For legacy architectures, infrastructures, and technology, the business logic needs to get extracted, cleaned up, and organized in a more relevant and future-looking architecture. Mike Gearhardt, CEO of 5280 Software, helps small businesses, startups and medium-sized companies in the Denver area in maturing their technology. Mike is also the CTO of Fathym which focuses in the IoT space by helping industrial companies learn from their data and predict things they need in order to attain maximum efficiency.
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Mike Gearhardt On IoT Data Extraction And Learning Solutions Applied
We’re fortunate to be with Mike Gearhardt. He’s the CEO of 5280 Software and he’s currently the CTO of Fathym. We’re going to dig into the IoT space and a couple of other topics, so this is going to be quite fun. Mike, I appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you for having me.
For the folks out there going like, “What the heck is 5280? What is Fathym?” tell me a little bit about the businesses and who you serve.
I founded 5280 Software to focus on what I had been doing for the last decade of my career, which is helping companies take legacy architectures and infrastructures in technology and get the business logic extracted, cleaned up and in a much more relevant and future-looking architecture. For us, we do a lot of work in the ski industry because we’ve seen a lot of problems that they’ve had there. We also do a lot of work with small businesses, startups, and medium-sized businesses in the Denver area who need help in maturing their technology. That’s how we originally met with Fathym. I was on the basis of helping them take the legacy of startup workflows that they have had for the last years and the pivots in their business and helping them mature their technology stack and in exploring that relationship, it eventually turned into something more. Then taking the CTO role here, we’re focused on helping companies with legacy architecture situation. Fathym does a little bit of the same thing but focused in the IoT space and helping industrial companies get the data and devices and everything that they have exposed in a way that lets them learn from their data and predict the things that they need to be a more efficient and operational business.
For the lay person, what is a legacy architecture example?
When I say legacy, for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean old. It’s something that just had a lot of different hands on it. When I think legacy, I’m thinking more of my legacy as a business. I, over the last number of years as a business executive, have learned a lot of things about how to operate in our space, how to do different things and interact with our customers, but it’s been built by a dozen different people with a dozen different attitudes and has become something that handcuffs you and prevents you from innovating in your industry, and being somebody who’s bringing new tools to your customers because you can’t because the way your code is put together. When I talk about legacy architecture, it’s about the people who have all this valuable knowledge locked away in a system that they can’t access.
For you, you had a rather unique path to the skills that you possess. Walk us through that deal.
For me, technology started as a kid. My Dad was an EE and somewhere in his career realized, “I think that software is the future, not necessarily hardware.” He made the move and that proved well in his career as he made it through several different acquisitions in that line of work, living through on software. Seeing him make that transition and having these books start to show up in our house for C++, Objective-C, and Visual Basic and all these different programming languages, I was at an age thirteen or fourteen where I wanted more knowledge. I was in a mindset of learning and so I started picking those books up and said, “If I do that I can make the computer do this.” Through middle school and high school, I programmed little calculator games for the TI83. I had three little programs for the computer and eventually thought that I should be in EE even though I was doing all this software stuff all through high school. I figured I follow in my dad’s footsteps and spend a semester in college realizing that, at best, I would have liked to be an electrician and not so much an EE.
From there, I struggled to find what it was that I wanted to do. I tried construction management in my second year of school. I was doing general business studies and got a job. Jeff Yeager, a good friend of mine now and actually my accountant, changed careers in his life, gave me an opportunity to work for his company and be the tech resource supporting a small ecommerce website. From there I tried for a year to do full-time school, full-time work, but realize that, “This is what I want to do. Why try to do both of these?” and just dove in and worked my way through a few small startups in the Fort Collins, North Colorado area building e-commerce software. I got my name on a patent working for a company called Deal For It where we built a flash-based flex-based action script-based technology that did walk-on video negotiations for eBay sellers. It would come on and you’d make an offer and the video would come out and tell you, “That’s a terrible offer. Let me take that to the boss and come back with counter offers,” and try to negotiate and create a fun experience. From there, over the next few years, I grew out of just being the developer and embraced the leadership that I wanted to give in the area, progressed up to architecture positions and into the roles that I’m in now as a CEO and CTO of 5280 and Fathym.
You’ve had 5280 for a number of years.
Three years since September of 2014.
