Conversation with Michael Anderson
Welcome this is Ken Forster Executive Director of Momenta Partners and Momenta Ventures with another addition of our Digital Leadership Podcast Series. Today it’s my great pleasure to have Michael Anderson, the CEO of Expeto Wireless, join us. Expeto is a platform solution which simplifies how enterprises connect and manage industrial IoT applications, devices, and data. Michael’s past experience spans executive roles and high growth communications, high technology, and smart energy companies.
Prior to Expeto Michael was President and CEO of Networked Energy Services (NES), a global smart energy leader. Before NES, Michael was SVP and General Manager of Echelon, the original IoT company now Adesto. He also was President of Telcordia, now Ericsson, Next-Gen OSS Business. Michael completed the Criminal Justice Fellowship at Georgetown University Law Centre and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. He’s also an avid outdoors person who plans on swimming the English Channel with his son, at least he was up until it postponed by COVID, so hopefully that will happen soon.
Michael, welcome to the Momenta Partners Podcast.
Thanks so much Ken, and thanks for that great intro, it’s wonderful to be here with you today.
And it’s great to have you as well. So, let’s start a little bit with your professional journey. I was impressed by your background and the number of companies that you’ve worked at. Tell us a little bit about that journey, and how it has informed your views of digital industry.
Absolutely. I think like most people perhaps their beginning is a little bit of an accident. Like you said, I was in I guess the footsteps of Atticus Finch and Clarence Darrow, going to be the world’s next big attorney, but after a stint in DC my idealism got a little changed or shifted and I ended up with a college colleague getting talked into joining a company called AT&T, which at the time we knew as The Phone Company. As a matter of fact, when I joined my mother and grandmother were looking for a free phone service. One of the nuns at a Catholic school that I was associated with would have me come over and fix her answering machine, but I actually joined AT&T at a time that was just post-divestiture, and really starting to introduce competition into the US system.
This was a time when they would send you back to Cincinnati to learn about all the SS7 switching and all sorts of technical things that frankly are obsolete now. But it was just amazing to me how we could inter-connect all the people and things in this world, and at AT&T I had an opportunity with a global leader to be exposed to a lot of things. I got involved a little bit in the acquisition of McCaw Cellular, which was the first big push into wireless. We rolled out services like Frame Relay and ATM, and frankly I got so excited and inspired, it led to leaving AT&T on the upswing to start a fiber optic startup at the time was called GST Telecommunications. This was started about the time of Metropolitan Fiber Systems, Jim Crow, Andy Lipman, and lots of names that I think are recognized now as some of the pioneers of what we would call the modern communications and technology systems.
We built out fiber networks throughout the Western United States and started to get involved in these things called the MAE Points, MAE Central, MAE West, for this crazy thing called the internet that had come in at the University of Michigan. I was like a kid in a candy store, it seemed like every day new things were happening, new applications, new inventions, things getting connected. It was just like the gold rush. I never imagined I could find myself in the middle of so much excitement and so much transformation, and frankly it became addicting. So much so, that as I took that jump off of AT&T, to a start-up that was a broken-down microwave network in the Hawaiian Islands, and we had grown over a few years to build fiber networks. I then had the inspiration in my driveway to start an internet company, more focused on business services, hosting, and host-to-database services. Sold the stock there and grew, and sold that company, that company was called Big Planet.
After a few additional stints, a friend called me who was helping to get this new wireless technology in Europe called 3G, working with a company called Hutchison 3G. They were having a challenge trying to create a real-time authorization engine for these content gateways. If you recall 3G, the real promise of that was person-to-person video, and the idea in Europe was, when your favorite soccer team let’s say in the UK were to score a goal, they’d see that in your profile, and you’d pay 4 or 5 pence at the time to see a replay of that goal on your phone. In that content gateway the authorization, the token exchange, the real-time settlement was really-really challenging. A company called ADC in Minneapolis had basically acquired some software assets, and together with ADC and Cisco I actually came in initially as a contractor to help construct that solution.
