In this episode, Dominic speaks with Daniel Neal, the Chairman, CEO and Founder of Kajeet. The company was started in 2003 to provide safe cell phones for kids – and now, almost two decades later, Kajeet is serving a vast array of industries with fully managed IoT connectivity solutions. In this conversation, Daniel shares his career and experiences that led him to start Kajeet, as well as his industry perspectives and insights on what’s to come in wireless technology and IoT innovation.
Dominic Marcellino: Hello and welcome to the first episode of, But Did It Work?.. It’s the ‘but did it work’ podcast. I’m your host, Dominic Marcellino, I’m the Director of Strategy at Kajeet, a managed IoT connectivity provider working to enable connections for good. On this podcast, we showcase stories of IoT creativity and success. This week on the podcast, we have a very special guest, the CEO and Chairman of Kajeet where I work, and he’s the founder, Daniel Neal. Daniel Neal is the founder and chairman of Kajeet, and he’s considered an innovator and forward thinking leader, he was named… He’s been named the innovator on 36… Is it 36 patents, Daniel? Or is it even more than that?
DM: Yeah 36 patents in wireless technologies and systems. Before launching Kajeet, he served as the CEO and Vice Chairman of VCampus Corporation, and he was part of the team that built the… Is it the USInternetworking or U.S.Internetworking?
Daniel Neal: U.S.Internetworking.
DM: U.S.Internetworking where he conceived, launched and led the company’s app post division. U.S.Internetworking, had a successful IPO and was subsequently acquired by AT&T. Before that, he forged international commercial relationships with telecom carriers in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East for the delivery of advanced communications and pioneering Internet technologies. So Daniel, thanks for joining me today. Welcome to the very first iteration of, But Did It Work? I appreciate you making time to chat with me today.
DN: Hi Dominic. Thanks, delighted to be here and looking forward to the conversation today.
DM: Awesome. So I did the obligatory introduction of a person, which is always kind of an odd thing to hear, but… In your own words, tell me a little bit about yourself and what did you do before Kajeet?
DN: Well, I think people characterize themselves in different ways. I think of myself as an entrepreneur, I’ve been involved in a number of technology starts, not all of which were successful, and I like… Consider myself a business person. But other couple of components that might be of interest, number one, I spend a little bit of time in finance, working at a bank, and I love that background because it gave me an insight into the world of credit and how the financial system works, and maybe even more importantly, I spent 11 years in public service, half of which I spent working for a city government and half for the US Federal Government, and I’m a great believer in public service, even though I consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool business person, an entrepreneur, and all that, I think doing service in the public sector can really give you a bigger perspective on markets, how things work, and just has a great feeling to it. So that’s a little bit of extra added to what you said.
DM: Sure, absolutely. Do you think that that time in public service maybe informed kind of the ethos of Kajeet or is that kind of an interesting byproduct or accident of where things ended up?
DN: Well, it’s no coincidence that I have a bit of a public service gene in me, if you will, and that Kajeet has a real mission at its core, that it started with a huge mission to get technology right for a certain important segment of our society. It’s not a coincidence. And so I do think businesses can be in service to the greater good, as well as governments, be they small or large.
DM: Sure, yeah. I’m always interested in how kind of things get started, so I have… I think I have a version of the origin story of Kajeet, and I think I have the origin of the name right, but I’m intrigued, tell us… Tell me a little bit about the founding team and what it was, the specific kernel that actually got you started on the journey, that is Kajeet.
DN: Well the twinkle in my eye occurred when I was working in Israel in 1997, I worked for Global One communications a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom and Sprint. And I had come from Sprint to do that, and I was really fortunate to have some fantastic colleagues there, and we were launching international services for a new carrier in Israel, and I came across what I would say was the world’s first kiddy phone. It was called the Mango and a company that is there today, Pelephone launched it. What was remarkable about it was, it was very simple, it was a GSM phone with four buttons, one for mom, dad, baby sitter, and the Israeli equivalent of 911, and when I saw that Dominic, I had three reactions, Number one, some day that’s gonna be a super computer number two, every kid’s gonna have one someday, and three, there doesn’t exist any company out on the globe that can handle those first two things, and there needed to be one.