There’s that process and many go through it. You make up your mind that you’re going to start your company. What was that thought process and discussion when you go home? Were you married at the time?
It was not as surprising for her. She’s been an entrepreneur or wanted to be an entrepreneur for a long time in my life. In the end, for me, it boiled down to a decision about being happy and quality of life. An opportunity came knocking from some of the relationships I had in ski from previous work. Going home to my wife, she was six, seven months pregnant at the time, we were about to close on our first house, two months from then, I came home and said, “I’ve got an opportunity to start our own thing, to provide ourselves.” At the time for that contract, it was only a three-month guarantee of work. It wasn’t like we had closed a full year, two years-worth of contract or anything, but the opportunity was there. She understood that I wasn’t exactly happy any longer where we were working before.
That, mixed with not letting that opportunity slip, made it for us a little bit easier than maybe it is for some people. There were certainly struggles but I took the leap and started the business. You learn a lot about the value of a paycheck. The knowledge that every two weeks, every four weeks, I’ve got this money coming in and when you’re running your own business and you’re closing these contracts, that you’re not getting the money as smoothly. There were times when it was pretty low and it’s like, “I guess we’re not buying groceries right now. The check comes in in four days and we’ll be okay.” If you’re looking to take that leap but you can do ahead of time, to prepare yourself would be good. For us, it’s about not letting those opportunities in life pass you by because they don’t always come back around.
We could probably go miles down that road if they don’t always come back around. With the entrepreneur, there’s a certain level of courage that comes. You’ve got to have faith in yourself and you’ve got to be willing to risk because there’s always that opportunity to sit as an employee with the theory that you’re at less risk. That’s more theory. If you’re not invaluable, then you’re just an expense and they’ll let you go. You got 5280 up and running, and for the folks going. “I’m still a bit lost. I don’t know what’s your ideal client or prototypical client look like?” what problems do they have and what do you guys do to solve their problem?
The ski industry, for me, is the perfect example. For fifteen plus years, they’ve been handcuffed by the point of sale systems that they chose typically fourteen, fifteen years ago. These point of sale systems are embedded across everything that they do, which was the way that we built technology back when these systems were built. It scans your lift tickets, it sells your lift tickets, it sells you food on the resort, it books your hotel room, it gives you access to the gates. These systems are integrated at all levels. The problem for that industry is that the investment by those companies hasn’t been there to keep their technology relevant so that the ski industry can leverage new technology to create new innovative customer experiences that help them address a bit of the customer-base issue that they’re having.
What that’s led to is a situation where it has spun up a nice ecosystem of vendors who are trying their hardest to provide these innovative solutions. There are people that are passionate about ski. Flaik, one of the customers of ours, do ski school software. They have a little device that’s IoT. They attach it to the student on the mountain and it tracks where they are. The instructors use that to know if a kid has been lost. The parents use it at the end of the day to get a report on the fun that their kid had. Flaik gets to use this data in a lot of cool ways where they find themselves with an ability to make it an integrated resort experience. They sit on the outside of the business and in the end, while they’re creating very unique customer value, they’re adding expense on the back end by creating processes of manual reconciliation.
Nobody’s afraid of that. It’s just a part of the situation they’re in. That’s where we look to step in. Let’s take these people who have an inability to connect and innovate and let’s help this industry create the right pieces that allow resorts to maintain security and control over their data and partnerships, but allow them to let people like Flaik and SKIDATA and these other vendors in the space be more connected so that everybody gets more value. The customer gets more value, the resorts get more intelligence because Flaik is developing intelligence tools around ski school, and the resorts no longer have to try and build those tools themselves.
Many of us heard IoT. We had this vision of the refrigerator and the thermostat and a couple of other things. If you can, expand a little bit on IoT from your perspective.
I touched on before the old mentality of software was I need to build something that does everything. IoT is the advent of sharing of data, the open exchange of data between organizations. It’s nothing new. It’s been going on for a very long time, but more in the industrial space as people focus on how do we take hardware devices and connect them up to the cloud so that we can take these embedded systems and gain more value out of them and connect them to the world. For me, initially, what IoT was is that industrial focus. The reason we’ve all heard more about it recently is we start to see that bleed into our consumer electronics. They have Alexa and Google Home apps and our smart refrigerators or our coffee machines that we can control from a cell phone and things like that.