We ended rolling that out, and it was so successful we actually turned it into a company that became the first real-time authorization and billing company or charging company at the time. We were successful in the marketplace, not only in terms of telecom with deals with Deutsche Telekom and Reliance, but also Yahoo and other crazy names at the time. That was really invigorating, and we grew that business, and then I ended up getting called over to a company called Telcordia. Telcordia was the original Bellcore that came up with all the software systems, frankly not only in the United States but also globally, to drive what we call the back office systems, OSS and BSS which is basically your physical and logical inventory of assets that you use to provision services, and eventually bill for those.
That company had some great technology and just wonderfully brilliant people, but the technology was a little bit tired. So together with the team we refreshed that, and thought not only about real-time authorization in billing, but really getting into the network, both on the wireless and the wireline side, and thinking about real-time policy management and services. Let’s say authorizations of network as transactions, as opposed to just these fixed duration things, with basically the advent of IP switching, and a lot of exciting things coming out of Cisco, Juniper, Cascade, and frankly companies that I could mention but we may not all recognize today.
That ended up being a fabulous adventure to create some of the most modern policy managed systems, IMS systems. Again, we were lucky enough to be able to communicate our value proposition and drive some interesting outcomes for a lot of well-known global carriers. Then I ended up getting intrigued as we were moving down the road of transitioning Telcordia to be a business for Ericsson to get involved in smart energy with this theme of connected things, and transactions, and driving outcomes – you tend to think of these wireless and wireline networks as big global things. I had never thought of smaller controlled networks in the industrial space whether its controlling elevators, lighting, or transformers or meters, all sorts of industrial type application.
There’s a public company in Silicon Valley, a public company called Echelon that was founded by Mike Markkula, who was actually the guy that wrote the check to Steve Jobs and Mike Wozniak to get Apple going. He had come up with this idea of a simple binary control network, having an on/off switch controlled by software where we communicated over the powerline. So, his friend Ken Oshman had just finished selling a company called ROLM, for those of us who remember ROLM, Ken was the ‘O’ in ROLM and the CEO of the company, but Mike being really busy with Apple asked Ken to take the helm at Echelon. They had grown that business to get that Echelon technology in about 300 million devices globally. I’m talking actually in the Louvre it was Echelon technology that took the Mona Lisa down at night, it was the lighting on the Eiffel Tower, train braking systems etc.
Ken and the company had actually gotten over with a company over in Europe called ENEL and created the world’s first smart meter using this Echelon technology, but also communicating over the powerline. Without getting too technical, you go back to Physics 101 when you’re communicating over the powerline and you have some really good sensing technology, there’s a lot you can tell about the grid in terms of its technical efficiency, and other relevant conditions, where ENEL at this time could actually take a lot of action to create a lot of energy-efficiency, and frankly just some technical robustness to their grid. So, I was able to join them coming off of that Echelon high with ENEL, where we had created the world’s first smart meter, and we rolled out about 40 million of those throughout Europe.
Unfortunately, Ken Oshman who was just a wonderful, wonderful man, the warmest guy, the most brilliant guy self-made through Rice University and Stanford. He ended up getting sick and passed away, and so in the joie de vivre of Ken Oshman, I talked with the board of Echelon and it became a spin-off that smart energy business into a business called Networked Energy Services that I led and moved to Europe. We got focused on smart energy, modernization and transformation at the grid and renewables. We were able to help Denmark get to I guess carbon-negative, and some fantastic projects in Finland, Sweden, Poland, and Norway. It was just a real exciting time with Europe embracing this opportunity to decrease the use of fossil fuels, and to move towards a [audio lost 12:19] grid context, frankly, to create the visibility and the opportunity to take action.
That was a great adventure for me, but unfortunately being an American guy and having my family in the US, after about five years in Europe I’d got back to the US and was involved in some really interesting projects. Then I got called by a fabulous company called Expeto that I think somebody invented in a laboratory with my background. It was the culmination of communications, internet, smart energy, and connected things, I guess if they were the ghosts of my career past it would become Expeto. And has the ability to leverage a lot of traditional communication standards, together with modern, IoT, and what I would call edge computing and containerization, to create an Enterprise First opportunity for businesses to very easily, affordably and securely add scale, connect and run their IoT devices to accelerate their industry 4.0, or digital strategies by what name.
