Epi. 45: How to Combine and Transform Your Data Into IoT Solutions – Charlie Key, Co-Founder & CEO of Losant

Learn more about Losant at: https://losant.com

Find Charlie Key on LinkedIn here:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/charliekey/


JC: Welcome to another episode of the Future of BizTech. I’m your host, JC Granger. And I have another fantastic guest with me here on the show today. And if you end up loving this episode, please show your love and appreciation by showing this for the podcast, wherever you’re listening to it, and be sure to give it a five star review preferably with a little bit of, you know, comments in there as well, because that is how other techies like you and me find cool podcasts like this. Today, I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing the Co-Founder and CEO of Losant. Charlie Key, thank you so much for being on the show. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what does Losant do?


Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. And, thanks for having me, it’s an honor to be here and talk about the fun stuff that’s happening in our world in IoT. Now, I’ve had the opportunity of working with my co-founders at Losant now for close to 19 years. We’ve gone to school together, we’ve started a couple companies together. And in this latest adventure at Losant, we’re focused on enabling enterprises to build IoT products and solutions. So what that really means is that we are providing the software tools to collect data from equipment to process that information to visualize it, and eventually deliver it back to the customers as a full blown application. And our platform enables these companies to do this in a very efficient and fast manner to help them get to market faster, through our low to no code environment. So you know, there’s a lot happening in this space, but it’s great to talk to you.


JC: So let’s simplify it a bit. Because you know, half the audience is really super techie, the other half aspires to be. Alright, so Internet of Things, give a quick breakdown of what internet of things really means, just layman’s terms. And then what’s like a really good example of how we might already be seeing this happening in our personal everyday lives that we didn’t really realize was IoT. 


Charlie: Yeah,absolutely. So IoT, and everybody’s got their own definition, you know, of IoT in general. So the internet of things in my mind is a combination of collecting data from different devices, you know, and I’ll give some examples here in a second, collecting that data from the devices and using it to solve problems in our lives. You know, if you’re an enterprise, this may be solving a problem around understanding how your building is operating, how your equipment in the field is operating, if you’re a person, maybe it’s understanding your blood pressure, you know, all of these different things fall in kind of the IoT space, I try to focus on what I really think the IoT world is about is solving these problems through connected devices and connected solutions. So a couple of quick examples from our world. Now one that you would never really think of is you’re walking through an airport, you get to the bathroom and the bathroom is squeaky clean for you. Well, in a normal world, what happens is every two hours some maintenance crew and facilities people come by to clean the place and come back two hours later. And the world of IoT what we’re doing is we’re tracking the amount of people who are going in and out of the restroom in order to make sure that it’s clean based on the usage so you now have an understanding of what the condition of the space is going to be based on you know, the throughput in the bathroom. And now we can alert the cleaning crew based on a smart watch to go clean that space based on usage not based on a time interval and so it’s always clean hopefully.


JC: That’s cool. So here’s what I like because I travel a lot so I like that analogy and what I think is interesting about it is that in your scenario here, this either saves the company money or it increases user experience because if it’s really busy sometimes it might need to be cleaned more than once in two hours right? You know like a baseball game for somebody that like you know, it’s really packed in there whereas if it doesn’t need to be, then they’re not wasting money having people do it every two hours when it was just literally spotless almost anyway, they’re just you know, tidying up so I like that in the worst case scenario you’re increasing customer experience and then the best case now you’re saving money too. I guess those are both best case scenarios. I think about it. So that’s pretty cool.


Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. And so that improved user experience is massive for those spaces, you know, to get to one that almost everybody now has a smartwatch, a Fitbit or some variation of something that’s tracking ourselves on a regular basis. And that’s the easy personal one we all can understand is you know, we have a Fitbit on our wrist, it’s counting the number of steps, it’s counting our heart rate and giving this information back to us in a very, hopefully meaningful way. And, and a useful way. And so that’s the simple, you know, I’m walking around with this IoT device on me all the time.