DN: And that was the germ that got me thinking about the company and time went on and I kept… I went off and did other things. I helped launch U.S.Internetworking, as you mentioned, and that was an exciting zero to, zero to 120 mile an hour story, went IPO. Then I was recruited to run in one of the early e-learning pioneers, VCampus, V for virtual, Which was public at the time, and all very exciting, and all the time I kept scanning the rise and waiting for this new company to appear and solve those challenges that I foresaw, and it didn’t happen and I kept thinking, ‘Well, someone’s gotta do it. Someone’s gotta do it,’ and I did it. I finally decided, if no one else is gonna do this, I’m going to do it. So that’s where it started. And I quit and I talked to my wife, quit my job, spent a couple of years without any income, and met some great people built a team and focused and did a lot of research, and that’s really the very germ of the company right there.
DM: So that’s awesome and certainly that kind of mirrors my own experience the journey that led me to wireless was also, in startups was one that I had had years before it actually happened. And I was sort of being prepared to take advantage of the moment is, when it occurs is one of those preparation moments that you actually have some control over, is knowing that if the opportunity is there I’d be ready to take it or when time is right and sometimes you don’t even know that time’s right you can do that. The story of the name of Kajeet has been told to me but not by one of the people who actually started the company, the story I heard and so to make this better is that you and Ben and I don’t even know the name of the third co-founder had six kids at the time, and it was the first initial of the six kids is that is that actually accurate or what’s the story?
DN: Yeah, it’s close to… It’s an anagram of the first letters of the first names of the founders kids and…
DN: And the way it came about when I started the company and incorporated it was called Integrated Mobile Inc, and the concept was to integrate technology into the lives of people and families in a good, positive way.
DN: And we were literally… We weren’t the first Kiddy phone company as Pelephone launched their Mango, but we were the first company to launch a cell phone with parental controls that a parent could come in by the Internet or an other means and manage what a child could do with their mobile super computer, if you will.
DM: Right, that’s right.
DN: But we had a bunch of kids and I sat down in my computer and wrote their names down and took the names and started making anagrams and cooking up other ideas for, well Integrated Mobile Inc is not all that catchy.
DN: And I’ll never forget as I just sat there literally at an Excel spreadsheet trying out different words and having another screen open where I Google them to see if anyone is already using it.
DM: Of course.
DN: And Kajeet was one of my names and enter that and hey nobody… I got a zero Google search result.
DM: Right [chuckle]
DN: So grab that domain and kind of the rest is history, but yes it was really all about the children. One of the concepts behind the founding was to make great mobile services for kids and all those who love them, and I said that we began with cell phones. And when we did that I knew children, it’s interesting in the United States they’re about 55 million school kids and they’re the only segment or demographic if you will, a marketing speak of the US population that has to by law spend a good portion of their time together based on school requirements and truancy laws.
DN: And that’s a really interesting market to serve, it has a lot of complexity and some simplicity. And I knew because it was kids we focused originally as a tween wireless service kind of 8 to 14 which was controversial when I started by the way.
DM: I’m sure.
DN: I’ll tell you more about that, but the idea was I knew that it would take us into education because that’s where kids spend a huge amount of their time.
DM: Right, absolutely. So the vision that you had when we you first ran across the Kiddy phone in Israel eventually led to the starting of the company, and you had a name for it and you got started, right?
DM: Talk a little bit about the early days where both successes and challenges and what you learn in the first couple of years that continues to inform how the company operates.
DN: Well, it really was started at my dining room table, it is true that that’s where I sat down and began the research.
DN: And a lot of research went into it before I thought we had a story to tell. I mentioned that there was a little bit controversial about it, when I first started the company and my friends and neighbors would say, “So what are you up to?” “Starting a new company.” “Oh, what does it do?” And I would say well it has to do with cell phones with parental controls, “Cell phones for who?” “For kids.” And they looked at me like I was crazy.
DN: And thought, so this would have been in 2002, 2003 wishing 20 years ago.
DM: That’s right.
DN: And at that time many people thought that was just not a good thing and from our perspective here in late 2021 there are pros and cons, there’s no doubt about it, there are certain things and there are challenging things I’m super aware of that. But this idea when I started was mostly about learning the landscape in terms of consumer needs but also melding technologies, wireless networks plus cloud and software how, that in effect is the mash-up of technologies at the core of Kajeet in a technological sense.
DM: Right, that’s right.
DN: So you’ve got a Cloud software and wireless networks of various types and spectrums and sorts. And getting that right to serve those consumer needs took a lot of figuring out what’s this product, what’s the service going to look like and then convincing other people that this was big, this was… Nobody was doing this.
DN: There was a worthy problem to solve, a very big market and a growing team of some terrific people, and then I went out and after having put a… Some of my own money into the original start and a lot of sweat equity, as they say.
DN: Then we raised a very sizeable A round in January of 20… Of, what was it? 2006.
DN: That was the A round yeah, and we raised $27 million and off to the races with that.