I’ve been there now coming up on a year at the end of this summer, and it’s just been a tremendous opportunity. We’re doing great good for all of our customers, and driving great outcomes, and a lot of innovation to come. So, kind of longwinded there Ken in terms of my journey, so I apologize for that. Hopefully, it gives you a little insight.
Oh, absolutely, you’ve got a phenomenal background, kind of reminiscent of I’ll call it the, ‘Forrest Gump Syndrome’, in the sense that for all of the key events that made up this industry, somehow you were there! Either a participant or actually one of the invisible guiding hands, so a very impressive background.
A lot of people don’t know about the background of Echelon. I love the fact that you refer to it as the original IoT company, I first got exposed in the early nineties when I was with Wonderware, we were looking at kind of new networking technologies out there at the time, Fieldbus was quite popular in factory automation, and so looking at the equivalent in non-factory applications and such. So, a really impressive company.
Tell me a little bit about the work you did there. More importantly what were some of the key learnings coming out of that, because it seems like a lot of low power, wide area, and even cellular technologies these days do take some learnings from the Echelon experience.
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll come back to that, but at Echelon, we have the Oshman-isms and the Markkula-isms. One of the Markkula-isms at the beginning of the company, in terms of his vision for the future is like, ‘Hey, if we could create this chip for about a buck, that we could embed into every electrical device on the planet, and basically create this very simple binary software interface, we could just create vast and vast amounts of applications’. And so, at Echelon there was always this pressure, this very positive pressure to get things better, faster, cheaper, because we knew if we did that, we could make it much easier for our chips to get embedded in these devices.
Now we never hit a buck, as a matter of fact I think we got near a buck just about the time that I left there, but it was really-really incredible when you started to think about everyday processes, and how just creating even the slightest bit of automation could make things better. I think some of the key takeaways, for those of us that watch Saturday Night Live there used to be this skit that got really popular about basically adding something to everything, and at Echelon to make things very simple we just wanted to add connectivity and automation to everything. That became to me this inspiration about connectivity becoming that essential fuel to create a digital society, because if you can connect to something, especially something that has computing power, then we’re going to have the ability to create let’s say a simple interrogation to that device, to understand its state and what it’s doing.
Then if we connect and we can understand what the device is doing through some of the simple data that its generating. Then we can actually take algorithms, AI, and analytics, and think about how we can create slight improvements over millions of transactions, and fundamentally create sustainable efficiencies across energy, computing, supply chain, crop yields etc. That just became again this daily wonderment of Echelon, we had roughly 5,000-6,000 partners worldwide all thinking about interesting use cases and ways to apply our technology that really inspired us to continue to add, whether it was more computing power, whether it was getting our firmware footprint smaller so we could get into smaller devices. It was an extraordinary adventure, and wonderful to see a lot of our applications come to life and add value.
So you took probably what was one of the most interesting use cases for that, and that is smart metering. Any low power wide area technology usually shoots the smart metering as one of the first applications, just because of the vast size of it. I think at the time you hit almost 40 million smart meters globally. What were some of the key challenges you faced deploying this first of a kind global network?
Well I think first of all it was cultural. We have to keep in mind that especially in Europe and the United States, really all over, the notion was that this energy, this electricity is just forever, plentiful, there was no bottom. The other thing is when we actually created electricity and built what is frankly still the modern grid, it was basically designed on a per household basis to maybe power a couple of lights, and that was about it. But then we’ve had an explosion of these computing devices at the home, of the air conditioners, the heaters, the refrigerators, multiple lights and all sorts of different screens in rooms; that, coupled with the fact that we do not have endless energy, and there are things that we can do just through shifting of how we’re using the load to create incentives, they use the load at different times basically to use more energy as opposed to wasting it.
So, from a smart meter perspective, we were able with Echelon’s technology to put not only a meter that could read your usage of electricity and transmit that, but more importantly create a load control device for the first chapters of demand response. The utility for the first time could create time of use pricing which would be incentives let’s say, like we talked about the power happy hour to do your laundry at 7 or 8 o’clock at night, as opposed to 5 or 6 o’clock during peak times. We talk about load control, we had done a white paper about staggering the tea-pots in England by a few microseconds during the hours of high teatime, we could cut the peak load of the grid by up to 12 to 13 percent, which is all efficiency and all good for the environment.