JC: What about things that we program ourselves, for example, I have my Alexa right, which I have unplugged so that she wouldn’t go off just now when I said that, just for this podcast, man that comes up so often you have no idea. So I have my Alexa and I programmed my Alexa app, there’s this feature in Alexa called routines. And I can pick what happens when I say certain things. So for example, when I’m leaving the house, I say, you know, Alexa, I’m leaving, and Alexa turns off all the lights, it starts my Roomba, like I have perpetual, you know, clean floors. Now, because of this, it automatically turns the temperature to a certain temperature in my house, and it turns on the guard, which if it hears sounds that seemed like someone’s either too close or trying to enter, it starts like a dog barking sound in here. Like, it’s pretty cool. I’m a tech nerd. Realize that now, this is absolutely for sure, since my routines are like this. But is that also an example of IoT in a way as well? Or is that kind of..


Charlie: Absolutely. I mean, all of the Smart Home stuff that we’re seeing kind of come together the Alexa’s and the Google homes, and all of these different kind of interactions that we’re finding, you know, like you’ve said, you put a routine together to solve a daily challenge, or a daily thing that you want to make more efficient. And so you know, that’s the perfect example of what IoT lives inside of our own lives. You know, if you think about a big business, it’s going to be similar, but maybe a little bit different. Maybe they want to be able to change the temperature in certain parts of their buildings, maybe they want to be able to understand that throughput in conference rooms in order to more efficiently use the spaces. And so it’s the same ideas that these use cases bring up, but give businesses a way to efficiently do them.


JC: So let’s talk about then who’s the perfect client? Like, what do you work with? Or do you think are the perfect ones for your platform? You know, so your, your platform, what allows them to go in and connect things? Like do you go in and say, Okay, we’re gonna take all the devices you have, we’re gonna upgrade them, and we’re gonna link into our system, and you can go into a dashboard and do this stuff. Is it a, is it like that? Or is it they go and do it themselves? You know, who is the perfect client? And how do they interact and make use of your platform? 


Charlie: Yeah, so we sell a lot to product teams inside of organizations. And that perfect kind of profile for us a lot of times is equipment manufacturers who are creating large pieces of expensive equipment that they’re manufacturing, they’re selling, they’re putting out into the field through their customers. And those customers now have this large piece of equipment running out in the field, they need to know what’s happening with that. They need to understand and how they support it, how they maintain it, how all of these different things, to service that piece of equipment in the most efficient manner. So on the simple side, what they’re going to use our platform to do is gather the data from that piece of equipment, in the case, an industrial piece of equipment, let’s think a compressor, a big engine, kind of running out in a field, you know, whether it’s pumping water from a goldmine, we have a customer in Australia, who manages gold mines, or pumps at gold mines, and they monitor those pumps, can remotely control them, bring that data back in, and do that all from their home office, you know, wherever they’re sitting for all of these different pumps across the country in all of these different sites. And so that product group was the perfect customer for us as they’re trying to figure out how they bring this new remote monitoring condition-based maintenance product to market.


Charlie: They’re trying to figure out how they do that in the fastest way possible. So what’s that time to market for them? How do they make it a low cost of ownership in the long term? How do they have that flexibility. And so our product enables them to do that, a lot of the times those customers are going to be integrating that data themselves. So they have a controller or a piece of equipment. And they’re going to use our software to pull the data from that piece of equipment, process it, upload it to the cloud platform, and then use that cloud component to visualize it and deliver it back. And so you know, they’re going to be inside working with that product with our platform. And so a lot of times, there’s some technical folks on their team, you know, and some cases, they’re working with outside third parties who are helping develop the software and the product that’s going to sit on top of our platform. And so, you know, there’s a lot of different ways to interact, but it’s going to be their team that’s helping develop and build this. And over the last couple of years, what we’ve tried to do is make it easier and easier to do this stuff, right? You know, let’s say step one was you had to build all this from scratch. If we didn’t exist, you wrote a lot of software, you had to build this and you, it took a lot of time and money to do. Our platform existed. It takes a lot less time. It’s much lower cost To build this, and then what we’ve tried to do is build templates and components on top of that to make it even easier. So if you’re trying to monitor equipment, we build a template for you to monitor equipment and that now you can get up and running in half the time that you were thinking before, and really get to market as fast as possible. So, and many, many times, it’s their team working directly with the platform.