DM: There you go, there you go absolutely. I’m sure then, because the company has been through, not a few iterations but there’s been growth of products and focus, obviously this focus that continues to this day around security, making wireless connectivity plus cloud computing, something that can be leveraged for businesses, for healthcare, for education still to this day. How that gets delivered has changed for the company and working through that, and especially those changes. How do you and the team evaluate moments where what you’re doing maybe doesn’t have specifically what you’re doing, not the underlying mission but what we’re doing in terms of product or business line has a shelf life that’s becoming clearer and clearer that is ending. And you need to go do something else, how do you think about pivots when you think of your company?
DN: Yes, when we started the buzzword was parental controls and that’s still a powerful… That word is a big set of meanings to many companies, Facebook included.
DM: Sure that’s right.
DN: Pretty topical thing right now we can talk about that, but I see it very differently the word control was quite loaded. So the way I think about this and it has allowed us to pivot, expand, do new things and add new value and you open the program, Dominic, with how do we use technology for good, how does Kajeet do that with wireless networks and Cloud software in our products and services. And when I think about that loaded term parental controls, really what I’m thinking about is a thoughtful structure of management, focus, security, purpose and the word thoughtful keeps coming back. And there are many use cases in the world children with a very powerful smartphone that’s one kind of use case.
DN: A child who has a Chromebook who needs to do their homework because if they didn’t have it they otherwise couldn’t reach the Internet component of their homework, that’s another use case. People using it for telehealth, people using, the it being wireless devices, networks and software for the purpose of say telehealth or getting well or consulting their doctor. For mobile workers that are focused on a very particular task out in the field and using that to save time, money and really deliver on their promise to their customers. So you always come back to yeah there’s this original gem of parental controls, but it’s this thoughtful management arrangement. Which includes by the way information and analysis and insights, actual insights into what’s going on with the solution so that’s how… That thought process has enabled us to pivot and really not so much pivot as expand.
DM: Sure, understood. Yeah, I know that makes a lot of sense. You’ve been… You told me and you have been, you got a bunch of different jobs you’ve had… You worked for different organizations, you did public service, you’ve worked for a company that went from zero to IPO and then joined a large already established company and now you’ve built Kajeet over the last… Is it almost… It’s gonna be 18 years at some point this year, is that right or is it 17.
DN: That was incorporated in ’03 so this will be our…
DM: Yeah ’03 so… At 18 it is.
DN: Yeah, October 17th.
DM: Okay well it’s coming right out. How do you think about company culture and to what extent does that flow from the founding concept and the orientation of the company, and how do you try to influence that over time to maintain some semblance of the culture that you wanna have?
DN: I try very hard, Dominic, to be a student of that.
DN: I’m a big believer in it I believe, I think it was Peter Drucker said company culture eats strategy for breakfast.
DN: Strategy is important and culture is kind of everything and this may sound corny, forgive me for it but it comes from how you’re raised, right. My parents were fantastic and I admire the kinds of values they instilled in me to respect everybody and to put the ideas and solving problems ahead of everything else, and I think I’m more attracted to people who think in that way right all people can contribute.
DN: Work is sacred, we have common challenges to meet together and be on a team. It also helped that I grew up as a pretty serious competitive soccer player, playing as a little kid all the way up through Division 3 in college and I was very serious. So team sports plus my parents really sort of laid a bedrock, and I am sometimes painfully aware that founders have to live it, exemplify it and while I have my fail, my many failings I work really hard to be that either people I try to model myself after.
DN: And I have seen others that look to me to led the right way in our culture, and I think that that builds on others, other people in our company are really astounding leaders with terrific contributions to a culture of respect, integrity, thoughtfulness. I think that’s a really… Because thoughtfulness means people are thinking empathetically, I believe about others and a problem they’re solving, so that’s a little bit of where that comes from but…
DM: Yeah, absolutely.
DN: From soccer and USA.
DM: Absolutely, no that’s great. And I’ve seen a bunch of different cultures in the jobs that I’ve had and it does really matter, it also helps to inform who you add to the team because you can immediately see a bad fit and that’s part of just simply the hiring process is try to be sure that you’re getting at those culture questions. I’m gonna ask you one more question I have something I wanna go back to.
DM: In a second and then we’ll kind of forge ahead, but let’s talk a little bit about growing a company.
DM: And it’s a different challenging than managing an already established one. You’ve done it sounds like at least twice now and I’m curious what lessons you would pass on to somebody that’s growing a brand new business unit or thinking about starting a company, let’s say you get to the point where you’re actually successful because that’s hard enough growth then becomes a very different challenge. What have you learned in that? Now, seeing that a couple of times and how do you think about that?