In the end, that’s what IoT is. It’s about devices. It’s about things being able to communicate with each other. In the industry, there’s a struggle to find ways to bridge the different gaps of how people are trying to achieve that. That’s part of what we look to solve, not that we’re going to create the standard, but we look at it from a perspective of we don’t want to create the standard. We want to be able to work with all of these different things happening because that is what IoT is, the open exchange of data so that we can all do more together.
You see it on your phone. Will you allow so and so to track where you are? That’s a generation piece, that’s first generation thought. The question is what if there’s 4,200 people doing the same thing, same place, same time of day, what data provides you? We were talking a bit about the ski space and the data. What do you see the data collection doing for the consumer and the provider?
There are definitely consumer benefits to IoT and having this data. The ski industry is unique. Sometimes when we think IoT, we think about the new connected devices that are being built, but a lot of companies have had IoT engagements going on in their resorts. When you think about a resort, you’re scanning lift tickets, so you’ve got devices everywhere, you’ve got gates. For years, they’ve just been collecting that data into a database and not gaining valuable insights into what they can do with that data, both to improve operational efficiencies and to improve the guest experience. When we look at IoT behind firing the ski resort industry, that’s where we like to book to start. It’s like with our partner Flaik, as we look to expose ways to know where people are on the mountain so that you can share, “They’re near this restaurant because they just went up this lift.”
We can share with them a coupon to try and drive those sales into other places and the consumer experience is better because they are receiving those discounts for the experience that they’re on. We also find, outside of the monetary experience, people are actually looking for physical experiences. By using the right information that’s already locked away in their legacy, you might be able to push people to other experiences on the mountain that help them understand there’s more to do up here than just ski. The big part of helping the ski resorts is helping people see the other opportunities. By using IoT and understanding where people are, what their likes and interests are, you can drive an effective experience that’s catered to those users.
I think of some of my experiences where I thought I was going down the proper slope and I found out that I wasn’t. Then you get to learn some new skills. In my case, I grew up on the slopes a lot, but I think about the ability, like it will say, “Traffic jam on our phone at this location. Choose an alternate route.” I could see and some of the crowded mountain spaces where there’s a couple of runs that people aren’t on.
Those are the key things for your users who are always on the mountain. They can see that, “I shouldn’t go there, I’m going to hop over two peaks and I’m going to go ride here because nobody’s back in that bowl.” Those are the absolute values that the consumer can start to get from those things. For the resort, their mentality is how do we shift this kluge of people in this backed up lift over to these other places so that they are getting a better experience and their experience isn’t waiting in lines at lifts? It’s like, “You’re a blue skier. We see you do mostly blue runs. If you get to this part of the mountain, nobody’s over there and you’re going to have a better experience.” That’s where the operational side can start to learn things about efficiently working on the mountain.
I could see that some of the areas where you go this particular run got more pressure than typical. We’re going to have to take and grim differently if they’ve got some level of automation on their snow guns. The end beneficiary is more than one. It’s family memory, it’s the ability of the resort to say, “There’s a reason why we price our lift tickets this way because we deliver this memorable experience and we’re interested in your memorable experience.” We talked a bit about machine learning. On these data sets, how do you see machine learning and “artificial intelligence” massaging or working with data going?
It’s a unique situation with every company you work with because everybody’s trying to learn something different from their data. A lot of times customers don’t know what it is that they are looking to learn from their data and so we have to back into solutions that allow us to do that. From a Fathym perspective, it’s the product that we build, and offer is a streamlined way to start managing these very robust IoT solutions. A good example is Fathym owns a subsidiary called Weathercloud.
These are the devices that you affix to vehicles.
What Fathym does is provide the workflow and infrastructure to facilitate companies who don’t have that knowledge. When Fathym purchased Weathercloud as a wholly owned subsidiary, it was about taking our Fathym technology and having a production use case for it. We connect these devices via IoT up to the cloud via an ingest process that we then, from the Fathym side, take control of. Our product is focused on creating a point-and-click user interface that allows people to take these different streams of data to change and manipulate them to apply business rules to them. A good example in the Weathercloud world, if you’re taking a temperature and that temperature is over 160 degrees, you can pretty well guarantee it’s a bad piece of data because it shouldn’t be pulling temperatures over 160 degrees.