So, all those value propositions were there, and they were clear, but as I used to joke, how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Many audiences would guess four or five, and the answer is one, but the lightbulb has got to want to change! When you think about the utility industry, we’ve been doing things the same way for a lot of time, which is not to mean that it’s not a brilliant invention or not innovative, but sometimes to adopt new paths and business processes and technology takes time. But at Echelon, we went on a 15-year journey with smart metering, with creating it and deploying it, and getting the success stories out there, and using those success stories and outcomes, together with a lot of the regulatory incentives. Frankly, this new responsibility from a societal point of view to be efficient, and to realize that this energy is not going to last forever, and that we have to use what we have much more efficiently.
I think that was really a key part of me for this thing just called a smart meter, and all the different applications that we could create on that in terms of analytics, load control, and gateways to water meters and the gas meters, it was again like a kid in the candy store coming in and innovating every day, and thinking about what great outcomes we could generate for the end customer even if small. We always used to think that small things multiplied by a billion can grow into big things, and quite frankly I think that’s the way we have to look at IoT, and industry 4.0 is that if we can really get these applications out there, and just start to think about the scale of millions and billions of little pieces of efficiency or automation over the course of days, weeks, months and years, we can do some good. So, starting small and scaling fast can lead to great and wonderful things.
We’re probably going to title this podcast, stealing a term that Expeto is using called ‘Nextworking’, which I think is great, an absolute wonderful term, and it pretty much describes almost your trajectory in terms of each step along the way you’ve driven the next generation of networking. Many times, there’s a back story toward our podcasts, so in full transparency to our listening audience, Momenta Ventures is an early investor in Expeto, so we are thrilled to have Michael leading Expeto as of October last year. Michael, what led you to Expeto, and maybe you could provide a little background on what they do, and some of the use key cases and solutions you’re providing in that space.
What led me to Expeto is, we’re kind of at this nexus of what I would call… I’m going to call it 5G I guess as a label, in that together with IoT and cloud computing, we’re bringing together the essential ingredients to enable the digital transformation of society. Whilst these technologies are plentiful, you can go find vendors, we are seeing competition and innovation that is driving what I would say the prices to be affordable. But it’s still fairly difficult when you think about wireless connectivity, you think about data and you think about just stitching these things together into applications. Frankly the enterprise, the business where we can see a lot of wonderful outcomes that are going to be very meaningful for those businesses, the consumers and the businesses that they interact with every day, there is potentially a high cost of integration. There’s the human capital that you have to bring together, and then frankly both the capital expenditures and ongoing OPEX are implementing and running those new digital strategies.
So, when you think about Expeto and we think about Nextworking, we have this vision, and again back to this daily mission of trying to make it really-really simple and affordable, yet secure and scalable, for these businesses to be able to roll out their IoT applications, which is again that combination of connectivity and leveraging these cloud and edge resources to be able to extract and compute this data, and frankly to take real-time action.
And whilst we’re very respectful of both the public carriers that have built these wonderful and vast ubiquitous wireless networks, as well as the ability now to deploy private LTE networks, and CBRS networks, and in Europe the 450 MHz networks, we really wanted to create an infrastructure that allowed a business frankly to take all of these networks that they had available to them, and integrate them into a single seamless network. Using some really special technology where we have containerized a lot of the core what I would say network control functions, and routing and QS functions, such that we basically stitch these things together and provide the end customer a control panel, or as some people like to say, that single cockpit or pane of glass, where that network appears as if it’s just a single network, and they can actually extend their own existing IT network, IP addresses, security etc., to be able to deploy devices, and frankly configure them later using our technology.