DN: A couple of thoughts. One, many people talk about taking risks, and I think it’s important to qualify that with thoughtful calculated risks. That’s the first thing that, yes, growth requires us to take risks, and those risks have to be calculated, thought about. They’re not just wild, crazy, over-the-moon. Yes, there are a few exceptions out there, and there are to every rule. But in the normal world, I think that’s a fair way to think about it. The other thing is, it’s really easy to do some research, in general, I would say, about a market, or a need, or a new product, or something. And generalizations are frankly very easy. What’s really difficult, is the particulars, like finding a very specific customer, who has a very specific pain or problem, that you believe you can solve for that specific customer. And so, once you find that, and grab on to it, and that’s how, for example. We have a very sizable business, serving school districts all across America with connectivity services for kids, so they can do their homework, right? SmartSpot, SmartBus. That began not as a general, “Oh, here’s a general problem we can solve”, but with very specific customers, and the building of a very specific solution that wasn’t fully baked, but it worked. And I’ll tell you one fun story about that, a little later maybe.
DM: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, yeah. No, that would be great, ’cause I do have a specific question around that. We can get back to it. The thing that came to mind, in what you’d said about your career, that I wanted to just ask you about is, and I hear this a lot from people that have a similar trajectory to you. And maybe even in my own life, I’ve seen this. What have you learned from the things that didn’t work out? Because it’s easy to talk about the successes in the sense that, yeah, we’re all proud of the things that worked out. But maybe the things we learned the most from, are the things that don’t quite go the way we’d anticipated. Any particular story germane for the Kajeet journey, or sort of how you became who you are?
DN: I’d say, one thing I heard. I used to work under a, in a prior job, under a guy who’d been a marine cornel in his career. And he had a perspective on it, which is, we’re in the world of business, or in that case, it was more, almost purely telecom. And he’d say, “Look, we’re gonna try this, take this risk, and no one’s going to die”. That’s a sobering thought, because a lot of people have jobs, and make contributions where they put it all at risk, or lots more than we do as technologists, and problem solvers, and business people. And I think, if you have a healthy, larger perspective about the world and the many things people do in it that, it gives you a sense that our failures in a business or in a technology sense, and I’ve had my full share of those, I’ve had many of them. The risk, you did the thoughtful calculated risk, and it didn’t work, and you got a chance to try again. In all things in perspective, and that perspective helps me to take those risks.
DM: Yeah. Anything in particular that you’ve tried in terms of the calculated risks that didn’t work out? That you’re like, “Oh wow, the lesson really wasn’t that it didn’t work out”, but rather, “This is the thing that I will do differently next time”, because in retrospect, it’s kind of obvious that, the first time that I tried it, it didn’t work.
DN: Well, we did try. In 2012, we had a product called School Guard, and it was the notion of selling to parents a solution that, in effect, would link to have a school manage what their child could do with the device provided by the parent. And I’m not so sure it was a bad idea. The timing, I think it was probably more too early for the market, than it was a bad idea. I remember School Guard, and that really, we thought, “Oh, this is gonna be sliced bread”. And it got no traction, as they say. Interestingly though, at the same time, we were doing other solutions, and we were on the right track. We were considering how to address a new problem affecting these same kids, which we thought would leverage all that technology around what I’m putting under the umbrella of parental controls. Stop, filter it, understand it, analyze it, get information about it. Keep a kid focused or contained. Prevent security risks for kids, for example, in a way the parent wants them to do. And that took us, around about 2011, into the school district. And I have another product that contrast with that, that’s really taken off. But School Guard was a, it was not the timing. It’s just a good memory you’re bringing back here.
DM: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of things kind of going a little bit differently than you would have anticipated. Last year, things change for nearly everybody. Now at least for Kajeet as a company internally, but in terms of what Kajeet doing was the world. Talk to me a little bit about the experience of the ride that was last year, and how that’s playing out this year and beyond for Kajeet.
DN: 2020 was a bittersweet year for the company. Really tough in, all over the world, as we know. And I call it bittersweet, because obviously, nobody wants a pandemic, and pandemics… I’m a ‘glass is half full’ kind of guy. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re looking for the bright side. You’re choosing to be optimistic, you’re making that choice. So I’m looking for things, in hard times, that we can use to make things better. One of the things that got revealed during the pandemic, was a problem we’ve been working on, at that time, for about nine years. Which was, as the 55 million school kids in America, in grades K through 12, very specifically.