We do a lot of data cleansing, preparation to get the data into the state it needs to be in to execute the machine learning that’s possible. The number one problem in machine learning is getting the right data into the right form to support at high performance the things that you want to do. A first step of where we need to go with machine learning is understanding these good workflows to help companies not have to hire a team of men and the tech people that we have, but to be able to have the tools necessary to get their data into the state it needs to be so that they can connect with the right data scientists. Fathym is never going to have all the right data scientists to support every piece of machine learning and predictive analytics that we want to do. It’s about getting an environment where we can support our customers and connect them with the right people and facilitate those groups in having access to our data to do the things that they need to do.
It reminds me of the old days of garbage in, garbage out in the quality of the data. You were talking that on Weathercloud, you had that testing.
We’ve got these devices out with some different DoTs, Department of Transportation, around the country and doing some fleet type of proof of concept thing. These devices are out there now. We use that data for two purposes. One, the DoTs can use it to track their fleets and understand what their drivers are doing. We have real time tracking capabilities of the trucks, but more importantly for them, what they like to do is use all of this weather data we’re collecting to understand the most optimal way to manage their road conditions. Where do we salt? Do we salt it or do we use something else? How do we handle these different conditions? Over time, it’s about creating a data set that shows us the effectiveness of those processes. If we salt it in this condition, are we re-salting it again three hours from now? Instead of relying on just the intelligence people have gained in the industry over years, we can give them the tools to validate that intelligence and reform it into something that’s more than just sticking our finger in the wind and trying to figure out where we are.The number one problem in machine learning is getting the right data into the right form to support the things that you want to do. Click To Tweet
In the weather space, a lot of the weather that we have in the forecasting space is from some distance above ground.
That’s the second piece that we use this. Some of the existing ground-level sensors that exist, a forecast engine typically is built in the 50 feet and above information. What we do is bring a unique road-level weather forecast that leverages the data we collect off of vehicles and leverages the standard needs, our RWIS ground stations that are out there. We provide a forecast that allows people to do route-based forecasting. Let’s tie it into ski a little bit as we look to do that. I want to go from Denver to Winter Park over the next 48 hours, what’s the best weather for me to get up there? Or point-based forecast, I want to go camping over here in the mountains sometime over the next few weeks. Historically, what’s our forecast here? When should I be going over the next few days? That’s the second part of how we try to take this data and create those, those forecasts.
On the weather space, you’ll have certain facing highways, they are getting solar warmth or not. Then you look at temperature gradient change and you go, “When’s the optimal time to take and adjust and do what you need to do?” When you’re talking to these DoTs, what types of wish lists or feedback are they given you on the data they’re starting to get?
For me, the better example is in some of our fleet stuff. When we initially put our software out there, there was an immediate ask back of, “This is cool. I can see the forecast, but can you help us apply a risk analysis over this entire route?” That one is the most profound asks that we’ve had and figuring out how we support call vying because it’s this predicted weather. This road segments is a risk factor. Then taking that across all of it, now we can start to use that risk on top of the other data that they have to figure out where they’re going. We can help them choose between routes like, “That’s a riskier route, but if you go this way, the weather is going to be smooth sailing,” and help them make more informed decisions.
I think about that from a company with a fleet and your insurance is X and you go, “I understand that you are shooting it. Unfortunately for you, you don’t have better data,” but if you can take a look at that and go, “What we’ve chosen route is risk-based driving and we took the less risky route and we think that you should adjust our insurance cost buy.”
It’s an absolutely great outcome from that level of data.
I think about your new driver versus old driver. A new driver gets on the less risky route. I think about the generational data gather. You probably think that periodically and go, “I wonder if they’re going to be able to do.” What do you see? What do you think is coming from this data gathered from the things that you’re doing?
For us in the weather space, we see a lot of opportunity in industry to impact at a high level the efficiency. If you look at construction, you’ve got open-air construction sites and you can see you’ve got a two-week snow storm coming in, you can start to make decisions about why I should pull my fleet out of there because if I don’t, we’re going to have depreciate x quicker because they’re out in the snow. As we look further into the future, weather is a huge part of what it means to have a smart car driving around on the road. The cars can have all the information that they need in the world, but if an 80-mile per hour wind gust comes flying across their vehicle, it’s got to be able to handle that. If the pavement changes from dry to wet or to ice or to any of these other types of things, the vehicles need to be aware. For me, those thoughts on top of that and knowing how smart cars are already, as the weather condition changes to snow, can we optimize suspensions in real time so that we can make safer cars on the road? Can we do these little types of things that make it more efficient for the fleets to be out on the road?