So, whilst perhaps it’s a little bit simplistic if you think about sending an IoT device across town to your factory, or from Detroit to Sydney or Beijing, for the end customer using the Expeto Nextworking platform, they can be up in hours and deploy devices as quickly as FedEx will enable them, and because it’s an extension of their network with their IP address they end up with that data path control, such that they can leverage those distributed edge and computing assets from Azure, Amazon, Google and private clouds, to be able to very easily interrogate and collect this wonderful data that these IoT sensors are grabbing, and to apply these modern AI and analytics tools to take action, and make things better.
That’s our application and it’s wonderful, modern, simple, and its elegant. We’re seeing our customers deploy healthcare applications, in terms of modern triage we’re seeing companies deploy compressor panels as a service, autonomous vehicles that are easily going between public and private networks, but because of our technologies its seamless. We’re away from multiple SIM cards, multiple interfaces, and having multiple carry relationships to just a single relationship with Expeto, so the business can focus on what’s most meaningful to them, and that’s driving business outcomes with our Nextworking platform.
All very powerful features. What originally attracted us to the company was secure communications, things like an oil field, or oil and gas pipeline monitoring as an example. We have very strong early use cases around highly secure applications, so beyond the ease of use you’ve talked about, and certainly the heterogeneity if you will of networking that security is a strong piece as well. You called this an Enterprise First service framework, say a little bit more about that and let’s talk about some of the more industrial use cases that you’re working on as well.
Absolutely. Well today when we think about how we might leverage a public network carrier for, let’s say our IoT connectivity, we typically are approaching them, we’re getting a SIM card, and we’re getting a portal to be able to activate that SIM card. But it really is almost like launching a boat from the harbor; we get our SIM card, we put it in our device, and we’re hoping for that carrier captain we’re doing business with to pick the right path, and to take that device where it needs to go, and frankly to bring us back information.
But when you think about an enterprise, especially in the case of Industry 4.0 or IoT, these are not hobbies, these are mission critical devices like you said Ken, this could be a compressor, this could be a pressure sensor on a pipeline, this is where if things go wrong it can have dire business consequences, could have safety consequences. On the positive side we really need for things to go right. So, if you’re an enterprise, and we talk about Enterprise First, you want to have real-time visibility to these sensors, to the conditions to the data, and quite frankly you don’t want to play ‘trust me’ on security, you want to be able to deploy your own end-to-end security as if these devices were within your corporate IT network. Because again, seconds matter, milliseconds matter, and these are mission critical applications where outcomes can really make the difference, in terms of the health and safety of your employees, as well as the success of your day-to-day business operations.
So, with Enterprise First our single pane of glass is an absolute real-time picture into these networks of IoT devices, where the enterprise has the ability to see status, they have the ability to create additional network slices now. If you can imagine with these IoT devices and all the firmware upgrades, which is wonderful for new features, but the frequency of those is great because these are new devices, but as a business I don’t want to just blindly put firmware upgrades out there into production. You can create a slice right within that single seamless piece of bandwidth that you’re using globally, to be able to apply firmware upgrades, to be able to test end-to-end, to be able to ensure that security is sacrosanct before you’re deploying those back into production.
You can decide, let’s say to prioritize quality of service on certain segments of the network, for those mission critical applications. Perhaps if you see a security breach you have the opportunity to move devices into a quarantine slice, to ensure that nothing else gets infected. So, it really us about having your hands on the instruments in a real-time view globally to what’s going on, that’s what we mean by Enterprise First.
Excellent. So, what does the future hold for Expeto? You’ve had almost a year there, where do you see things trending towards?
Well, where we’re really trending is, quite frankly we’re very focused in the energy and industrial verticals, and we’re continuing to see just absolutely wonderful use cases and outcomes that really is driving a lot of growth. And despite the headwinds that this COVID pandemic has caused in the energy industry, it really has let’s say both affirmed and created a new urgency if you will, for more and more automation, for more efficiency getting some of those challenges. And quite frankly with a sector of our economy that is very used to deploying capital and let’s say high OPEX, the facts that Expeto can come in and help them very quickly and efficiently without CAPEX and very predictable OPEX, start to deploy these things is very good.
We’re continuing to see a lot of wonderful applications in industrial factory automation, surveillance down to yields within the manufacturing process, automated inventory management with robotics applications. We’re actually from a computing point of view able to drop in on an edge box, and a client can have a CBRS network up and running within hours in a factory, and then they start to have that ubiquitous fast highly propagated bandwidth that they need.