DN: Over the years, more and more educational material content things of value was being put on the Internet, and yet, as we entered the pandemic, about 15 million or so round numbers of K-12 kids did not have any connection to the Internet and more had a sub-optimal to put it mildly. And of the disproportionate number of them were kids, so minority kids, kids of color, and basically what I… Forgive me, I just grew up in the city and we call them poor kids. Poor kids do not have access, and this was increasingly disadvantaging them in the land of education and opportunity, and that wasn’t fair.
DN: So in 2010 or ’11, with really some big, big insights from one of our colleagues, Michael Flood who joined the company at that time, we built products to “close the homework gap” here’s how we’re gonna help the school connect you to your homework and do daily focus… Let them be the… Do the parental controls, don’t only be educational controls we need to make. And that business was very satisfying, solving a real need and problem, but it was not growing very fast, it was growing slowly. It didn’t make any money, and I think because many people couldn’t… They didn’t have the budget or they just thought they could solve it somewhere or some other way. And it was a really super niche product, and along comes the pandemic in March of 2020, kids are sent home from school, and now there’s no escaping the fact. You must confront the fact that there are kids without connectivity. So this was a boost… We had been doing this for many, many years. It was a core set of services. We really… We were the pioneers in this, and the bad was the bitter, there was of course, the pandemic and also the havoc it wreaked and etcetera.
DN: The good was, this problem was spotlit and a lot of demand, and so it really did boost the companies, the demand for our services, tested us, tested our people, our systems, our capabilities, and I’m proud to say the company rose to the challenge and we’re getting… More importantly, more emphasis is put on closing that homework gap today as a result.
DM: Yeah, definitely, and you’ve alluded to this earlier, it’s actually where we spend, of course, a lot of my time, but the homework gap then is replicated in a digital divide that extends well beyond education, and it’s where a lot of time, when I hear you speak, we talk about it a lot. How is that different, if it’s different at all from bridging educational homework gap at a fundamental level, or is this… The pandemic actually uncover several clefts in society where the same thing exists, where lack of access really to the life blood of healthcare, education, work, maybe even just social connection depends on having access to the Internet that doesn’t exist for certain people, is bridging that sort of part of the larger Kajeet vision over time.
DN: Absolutely. We care. I personally care a great deal about this thing that’s been named the digital divide, and from where I come in my experience, my perspective on life, my education, my upbringing, that’s just a small component of larger issues of social equity, and social justice. And I’m a great believer that everyone should have a fair shot and a fair start, that’s just simply not the case in our great country, and we have much work to do.
DN: I feel very privileged in many ways, and one of which is to be able to work with a team to take technology to work segments parts of that problem. And we get a lot of help. There are others working there with us, policy makers, our customers are really heroes in that regard. But yeah, this digital divide is pervasive, it’s a component, there are other divides. There’s healthcare, access to credit, there are many things, but because of where the chair I sit in as a technologist and our blending of wireless networks and Cloud software, and I think we’re pretty skillful at that and very thoughtful about it in service to our customers, this is a place we can make a difference. We can’t boil the ocean as they say, I’m just kidding. We can make this difference, and part of that as you’ve observed Dominic is extending… We started with K-12, and then we moved into libraries, we moved into higher education, community colleges, universities, ’cause there’s a digital divide there who knew, and then that moved us into telehealth and healthcare, people looking for work, people trying to do jobs that were disadvantaged because they didn’t have the tools or the capability and needed to get them from their company.
DN: It’s exciting and it’s early early days in terms of taking pretty well… Another characteristic of me is I like applying technology, I’m… We’re not a basic science company inventing the next quantum computer or fusion technology to solve the energy crisis, we are taking pretty well understood things being innovated, crafting them in a way to solve very specific problems of access and management which have huge implications, not only for equity, but also for exciting things like, “How about lowering the carbon footprint on society.”
DN: One of the great side benefits of the whole world of wireless, you’ve been in the wireless business a long time, and we understand that to remove these networks are so powerful, fewer trips are required, you’re not driving your car very much as much as you used to and so on and so forth.
DM: Yeah, I agree 100%. Thinking about the effects of the pandemic at a broader level beyond Kajeet, what do you see as the short and medium-term effects on how we work, how we live, you alluded to. Some of the side benefits, certainly they wouldn’t necessarily be considered a net positive from the pandemic, but there will be things that are different in a way that I will look back and say “That was good.” But what trends do you see and where might things go?
