The sensors worked!

Almost five years ago, I published a Medium post about a new temperature sensor we were working on, called the Samsara EM21. It was a major milestone for our young startup at the time, and now that my test unit has finally run low on batteries after five years, I thought it might be fun to post a Part 2 article and share how everything is going.

Video of the Samsara EM21 in action. These sensors have now been deployed at thousands of customer locations around the world.

Looking back, it’s amazing to see how far we have come. The Samsara EM21s were made when there were only a few Samsara devices being used by a small number of customers. Since then, we’ve scaled to connect over a million IoT devices to Samsara’s Connected Operations Cloud for over 20,000 customers around the world.

We’re still only a few years into our mission, but I’ve always learned a lot from reading about what worked for other companies, so I thought it might be helpful to post an update about what has worked for us on our journey.

Quick background

In case you’re not familiar with Samsara, we’re focused on digitizing the world of operations. We help a wide range of customers across many industries — including food and beverage, utilities and energy, field services, and government, among others — get information about their physical operations into the cloud, so they can operate more safely, efficiently, and sustainably.

Picture from our first office in San Francisco holding a prototype sensor and gateway device.

Samsara is the second company that our founding team has worked on — many of us helped build Meraki (now part of Cisco), where we made it easy to deploy and manage large IT networks. Meraki started out as our PhD research project in grad school, and has since grown to support millions of networks. Our experience seeing Meraki’s impact showed us how transformative easy-to-deploy technology can be — as grad students nearly 20 years ago, we never imagined what we worked on could someday reach billions of users.

Our goal with Samsara has been to make an impact in the world of operations. Most people don’t think about the world behind the scenes of operations, but it’s a massive part of the world economy. In the US alone, over 40% of the GDP (or $8 trillion) is in physical operations — larger than retail and entertainment combined!

We are big believers that helping digitize operations will have a transformative effect on the world. Once you take a closer look, it’s clear that the process of digitization is only just getting started — most of the world’s operations still run on paper checklists and phone calls, which we believe is all about to change thanks to technologies like wireless networking, cloud, sensor data, and AI.

Our cheesy beginnings

When Samsara first got started, we knew we wanted to have an impact on operations, but we didn’t know exactly where to start. We decided to build a simple cloud-connected temperature sensor and began having conversations with beta testers who could benefit from real-time data, alerts and analytics about their physical operations.

Our first big customer breakthrough was in the world of cheese: Cowgirl Creamery cheese, to be specific. We thought companies like Cowgirl could use our temperature sensors to monitor temperatures within their refrigeration units. When we brought our prototypes to Cowgirl’s manufacturing facility, instead of putting our sensors in the fridge, they put them in their delivery trucks — Cowgirls’ biggest challenge, it turned out, was maintaining consistent temperatures in their trucks and reliably tracking those trucks’ locations.

Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, founders of Cowgirl Creamery

After hearing the same feedback from other beta testers, we realized the real need lay in connecting data to deliver operational insights, and the first seeds of what would grow into Samsara’s Connected Operations platform were sown. Listening to our customers has been the critical driver of product development at Samsara ever since. Each conversation unlocks a new learning or idea. And what started as a temperature sensor and GPS tracker grew to encompass dash cams, workflows, warehouse visibility, equipment monitoring, API integrations, and more. We now serve more than 20,000 customers globally with solutions that connect fleets, physical sites, and equipment, all guided by feedback from our customers on their daily challenges.

High impact problem solving

We homed in on a handful of crucial challenges our customers face: namely, keeping their workers safe and managing operations efficiently and sustainably. For industrial businesses, these challenges are high stakes. There are over 400,000 manufacturing injuries and nearly 500,000 large truck crashes per year in the US alone. Using Samsara products, we analyze over 1 billion AI detections to help us build smart tools that mitigate dangerous habits like distracted driving, the #1 cause of road accidents. 90% of customers we surveyed in 2019 reported that Samsara helped them improve safety within their fleet.

Our impact is particularly meaningful when you think about the environments in which our customers operate. Delta Constructors, an oil & gas construction company operating on Alaska’s north slope, uses Samsara’s Site Visibility cameras to keep their workers safe in a place where temperatures can dip below -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In rugged environments, real-time visibility and alerts are key to making sure workers get home safely at the end of the day. Samsara is proud to provide Delta with the visibility they need to protect their team. These real world impacts of our platform are what keep Samsarians excited to come to the (virtual) office each day.

Using Samsara’s mobile Driver App, a driver performs a safety inspection workflow and submits digital Documents to Samsara’s Connected Operations Cloud. In 2020 alone, our customers digitally processed nearly 10 million documents, saving them an enormous amount of time that they would have otherwise spent on manual paperwork!

Worker safety took on a whole new dimension with the Covid-19 pandemic. Already dangerous jobs assumed new levels of risk as essential businesses continued to operate in the midst of a public health crisis. From January 2020 to March 2021, we saw a 45% increase in usage of our digital Documents feature, and an 18% increase in usage of our mobile Driver App, not only because they minimize exposure risk for delivery drivers, but because our customers save hours on manual paperwork! By simply digitizing documents, one of our customers, lumber company UFP Industries, estimates they’re saving $600K annually in admin workload. Efficiencies like these save workers time so that they can focus on what’s most important — staying safe and creating a great customer experience.

Finally, the impact of climate change has brought sustainability to the forefront for Samsara and our customers. Transportation and industrial businesses account for 60% of US energy consumption and we see these businesses setting ambitious goals to reduce their footprint. For example, the City of Sacramento uses our idling detection tool with the goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption by 5%, a reduction that would save them an estimated $300K a year. By helping our customers reduce their environmental impact, our technology has the potential to alter the global trajectory of climate change for the better.

Five years later: Samsara’s Connected Operations connects millions of devices and tracks trillions of data points each year across temperature, location, video and more.

What’s next?

A pattern that repeats in SaaS across CRM, cloud platforms, and data tools is that useful technologies help markets expand over time. We’re experiencing this at Samsara, which is why I’m confident that the market we’re addressing today is only the tip of the iceberg.

Technology advancements continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible and a few trends are currently pushing the digital transformation of physical operations forward.

First, sensors — like those used in cameras, GPS, and more — continue to become exponentially smaller, cheaper, and more powerful. Soon, we’ll be able to capture new types and higher quality data from locations and sources that we simply can’t see today. Second, advances in edge computing will make it possible to instantaneously provide real-time alerts from anywhere. Third, drones and warehouse robots will become commonplace as companies look to gather real-time data within warehouses and distribution centers. And finally, 5G, augmented reality, and digital workflows will give workers in the field access to remote experts through virtual interfaces, resulting in better, faster resolution of onsite issues.

These technology advancements are why we invest so heavily in R&D. New technology will open up opportunities we haven’t even yet imagined, and we believe Samsara will be in the right place to take advantage of them. After all, Netflix came out with streaming 10 years after their founding and Amazon launched AWS 12 years after their first “Day One” began, both disruptive innovations are hallmarks of those companies today.

Thanks to the hard work of our team, our ongoing collaboration with our customers, and of course, a little bit of good luck over the last 6 years, Samsara has grown faster than any of us expected. The most exciting part is knowing that we’re still early in our journey and that our biggest opportunity for impact is still ahead of us.

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CEO and co-founder of Samsara, previously CEO and co-founder of Cisco Meraki

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Sanjit Biswas

Sanjit Biswas

CEO and co-founder of Samsara, previously CEO and co-founder of Cisco Meraki

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