The other thing we’re starting to see Ken, is really a lot of needed healthcare applications. I think that this COVID pandemic has really created a new urgency to think about people and how we protect them, but also that really do not deter the quality of care. So we’ve actually just become a part of this wonderful application we’ll announce in a few weeks, where Expeto is enabling secure channels of connectivity, not only for the robots themselves, but actually sub-net channels for each patient for an application where the robot is doing initial triage of a patient, to protect healthcare workers from potential infections, and obviously that spreading.
So, where we’re going is, I think in the word of Will Rogers, we never met an IoT application or the potential of a digital transformation that we didn’t like, because we’re so simple and fast, yet secure and reliable. We have the ability to think of ourselves as digital fuel, or Industry 4.0 fuel that we can very easily get to businesses to help them quickly deploy and sustain a lot of valuable outcomes. So, we’re just going to continue to work with our partners globally that are in various sectors, to get Expeto Nextworking in the hands of businesses, and to make sure that their customer experience from the very time they touch the application, through to deployment and operation is absolutely fabulous. Then just continue to merchandise and sound these wonderful success stories from the mountaintops, so that we can hopefully just be a small bit of help as we look to make things more efficient, more automated, to create better experiences for all those people consuming all of these things around the world.
Excellent. I love that Industry 4.0 fuel, or we like to call it digital industry fuel.
In closing we always have two questions we like to ask, any startups beyond Expeto of course, that you would say are the ones to watch in this space?
Again, it’s such a great time to be alive, there’s so much technology. But as you said at the beginning, I’m an outdoors person, I just love the outdoors, the ocean, the lakes, the green, I’m all about technologies that really can help preserve that for my children, their children, and generations to come. There’s some hydrogen fuel and storage startups that I think are just wonderful, if you think about how much carbon or pollution a lot of the diesel engines cause, whether they be railway or large marine vessels, I think the Golden Gate zero emission business of Oakland is just doing some wonderful things, as we think about hydrogen fueled marine vessels on the oceans innovate, which is a spin-out of Stanford that’s doing some wonderful hydrogen storage technology.
I also think that the quantum computing realm, the ability for us let’s say in a positive way, to use computing technology to find that shortest or that better path first, to start to really process this data, whether it be healthcare for finding a cure, just better ways. There’s Zapata, and Xanadu, and lots of neat wonderful companies that are doing dare to be great, doing some great automation. I also think healthcare, AI, I think some of the imaging technology from some settle medicine and AI chronic; if you think about assisting these radiologists able to find things much faster so we can save lives, and improve quality of life, as well as some of the early catches of these chronic conditions so we can apply what I would say proactive medicines to save people from getting into chronic conditions, and can have a cordial life without expensive healthcare. That’s all wonderful stuff to me, obviously all powered by Expeto, but any companies I like, yeah.
It goes without out saying! So, final question, what inspires you in terms of books, resources, etc. you’d like to share with our listening audience?
Well, it’s interesting, we do this technical stuff all day and everybody has to have their vices, but I actually love to sit down with a great spy novel, John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I re-read. The Hemingway’s, the Barnegat’s, I think the thinks that kind of make you laugh and get you kind of relaxed are kind of my candy if you will, and all the wonderful music. From the past that fun French music, we watched an outdoor movie at the house called Midnight in Paris, I love some of that 1920’s-30’s kind of music. I guess I’m disappointing that I’m not reading the latest and greatest human Genome technologies etc., but I’m a sucker for the classics.
And it’s good to have balance my friend, and you certainly are the Renaissance man in terms of all the work you’ve done.
This has been Michael Anderson, CEO of Expeto, and if I may, Mr. Nextworking, if you will. It’s been a real pleasure Michael having you on our digital leadership podcast series today.
I thank you Ken and thanks Momenta. I shall wear your new label with pride, and I’ll send you perhaps Nextworking’s new t-shirt here, quickly.
I love it. Well, thank you very much Michael, and thank you all listening audience for joining us today.