Today we’re revisiting an interview where Matt spoke with entrepreneur Rodney Williams, Co-Founder, and CCO of LISNR, one of the most disruptive companies in the IoT space and the world of mobile connectivity.
Rodney is a passionate entrepreneur with years of experience and tech expertise under his belt and is currently responsible for leading all of the LISNR’S commercial activities and strategy execution as their Chief Commercial Officer. He’s been with LISNR since its founding and served as the CEO till August 2018.
In this episode, you’ll get hear Rodney shares his personal and most significant lessons in marketing, the entrepreneurial hustle, and building a technology that has the potential to disrupt massive industries.
So let’s hop right in!
In this interview, you’ll learn:
- How Rodney broke free from cubicle nation and started his own company
- Some creative and unique approaches to problem-solving and corporate innovation
- And some very insightful perspectives on marketing
- Plus so, so much more.
So, please enjoy this interview with Rodney Williams.
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
LISNR was launched in 2012 around the core premise that sound can do more. More specifically, using sound to connect more people and devices in ways that had never existed before.
LISNR has grown into the world’s most advanced ultrasonic technology. Their team has created an ultrasonic or inaudible technology; a communication protocol that sends data over audio. They use ultrasonic audio called Smart Tones™ to transmit information. They’ve accomplished functionality that engineers and innovators said was impossible.
LISNR is seriously one of the most disruptive companies in the IoT (or internet of things) space. They’ve raised nearly $15M in capital and have won awards such as a Gold Lion @ Cannes for Most Innovative Mobile Technology and CNBC’s Disruptor 50.
And he’s done all of this headquartered out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Yes, he’s a fellow midwestern entrepreneur, so we were like kindred spirits from the first second of this interview.
Rodney is an innovative strategic thinker who is obsessed with the ways technology will improve our everyday life. He has 4 degrees but most notably two masters, one of which is an M.B.A. from Howard University.
This episode of Powderkeg is brought to you by DeveloperTown. If you’re a business leader trying to turn a great idea into a product with traction, this is for you.
DeveloperTown works with clients ranging from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 companies who want to build and launch an app or digital product. They’re able to take the process they use with early stage companies to help big companies move like a startup.
So if you have an idea for a web or mobile app, or need help identifying the great ideas within your company, go to developertown.com/powderkeg.
If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powder Keg Podcast.
Did you enjoy this conversation? Thank Rodney on Twitter!
If you enjoyed this session and have 3 seconds to spare, let Rodney know via Twitter by clicking on the link below:
What stood out most to you about what Rodney shares in this podcast?
For me, it’s the importance of love of learning and discovery in achieving entrepreneurial success.
You? Leave a comment below.
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Nick Jamell 00:07
Hey there powderkeg fans, Nick here from the powderkeg team. And this is episode 124 of powderkeg igniting startups, the show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators building remarkable tech companies in areas outside of Silicon Valley. Today, we’re revisiting an interview where Matt spoke with entrepreneur Rodney Williams, the co founder and CEO of listener, one of the most disruptive companies in the IoT space in the world of mobile connectivity. And Ronnie is a passionate entrepreneur with years of experience and tech expertise under his belt, and is currently responsible for leading all of listeners commercial activities and strategy execution as their Chief Commercial Officer. And he’s been with listeners since its founding, and served as the CEO until August of 2018. This episode, you’ll get to hear Rodney as he shares his personal and most significant lessons in marketing, the entrepreneurial hustle and building a technology that has the potential to disrupt massive industries. So let’s hop right in.
Matt Hunckler 01:04
First of all, Ronnie, thank you so much for being here. Really excited to talk to you about what you’re doing with listener and the tech community there in Cincinnati. But first, I want to take it back to the early days. And like when I say early days, I mean, early early days. Where do you grew up?
I didn’t know you were going that early.
Matt Hunckler 01:24
Like to keep you on your toes.
Well, I’m originally from Baltimore. So I actually grew up in Baltimore. And so I went, I went away to college. I’m originally from ravens town, and I love blue crabs.
Matt Hunckler 01:41
I love Baltimore. I’ve actually spent some time out there recently with a guy named Mike bank of Ghana runs the startup tech community out there. And I was really inspired by just all the entrepreneurial activity. Do you ever get back to Baltimore?
Well, my, my family’s still in Baltimore. So I’m heading that way for the holidays. Oh, very nice. I’m there pretty often
Matt Hunckler 02:05
is university kind of what took you to Cincinnati?
No, I actually moved to Cincinnati, due to Procter and Gamble, so very nice. I got back I got that job, postgraduate school and went to the Midwest. Somehow stuff that.
