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“Myself and each of our team members have each had “ah hah” moments when we realize that something at our home or individual space which we care about could be monitored with a Monnit sensor AND end up saving us a lot of time and/or money.”

Brad Walters CEO and Founder of Monnit

Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog

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Brad Walters is the CEO and Founder of the newly formed Monnit Corporation. Walters is also the Managing Director of EarlyRun Ventures, LLC, an Angel investment company specializing in investments in embedded systems, wireless and sensors technologies. Since 1990, Walters has been an executive overseeing sales, marketing and business development at various Utah technology companies. Prior to EarlyRun, he was with MaxStream, Inc. serving as President, CEO and Chairman. There he directed the company until it’s acquisition, in July 2006, by Digi International (Nasdaq:DGII). Prior to that, Walters co-founded Lineo Inc., the first developer of embedded Linux technologies. He started his career as a marketing representative for IBM in Salt Lake City. Walters is a past vice-chairman and executive committee member of the Utah Technology Council (UTC). He is a co-chairman of the NorthFront Entrepreneur Allinace – which is a fast growing forum for the advancement of entrepreneurism in Northern Utah. He also sits on the board of the Davis Applied Technology College.

Monnit Corporation is a wireless sensor company targeting the commercial, industrial and consumer wireless sensor markets. Recent innovation and miniaturization of sensors have created the demand for inexpensive wireless sensors for the continual monitoring of various aspects of a business or residence. Traditionally, businesses have ignored sensor solutions, or used sensors in only mission critical applications due to high costs and complicated technology which required a full time IT person to manage the system. Monnit’s low-cost, reliable, simple-to-install solutions provide businesses with a means to monitor nearly anything without full time IT support and at a fraction of the cost. Monnit’s mission is to be the global leader in low cost, reliable, accurate wireless sensors for commercial, industrial and consumer applications. Monnit will provide a complete, easy to use monitoring solution starting with a comprehensive list of sensors, gateways used for connecting the sensors to the internet and local or online software programs which allow for configuring the sensors as well as stipulating the time, frequency and target of notifications. Notifications can be sent via text message, e-mail and eventually voice message.

MO:
Browsing through your line of sensor products, the applications and benefits seem limitless. There are sensors for temperature, water, light, magnetic, and more. Tell me a bit about this product and some of the commercial applications for it’s use.

Brad:
The applications and benefits are limitless which makes marketing them so much fun. The product is the lowest-cost line of accurate, reliable wireless sensors on the market. We start at only $30 per sensor. We have around 10 types of sensors now with 10 more in the works. The sensors talk to a gateway – such as a MonnitLink USB stick that plugs into a standard PC USB port. The computer that has the gateway then talks to our online monitoring software where the end-user can configure the sensors as well as set up text or email notifications of when a sensor is triggered. It is really exciting to see some of the applications our sensors are being used for. Some include; monitoring the temperature of large commercial coolers and freezers in grocery store chains and convenience stores, the monitoring of light exposure to high value art in high-end art galleries, the presence of water in or around water heaters in apartments and whether or not there is a dog in a motel room – that one is really unique!

Monnit

MO:
What about the technology? What advances have been made that have made this once expensive technology affordable to any business?

Brad:
The most significant advancements have been in the emergence of the SOC or system-on-a-chip. This is essentially the combination of a radio chip and microprocessor into one package. That has reduced the cost of a wireless sensor. Also, there is an ongoing evolution of sensor technology becoming much smaller, easier to manufacture and to integrate. MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) is playing a large part in this. In the future, we see much more innovation in powering options for wireless sensors. We will see more parasitic power, better batteries and new battery chemistry technology. We envision wireless sensors being “lick and stick” – and we’re even working on building a Web site specifically designed for consumer applications for when it really gets to a commodity. Stay tuned for details.

MO:
While there are many commercial and industrial applications for the wireless sensors, I imagine there are an equal number residential uses as well. Are there any plans for marketing the sensors or a similar line of products for residential consumers?

Brad:
Absolutely. Many analysts and visionaries have been calling out the “internet of things” as the next wave for IT worldwide. We agree and see the evolution of wireless sensors following the same trajectory as so many other high tech products like PCs and cell phones – but much faster. We have built our wireless sensors on a platform that can leverage designs, bill of materials and production from our commercial line directly to our consumer line. I get most excited about the unimagined applications that the consumers will come up with as we provide them with a low cost way of knowing if and when something happens in their individual realm. Myself and each of our team members have each had “ah hah” moments when we realize that something at our home or individual space which we care about could be monitored with a Monnit sensor AND end up saving us a lot of time and/or money.

MO:
You are a serial entrepreneur with experience starting and running several businesses. How did you take your start as a marketing rep and evolve it to the place you’re at today? What influenced your direction?

Brad:
I think that a lot of entrepreneurs are of the type that are willing to do whatever it takes (hopefully always within legal and ethical bounds) to get the results needed to move an idea or business to the next level. That is what happened in my case. I was a salesman that kept chasing down the issues that were blocking my sales from closing. Finding the problems, I would volunteer to solve them. That got me into management. Then I would have to recruit, cajole or twist an arm of my team and other managers to fix the problems. The cycle never stopped and I soon was running divisions or companies. When you help define and set a vision and then get all to do what has to be done, the results come. That is success and everyone likes to succeed. It gets easier to do each time. The success of a well disciplined team is what convinced me to do what I do. It is euphoric.

MO:
As the Managing Director of an angel investment company, you have likely seen a few brilliant business ideas as well as several not destine for success. In your opinion, is it easy to distinguish those businesses that are going to make it and those that wont? What are some of the key factors you look for?

Brad:
I wish I could say that I could distinguish the good plans from the not so good plans but I can’t. At EarlyRun Ventures, we have seen over 1000 business plans since 2007 and only funded a few. The fact is that for an idea to succeed it needs at least one of the following; a great idea, a great leader, a great team, great timing or a ton of money. The more of those the better.

EarlyRun Ventures

MO:
What would you tell an entrepreneur who might be considering contacting an angel investor or a firm such as EarlyRun? Is there advice that might increase their odds of being considered by investors?

Brad:
I would suggest you take the ball down the field as far as you can before approaching an angel investor. Not only will that allow you to keep more of your company but you will also learn more about the business and the market it is addressing. I would also suggest you understand that the most valued entrepreneurial characteristic is patience. You may not get outside funding for a long time so be prepared for that and have contingency plans. Finally, I believe odds of being considered are increased by standing out in one of the areas I mentioned above; namely great idea, great leader, great team and great timing.

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