I no longer have to monitor steam traps, or I can do it continuously there’s some a big benefit that I get from that.’
We’ve since moved on. We’re doing something similar with rotating machinery and part of the idea behind our company is to work with partners where we expand the opportunities that we go after, more than a startup could do by itself. We actually multiply that by working with industrial partners using our technology.
CAREY: Very cool. So you kind of went deep into an application like steam traps, have you gone all the way? You said you’re doing monitoring and are you at the point where you’re literally setting up your own monitoring facility? You’re doing that remotely, you’re doing alerting or dispatch or anything like that when people need to go address something? Or as I think about the full stack solution. I mean how far do you go here?
BOB: Yeah it’s actually fun. One of the things I talk with investors about a lot is this need to be a full stack solution today in the IoT. And you can compare it somewhat to what happened in computers, advances in the computer industry along the way. When the mainframes first came out, the original companies were providing the chips as well as the systems, and the operating systems and the applications on top of those. So the IoT is at that stage today. Even though we’ve been talking about for a while, we still are in a fully integrated solution approach that’s going to win the day, our opinion. So yes, we provide our own semiconductors. We integrate the electronics that we create with the ability to harvest energy from the environment and the ability to sense things that the transducers connect to a physical world. But then we also provide our own networking technology on top of that. We provide all the capability to bring the data to the cloud and manage the data as well as the analytics to turn that data into insights. And then we provide alerts and dashboards or interfaces for the customers to be able to see the value of that data. And then as part of the service, we manage that whole network of sensors because one of the things we found is our industrial customers are very sophisticated in terms of running their factory, but not as sophisticated in running larger networks of electronics.
CAREY: Well it’s not the business they’re in right?
BOB: So that’s exactly it. I think we can all relate. Our wi-fi system at home is a pain in the butt and so imagine having thousands of sensors in this distributed network. So we actually take that burden on remotely as you mentioned, to make sure that all the sensors are running correctly or that people haven’t disconnected the gateway from the power or things like that. So that is the service that we provide today. We have attracted the attention of some of the large industrial players. Our partner in the steam distribution world is a company called Armstrong International, and they would like to work with us to take that even further. And you mentioned taking action when you find a fault. That’s not something we’re experts at but Armstrong and their sales channel, that’s what they do all the time. So the combination of the technology, along with the industry expertise and experience is really where I see the huge benefit to the customer. So I’m not announcing anything today but that is the direction that we’re headed, where it’s really to improve that service and that steam management steam distribution system management even further through partnership.
CAREY: Very cool. What the entrepreneur me, my brain’s thinking of so many opportunities that this enables, number one. Which is interesting for other startups or solutions to other problems out there that you are enabling. But to your point in the early days of most breakthroughs it requires an integrated full stack solution because people can’t generally get there on their own. And that keeps a lot of technologies on shelves for a long time when people don’t don’t go piece it all together.
BOB: Right and it’s an expensive proposition that’s part of the problem. Again my second pillar of what I was looking for is the financial backing so that you can go do all that. So we have engineering expertise in five different disciplines all the way up the stack. You know we’re selling into a market that’s very conservative; they don’t want to adopt new technologies that are going to cause a problem. They don’t really trust startups as a starting point, so you know all that turns into a lot of capital is required to get started. So it takes the right financial backers. and fortunately early on the company paired up with new enterprise associates in Silicon Valley, and they’ve been great in terms of looking at the long-term potential for batteryless technology in the IoT and understanding that yes, today it’s an integrated solution very expensive to bring the market but as we move forward that will start to disintegrate and there’ll be opportunities to be that platform supplier throughout the industry.
CAREY: Yeah great. I think that’s such a great perspective Bob. So often I see a lot of startups in the work that I do day to day and so many times people are pitching me a platform and they don’t have a customer, they don’t have any traction. And I generally have this view of you sort of earn your way to becoming a platform. And so you know especially in an emergent technology like yours that plan makes so much sense. So thank you for sharing that one. One last question though: do you find that these early adopter customers have to almost run parallel processes to start so they implement all of your sensors and start to trust you to help them? Are they still for a while running their old processes of checking things or whatever they were doing previously if anything?
BOB: Yeah I’d say it’s more of a phase rollout is what we see people doing. So our pitch to the customer is let’s go monitor everything. And you know pervasive monitoring if you don’t have to do the maintenance you know it means it’s free because you don’t have to go out and change batteries. Then you can put this in hard to reach difficult places or in lots of places. So one of the things that made steam traps interesting is there’s just so many of them in a factory that it’s difficult to know. You’d be trading off manual maintenance of steam traps today for the manual maintenance of sending someone around to change batteries tomorrow, and the customers just aren’t willing to do that. So that’s the real benefit to the customer that we bring and can be seen in small deployments.