Matt Hunckler 02:24
So did you know that you had the entrepreneurial bug when you took that job at Procter and Gamble?
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think I’ve I’ve always started things
Matt Hunckler 02:35
as your earliest memory of starting something up.
I mean, since day one, I mean, my mom used to own a beauty shop. And I used to lease magazines, to folks that come in, and, like six years old, because I had all the cool magazines. You know, you know, but I mean, I’ve done businesses and throughout high school and in college, I, that’s kind of how I dove in, that’s how Procter and Gamble actually started to recruit me or gotta with with me, because of a company that I started. That was a an early CRM company that did well. So now, I’m not really an entrepreneur, I just think that, you know, and I think when you’re from certain communities, you got to figure out how to seize opportunities. And I tend to do that.
Matt Hunckler 03:29
I love it. I love the idea of leasing out magazines. Did you have a best seller?
You know, I did, you know, it’s really around understanding my market. You know, my mom. She was she’s a little older. So you know, all the magazines were, you know, to an older demographic, and I kind of had all the kids stuff. I know, I had like the Scholastic’s and I had, I just had all the kids stuff or, you know, the people forget that, you know, you go to the beauty shop, you got to bring the kid Long story short, you know, I would get about $1 Magazine, you know.
Matt Hunckler 04:02
That’s good money, man. That’s good money.
I know, you had to give it back. And it was awesome.
Matt Hunckler 04:09
So did the marketing research inform your foray into the CRM technology platform?
Yeah, you know, I didn’t study marketing until grad school. But, you know, I was a finance guy. But you know, I’ve always kind of been driven by that, that market information. were started in high college was, you know, when Facebook opened up to the university, and you know, you know, if you were around before that the university and every party everyone communicated to you via the school newspaper, in the school email was okay. But it didn’t really have a CRM program to tailor to who you are your major etc, not at that level. So I thought that was an opportunity own emails. So actually, you know, myself and my best friend We created, you know, we started collecting emails pretty much any way possible. And as we were collect these emails, we were kidding databases, where, you know, if you had an event or a party, that’s kind of how it started. I mean, we could email, you know, 50% of that dormitory. Or we could have we have a group of 30,000 students, well, that led us, you know, taking that, and going into businesses and saying, Hey, instead of running that, you know, 800 to $1,000 ad in the school paper every week, you can pay us 300 bucks, and we’re going to bring in more traffic to your store, etc, etc. So they kind of grew into that and kept growing and into eventually, we were like, Let’s get rid of this thing. You know, it catapulted me into marketing. And then I went, got my MBA and, and started to think about wow, you know, that’s what I was really doing at an early age and, and then using technology, to what I would call, I mean, I think technology just completely opens up opportunity, within segments. And it’s just about seizing it for a moment.
Matt Hunckler 06:03
Absolutely, man. And I’m a kindred marketing spirit over here, although it did not get my MBA, you see a little bit of a divide sometimes in the technology world, you know, looking at higher education, as you know, a waste of time, or the only way you can get into business and learn the ropes. Talk to me about what that MBA meant for you in terms of how you’ve now scaled your business at listener and the business you were growing at the time.
Yeah, you know, one of the things I always say is that I don’t think there’s any right way. You’re a founder story versus another founder story or your, you know, career path versus another one. I mean, I think if anyone kind of tells you as the best approach, I think it’s all, like, it’s all kind of BS, I think what’s important is that you got to figure out what’s the best approach for you. And I think that’s more important than what’s the best approach. But I mean, for me, no, it was incredible. For me, and everything was a proving ground or a learning ground for me, you know, I added four degrees before going to work. But I worked all throughout school, in government and then at Procter and Gamble, and then went after Procter and Gamble, because of its learning ground. I mean, it’s that was like an NBA part three or four. Yeah, master class and marketing. Right. Yeah, it was just, it was just incredible. So yeah, I mean, fortunately, I think I have a competitive advantage. When I compete with technology companies that don’t know, you know, the list of the top technology companies. They all, at some point, resolve to make money off of marketing. Even Zuckerberg just caught Facebook, a media company now. Yeah. And I laugh. So at some point, you either have to hire a bunch of folks like me. Now, it’s rare that folks like me can also create things and not just make things better or evolve. Thanks. So I think, you know, I think for me, it’s just been a complete competitive advantage, because I just understand the nuances of media marketing and an audience and consumer behavior insights, that that’s the like the blood of the vein of why technology exists. And I think more people should pay attention to that connection.
