Originally published in Forbes and written by Geri Stengel on 15 August 2018
Deb Noller knows opportunity when she sees it. The global market for smart buildings is expected to grow from $5.8 billion in 2016 to $61.9 billion in 2024, according to Zion Market Research.
Noller and her cofounder, John Darlington, have backgrounds in developing software solutions for logistics and freight management in Australia. In 2000, an opportunity in building automation presented itself and they moved to Sydney to take advantage of it.
For the next few years, the company served the home automation market. However, even then they realized that the greater opportunity was in creating a scalable solution for enterprises. They began laying the groundwork to become a global business because, after all, managing buildings is a worldwide problem.
By 2009, it was clear that cloud technology would allow them to provide shared resources and achieve economies of scale for enterprises. Noller and Darlington rebuilt their solution in the cloud and relaunched their company as Switch Automation, in 2012. “Anticipating a radical transformation in the way people live, work and experience their surroundings, we gained a three-year advantage over our competitors in 2012 by rebuilding our platform architecture entirely in the cloud,” said Noller in Dynamic Business.
Switch Automation is an IoT building management solution that connects data, systems, people and devices for commercial real estate and corporate clients to efficiently manage large property portfolios.It transforms the “Frankenstack” hodge-podge of solutions used to manage buildings into something useful and actionable so business people can make faster, smarter decisions. This would allow enterprises to move from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance to predictive maintenance. Of course Switch saves energy, but it also reduces the need for technicians to visit a site, improves space utilization — including reducing an enterprise’s footprint — and improves workforce comfort and productivity, explained Noller.
After hearing General Services Administration (GSA) — a US government agency — Microsoft and Walmart speak, at a 2012 conference, Noller realized the the US was ripe for Switch’s solution and began marketing here. In 2015, Noller took the leap and relocated Switch’s headquarters and herself to San Francisco. In 2018, Noller moved to Denver because it is one time zone closer to the East coast and has a major airport. “But the main reason was, it's got a lot of love here around energy control and building performance,” said Noller. Darlington and a large development team remains in Australia.
Success is never a clear shot and Noller has learned her fair share of lessons as she traveled her winding path. Here are four of those lessons.
Pick Investors For Cultural Fit
Raising money isn’t easy for any founder, especially if you’re a woman. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. “Over the course of four or five years, I must have met with a thousand investors,” said Noller. In a sector that has seen some failures, it was important that Switch investors take a long view of their investment. They had to have values that aligned with Switch’s and believe that improving enterprise sustainability was worth waiting for their ROI. Their lead investor, Allectus Capital, is one of those VCs as are Digital Garage, Giant Leap and Scale Investors. Switch closed a Series A round in April, 2018, for $3.8 million, bringing the total raised to $6 million.
Noller participated in Alchemist Accelerator, an accelerator program in San Francisco. A techie, she needed to learn about selling and raising capital. Noller is part of Dell Women Entrepreneurs’ Network. At one annual Summit, she learned how to capture her audience's attention by using the word “imagine” when pitching. She used this technique with investors she met through Alchemist and, yes, the pitch worked.
Share Your Resources And Insights
In turn, Noller has made investor introductions to other female founders. Notably, she introduced a DWEN member to one of her investors.
At this year’s Summit, Noller shared her story. Role models are an important source of inspiration for women entrepreneurs. These are people you admire who provide important life lessons. One big takeaway from her talk was that “even when raising money, always stay focused on customers. There's nothing more compelling to investors than momentum, traction and revenue.”
Leverage Corporate Resources
Making buildings smarter is a complex problem. It’s difficult for a startup to build an end-to-end solution. By leveraging the tools of companies like Dell and Microsoft Azure, Switch has been able to build its solution faster and more economically. But it’s not just about the technology platforms these companies provide. They also are investing heavily in developing the smart cities and smart building sector. They provide marketing support which helps raise awareness about the overall sector as well as Switch.
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