Let’s say that I’m a ski area owner and I hear this and I go, “I don’t even know that I had a problem, but I’d like to take in and understand what you guys can bring to the table, what problems you might conceivably solve, and what value add you might bring to me as the ski owner operator.” Maybe it would be good to do a small case study discussion about what does that look like.
I’ll use Telluride as an example. We’ve closed the contract with Telluride, a new customer for us. It’s how we like to start business. We don’t like to dive into big contracts because in the end, we want to make sure we all work together effectively. We want good customers just as much as you want vendors. With Telluride, they’re speaking to the problem. They’ve got a situation where they use RTP, Resort Technology Partners, which is one of those old school ski point of sale systems to run their resort. Over time, they’ve said, “It doesn’t do everything and it’s not the best at this.” They’ve put other systems in place. ALOHA is one of the two major food and beverage systems out there. They have that in place on a lot of their high-end restaurants. They’ve put IBS, just another point of sale system into another part of their system and decided that its member management was significantly better than RTPs or ALOHA’s. However, they still need their members to have a quality experience, whether they’re at an ALOHA, RTP or IBS point of sale system. They need a cohesive experience.
Today, they manage that internally with a manual process where somebody comes through and reconciles from ALOHA and RTP into IBS, all of the member billing transactions, a full-time job because it’s a lot of information. The bad part about that is that resorts are contributing to the guest experience. There doesn’t have to be a manual process anymore. In working with them in our familiarity with RTP and our familiarity with integrating with other systems, we’ve been hired to come in and take that manual process and flush it out as something that’s automatic in our 5280 workflow. We call it our Ski Industry Exchange. We take over managing most of the complexity. We don’t want to put into resorts more things for their team to manage. Their teams need to be managing the resort activities and improving customer experience. We work with them, we take all that overhead of managing these new workflows out of their world and put very limited technology in their domain that’s about their security. They get to decide what we have access to at any given time and then we can do what we need to do with their data. We’ll be working to take that member data out of ALOHA and out of RTP and put it into their master system so that it’s always real-time information for their members up on the resort.
You’ve got this data collection and so for them, they’ve outsourced this one challenge where they’re trying to attract somebody that’s skilled enough to do all that integration. You guys have done it before, so this is not new for you. Let’s say we’re a year from now and you’ve had a season with Telluride and you’ve had all the integration. What types of a-has do you think are going to come out of that?
The goal of our early partnerships is to get this gateway in their world because it is the one time we have to ask them and their IT people to do work. The a-ha moments for me that we hope to strike are around the intelligence and analytics that we can initially unlock for these controllers, these CFOs, these executive management level positions, even at a lower level looking at the managers of individual sales locations on a mountain to be able to understand individual point of sale registers. If Pete’s on register two, it sells $1,000. If Sarah’s on register two, it sells $400. Let’s bridge that gap and figure out what’s different between these two people so that we can get more out of our system. For me, it’s about helping them unlock that intelligence first. Then when you unlock that intelligence, you start to unlock additional business cases like, “Now we need to add this in order to learn that,” and that’s where we can start to grow with these resorts. Outside of that, a year from now, for us, we are releasing an official ski industry exchange product that is about creating a vendor community that is creating tools for the ski resorts and allowing ski resorts to get their data connected with those vendors.
For somebody that does analytics on the industry and they go, “The data availability sounds intriguing,” for them, let’s say that they’re not the operator, but they wanted to take and do some research within the data, is that a possibility?
It’s a big part of what we want to do. First and foremost, the resorts get control over who gets to see what. In working with a research company like that, we might try to understand the form of data that they’re looking for and create the infrastructure in our exchange that transports the different point of sale systems we know into those data formats. With a setting and a switch for our resorts, they can enable a partnership with that vendor and say, “You can have access to our sales data for the last month,” or “You can have access to our lift access data for the last year,” and put the control in the hands of the resort to say who can see what. That’s what our focus is. We don’t want to be the next point of sale system that exists on a resort. We don’t want to be the next company that builds all of the ski front ends. We want to be the company that comes in and enables this open-ended controlled exchange of data between the legacy enterprises and the vendor innovators.