Matt Hunckler 08:24
Talk to me about what you learned in your MBA in getting your MBA marketing. What’s one thing that you got through your education there that you wouldn’t have gotten and been able to apply to your businesses if you had gone the MBA route?
So here’s the math scientist, I didn’t get my MBA, marketing, MBA finance supply chain. I figured I was good at marketing. So when I got my MBA, I was like, I’m not going to concentrate marketing. I did find it. But I did another Master’s before my MBA and it was a it was a master’s in marketing. Okay. So but sorry, break the question in two parts. What did I learn in my MBA? Or what did I learn in the master’s degree?
Matt Hunckler 09:08
Let’s go with one of each.
Yeah, you know, I think I think the the masters of marketing kind of taught me what, what really marketing is, I think there’s a lot of false definitions. Like a lot of perceptions of like what people think marketing is, it’s, it’s not, it’s not creating a commercial or come up with a cool campaign. That’s what a switcher creatives and your agency folks do. I’m not an agency guy. I can never work in an agency. Marketing isn’t you know, your social, your procure your website, none of that, you know, when you look at the core of even, you know, Procter and Gamble and why I went there, and this is why marketing extends there’s, they wrote the book for brand management, which is product management, which is why every CEO that’s ever existed at p&g has been a brand marketer Now, marketing, to me, is really, you know, taking a product or brand. And I, to me they’re equal, they’re the same thing. And, and and utilizing pretty much every consumer or customer facing moment to effectively what I would call deliver your solution. Like, and that’s, and that’s what it is. So that means packaging. That means what it does, how you communicate what it does what it should do. That means r&d, that feeds innovation, that means, I mean, I mean, it’s everything. So, you know, you know, even at, I was a brand manager at Pampers, and, you know, even at my young age, and, yeah, I mean, I’m sitting with the product guys trying to understand and, you know, the next release of the product is the right product, because I don’t know, I don’t think so. Because, again, I know the consumer more than anyone I’m supposed to, you can’t just make a product, you know, for babies and moms, if you’ve never really been there and experienced what happens when a mom becomes pregnant, etc. So I look at the same way with technology, I think, or any product, any brand that you’re marketing, I think great marketers have the ability to, to influence everything. Because they have to, or it’s just doesn’t make sense.
Matt Hunckler 11:31
Well, it’s an incredible perspective to have coming into Procter and Gamble. And obviously is a great culture fit for the way p&g approaches their product marketing and their business in general. What did you learn from Procter and Gamble that you didn’t have previously?
Yeah, you know, one of the biggest things that people who I didn’t learn, I didn’t know that much, and my MBA kind of set me up for this really? No, I like to think that I learned how to operate a business. And I know that’s like, oh, you know, how did you learn it in the classroom? I think, you know, you know, when you think about your NBA, I mean, you learn how to model you learn how to forecast, you learn about a p&l, you learn how to me, you, you learn, you know, really at a mass scale the array, the way you should think the way you should problem solve, you know, a lot of case studies. So, you know, I was really important when I went to p&g, it was like, I was catapulted in real life case studies. Yeah. And that’s what it was, I mean, you show up, they hand you over a big p&l, I think my first p&l was, you know, 30 or $40 million. And, and that part of the business I needed to run, and I had, I had goals to grow that part of the business, you know, two to 6% that year, and then I had to use everything in my, you know, what I would call my resource to make sure that happen. So that everything from a great campaign and working with your agency to give you a great commercial to working with your retailers to see how you can get more distribution to deliver that numbers to, you know, figuring out how to save money, maybe I can save money in the amount of money I’m spending on marketing, or maybe I can spend more to drive more velocity, maybe I can do all types of things, maybe I can reduce the diaper count, you know, from 36 to 32. So that moms can use them more. I mean, I’m just saying, like, literally, you are you you are doing everything, everything is an option for you. And but yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s running an entire business. And that’s, you know, you know, meeting with different cross functional, the finance team, the product team, the, the PR team and kind of like managing an entire piece of company, and trying to deliver results every year. I mean, that’s that’s what I learned at p&g the product or brand could be anything for me. Because I wasn’t a dad and I’m still not a dad and but it’s that’s a relevant.
Matt Hunckler 14:16
So you’re at Procter and Gamble. And I appreciate you sharing that because a lot of us from the outside probably wonder what it’s like to be at that fortune 100 company, what it’s like to take those case study lessons and apply them in the real world with that massive budget that you had to two to 6x your earnings. Did you ever feel like your entrepreneurial nature made it difficult for you to operate within the culture of such a large company? Yeah, yeah. time when that was challenging for you?