And so what we see are the kinds of space deployments. To start out with a few, we say let’s do them all. they say ‘Okay well let’s do a small subset,’ and then we see an expansion as they start to build up confidence in the solution they see the value. And normally we thought that would take longer but:
Within three months we can demonstrate to the customer the value that the solution is bringing in terms of savings and energy or improvements and some of their environmental concerns or even safety concerns.
And so then we start the expansion process within the factory. And because the companies we’re dealing with are very large multinational companies we start talking about other factories, and then the natural extension of that conversation is to talk about other assets that we can monitor with this batteryless technology. And that’s how we move from steam distribution systems to rotating machinery and then of course we’ll be adding other assets to that list as well. So it we talk a lot in the as a service, business talk, about the land and expanding that I was gonna -–
CAREY: You stole my thunder Bob, I was gonna say to my audience: ladies and gentlemen this is what is known as land and expand.
BOB: Absolutely, it’s a little frustrating actually. The other thing you’ll hear about is pilot purgatory, so you do this test and then it never turns into anything else. And to our credit we have not had to deal with pilot purgatory. So the fortunate thing is the demonstration of the value is so strong that we move fairly quickly from this ‘let’s try it’ to ‘let’s go and expand it.’ And we’re now seeing customers moving from you know 100 node or a few hundred node trials to multi thousand node distributor deployments. So that’s really when you know you’re starting to get the momentum behind the solution that people are saying ‘Okay I see it, I see the value let’s go ahead and do this and do it in a large way.’
CAREY: That’s awesome. There’s so much value in here for entrepreneurs and people operating businesses. I talk a lot to you know you’re an enterprise solution but the days you know we had earlier in our careers for sure. Those days and years where it was a long sales cycle, huge capital expenditure decisions, and now a lot of it has changed to what you were describing. You can start with a pilot, you get in quickly, you prove your value, you start to expand from there, and that seems to be the much more prevalent enterprise approach these days.
BOB: Yeah well it’s lower risk for the end customer right. So they can try it out before they take the big dive in.
Googling the Physical World
CAREY: That’s right, so great jumping off point. So the way I think about what you’re doing, you really are one of these key bridges to adding intelligence to the physical world. And it’s amazing how dumb, if you use that quote term, much of the physical world is, and you’re really bringing this intelligence layer. So as you think about just in the world the expansion of IoT, what are the kinds of exciting things that you feel like we as consumers in the world should expect to see when you have these much broader sensor networks out there?
BOB: Well yes, that definitely is the point. So this whole idea of connecting the physical world to the digital world you know in ways that were never considered possible before is really what Everactive is after. But for a lot of IoT companies, I think the most exciting things are the ones we haven’t really figured out yet. So you know the concept of generating new streams of data that you never thought were possible before, when you remove the battery and all of a sudden new possibilities open up. And then the advanced AI capabilities that we’re starting to see develop at the edge. And you know at Everactive, the edge is the asset itself. It’s the middle edge of the physical world where you can have dramatic compute capability, the ability to do inference of images, and different things locally.
And then the idea of all these data streams and how they interact, I think it leads your imagination to a whole new way to interact with the physical world. And so I think we don’t know yet what the real outstanding applications of the futures are. One of the things we talk about and that we’re working towards is this concept of googling the physical world, so something as simple as you know asking a question in an industrial environment. Believe it or not, we hear this from customers, the question they would like to get answered ‘Where is my forklift?’ and ‘Where’s the nearest forklift?’ Or things like ‘What are my gauges saying right now, so in my analog gauges how can I get a look at those? Or you know, ‘What’s my carbon footprint reduction over the last quarter?’ ‘Is my overseas shipment still secure?’ Just simple things like that that you can get just simply the same way we get information through google today; asking a question and it comes back and you’ve got the data sources to be able to say yep here’s here’s the answer to that question.
CAREY: Yeah that’s a really interesting topic. It’s almost that our imaginations are only limited and then we need to equip folks to be able to ask better deeper questions.
