By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Roughly two and one-half years after going “all in” as full-time employees and a year after rolling out their first product, Bob Wilson and Jenna Johns say RDI Technologies Inc. is making great progress.
They are President and Chief Operating Officer respectively of the company that captured the “Traction Award,” presented by the UT Federal Credit Union, during Knoxville’s fifth annual “Start-up Day” competition yesterday. The third member of the management team is Jeff Hay, Chief Executive Officer and inventor of the technology the start-up is commercializing.
Started in 2013 by Hay, RDI Technologies utilizes a patented system to measure deflection, displacement, movement and vibration not visible to the human eye. The proverbial “secret sauce” is the algorithms developed by Hay that extract meaningful data from images captured by a digital camera. As such, every pixel in the camera’s view becomes a sensor capable of measuring vibration or motion with high levels of accuracy.
The start-up began full-scale operations in 2015 and launched its first product – Iris M – about a year ago. It is a combination of a digital camera, four lenses, a tablet computer, tripod and USB cable. The package of hardware and RDI-developed software is sold along with the requisite certification training.
“We’re cranking,” Wilson says, adding that the growth rate since the Iris M product was launched is between 450 and 500 percent. That fact alone underscores the reason the Innov865 Steering Committee selected RDI Technologies for the “Traction Award,” but there are many other reasons that other entrepreneurs should understand.
“From an early point, we focused on key validations and milestones,” Johns said. There were four – early adopters, investors, partners, and end user customers. “We targeted Fortune 100 companies in key sectors,” she said in explaining the nature of the early adopters.
With what Wilson described as “industrial giants” on board, investors were more inclined to seriously look at RDI Technologies, and momentum has been building since then, leading to more customers as word spread about the unique technology for diverse industrial applications.
“We’ve done a very good job of selling,” Wilson adds. The company already has 14 International resellers around the world, focused on 20 plus countries. RDI Technologies has also trained and certified employees of 20 service company partners in how to use the IRIS-M system. The partners work with companies that prefer services to purchasing product as a beginning step. Many of those early service customers convert to product sales after they experience the IRIS-M product in their plant. It is like having a built in no cost sales force validating your product with prospective customers.
Today, the list of customers includes Fortune 100 industrial giants in a diverse range of industries such as automotive manufacturers like Nissan and Honda, energy enterprises like Shell and the Southern Companies, mining companies like Rio Tinto and Newmont, and other large corporations like Eli Lilly and Archer Daniels Midland. About 40% of its current business comes from the International markets.
To illustrate RDI Technologies’ industry adoption success, Wilson said the company sold a system to a key automotive manufacturer in February after just two months of discussions. Sixty days later, the automotive manufacturer bought a second system for another plant.
“That’s really fast decision-making relative to a capital purchase on their part,” he noted.
Another key ingredient in RDI Technologies’ success is its workforce.
“We have built an extremely talented team,” Wilson says. Today, the company has eight full-time employees, including two added in the last month, and four to five part-timers.
“We’ve worked awfully hard, but we’ve been blessed with great talent,” Wilson says.
What additional piece of advice would he offer other entrepreneurs?
“You have to have a plan, but you have to work on it and execute every day,” Wilson explains. “You have to secure critical validations and make happy customers.”