Yeah. I mean, I got a famous like, you know, rant that happened at p&g And I’m like, ranting, I’m standing up in my cubicle and I ranting and I feel like I’m like yelling. I’m like I’m caged. I don’t know exactly what sparked it. But I was trying to push through an agenda, you know, something innovative, of course, and groundbreaking because I like to think that that’s what I was doing, hey, I’m getting a lot of pushback, and I like stand up. And I kind of yell out like, I’m caged. This is like, you know, what am I doing here? And my boss’s boss, like my boss’s boss, boss, just happen to be like, walking near. He comes over, he looks at me. And I was just like, You know what, I don’t even care. Like, I just didn’t even care. And I’m so yes. So yes, the answer is yes. Well,
Matt Hunckler 15:43
don’t leave us on the cliffhanger there. What What was the outcome of that? That outburst and moment of clarity?
Nothing. I mean, I mean, I mentioned I think I left maybe four months ago, oh, later, I mean, you know, I didn’t, you know, whatever the case may be, I think that’s what corporate America tends to do. Right? They teach you how to push the button A, and they want the best button, a person is now the reality about innovation. And people who ask questions, and people who change stay X, why are we still pushing the button a, like, maybe we should, like pay someone else to push it, maybe we should have like, on demand, people that push it, like, maybe we should do something different, because I don’t think pushing it is like the best use of my time. And that’s the problem with with these, you know, corporate America today, and where the innovation may lie, is that they’re training us to be really good button pushers, versus training us to also asks, should we still be pushing the button? And I just think that’s a, that’s just a, you know, that’s just that’s just a problem with any corporate monster that has their own, you know, issues. And, I mean, when I look at some of the talent that has, you know, I’m just most familiar with p&g, but some of the talent that who left me, I’ve never worked with more smart people than I’ve worked at Procter and Gamble. I mean, they were incredible talent. So whenever, wherever they are, they’re making an impact. That says something. Unfortunately, the guys that get weeded out are the guys that are not going to sit and be caged.
Matt Hunckler 17:29
Absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that. I can’t imagine being in Cubicle Nation, quite like that. I’ve haven’t been in the belly of the beast that much. But clearly, you’re very entrepreneurial, and learn a lot from Procter and Gamble. But I’m also glad to hear that you’re not caged anymore. Tell me about how you ended up starting an audio technology after working at you know, fortune 100 CPG, consumer packaged goods company. Yeah. So
I mean, I think, you know, while I was there, like I said, I was I did everything, technology, way to break the business. And when I mean, break the business mean, make it better. So, you know, I was, I was known there, I wrote three patents. While I was there, I was the first marketer to have digital patents that were actually you know, doing something for the company. Separating, you know, the, the inspiration, and I always, when I fell in love with PNG, when I fell in love with the concept of innovation was this concept of the only reason why soap operas were called soap operas, was because, you know, p&g created soap operas to sell more soap? Yep. And I said, you know, I wish everyone did that. So I wish, you know, the music, business credit streaming platforms to sell more music, not innovators. Or I wish, you know, you know, why not? Like, what why is that? Why did that stop. So I made it my own personal pursuit to create things and build things in technology. So I was really diving in and using technology to separate myself and my part of the business from my peers. Now, in that mix, I did, I wrote a couple of patents, and I got a chance to just be in the forefront of what we were doing in a technology standpoint. And I started to get obsessed with not necessarily sound but more. So how can we like effectively communicate to consumers better? Or, and and what is available for that to happen? Right? You got all the Wi Fi eyes and data. But do I know where consumer is? Do I know that they’re walking by that banner? Do I know that they’re watching that television show? Or looking at that commercial? Now, the one thing that’s pretty present that we kind of forget about within all of those places of sound and kind of got stuck in is I did I think sound can do more? And I you know, at the time, there was a couple of technology companies that were doing things with sound that I thought was all neat. That was all cool. And that’s kind of I started it. And in the beginning, it was much more about kind of took an idea around using sound and touch consumers bottled it into a music product. And, and licensed a tech to go out and do it. We eventually figured out we could do a lot more and make it a lot better. And, and that little pre packaged, you know, use case was just the beginning. And that’s how this thing all started.
Matt Hunckler 20:30
There’s a lot of people who probably have a safe secure job similar to you had there at Procter and Gamble. And they’ve got an entrepreneurial idea that they want to go and pursue probably similar to you had at the time. What was it that got you to burn burn the ships? And and and just go full force? To pursuing your dream with listener?