DN: Well, two thoughts, a couple of thoughts, one is a hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. Our lives will be partly in an office with real people or at a coffee shop, you can’t replace IRL, in-real-life and… And we can get a lot done very efficiently virtually as well, so hybrids, are one watchword. And I really think we under-appreciate and we have a lot to learn about how that can be helpful in terms of reducing carbon footprint, as many other things are done. Not a small thing today. In addition, I think we’re discovering more broadly some new things. I’ll give you a very specific example. I was talking to somebody earlier today about virtual learning and virtual classrooms and so on. And it was kind of discovered over 20 years ago, but it wasn’t widely understood that sometimes in certain situations where you’re doing learning online, the shy kid in the back of the class, can come to the front of the class and get more engaged.
DN: It’s a very interesting phenomenon we are beginning… That’s been studied quite a bit and we’re appreciating more, and it’s particularly in things like chat rooms or other arrangements where learning is occurring, teaching is happening, and kids have different… There are a lot of modalities of learning. Some kids really shine when they’re disintermediated, if you will, by some technology, they’re not for… Anxiety can be high in a middle school and not all of them wanna sit in the front row and say B2B you call on me. A lot are in the back there, and many of them can come to the fore in certain structured online learning environments, and it’s kind of an exciting phenomenon. That being said, we all have to be mindful of downsides, too much screen, unfettered access to various types of content, and we’re seeing that’s a really hotly discussed thing in our society today…
DN: Absolutely important. So this hybrid and blending… It’s like, as it has been said for thousands of years, all things in moderation but in a thoughtful way.
DM: Yeah. [chuckle] I always say, when I ever use that, I say, “All things in moderation except moderation.” You have to have that to the extreme. So just a few more questions. And in terms of being part of the journey that is Kajeet, what is the most rewarding aspect of what you do right now?
DN: When customers say thanks. A lot of our customers have their own customers, or their own students, or their own worker, the people they’re serving, and we’re privileged to serve them when they remark something about the company. I am known for pointing out that what customers say about Kajeet is possibly the most important thing for us to hear. And I’m particularly proud not just of our technology, but even more so, Dominic, our colleagues, the people I worked with together. And what they say is that we’re trusted easy and flexible. I hear that over and over again. And then I remind myself that that’s only as good as what we did yesterday. And I talked very directly about this, that each day that I get up and my colleagues get up, we know we have to earn that all over again. That reputation, you gotta earn it every day. It has no shelf life at all.
DM: Absolutely, yeah.
DN: I am very proud about that.
DM: A hundred percent. And it’s one of those things where it’s a variable, it’s sort of like a relationship, you don’t just get credit forever for having done one thing, you have to constantly be adding to it. You have to invest in it, and if you don’t think… Exactly, if you don’t then, all you’re doing is saying, “Well, remember when I did something nice.” And while that works, eventually it doesn’t.
DN: I can speak from experience at having been married 38 years now. What of nice things I did on my honeymoon, don’t count anymore.
DM: They don’t count. I believe it. So as the company has gone through its iterations, and now we are a managed IoT connectivity provider, really focused on the Internet of things, and you are helping… The team is guiding us through focusing on new products, new business lines, thinking about the future. What would you say, not tomorrow, but maybe the day after tomorrow, what’s the biggest nut to crack? You saw that there was a nut to crack way back when, for providing parental controls for access to at least telephony, if not the Internet for kids, but something else is coming that’s kind of like that. And we may be working on it, we might not be, but what do you see as kind of the one thing to do?
DN: I’m gonna say two things, listen really closely and move swiftly. Listen closely and move swiftly, and I’m gonna give you an example of that. Once a very large US school district that we were doing a little work with, called us up and said, “Hey, our superintendent wants to put WiFi on school buses. Do you do that?” And one of our crazy employees said, “Oh yes, we do that.” Well, we could do that. We knew we could do that. We had maybe done something a little similar to that, but we were a little bit pioneering. Yes. Look, well, it was a little bit more like, “Yes, we’ll do that for you.” As opposed to, “Oh, we’ve done that many times” ‘Cause we really hadn’t done that many times. So then we said, “Well, great. Well, when do they want it,” “Well, our superintendent wants to do a press conference to show this new thing off, we’re gonna put WiFi on the school bus.” “Oh well, when is the press conference?” “But it’s in eight days.”
DN: One of our colleagues, I won’t use his name right here, goes out, he buys a router connect it to our platform called Sentinel. Literally sticks it in his mother’s car, and starts testing, and starts tweaking and shaping, and innovating, and just taking a set of services and products we had. And just re-angling it at about 30 degrees in a different direction and sure enough, three days later, that very high flying, the important superintendent of a very large US school district gave his press conference, and had education broadband, SmartBus, on his bus to show off in eight days.