BOB: Exactly, and the idea of how all this data works together. We’re seeing this in the steam distribution systems. We start out monitoring just this one valve but when you put hundreds of thousands of monozyme points across the steam distribution system and you’re taking data continuously that’s one of the big advantages of our batteryless approach. Is that we’re not trying to manage the power of the battery, we’re constantly generating new energy from the environment. So we take tons of data, we have massive amounts of data. You start to see things within the steam system itself that are completely independent of the steam traps. But you see anomalies and this is one of the big benefits that our customers see. And all of a sudden they go ‘Oh yeah we’ve been wondering what’s going on in that section of the plant. Through this data we can see that maybe things are sized incorrectly or we’ve got a problem with the boiler,’ or something else that’s going on. Or some interaction between equipment so I think that the way these data streams start to work together is really a big opportunity and we’ve just started scratching the edge of that today.
Everactive’s Upcoming Projects
CAREY: Very cool. Well what do you have on your list is kind of the thing you’re the most excited about for Everactive this year?
BOB: For this year it’s growth. So that’s for me, the fun part we increased our and the recurring revenue 4x last year and we’re on track to do better than that this year. And all the challenges that come with growth: so growing the team, bringing in the right people, the right expertise but folks that still um you know mesh up with the company and the culture that we’re creating, putting in the systems to help prepare you for that larger company becoming. Those are all the things that I love about building startups so this to me is my favorite part. So we’ve got the products, we’ve got the value proposition, the customers have accepted it, and we’re now seeing people starting to ramp up in big ways and it’s really just execution.
CAREY: That’s exciting, a good transition. So I talked a little bit about your philosophy as a trust first manager and I want to get to that in a minute. This isn’t your first –we’ve talked to this couple of times – this isn’t your first rodeo, first time as an entrepreneur, or CEO but each one’s a little different. Anything that you can point to that you’ve seen that’s different this time or that you’ve learned about yourself through this particular tour at Everactive?
BOB: That’s interesting, there are a lot of similarities as you go through this company building process from company to company but they are all unique for sure. When I think about what I’ve learned recently, I would say the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself, at least at Intel, is that I tried really hard to find a place within a big company because my whole career has been in startups. I started out at a big company early on in my career, but I was very dissatisfied with that experience and quickly moved into startups.
CAREY: I can relate to that yeah
BOB: So at intel, I learned that part of the issues I had early on in my career were really about that company not so much just about big companies. But some of them are; big company challenges are different than I would say challenges and opportunities you have at a startup for sure. But I think what I learned about myself is that the environment where people are such an integral part. Every single individual is a critical component; the individuals are much more important than the organizations, the bureaucracy, or the systems. That’s really what I love. So after I was at Intel for six years I had four different jobs I think in those six years. I kept trying, finally ended up in Intel capital doing investing with startups. But I realized that no this is what I love, the company building process. So that was probably my biggest individual growth over the last few years. I really enjoy this. That’s what I want to do. I’ve retired a couple of times in my career but I’m simply just enjoying this too much to stop. So that doesn’t really answer your question but that’s probably the biggest thing I would say is Everactive in terms of companies that I’ve run or been involved with.
The potential for Everactive is the largest that I’ve been involved in. But as we talked about the opportunity for the IoT and just this opportunity we talked about earlier of creating a platform solution. Eventually, this is the way you do batteryless monitoring. Really that part of our mission is really to continue to grow the technology and the practices that we put in place as the right way to do batteryless monitoring or IoT monitoring as we go forward. So that’s I’d say that’s one of the things that is exciting about Everactive it’s just such a large opportunity, it’s also a tremendous team. And I would love to take credit for it but the culture of the company is really outstanding. One of the reasons that I came in was the culture that the founders had created or were building but what they call the core values were right in line with the way I feel. This trust first management that we’re going to talk about and the idea of intellectual honesty and doing things, trying new things, and things like that.
CAREY: Well let’s move into that a little bit. So you know this last year has been a real challenge for a lot of executives and companies in dealing with this pandemic. You as CEO had to deal with it like many others. Can you describe how that culture has really helped you and enabled you through that challenge?
BOB: Yeah one of our core values is what we call one team and that really came about because of the company. We are founded by two professors, one at the University of Virginia and the other at the University of Michigan. And we built teams around them in those locations and then we also have the team in Silicon Valley so we were geographically diverse even before the pandemic. And so with these multiple locations it’s easy to have the CVille office or that’s why they do it in Ann Arbor or whatever. So it was really a focus on we’re all in this together, we’re three different locations but we are one team. So that one team concept has really been the foundation of this as we’ve gone to a completely remote workforce and the ability to manage that.
CAREY: Any permanent changes that you see happening through this past year?