Yeah, yeah, sometimes I call it listener magic, a lot of effort since day one, we’ve we’ve been making magic. And I think it’s just magical. So I don’t know, what I will tell you is what I did know, I had the idea, I built a team that, you know, learned that you couldn’t do this on my own. And I didn’t know my team. So I essentially only knew one person in the five person team that became my founders, I convinced a group of strangers essentially to come follow the stream, we did a startup competition, we did really well. Investors were interested, you know, I started to build rapport. They said, You know, if you go out and do XYZ, I’m going to fund you. So there’s three months to do XYZ. So when I showed back up, they funded us. And me, in particular, I told myself that, you know, I’m gonna, I’m gonna jump ship, if we can get funding. I’m going to jump ship, if we can deliver on XYZ, and a time period. That makes sense. And then the biggest thing that I understood about any startup is that speed is everything. Right? That’s what separates what we do, versus what a huge company does that mean, they’re going to spend a lot of time making the decision to go after it, versus we can actually go after it. So I knew if we could do, we could, you know, use our speed and get through some of those early things we would get, we would get the traction that we needed to get funding?
Matt Hunckler 22:25
How do you balance that speed with accuracy? I mean, you’ve got all this training from your MBA and from Procter and Gamble with projections and modeling, you know, how do you kind of throw that all by the do you throw that by the wayside and just focus on speed? Or is there some kind of a balance that you’re playing there?
I think you do enough. Whatever enough is, but you don’t do it a bit more.
Matt Hunckler 22:48
A minimum viable modeling?
Yes. You just do enough? Yeah. I mean, we’re looking at a new business model, for example, is funny, for not a new business model for our business. But we’re trying to analyze a new product vertical for tech. And we have an incredible business development intern out of Berkeley. And the model was so complex. It was I mean, it was fantastic. It was beautiful. I don’t know how long it took. But again, like I was like, you probably could have spent 10 minutes on it, I could take these three numbers and multiply by these three numbers, and it equals a big enough number. Now, the fact and then you could have told me with the point to the root two sources, you didn’t really have to go through like six or seven different tabs and all of this and but I think that’s, that’s, that’s the part that I was, you know, that’s what separated me also at p&g. I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend time doing all that I would do what was minimum? What was what that I needed to? What was the minimum thing I needed to show my manager for him to be excited about moving forward with this options? And it
Matt Hunckler 23:57
sounds like you have really had a knack for pitching your ideas and getting people to rally behind them. Did you have a particular pitch, you said that you went to your investors or your soon to be investors and said, and they said to you, if you do XYZ, then we’ll invest? And then you went and did XYZ? Do you remember what your pitch was for listener at the time?
But I think the right answer also and I gotta mention is that if you pay attention, or if you hear anything, it’s like, a theme of like, I can I learn a lot. And I’m okay with that. And I think people need to relate really understand that at that. You know, I’m it’s just a learning. So going to that threat startup competition, which is very similar to like a startup weekend and but a little bit more intensive. You’re meeting investors. I didn’t pitch the company for the first like month, because I didn’t know how to pitch a startup. And I’m like, and I’m like, I would watch pitches all day I would watch. I would sit in investor meetings. I would. And this is what a little startup competition I mean, I was just learning. Number one, I think It’s important for you to learn enough, stop learning more, but just enough. So eventually I learned enough. And, you know, when we showed back up, you know, a couple of weeks later, to that investor, I mean, my pitch was was was was solid, right, I think, great team, we want to use audio to connect to consumers, we’re going to do so first, by creating a music application, where based on what you listened to, you’re going to get XYZ, this is why it’s different than our competitors. This is why we can win. What do you need to see for this to be attractive? You know, I think it’s much more about that. And granted, you got to, you know, put some spin on it, put the shiny suit on it, but you know, coming out of that you start to hear investors will tell you what’s making them feel risky about the investment, they will say, I don’t like it, or, oh, you know, I’m concerned about your team, or I’m concerned about this customers, or these type of customers, or I’m concerned about your business model, whatever they’re concerned about, I think if you make an active approach to address it, and maybe you’re not successful at everything you try, but they’re successful at a piece of then, and then you keep doing that, then what I would say is, then then they’re starting to get excited. And I remember at first I was like, No, is there any IP around what you’re doing? And I went out, and, you know, we did a hired a firm did an IP search and submitted a provisional patent. They said, I’m concerned about the music industry, you probably need, you know, some type of significant partner flew out to LA, I, you know, killed my resources, but came back home with a signed contract. From Adam factory nice. And then I’m concerned, you know, whatever your concerns were. And then that my next meeting was great. So you brought up four key points that I want to make sure we addressed today. And I would just go down the four points of how we address them. And you know, and then I love hype hype is really important after you address your four points. And my hype at the time was, we were headed back out to Silicon Valley, to a pitch competition. And it was being judged by Tim Draper, at Draper University. And I said, we went when, you know, we’re gonna be headed to the valley. We did when
Matt Hunckler 27:25
the valley, I didn’t head
to the valley. Why not? Well, the those investors were since the Tech City Tech is a fair amount of Cincinnati, those early stage investor, and now they stuck to that word, you know, we had delivered on the things that they needed to see. So we we got the term sheet from them, and they made the investment.