JC: So why did you start the company? I mean, I find that most companies are born out of frustration. Right? So what’s their story here? You know, paint me the picture of why, you know, why do you say wake up one day? And you’re a Co-Founder so obviously, you had a partner? You guys? “Yeah, we gotta do something about this”. What was that?


Charlie: Yeah. So I mean, it’s, there’s, there’s a lot of components that go together to make this happen. But you know, a little bit of background, I grew up in Cincinnati here, and I grew up in a manufacturing family. My family has worked in manufacturing for now 35 plus years, you know, they’ve been always in that world, in this heavy industrial manufacturing world. And so fast forward, myself, and the other partner, Brandon, our Chief Product officer here, one of our co founders, him and I had started a company before this, we ended up selling that to progress software, and spent a little bit of time there, while we were at progress, we were seeing IoT pop up more and more, not only in our own world, but with the customers that progress had and understanding and having those conversations. And the conversations were also happening at home, you know, I was having these conversations with my dad about what they were trying to do at their tool and how they were trying to build new parts and integrate their data across machines, and use all of these different ways to automate processes. And, you know, all of those things kind of came together and we looked at and said, Okay, let’s take some time. So we left, the previous company, said, let’s figure out what this looks like. So what do we do? We do what any entrepreneur would do, we start talking to as many people as possible, you know, we go in our backyard, start talking to everybody and anybody about what they’re doing in IoT. And some people, obviously, it’s more than others. People like PNG, who’s right down the street, they’re doing a lot more, you know, some of the small manufacturing folks are doing a lot last, but trying to learn what they were doing and how they were approaching it.


Charlie: And what really got us interested and excited about the problem was, you know, we’re software guys by nature, we’ve always been in software, we’ve always been building software platforms and software tools. And so we were super interested in this intersection of this hardware software world, just super interested, and add in a lot of what’s happened from my family in the manufacturing world and seeing where that’s got to go. got very interested. And so, you know, we looked at a lot of what was in the market, very hard to use very costly, takes a lot of time takes a bunch of engineers to kind of get something off the ground. And so we looked at that and said, How do we make it so a company that doesn’t have a two dozen software engineers can actually build something useful and put it in the market? What does that look have to look like? What does the software platform have to look like for you to be able to put something into market without paying a ton of money to a bunch of software people to write you something very custom that is likely going to break in two years, and you’re not going to know how to fix. And so that was really where we got started, and has been our thing. And our mission really all along is how do we continue to make it easy for these companies to do this without having to have, you know, Google’s level of software engineers sitting around to go do something? 


JC: Got it. Well, I’m a marketing guy by trade. Yeah, always ask the marketing question. How are you telling companies about that you even exist right now, what kind of verticals and your marketing are you using? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Things like that?


Charlie: Yeah, I mean, it’s been a crazy world over the last 16 months, as, as any marketer, I think, could tell you, like, you know, and so that’s always an interesting transition of what we’ve been doing, what we’re currently doing, and what we think is the future and building awareness. And from a marketing perspective, you know, what we spent a lot of time on the road before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time with customers a lot of times at conferences and trade shows, and getting our name out there and as many different ways as possible, because again, going back to that buying profile, and that buying center that we’re selling into, a lot of those people are looking for a relationship and a partner that they can, they can build with over a long period of time. And so, time and time again, it tends to end up and you’re going to have to have some face to face time, you’re going to have to be in the same room to build that and to understand each other in order to go accomplish that. And so that was something that was happening a lot, obviously happened not at all. And we’ll see what the next six to 12 months look like and you know in person events and conferences and stuff. So that’s always been one that we believe is a great way for us to build relationships, not only with new potential leads and opportunities, but also build relationships with our current customers and people in that pipeline. So that’s been one.


