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Linking the physical and digital worlds: A conversation with Sce Pike of IoT startup IOTAS

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Recently we chatted with Sce Pike, CEO and founder of Portland tech company IOTAS, an Internet of Things (IoT) application designed to deliver the smart home experience to renters and the smart building experience to property owners. Pike caught the entrepreneurial bug in college and since then has started 4 companies, all leveraging her vision of IoT as a transformational technology with societal and environmental impacts that go well beyond profit. To that end, Pike will be a panelist talking about the New Clean Tech Economy at the upcoming GoGreen Conference in Portland on October 5th (Built Oregon is a sponsor – tickets available here).

I always like to ask about that particular moment in an entrepreneur’s career when the light goes on and they take the leap? What was that moment for you, and can you expand a bit on how your career journey brought you to that inflection point?

rtemagicc_iotas_sce_pike_web-jpgI’ve always been entrepreneurial. Perhaps it’s because my parents were immigrants and ‘owning a business’ was the only way they knew to provide for the family and also believed that was the American dream. They borrowed money from their family and friends to start a business, this was the only way they knew how to work. I suppose they instilled in me similar values. In my Senior year in college, 1997, I started a web development company. I started another company in 2000, then again in 2007, which was very successful, and IOTAS in 2014. I guess I have the 7 year itch for starting businesses.

Why such an interest in IoT?   You saw this as a “next big thing” well before most of us nearly 10 years ago.

Good question. My interest with IoT peaked when I was in the mobile telecom industry with Palm back in 2000. I saw mobile, specifically smart phones, as the next big thing and I knew that software, (applications and services) for mobile devices would be so much more valuable than just selling the hardware. In 2007 the iPhone showed everybody how to do that well. Seeing that change in the telecom world: from selling hardware to selling services to generate revenue, I wanted to take that same change to the real estate industry. The shift from selling only hardware to hardware + software yields exponential value. This is true for the real estate industry as well, instead of selling just 4 walls and a roof, if they can digitize their homes they can sell services and software that would generate limitless revenue. IoT is the only way to digitize buildings. It’s a way to create that layer of interaction between the physical and the digital worlds, and that’s where it becomes really interesting.

What role has Oregon (and Portland) played in developing your ventures ?

Portland has been great because it’s a place where people really care to experiment and connect, and they’re not financially motivated as long as it makes a valuable difference in people’s lives. It makes for a really good environment to innovate; you can find people who are passionate and willing to connect with you, and they’re willing to take a risk and do something different. We were lucky that Capstone Partners was willing to do this with us, and experiment with their building. It’s the people, they make a bigger difference than capital ever could.

Let’s talk about IOTAS – what led you to start this IoT venture, and what problem are you solving with this service for apartment developers and owners?

The typical age group for early adopters is 18-35, which fits the Millennial demographic. With this group, home ownership was only at 35%, since most of them were renting. They also live in the ‘Subscription Economy,’ where access to value is more important to them than ownership – e.g. the death of CDs and DVDs and rise of Netflix and Spotify. So what would be the perfect product for these Millennial early adopters?

I believed that the perfect product for early adopters would be an elegant Smart Home product which would be the gateway drug for IoT. It would not cost them thousands of dollars and should not be DIY. This product shouldn’t require them to install bunch of hardware, set it up, and then when they move next, force them to uninstall it, pack it, move it, reinstall it, and set it up again in their new rental.

A true Smart Home would also be a complete home. Rather than just one thermostat, a couple of lights, random devices, or outlets, a smart home would be 100% of lights, 100% of outlets and thermostats, with sensors throughout.

Luckily for me, at the same time that this was going through my head, Capstone Partners, an innovative Real Estate Developer in the Pacific Northwest, reached out to me to ask about a technology differentiation that they could market to their residents in an upcoming building. They made me realize that the Multi-Family-Home (MFH) industry is ready for a radical tech overhaul.

The next step was evaluating the MFH market size and understanding trends in the market. Based on my research, there is a trend towards Urbanization, where cities are the next big deal because resources are limited, and it’s more effective to share resources in cities versus a spread-out inefficient infrastructure like suburbs. This urbanization is a global trend and that means that Multi-Family-Homes will be growing in volume.

For developers and owners we hope to accomplish four things: 1) Get more people to the buildings. 2) Use the technology to show units faster and spend less time between showings. 3) Rent apartments for more because of the value added by our technology. 4) Make buildings cheaper to manage by automating tasks that are currently done by walking around the properties.

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There’s a big “green” piece of IOTAS – the electricity savings. Have you scoped the potential impact in reduced energy use as your company scales and its use is more widespread among the 24 Million apartments in the US? I bet that number is pretty big.

We actually only count 18 million apartments as our target market, because we focus on buildings with 5 dwellings or more. In our testing, we’ve found that our technology will save a minimum of 1.36kwh per sq. ft. per year, up to 6.74kwh per sq.ft. per year. On average, those apartments are 982 sq.ft. which totals 17.7 billion sq. ft. That comes to a potential energy savings of 119,000 gigawatt hours every year, which is enough to power all of New York City over that same period of time. That’s also $7.3 billion dollars of potential savings at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, the going rate for the northwest.

What does this social impact factor (the energy savings) mean to you relative to the “making money” side of the business? In other words, how will you personally define “success” for IOTAS?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaao5aaaajdnlmtnhmdvmltnjnzgtndjmyi04njdhlwexzjvhymvkmdy4oqFortunately for us, the two are completely linked. The more success we have, the more energy we save, and the more money we make. Personally, the more social impact we have the greater my satisfaction will be with IOTAS and what the team has created.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur you can pass along to our readers?

People. Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical to success, not just in business but in all aspects of life.

Look into your crystal ball and give us your prediction as to when what you’ve called the “huge promise of IoT “ will finally be fulfilled? What needs to happen?

I predict that this will only take about five years to happen. But before the promise of IoT can be realized, there needs to be a standardization of IoT protocols across different industries. That is to say, once industry standards have been established for every step of the way from design, to manufacturing, to sales, to installation and implementation. For example: most smart technology companies have no idea that installation is even an issue because most of their products are currently only being installed one or two at a time. Technology moves fast, and our culture is so entwined now with technology that our acceptance rate for technology is moving just as fast.

You can find out more about IOTAS on their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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Terry St. Marie

Terry "Starbucker" St. Marie, when he isn't working with Mitch & Rick on Built Oregon, writes on his own site, TerryStarbucker.com, and is also a business consultant, Director of Finance of PDX retailer/record label Tender Loving Empire, investor in the Oregon Angel Fund, chairman of the board of Social Ventures Portland, and a general man about town (and espresso bars)