Matt Hunckler 27:50
I love since the tech and I love the brand during that whole since the tech ecosystem. I want to make sure we have time to talk about that. But I’d love to dig in a little bit more on the listener. expansion and growth. Can you talk to me, you know, post funding? What was your first big execution with the business?
You know, what? So what I can say is that since day one, we were working with a technology in its infancy, right? I mean, and it’s easy in theory, but difficult in application execution. You know, what I mean by that is, how do you sell it? How does it work? Where does it work? What does it do? And, you know, I think our first big execution that everyone high fives is that we, we, you know, we did a live show, in front of, you know, 30,000 fans for Swedish House Mafia in LA, you know, no connectivity, we synchronize everyone’s phone simultaneously. You know, I was our first big one, then, you know, we started have a number, and music left and right. But every single time we deploy, we were breaking the tech, breaking the tech. So we knew the tech, what I would call what I would say was weak. And we needed to make it better. How that evolved is, we really started getting obsessed with the ultrasonic audio portion, not the application of the tech and saying, Hey, can we make it more stable? Can we make it more reliable? Can we actually add data? And those are the questions that we kept asking ourselves that eventually, you know, got the interest of our Series A investors and it mainly I would bring up a chart and I would say, you know, application is doing okay, you know, it’s growing downloads, music, people are using it, but the technology, here’s our technology, product growth, and here’s how many people want that. And we actually have signed contracts to deliver SDKs and API’s and it changed the company and you know, and then we started, you know, that was back in, people don’t know that we really He made our mind up to be much bigger. The music really, really early like the end of 2013. The reality is just that it’s taken, it took us a year of that, to get the technology stable. Then we joined RGA Tech Stars. And everyone was weirded out because it was a connected device accelerator. And I was like, why is listen to join a connected device accelerator, but they got it. They knew we were trying to use audio, to drive data connectivity between devices. And that music application was just one use case of it. There were 10 other use cases that were even significantly more impactful. So that was a extremely important part of what happened with listener. I mean, I got to meet with incredible founders, our business model changed, our tech grew, we started to work with hardware companies, and chip manufacturers like Intel. And when we started to do things like that, which started to propel the technology, when we graduated out of Tech Stars, you know, we became a CNBC, disruptor 50. And number 12, you know, Intel and Qualcomm’s and all of these, you know, really, you know, true technology companies started to, to to understand once to understand what we were up to. Wow. And that’s really, that’s really how to think kept growing.
Matt Hunckler 31:25
I’m curious to know, Rodney, and I might be missing part of your backstory here. How did you audio, was it a whole new field for you? Is that correct?
Yes, just the diapers were.
Matt Hunckler 31:40
Yeah. So how did you develop your expertise in that industry?
You know, I think, I think I focused on what I needed to focus on. And, and what I needed to focus on is what audio should do. And then I need a smart people around me to tell me what it can do. And then I needed people around me to tell me, show me how to do it. There’s a there’s another important part of this whole discussion is the talent that you know, I’ve been able to attract to the organization. I think it’s been completely separated us. You know, I you know, our first two hires, one of our first two hires is the key inventor of our technology. He was a, you know, PhD candidate, Electrical Computer Engineer, obsessed with audio, love what we were doing, but he thought he can make a better versions to, you know, later on and our growth. You know, I went after a season, he was a former CTO, a former CEO, he had two exits he the San Francisco, kind of like player in he was the GM of a, you know, $250 million business unit at a company called grace note, which you guys at Indianapolis should be familiar with.
Matt Hunckler 33:01
I worked with Scott Jones on a previous venture.
That’s he lives in Indianapolis, right? Yeah, he
Matt Hunckler 33:07
does. Well, he’s in Hawaii. He’s in Hawaii now. But he’s still got a place here in Indy.
Well, you know, Scott, someone introduced me to Scott and I drove up to Indianapolis, and sat down and met with Scott for our he didn’t know. So he didn’t know yet. Because it didn’t go anywhere. But yes, we have a number of grace note employees at listener now. That’s great.