I think about the continual evolution of data. There’s the first generation thought, “We just want to talk, and we want to gather. We just want to get it in some form that one can recognize and search and massage,” You were talking about point of sale at one register doing more than another, and so you go, “Is it the sales skill? Is at the time of day? Where’s the anomaly? Was standard deviation out of the data?” I think about that as a business owner, they’re so busy working in the business, they don’t have time to work on the business. As you are out talking to the various ski industry folks and the DoTs, what are the typical misconceptions that they might have about what you do?
For a long time in the industry, there’s been a desire to create the next point of sale system. Initially, one of the things we’ve tried to push hard out to people is, “No, that’s not what we look to be. We’re looking to enable this open communication of what we’re doing.” On the other side of that, right now and certainly in its infancy and the way I started 5280, I tried to do it without taking that investment capital and boot strap it on my own. It’s been a long journey as we’ve tried to do that. A lot of that involved consulting work to finance the R&D that we were engaging in and developing the platforms that we now have and the things we’re now looking to bring forward. The other misconception sometimes is that we’re just another one of the ski consulting companies. In the end, we look to be the group that comes in and helps these guys do what they’ve been wanting to do. I was the application architect for RTP, the point of sale system, a few years ago during one of their acquisition changeovers. We heard a lot then and since opening 5280, the ski industry doesn’t want somebody to be the next point of sale. Some of the bigger guys want the ability to do this innovation on their own so that they can separate themselves from the pack and be their own executing unit. Some of the smaller resorts certainly don’t have the IT teams to do that so they rely on the vendor community out there. Right now, they can’t engage with them so I’m being more than just consulting and being a group driving a permanent solution to this open exchange of ski data.You don't need higher paid resources if they're managing less things. Click To Tweet
As you talked about the vendors, it’s hard to be an expert in everything. You think about, “There could be a point of sale expert. It could be somebody in the lift space. It could be someone in the mountain management and all of those areas.” Basically, you’re the interpreter. You interpret amongst the group. We talked a little bit before about the relationship between 5280 and Fathym. For some of the folks, they go, “I’m not sure I understand the relationship,” if you could talk a little bit about how you guys work together and the pluses and minuses on that structure.
In working those dual roles, the first thing I had to put in my mind was, “These can’t be two separate things forever. If I intended them to be two separate things, I don’t think this would have worked out as well as it’s worked out since we joined forces.” We saw a lot of similarities in what we were trying to do. We were just taking it into different markets with different end goals in mind. Between Matt and I and everyone working here, since the beginning, it’s been a journey on how can we start to bring these things together. Our technology at 5280 was more mature, was leveraging newer technologies. One of the things I like to tout is even from our last version of our 5280 software using all of these new Azure cloud services, we were able to reduce our own code base 60%. That’s one of the things we looked at as a high-value add to what we do. When we engage with a company, when you have less code to manage, you can do more with less. You don’t need higher paid resources if they’re managing less things. Microsoft and Azure and some of the other cloud providers have put us, as technologists, in a place where that’s possible.
Bringing that technology to Fathym has been 5280’s part in the partnership. On the Fathym side, they’ve got some good IoT connections and customers that they’re working and supporting now. This IoT stuff is new. It’s not like it’s been around for five or six years. While Fathym has been effectively managing their IoT customers for the last three or four years, they are not leveraging these cool new tools that make us more efficient at that process. That’s where we found good synergies is upgrading the relationships that 5280’s engaging in, and helping them upgrade the quality of software and the efficiency at which we can build out these systems now.
If we’re sitting here three years from now and going like, “Where do you see the progression of the company and opportunities?” Where do you see that?
As I work more with Matt at Fathym and we looked at that, a deeper partnership is definitely something that we’re exploring. For us, it starts to come to fruition in what Fathym was engaging in which is IoT and the smart things, smart buildings, smart cities. In our initial partnership, we look to take this ski resort situation as a prime place in our customer’s mind. It’s what we’re looking for in a customer and be able to make a smart resort out of it. We want to leverage the same relationships that we are for other industrial customers and provide these guys with a new, very sophisticated innovative platform that is helping them be relevant in today’s world. Doing that not just in smart resorts but carrying it into some of the smart building initiatives that we’re doing.
When you approach a company with what you’re doing, who do you approach in that company that would understand some of what you just said?