DM: That’s amazing, that’s amazing.
DN: We listened. And in their case, by the way, Dan, in that their case, yeah we were listening, but they did call us, but we heard them and we moved swiftly. And as a result, today, I think we have over… I don’t know, 14,000 yellow school buses with… Really with education broadband on those school buses and only about 48,0000 to go.
DM: Exactly. Plenty more service…
DN: Plenty more to do.
DM: Absolutely. If you were to give advice to somebody that is starting out, either they’re in a company that they’ve been assigned to create a new business from scratch, which I know actually is what happens quite a bit, or they happen to be somebody that would be following in your footsteps and thinking really specifically about the Internet of Things at writ large, what advice would you give to that business leader or that entrepreneur who’s thinking about getting started?
DN: Understand the problem you’re solving, very well, have a really strong, clear, clear, clear view of the problem you’re solving. The pain, the pain you’re going to alleviate for who you expect your customers to be, and to do it with a good team. And good team means people who love your sport, it’s the same as a soccer team, do they love the sport? Do they care, does it feel… Are they having fun? That’s the team you wanna be on, because you’re just a part of a… Founders are just a part of a team, and I underscore the just… It’s really about that team, so those are the two main things. Understand the problem, have build, but really, do it with people that you share a lot in common with in terms of caring, enjoying. And it being relevant.
DM: Absolutely. We talked several times through this conversation about the high level of things that Kajeet delivers as solutions to customers, we have to be really good at that in order to be able to work with them. What’s something that, behind the scenes, that Kajeet is really, really good at that you wouldn’t have expected was required for us to be successful in delivering those products.
DN: Yeah, we’re really good at integrating a lot of complex systems, like the invisible plumbing of the technology is not easy, really big companies, very large Fortune 50 companies have come to Kajeet for assistance, if you will, and in help in knitting together lots of complex systems. That’s one and the other one is, it’s summed up in one word, but the word doesn’t do it justice, it’s called logistics, and in our world, you know this really well, that solutions in the land of Internet of Things, whether it’s for students or mobile workers or vehicles and fleets, or telehealth solutions or monitoring devices, all of that typically has four components of device, some kind of thing, it could be… It may or may not have a screen, the networks, the software and in the Cloud, we’ve got all those things, and then the fourth is people knit it together, and it is the logistic is touching the device, putting it together, getting it where it needs to be making sure it’s working all the… Forgive me, the prosaic. Sounds prosaic, but it requires… To do that in the right scale to do it well, requires the people, and I’m very proud of this too, we’re really good at that we don’t just leave, “Here’s the technology, good luck.”
DM: That’s right. That’s right.
DN: “Enjoy running that yourself.” It’s gonna need some tender love and care here and there, we bring to bare like making sure that the devices that are connected are managed, that are delivering lots of value, solving that problem, get their, work. If and when they break or don’t, getting fixed. Managing this physical component of this Internet of, emphasis on things.
DN: So a lot things to manage and logistics is a big umbrella for what were people… We’re really good at behind the scenes.
DM: 100%. And I couldn’t agree more, and I actually really love the example, a former boss would say that, you can’t forget the things and in the Internet of Things, many people like to launch companies in that platform space, so just give me the data and I can help you do this, but if you forget the things, it doesn’t work, and if you don’t have the people too to manage it, to deliver it, to get it in-house, to do reverse logistics, to manage supply chains, to install it, to help with somebody who’s working with it, none of this works. It certainly all falls apart and you’re right. We do have that in speeds. I have one more question and then I’ll let you close with anything that you’d like to share. It doesn’t have to be the only moment, but when was a moment, poignantly, as you look back, when you now realized Kajeet was really going to make it… Tell me about that event.
DN: My answer is, from the very beginning, and I say that in this following sense, I’m a rational guy, and I understand probabilities, and I know that many startups fail, these are rational facts, and that probability of success increases the longer you survive. I get all that. What I want to say here is that, is you have a choice of the attitude and the mindset you adopt, this is a true… It’s a conscious choice, and I have from the very beginning, always consciously chosen knowing all the while that probabilities are low. Yeah, they might have gotten higher over time, and when we got that first funding round around probability of success was higher, but it still wasn’t that high, but it’s more important to focus on the things you choose to focus on and choose to… I don’t wanna say choose to believe, but the attitude you choose to adopt with yourself as much as with others.