BOB: Yeah I think like a lot of companies we’re embracing the concept of a hybrid workforce. So some people will work in offices and some people work in other places. and then the whole notion that employees can work successfully from anywhere. So you know I’ve got employees now that have moved to ski resorts for the winter too so that they can ski in their off time and then work from this temporary housing. That works today with the advancements in communication technologies and the ability to move information back and forth that’s quite doable. So I think embracing that and putting the systems in place so that we are one team. So everyone has the same opportunities regardless of where they work, whether it be remote, or in an office, or you know on a ship, on a sailing boat, or whatever that you embrace that.
I would have to say that it’s been an easy transition for us in the pandemic and I feel like it will be an easy transition coming out of the pandemic because of that. We’ve already embraced the core value, yes we’re all in this together and you know our work is distributed across all these different geographies already.
CAREY: At this point, will you keep the three offices?
BOB: Yeah absolutely. So there are some of us, including me, who love workman offices. And then we have a manufacturing group which has been in the office for most of this year on getting our products out. Then we have a lab in each of the offices where the engineers can go. And you know the hardware as well as the software guys, especially embedded software guys, need those environments. So we will continue to provide all three offices. We’re actually increasing the size of the offices and we just got a new office in Santa Clara. We’re increasing the size in Ann Arbor and Charlottesville over the near future. So we see that as part of our future but with this added component of being much more flexible about having people work from anywhere.
CAREY: So you mentioned that there were great values and alignment with the founders and that was one of the things that excited you to join. Do you kind of have your own operating principles that you tend to work from?
BOB: I do. I’d love to take credit for them, but it actually was from a talk that one of um the CEOs from one of my first companies gave to the company when the company was in trouble. And so he was trying to be motivational, but he was really digging deep for the core values that he found important and they stuck with me. And I’ve actually used them throughout my career, both in the companies I’ve run in and the companies I’ve been involved with either as a board member or as an advisor. And so there’s three of them: the first one is the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies and I love this one because for a startup you are doing things that other people think are impossible. So yeah I can’t tell you how many times people go wow it seems like what you guys are doing at Everactive is magic. Well yeah it kind of seems that way because we’re able to make things run without battery or any other visible source of energy. But you know to make the impossible happen you have to believe that you can do it. Now it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be successful, and actually the only guarantee is that if you think you’re going to fail, yes you will indeed fail. So this concept of self-fulfilling processes has been a big part of why I can jump into these. Startups aren’t for everyone you’re really turning in with the leap of faith they have to believe. I don’t know how we’re going to do it but we’re going to figure this out we’re going to make it happen. So that’s one.
The second one is trust, which we talked about a little bit. And to me, trust is the foundation for teamwork and what trust first really means is that you spend a lot of time finding the right people to work with. So we spend an inordinate amount of time hiring and interviewing folks looking for the right people, but we begin the relationship with trust. You come in, you’re trusted from day one at Everactive. I’ve been in environments where trust must be earned. Before you’re part of the team you really have to show that you can do your thing and be trusted. And so I have specifically chosen that we will take the risk on people. We will say ‘No we trust you. Come in, do your job.’ If you don’t live up to that trust, that’s a problem and we’ll deal with those problems. But we start with the idea that you know trust is the foundation for teamwork and we all need to work together and with that in mind.
And then the third one is pride in the mission of the company, the value that the products are delivering to the customers, and you know pride in our individual accomplishments as well as the organization overall. And it’s the test of would you be comfortable telling your mother what you’re doing? Yes indeed. You know day in and day out, I’m proud of what Everactive is working to accomplish and the way we go about it and the way people work together. So that’s self-fulfilling processes, trust, and pride have been kind of a driving force behind my management philosophy throughout my career.
CAREY: That’s great, thank you! As you think about trusting first and taking a lot of thoughtful approach to bringing on additional members of the team, as you think about recruiting or developing company leaders, are there any other qualities or characteristics you tend to look for in them?
BOB: Well yeah, obviously intelligence and expertise in their area of responsibility is key. I would say another one is the ability to listen and learn from other folks.So you know you come in with a certain degree of expertise but you have to learn the environment and be able to work with other teams. But you know along with that, the ability to speak up and be candid when you’re evaluating people, providing feedback, when you’re evaluating your own organization or even the company as a whole. And that’s one of the things with our leadership team at Everactive. We spend a lot of focused time being candid and talking about the problems and the concerns that we have for the company. Whether they’re the things we’re dealing with today or things that we think we might be dealing with as we go forward. And I guess the last one would really be the dedication to the team and the values and the ideas that we’re working together to build each other up as opposed to creating a competitive environment where you’re trying to tear others down. So that’s probably the top of my list. There’s probably more but let’s just start there.
