Growth Startup of the Year Winner — Exclusive Interview with Sce Pike, Founder + CEO of IOTAS
Startup Grind’s Alex Gordon-Furse (@giomate), Director of the Startup Program speaks to Sce Pike (@Spike75), Founder and CEO of IOTAS and Growth Startup of the Year Winner for 2019. We asked Sce to tell us more about IOTAS and her startup’s journey to taking the stage as part of the Startup Program at the Global Conference.
In a sentence, what does IOTAS do?
IOTAS is a PropTech company that enables the $500B Multi-Family-Home industry to attract more residents, while reducing costs of operations with IoT by creating Smart Apartments and Smart Properties.
What is your mission?
To enable property owners and managers to run buildings at optimum efficiency, while providing a better living experience for their residents.
What makes you different in this market?
IOTAS has patented the pairing of IoT Devices into sub-groups within a dense environment, making the setup process frictionless. This allows IOTASto setup significantly more devices faster than our competitors. More devices allows IOTAS to create macro and micro level building automations and UX that leverages AI to create meaningful experiences, such as communication via physical environment. A better user experience allows us to create a home that learns residents’ preferences, settings, routines and travel with them from home to home. In the future, “Home” will no longer be tied to a physical space.
Describe how your company came to be. In other words, what was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?
I was working on Connected Home products with my first startup, Citizen, but focusing more on direct-to-consumer, single-family-home (SFH) market when a real estate developer approached me and said that they were building a 200 unit apartment building in Portland and wanted a technology differentiator for their future residents. That’s when I started looking into the real estate industry and realized that the vast majority of people who self-identify as “early adopters of technology” are not SFH home owners, but are predominantly in the rental market. It dawned on me that this group of early adopters would not want to buy a lot of Smart Home tech, install it, set-it-up, uninstall it, pack it, move it and reinstall it every year when they move. Instead, they would prefer Smart Home tech to be equivalent to the best mobile phone out-of-box-experience and for it to be there and work right at move-in.
A Smart Home for these set of users isn’t about the devices. It’s about creating experiences and having settings, preferences, routines and automations in the home be accessible wherever the resident moves to thereafter. It was obvious that the rental market is where Smart Home tech was going to take-off. Smart Home automation could live seamlessly in the building and benefit the owners by attracting residents, while giving management operational efficiencies through energy and labor savings. I tested this by taking the concept of IOTAS, Smart Apartments, on a roadshow via real estate conferences and found the Multi-Family industry very much seeking a tech differentiator for their buildings.
I did some more research and found out that the multi-family-home industry is also a huge industry, with direct spending north of $500B in 2011 and indirect spending of $1T. After that roadshow, I exited my first company Citizen to Ernst and Young and founded IOTAS.
What milestone are you most proud of so far?
There is so many to speak of… Right now, I’m really proud of the team and how they are executing on things that can’t easily be seen by our customers or users, but can be felt because we have a culture of efficient and honest communication which allows us to identify priorities and act on it quickly and support each other beyond our regular duties. It’s hard to get a team to work like clockwork and stay-in-sync as you grow. We’re in a good rhythm and I hope that we can scale this symbiotic culture as we grow.
In general, other milestones that I’m also proud of is that we’re now live in over 45 cities, but only receive 3 support tickets per month for every 100 apartment units we have installed, which is equivalent to 1500 IoT devices. This speaks to why we are the preferred partner for large property owners/managers and work with large property asset managers to convert their entire portfolio of buildings into Smart Buildings.
What have been the biggest challenges of your journey?
Wow… what hasn’t been? Hiring the right people and firing in a timely manner, creating a culture of open communication, and of course fundraising. I can’t over emphasize the odd and frustrating moments I’ve experienced as a female CEO leading an enterprise, B2B focused, IoT company when fundraising.
In general, we all know that it is incredibly difficult for startups led by female CEOs to receive venture funding, but I think there is more acceptance of female CEOs in the consumer market leading a company that is ‘female’ focused, such as Stitchfix, Rent the Runway, etc., but put that female CEO into a company that has been traditionally been seen as male-led such as IoT, Real Estate, or Enterprise and I think it requires the VC to really challenge their personal biases, whether male or female.
That being said, we have great investors such as Oregon Venture Fund, Intel, Scrum, 1843, Portland Seed Fund, Rogue and I count myself lucky that we’re one of the few female founded, companies that have received venture funding. However, we’re growing at 490%, we have solid traction, proven product market fit, and rapid growth so why should I count myself lucky?
What has happened since winning Startup Grind’s Growth Startup of the Year?
The Startup Grind win was amazing. We’re in the middle of a Series A raise right now and we have had numerous investors reach out to us since the announcement. Also you and the rest of the Startup Grind team have made a lot of introductions and have been very supportive of us in many ways from fundraising to partner introductions.
What trends are you seeing in your industry right now?
It’s interesting because we’re at this moment in time where old industries are getting disrupted, such as healthcare, automotive, financials and yet we’re just at the beginning stages of one of the oldest industries, Real Estate, (which is 13% of US GDP, by the way) of being disrupted. I would recommend that VCs and entrepreneurs really pay attention to this space and not just from a co-working, co-living perspective but from everything soup to nuts: the way data is handled/transacted, to building management, to legal, to user experience. There is so much need for better and more efficient ways of doing, monitoring, and analyzing in the Real Estate industry, it’s crazy that this industry has been overlooked by the tech industry.
What advice would you give to other founders?
The usual classics that everyone gives, but can’t be repeated enough is to hire and fire well and never give up even when it really gets hard. Those are truly valuable and for me personally. I think having an amazing Board where two of my board members are Independent members that I brought on to teach me about hardware, management and real estate made a huge difference in the governance of the company.
In general having great investors and board members helped me to measure what matters and sweat the small stuff that I might not have paid attention to as closely, but makes an impact on the viability and growth of the company. I spoke earlier about having a great team, this includes the board and founders that should think about how to take advantage of their board and make them part of the team.
I also think having mentors that can help you through this journey and look at things from an objective view from the outside truly helps. Also, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have an amazing executive team that you can count as partners in the journey and share in the burden of running a company. You can’t be everywhere all the time and having an exec team you can trust to execute is imperative when things get hard, because they will get hard.
What is your next big goal you’d like to accomplish?
To have a space station powered by IOTAS smart home platform… uh, Elon, want a free Smart Space Station? You supply the space station and we’ll supply the smart IoT tech.
In all seriousness, we plan on growing in a meaningful way with our existing real estate partners in Multi-Family since we’re only touching a small percentage of their portfolio, but also expand into adjacent verticals such as Senior Living, Student Housing (we’re going live with Purdue University), Military Housing, Condos and designed Single-Family Home communities.
We’re also working on some really cool new tech around seamless integration of IoT devices which will get us closer to single-sign on.