Matt Hunckler 33:32
That’s great. Yep. Now he’s an incredible asset to the Indiana Tech community. And I had a lot of fun running a spin off startup for him out of chacha, which probably at the time is what he was working on, when you met with him. And he’s just been an incredible investor, mentor to many entrepreneurs here in town, I’m sorry to hear that. That connection didn’t go anywhere. But maybe we need to reconnect. You guys
know, he was a nice guy. And he I mean, a beautiful home and I had a great time meeting with him. But again, you know, I you know, you don’t never forget those conversations coming out of that conversation. I thought, like grace note was the company that we put at a pedestal, you know, they had figured out how to sell something very similar to us, across the market. And then and then and we they had limitations that we didn’t so I mean, they were a validation for us. And it was for me to be able to talk to him about some of the challenges and some of the things that face regardless of what I had, what my intention was for that meeting, it was incredible.
Matt Hunckler 34:40
Yeah, and for listeners who don’t know who Scott Jones is inventor voicemail, which he inevitably sold the patents to that and invented grace note, which kind of powers all of iTunes and some of the other music platforms which ultimately sold to Sony, I think And then numerous other technologies. But I’m glad that I’m glad to have that mutual connection.
And most recently just sold to Nielsen.
Matt Hunckler 35:10
So still healthy still tied to that?
Matt Hunckler 35:16
I don’t know. I think he’s got a lot of ties to a lot of technology companies. I think so. Well, so talk to me about what listeners doing now I’m really eager to hear. I mean, it sounds like you’re still reinventing the company finding new opportunities. What’s next for you?
Yeah, no, not reinventing. Okay. I hate I hate words like reinvent or like pivot. That’s, like, I always tell folks if, you know, Google, Google that and reinvent themselves when they decided to make a mail client, given that they were a search engine, and they didn’t reinvent themselves when they wanted to make an operating system? No, I think, I think when you have so no, we’re evolving and innovating. I think that so I mean, what we have today is it’s just an ultrasonic protocol, we created a protocol, based off of audio that you can’t hear humans, it’s completely silent, completely safe. But we can transmit small packets of data every second, both single directional bidirectionally. And at the same time.
Matt Hunckler 36:21
So why would we want to transmit small packets of data?
Well, think of other protocols that transmit small packets of data, near field communication, Bluetooth, RFID, ZigBee. There’s Wi Fi, right? Yeah, you need all of these protocols as ways in which devices can talk to each other, or that interact with the environment around it, for example. So you use protocols for everything. Now, this thing about the proximity protocol, landscape, NFC, Bluetooth is the most known, they’re all very, very hardware dependent, but they also very, very limited and what it can and cannot do. So if you look at our progression, single directional use cases where like, we would play our ultrasonic technology, we call them smart tones, and we would tell the device what to do. So that’s a song telling you the rights to light up that say you walk into a store. And it’s telling your device to show coupon, because you’re near something that’s single directionally using sound data, telling your device what to do. So this, it’s not recording audio, it’s not taking a snippet of audio and checking the server, the data is actually being pushed through the sound. So that’s why we can get it can be actually accurate. Now, that single directional now bi directional, or what I call local tone generation, is the ability for the device to actually say something back or say something itself. So the device can then create a smart tone, and include a data packet, they can then tell that to another device, and then that other device can say something back. So like when you go to our office today, and all of our office, you walk up to doors, every employee has a smartphone, that’s tied to them, that is a key that opens that door. Again, just like an RFID or card, we’re using a completely offline data transmission tool that’s secure to unlock that door. Now, even, you know, focus on unlocking the door. I mean, that could be you know, any door that can be a car that can be your password to your device. mean, that can be anything that you need to identify you, and then finally authenticate you. So now what we also did was like, Okay, that’s great, we allow things to talk to you and talk back. And we said, hey, can we introduce multi channels within the bandwidth? So could we create two channels? Number one, if we have two channels, we double our data throughput, but then we could start to do tokenization and handshakes that are complete, asynchronous, and allow us to do more advanced authentications. So everything from you know contactless payments, to, you know, mobile tickets to industrial use cases where device to device authentication. I mean, that’s it’s just, you know, that’s the world that we’re getting into, in a very, very near I mean, I mean, we have companies launching using us and mobile wallets, to using that for mobile tickets, instead of QR codes, etc. And, you know, I would, you know, every all of the most advanced companies that are trying to change the way we shop purchased, opened doors, IoT device automation, office automation, they’re all either testing us or piling us or launching with us in some capacity, because we are about are connected, that is not hardware dependent. We don’t need that NFC chip, we don’t need that Bluetooth chip. We’re not hardware. And we sit very, we’re great, whatever call edition. And I give you an example. You have your favorite bluetooth headphones, or let’s say your home here, your favorite Bluetooth speaker, and you have multiple friends over. So if multiple friends want to play on your Bluetooth speaker today, you literally have to Bluetooth sync each consumer. In the near future, you’ll have an app that you open up. And the app will recognize all of the players and all of the speakers. And you can just toggle between players and speakers. And all of the credentialing and authentication is going to happen through audio versus Bluetooth. Because Bluetooth is number one limitation is multi connectivity within a single environment, you get a lot of interference. And in that case, we’re almost like a gateway, or at least cost router, for example. Now, like I said, I can dive into all different types of verticals and why. But at the end of the day, it’s just it’s just it’s just it’s more convenient to the consumer. It’s better, it’s faster. And it’s a it’s all of those things.