Charlie: The other couple for us is this goes back to another long story. But we’re big content people, we like to believe that content is not only a way to educate our customers, potential customers, but is a great way to build a significant inbound funnel for our business. You know, back in the day, we used to run our own blog and software, and so has always been very bullish on the idea of building a level of inbound pipeline based off of content and knowledge that we can deliver through that content. And so not only do you hopefully bring yourself off as a thought leader in the space, but we use it also as a way to build SEO for our website and for our inbound channels in that remark. So we try to do that as much as we can, that’s continually been an important part of our channel in our in our funnel coming in, you know, I’d say, to a lesser extent we don’t do what I might drop into some digital demand Gen type of, you know, advertising and couple areas there. We don’t do a ton today. And that’s a combination of reasons not saying that I don’t think it works and couldn’t work for us. But we just don’t do a whole lot there. The last one I’m saying is we work with a lot of partners, you know, the important thing to understand and building a true IoT product and solution is there are partners that have to be involved every step of the way, whether that’s all the way at the hardware to the connectivity. So how are you going to get data from one place to another? Is it going to be cellular? Is it going to be a sig box, it doesn’t matter that you’re gonna have a partner there. And then on the application and delivery side. So you know, we built a great partner with network that we believe is a great way to build inbound referrals. And so you know, there’s a lot of different ways we believe that that our partners are a great channel for us to continue to not only build, but utilize.


JC: Yeah, partners are really, really big, especially if you’re paying that enterprise level. And so if you’re a startup or if you’re kind of in that space where you don’t have a marketing budget, you know, having that personal relationships a really big one good partner can bring you a lot a lot of business.


Charlie: Absolutely, absolutely.


JC: Especially if you do really well and that they feel good and their name looks good by referring right? So, Alright, so Future of BizTech, we’re gonna talk about the future. Let’s talk about you first. Okay, let’s talk about your company. My audience likes getting the inside scoop on things. So what is like what’s like the next cool thing in the roadmap coming from your platform that people can look forward to?


Charlie: Yeah, so there’s, there’s really two areas that I think are very interesting and one much closer, and then one a little bit further out. One, we believe that the edge and again, a very nebulous world word, and in the world of tech, but for edge in our world is two levels. So one, let’s call it at the device itself. So at the sensor level, at the piece of equipment itself, and then then, and then you have basically one level up, we kind of call it the gateway level. So you’re going to aggregate data across multiple devices and stuff, we currently have a product offering at the gateway level. So we offer software to gather data from gateways and process data, what we’re working on, and what is going to be coming very soon, is the ability to run our workflow engine at the device level. And we are calling that our embedded edge. And that’s going to be much lower profile from a compute standpoint, from a power standpoint, to all the way to the ability of being able to use it on microcontrollers. And that gives our users our customers and potential customers the ability to do a lot more interesting processing and data gathering at that edge for a very, very low price point on the device and the hardware. And it enables a lot more computational power there. And so that’s big for us. And really, when you think about it, a lot of things have to happen as the future of IoT. And one of those is price from hardware has to continue to come down price of connectivity has to come down. And the ability to use that connectivity in hardware has to increase, right? And so we think what we’re doing at the embedded edge is going to be big for enabling companies to more cost effectively. Use data from their machines use data from their sensors in a very robust way.


JC: Okay, so you know, that’s a great segue into my next question, which is, where is the industry of IoT going in the next 5-10 years? And, and specifically, I have a question about, you know, how it works with consumers, like, for example, with cars, right, we see Tesla’s on the road, Ford is going to come out with an electric truck, which I think is gonna get a lot of people on board with electric that probably wouldn’t been on board before, you know. So I envision this future where cars are talking to each other, rather than having to use cameras to prevent accidents, they just know the car is going to be there. So things like that, how does that fall into IoT? Where do you see things going in that next 5 to 10 years? Just from a consumer level? Like, what are we going to see in the big scope of things?


Charlie: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question is you look at the world of Internet of Things, and especially in the consumer space, you know, automobiles is a great topic. We already have, “smart cars”, autonomous cars, you know, whether they’re truly autonomous or not, you know, they’re driving themselves for the most part. But over the next 10 years, we’re going to see is cars talking to cars, they’re going to communicate with each other, they’re going to help tell each other where they’re at, you know, we’re still going to have the dilemma of Who do you choose to injure in a wreck the person on the sidewalk or the person in the car, you’re still gonna have those dilemmas from an artificial intelligence and machine learning standpoint, but cars are going to be communicating with each other. I would even predict that at some point in the future here, we’re going to see a mandate that all cars have to be either built or retrofitted to be able to talk to each other, at least to some extent. Now that is going to make some people unhappy.


