By Eric Peterson | Jun 14, 2021
Remote camera systems
A self-described "startup junkie," Gaw's career has been defined by the Internet of Things (IoT) for about 30 years.
"I've been involved in what people call IoT for a long time, through the prior iterations of the name, which older people might still know: It was first called telemetry, then M2M, then IoT," he says.
In between startups, Gaw saw an opportunity to provide IoT-based monitoring systems for construction sites. "I was looking for what to do next, and found that video and visual monitoring was becoming possibly feasible from an IoT perspective," he says. "There was a lot of opportunity to improve construction outcomes -- safety, productivity, et cetera -- with real-time monitoring.
Talking to industry experts about his idea was discouraging at first. "They agreed there was a lot of potential there, but it was hard to do," says Gaw. He doubled down with an approach that "integrated hardware and software" into "an end-to-end solution."
A stumbling block: Most construction sites don't have power, let alone Wi-Fi. "Cameras are pretty ubiquitous, but they're typically wired into a network," says Gaw. The Sensera approach eschewed that by focusing on cellular connectivity and solar-powered lithium iron phosphate batteries, which Gaw calls "more robust" and stable than other options.
Sensera Systems launched with a single product that took still images in 2015. "The key to that was making it simple," says Gaw. "Nobody's going to climb a pole to reboot a camera or something like that. A lot of it is making the device smart enough -- it's mostly software -- to run unattended in that way and not require any configuration onsite."
Part of the reason for the rollout strategy, Gaw elected to eschew venture capital in favor of bootstrapping. "You need to get customers as you're adding capabilities," he says.
It's paid off: One product has expanded into five families of products that now feature video capabilities, the ability to record, and Wi-Fi compatibility, all underpinned by Sensera's SiteCloud software platform, as well as drone services to allow for "another view of the project" for customers.
Sensera's market consists of real estate developers and contractors, who often buy multiple systems to cover several projects at a time, as well as municipalities. "Today we have over 1,000 general contractors we serve across the U.S. and Canada," says Gaw. "Certainly, security is [an application], but productivity and safety are the primary applications."
The company's 7,000-square-foot facility houses the headquarters as well as engineering and production. "We're a little unique in that we are integrated hardware and software, and we actually manufacture our cameras," says Gaw. "We do the final assembly, loading the software, and testing of the devices here in Golden."
Production is backed by in-house engineering and design. "The key is a much more integrated system with much lower power consumption, and integrated design, not just off-the-shelf pieces plugged together. One thing about off-the-shelf pieces is they're not really designed for power consumption."
Sensera relies on a network of local vendors for such components as printed circuit boards (from Nova Engineering in Denver) and enclosures (from Sovereign Plastics in Colorado Springs), along with several suppliers in Asia.
Gaw says he sees a bright future for IoT. "Every technology goes through a hype curve, a hype cycle, where there's a lot of exuberance, then people get real about what it can and can't do," he says. "IoT is one of those things that's probably gone through a couple of different hype cycles, but I think it's more impactful than ever. It's impacting a lot of different industries in a lot of different ways, and it's become embedded into a lot of businesses."
Sensera's success is a testament to that. "We've been profitable every quarter," says Gaw, citing "mid-double digit growth" as the annual norm.
Challenges: The up-and-down nature of construction. "COVID slowed a lot of things down," says Gaw. "It's been mixed. The residential side is booming right now."
Lately, supply chain issues have impacted the industry -- as well as Sensera. "We've seen lead times stretch out, we've seen some prices jump up, but we've stayed on top of it," says Gaw. "We've managed it so far, but we're kind of nervous about it right now."
Opportunities: "The construction market is in a very dynamic state right now in terms of adoption of technologies like ours," says Gaw. "We're very early in that adoption curve. Our opportunity is to continue to enable the adoption of technology, and that creates a lot of growth opportunity for us."
Sensera currently has "a handful" of customers in Europe, Middle East, and Latin America, he adds, and there's also potential to grow exports in the future.
Needs: "People and technology and customers," says Gaw. "Getting great employees is always hard."
The pandemic has complicated things in that regard. "It's a very dynamic time from an employee standpoint," he adds. "It's an opportunity for companies to build stronger relationships with their teams. It's also an opportunity for teams to grow apart a little bit as well."