Matt Hunckler 41:13
It sounds really exciting. I’m eager to get my hands on some of the technology. So I may have to drive down to Cincinnati and scope out some of your tech if you’re not too high security about, you know, letting people play with your, your latest and greatest innovations.
No, I’m not at all I mean, even to the listeners, I mean, you can go to listener.com to request access to our portal, which is our DevOps development portal. As long as you have a use case, or you want to test something, we’ll give you 30 access for free. And it’s pretty much that easy. If you ever come visit our office, we actually will send you your own smartphone that will allow you to enter for a period of time, or it may be single use depending on how much we trust you. But, you know, I mean, I think we’re, it’s compelling that, you know, I think a company that’s doing something really innovative is sitting right in the Midwest, downtown Cincinnati,
Matt Hunckler 42:07
I think that that’s really cool man. And for listeners that maybe aren’t familiar with just what a thriving startup and tech ecosystem there is in Cincinnati, tell me why you’re not in San Francisco or Boston or New York.
You know, so, you know, we’re holding on for dear life. But I’m gonna tell you this, I think there’s no better place to start a company, you know, I don’t think, you know, there’s a, you know, the numbers will show you there’s a significant amount of seed and early stage funding there. You can talk to all the investors in that community within within a day, you know, a couple hours. No cost of living cost per engineer talent, you get in really strong talent for substantially less. And I actually think, you know, the, the workforce in italic is actually going to be more happy, you know, your, your, your engineer coming out of college, gonna be able to start listening and buy a home, buy a car, you know, day one, if you liked, you’re not gonna be able to do it in San Francisco. I’m not a fan of San Francisco. Just I’m just not I think, you know, as a kid, the first thing I ever recognized about technology was that it even that, you know, me with my laptop could be anywhere and create anything. And and I think that’s, that’s really important that I think we all need to understand is that I think the future, the future of innovation, is that it will be everywhere. I mean, Magic Leap is in, you know, southern Florida, one of my favorite companies, right? I mean, who would have thought that? You know, Oculus was in Orange County, everyone hears about the sexy ones that pop up in San Francisco. But, I mean, here’s some really big names, and all other parts of the country. So I’m gonna advocate everywhere else, I think, as we look for our future, right, I mean, we’re gonna we’re growing. And our talent sometimes tend to be pretty specific. So we do have an office in San Francisco. We do have an office in New York, headquartered in Cincinnati. I think as we continue to grow, it would always be a question on when and where and how. But our goal is to definitely stick around as long as we can.
Matt Hunckler 44:27
I love it man. If people want to find you online, where should they go?
Go listener.com. But honestly, my handle pretty much everywhere is Rodney, the letter B as in bike? Williams, Robbie Williams so on LinkedIn or on Twitter or Instagram, or anywhere? I’m pretty much I’m pretty accessible. Yeah.
Matt Hunckler 44:52
Thanks, Randy. I really appreciate you sharing your story and sharing your why you’re so passionate about Getting this kind of technology into the hands of consumers into the lives of consumers. And I’m eager to see how you continue to grow and scale from Cincinnati and wherever the company takes him in.
Awesome. I appreciate the time and, and the conversation.
Matt Hunckler 45:17
Nick Jamell 45:18
Thanks again for listening to today’s episode. If you have any thoughts or feedback on the conversation with Rodney, let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you. And as always, to be among the first to hear their stories about entrepreneurs, investors and other tech leaders outside of Silicon Valley. Subscribe to us on iTunes App powderkeg.com forward slash iTunes. We’ll catch you next time on powderkeg igniting startups