CAREY: Yeah, that’s a great list so thank you for sharing that. One thing I always like to ask my guests and I think I’ve found just some great nuggets from: how do you personally keep yourself sharp and innovative right? You’re on the front edge of this batteryless IoT, how do you keep yourself sharp and innovative around that?
BOB: Yeah that’s an interesting question especially for an old guy like me. One of the things when I do talk to companies, like when I was looking for Everactive, I would get some younger investors that would ask me questions like ‘why do you still want to do this, do you have the energy and do you really have the drive to go do this?’ And to me it’s a stupid question. Of course I do. I know better than anybody else what it takes to go do this and I’m excited to do it. What keeps me sharp is really the people that I surround myself with. So I’ve been doing this a long time and I have some preconceived notions, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been challenged by someone that’s more recently gone through business school than my 30 plus, 35 years ago. Or someone that’s read a book or someone that’s just got an idea. And so creating that environment where they’re comfortable to challenge me and say ‘Hey what about this? What if we tried this approach?’ And then staying open, listening to that, and being willing to learn from those great people I think is really the key too. It’s what excites me every day, it’s why I get up and go to work, as well as how I stayed sharp and invigorated to do this.
CAREY: That’s great. It is one of those almost strange paradoxes. As we age if we really understand that learning, being challenged by others, is actually a gift. It’s not a knock on our ego or pride or something, it’s actually a gift. And I seek that as well so I can greatly appreciate that from my perspective.
BOB: And one of the big things is to make people comfortable to do that. Because yeah I could be a strong personality and I know that. And I do have my opinions as well. I appreciate that people listen to me but they have to be comfortable to be able to say ‘You know what I have a different opinion and know that even though I may not like it, I will listen to it and we can have an intelligent you know data-driven conversation about it.’ So that’s been a big part in terms of developing the team and the executives at Everactive are to say ‘Yep okay, I’m a strong personality but so are you. Let’s listen to each other.’
CAREY: Yeah well I heard you say earlier that intellectual honesty is a core value. One of the things I often say is I don’t ever have to be right. I’ll probably be right, again but I don’t show up to a conversation having to be right. I want to find the best possible answer and I can sense from you that you really adopt that as well. Let’s create an exact environment where we can have a really healthy discussion debate dialogue and hopefully the best possible answer and ideas that come out of it.
BOB: Absolutely and if there’s a better way to do it than the way I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years, absolutely I want to adopt that better way.
CAREY: Absolutely very cool. Well Bob, we’re coming up on the time here. Last question, when you think of someone in your shoes or an entrepreneur maybe a little earlier trying to get their company off the ground and operating it today, where would you suggest they focus their priority and attention ?
BOB: That kind of seems like a trick question to me, the answer is of course: you focus wherever the area that needs your attention the most. So that’s part of the beauty of the general manager role is that you just get to get involved in everything. But I guess if I interpret your question to say you know if I had to give a piece of advice to a first-time CEO, almost regardless of the stage of the company. One of the key things that I think the CEO does besides raising money and keeping the company funded is to focus on making sure that the vision and strategy for the company is clearly articulated. So you need to know what it is, but more importantly, you need to be able to tell everybody what it is and make it simple for everyone to learn and know deep down. And then work to make sure that everyone is aligned to that vision. Again, it’s the beauty of the startup. It’s all about individuals and personalities and everyone counts. If someone is off doing something and they think ‘Hey that’s not the right thing’ or off doing their own thing you can be detrimental to the overall mission of the company. So that’s I think is the number one thing. Of course, the other thing I would tell them is to spend time developing the culture you want don’t just take the culture you get. And then find out what the problem of the day is and go work on that.
CAREY: I mean such a powerful perspective there about those. I intentionally kept it vague, right? I think. What on earth, such a good perspective there. Thank you so much for sharing that and for joining. As we’ve talked about you are at the helm of such an important company in connecting the physical and digital worlds and I’m excited to follow your progress. I’m grateful for the time and for being able to meet you today. Thanks for joining me.
BOB: Well I enjoyed the conversation, thank you very much for your time
CAREY: Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Operate Podcast. If you like this conversation, as a favor to me you can rate us, review us, or subscribe and tell your friends. You can also reach out to us on Twitter, @OperatePodcast.
Until next week, get out there and operate!