JC: Good luck! Wait, wait, wait for the signs of the capital that say, my vehicular rights? Yeah. Well, you know, the old shops, the old Mustangs, you know, he’s gonna want to touch those, but no, you’re right, it’s gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be, but just like anything else, like recently is, you know, it’ll save lives, you know, whether people fight it or not. So I can see how that would that would help.


Charlie: Yeah, and what we’re going to, and even, maybe even bigger than that is we’re going to see our infrastructure transformed to a smart infrastructure, our roads, our sidewalks, our buildings are all going to become smarter, more intelligent, and understanding what’s happening in the surroundings, being able to use what’s happening, now we’re gonna be able to use our kinetic energy from walking down the sidewalk, to power the streetlights know the streets themselves, you’re going to know where cars are. And if something happened, wreck, backup all of this, and immediately know that based on just what’s happening on the road themselves, and so we’re going to see that over, maybe not the five year closer, the 10 year, and probably the 15 year, it’s the government. So you know, none of that happens quickly, right? But you can imagine, even in the current infrastructure bill that is trying to get through the government, some of that money is set aside for electric charging. It’s for electric cars, you’re gonna see massive infrastructure rebuilt, and repaired. And so we’re gonna see a lot of that kind of action to continue to happen. Now, the pandemic, if anything, has helped accelerate our understanding that we need to be more knowledgeable of what’s happening around us from our equipment from our spaces, and not have to be standing there to record it on a clipboard, just because of all of the challenges that we’ve seen. And so this is only going to accelerate over the next several years.


JC: I think that’s the I think it’s cool. I like progression. I like innovation and sounds like it’s going there. So last question for you. What book Have you read, that you think is an absolute must read for the audience? Whether it just be a fun book, or something relating to the future of Internet of Things and things like that? Like, just if you had to give one book recommendation? What would it be?


Charlie: Man, the one always pops in my head when I think about mostly entrepreneurship and startups and business in general, is Zero to One. You know, I’m sure it’s been said and..


JC: Good one!


Charlie: But what is the one thing that you know to be true that the common world believes to be untrue? I mean, that is what makes each one of us different. And you know, when you go to a business, whether it’s from marketing and sales, if you can figure those things out, it changes your course of direction tomorrow.


JC: That’s awesome. Well, listen, how can people reach you How can they find your company, and if they want to get a hold of you for anything?


Charlie: Absolutely hit me up on LinkedIn. You can find me at Charlie Key, I’m the bald looking guy that is the, you know, CEO of Losant. Find me on LinkedIn, hit us up on our website at Losant.com, you know, we are truly responding to people and anybody that reaches out and happy to happy to talk to just about anything. You don’t have to be coming to look for an IoT solution. Let’s just talk about entrepreneurship and startups and trying to make more business.


JC: Well that’s awesome and real quick before we go, you told me something that pre interview that I want to have like a 10 second on..


Charlie: Yeah


JC: Name of the company, how’d you come up with the name of the company? And what’s the little fun fact that you have to share with everyone?


Charlie: Absolutely. So Losant is our homage to our city of Cincinnati. So we started the company here. The fun fact is before the city was Cincinnati for roughly three years it was called Losantiville and that is, we obviously chopped it down and got the .com and you know, that’s all she wrote. But Losantiville is another fun little conglomeration of letters and words the L is for the licking the O is for the Ohio those the two rivers that come together here in Cincinnati. Sant is the Latin word for together. So it’s the licking in the Ohio together and Ville being village of so there you go.


JC: That’s so cool, I like that fun fact, that’s awesome. And listen for everyone listening out there. Again, if you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening to it. Give it five star rating, throw some comments in there on it, so other techies like us can find it and enjoy learning about all the amazing and helpful b2b software’s on the market today, including Losant, Charlie key, thank you so much for being on the show. And I look forward to checking out and seeing where the industry is going.


Charlie: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.


JC: Have a good one.

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