DN: So Dominic, I have always believed, I’ve chosen to adopt the attitude that this will succeed and to me, that makes all the difference. And as components or aspects or trials or attempts or new things, this one worked, that one didn’t, that thing functioned, that one broke, that’s all in a day’s… That’s just the quotidian reality of building any kind of company, no matter what it is, so I’m gonna take the… I’m gonna take the stance here that always, it was a conscious choice. In the face of the reality, I know that the probabilities change over time.
DN: And, and and and, one last thing that even today, there are risks ahead, things… I was afraid, for example, when the pandemic hit us like many companies, that bad things would happen in capital markets, things might ease use up, customers might stop buying… Bills wouldn’t get paid. People would be… Goodness so I was afraid for people’s health, especially in the early days. What if our workers are suffering from health issues and worse. Right? All that went through my mind and of course you react with a choice to believe you will succeed and that has happened from the moment I decided to start Kajeet.
DM: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. I actually thought of a couple of things since we’re doing this the first time that I wanted to ask you, and then you can close with whatever you’d like. So what’s the most influential book that you’ve read in the last six months?
DN: I’ve read The Odyssey, I reread The Odyssey…
DM: But which translation?
DN: Fagles translation. I don’t know if it’s the best one, I need to dip into that a little more. But here is the wanderer, the guy Odysseus who wanders around, he has a team, he has a crew, he loses his crew…
DM: That’s right.
DN: Things go from… He encounters many obstacles all to find his way back home after really, the Trojan War, of course.
DM: That’s right.
DN: And all the trials, tribulations and kind of the… It was influential… You said the last six months so…
DN: So many influential books in my life, I have many of them.
DM: Sure, right.
DN: Speaking specifically, this is the attitudes that were adopted. Be clever, be positive, a little bit of the old term shuck and jive…
DN: Or just adapt, find a way, be persistent, don’t give up, focus on the goal. I’m afraid I eschew the bloody end of that book, that won’t happen in my life, but…
DM: It’s extremely bloody. That’s for sure.
DN: Yeah, it’s extremely… Well, it was a Greek story so…
DM: A hundred percent, a hundred percent. A different time, for sure. If you watch TV, what’s the… Are you watching anything right now that you’d recommend?
DN: Let’s see on the tech front, I finished it a while ago but I did watch Halt and Catch Fire, which was about startups, technology, early days of PCs and computing, and early days of connected things.
DN: It’s a segment for super geeks. They’re gonna say to me, “Oh, it started long before that.” I understand, it started long… We’ll go back to Alexander Graham Bell for that maybe, or Edison. But for this segment, I thought that was really fun for people who like business entrepreneurial stuff, technology people, that was… Halt and Catch Fire was kind of fun for business people.
DM: I got it. If you could spend a day in the mountains or on the beach, which would you do?
DN: Oh, beach probably, beaches.
DM: Yeah, yeah. What’s your favorite place to visit that’s not in the United States that you would go back to next?
DN: Spain generally, and the area of the coast at and outside of Catalonia and Barcelona and all of that.
DM: If you were not allowed to have pursued the careers that you did, what would you have done instead?
DN: Something academic, probably in physics.
DM: Yeah. Okay, alright. Any last words for listeners or for our team?
DN: Well, for our team, wow, there’s no end of how I’m impressed by our team and grateful for what they show and teach me. And I’m privileged to work with the other founder, Ben Weintraub. And Ben and I work really… We try very hard to encourage leadership throughout the company because it’s a very dynamic world.
DN: One day you’re a leader, one day you’re a follower. You’re at the back of the pack or… We’re all as a team moving across a landscape of markets and technology, and our real boss, the boss of us is the market.
DN: And in the market, more granularly, are our customers, real people with real needs and problems. And we work for them, we all do as a team. Knowing that then, being fortunate to work with other good team players, that’s to me how one gets through life in the day, if you will. And one other thought for you, and that is there are many… I’m particularly grateful to be in our industry, there are many industries that are in transition, they’re important, and they’re struggling with other… I particularly wanna bring up global climate change right.
DN: I think we’re in a more than not, it’s not perfect, but more than not in a realm of technology and solutions that can be a component, just some component of solutions in that bigger planetary existential regard…
DN: Than just… I’m really happy that we can say, “Wow, what can we do to make this more efficient and have less fewer trips, fewer car trips, and make it look more energy efficient?” That’s really satisfying.
DM: Absolutely. Well, thanks a lot Daniel. I appreciate you joining me today to talk about, But Did It Work? And I will have to have you back eventually once I really get this going. But thanks a lot for your time today.
DN: Thank you, Dominic. It’s a delight and I appreciate you spending time with me.