In the end, what we found is we have to be educators first. A lot of times, we have to teach people why what we’re selling is so cool and why it will be so effective for their business. In that regard, it’s difficult to find the right person. A lot of times, they’ve been finding us in cases or through our partners. We’ll get connected to somebody in the division who’s very excited about doing something more with their technology. That makes it a little bit easier because they already know. Outside of that, we’re definitely entering discussions at the tech c-level. A lot of times it’s where we’re starting because again, there’s less education there that we’re finding. In the end, it’s the reality that we have to educate people on what is IoT and what are the benefits.
As you were talking about as some of the less code means less maintenance, in my mind, it means less things can break. Simplistically, give me a dishwasher with a switch on-off. When you look across various industries and you work in the DoT space and you’re working in the ski industry, is there another industry you look at that and go, “They’re right for what we do?”
Buildings and maintenance is a huge one. Just with what labor is in that world, to have knowledge of traffic patterns in a building, who’s in what parts of the building, can go a long way and saying where your maintenance staff needs to be cleaning up. If nobody literally was in this conference room all day, do we need to send somebody in there to do the once-over or do we call it good and let them focus on the areas of the building that add more value to the experience? How do we find out when something’s less traffic so that we can send a maintenance staff in during low people volume so that the people in the building think there is no maintenance?
Just as a hypothetical, I own a high-rise, let’s say. How do I gather the data where I know the traffic patterns are?
We partner with that as well. Outside of the Weathercloud devices that we have, we will build devices specific for those types of things. At the same time, we’ve done some proof of concepts with our road pack here and installing it over doorways. We can get readings because this does moisture and sound readings. We can tell when there’s water on the floor of a bathroom or we can tell with our IR sensors in here, which is that little camera, when we’ve got that guy pointed right down, we can tell if somebody is walking in or walking out of a bathroom based on what we’re doing. A lot of times in IoT, when you have these unique business solutions, we like to start with a proof of concept. If you’ve got a device, we can strap somewhere and learn some things cool. Once it’s a valuable thing, we’ll build a true form device that can be more nicely hidden away and not as visible. In a lot of cases, if you don’t have devices in place already, it’s about doing some proof of concept work and building those out.
In the business space, you’ve had influences early on. In the mentor world, what do you think the best advice that you’ve received in running your company that’s helped you?
For people who know me, I apologize for saying it again, but John Tillotson was an old project manager of mine back when I was 22 when I just started on this journey of being a technologist and still learning. In the end, his advice boiled down to, “Mike, you just need to listen. Don’t always be thinking about the next thing that you’re going to say. Make sure that you’re soaking in that information.” In that point in life, I definitely was bad and I had had some success. I was real strong headed, and as I was leaving that company and he gave me that advice, it definitely changed the rest of my life. I’m not perfect at it, ask my wife. I’m still not perfect at it, ask the team, but it’s definitely something I recognize when I’m doing it and make sure that I shut that part of me off and just focus on listening. For me, that helps develop a situation where I can use my problems to be the solutions to other people’s problems. I’m no longer just in a meeting trying to argue about, “How are we going to do this? We need to solve my problem.” I’m hearing all the problems. That’s where I got a lot of my success, being able to hear all of those problems eventually and then be able to put them into a single solution that solves things at the same time. For me, it’s definitely the hands down most important bit of insight I ever received.
That’s two ears, one mouth ratio. How do folks find you if they want to reach out to you?
You can get us at 5280Software.com. Fathym is Fathym.com. You can reach me at my email, Michael.Gearhardt@5280Software.com. You can also drop us a line at Beta@5280software.com. That will come to me and the other appropriate people in our group. You can reach me at Michael.Gearhardt@Fathym.com as well.
I really appreciate the insights and the time you took. Parting piece of advice from anything, from teaching your kids to learn how to program, to starting a business, any thoughts?
I’m going to do it to my kid and I’m going to get him involved in technology early. That doesn’t mean forcing them, that just means giving them the opportunity, if they’re interested, to learn these types of things and explore technology. What I do isn’t always going to be the job that it is. It is going to become more of a standard type of position. Helping your kids be a part of that is a big part of me. Family is a huge part of why we all work. Helping them learn early is always good.
Do a little mentoring. Mike, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking time. This has been awesome.
Thank you very much.