Jahangir Mohammed's iconic fishing trip is now part of company folklore at Jasper Technologies. Heading to Lake Tahoe a decade ago, his car engine warning light lit up so Mohammed detoured to find a mechanic. Turns out that the auto only needed a simple computer reset, but the incident led Mohammed to contemplate what it would take to pave the way for a connected car that knew how to reboot independently. It was an idea that that ultimately gave birth to a vision now valued at around $1 billion.
Jasper's technology enables so-called machine-to-machine communications via the cloud. Yes, we're talking about yet another contender in an increasingly-crowded marketplace of companies selling products and services to work in the Internet of Things. But in this case, the storyline has resonated with the big money crowd that likes the idea of business focusing on cellular-based connected devices tied back to enterprise apps where the company can charge a recurring fee to connect to their cloud.
And they are writing checks. Investors so far have put $205 million into Jasper, the latest being a $50 million Series F funding round, led by Singapore-based Temasek, in April. The customer roster features the likes of blue chip clients including General Motors, Coca-Cola, Ford, and General Electric. Not surprisingly, Mohammed eyes a public offering that would make Jasper the first publicly-traded IOT company -- though the timing remains undetermined.
Mohammed's route to Silicon Valley began in 1990 while he was in his third year studying for an engineering degree at the Coimbatore Institute of Technology in southern India.
"I was visiting my neighbor and the guy there was reading a book that had GRE in it. So I asked what is this GRE? And he said, 'Well, if you take this exam and get a high score, you can go to the US and they'll pay for it.'"
That was the inspiration to spend the next six months studying for his admissions test. He aced the test but decided to get his masters at Concordia University in Canada, which offered a scholarship. After finishing his schooling, Mohammed worked for Nortel and then Bell Labs before arriving in Silicon Valley in 1996, where he co-founded Kineto Wireless. The following is an edited transcript of a recent conversation with Mohammed.
It's taking a long time for Internet of Things to enter the popular lexicon?
True. I am really reminded of 1991, when I got introduced to the Internet. When I told my wife what Mosaic can do, her eyes would glaze over. (Editor's note: The Mosaic Web browser developed by a team Marc Andreessen directed is credited with popularizing the World Wide Web.) IOT has become a phenomenon. I really think this is as profound as the Internet itself. The Internet was really about connecting people and their digital assets. The Internet of Things is a reincarnation of that same thing for the physical world...I think that just like there was a world before the Internet and after the Internet, there's a world before the Internet of Things and after Internet of Things. And when we reach the point where most of the things around us are connected, they can truly transform lives.
If we use a baseball analogy, what inning are we in terms of adoption?
We're in inning 2.
How much longer before IOT becomes mainstream?
It's real today. Tesla is one of companies using our platform. You remember that there were fires involving Tesla and what they found was that the clearance between the ground and the car chassis needed to get lifted up by about an inch and it would resolve the problem. So one evening, they sent out an update to all the cars to lift all their chassis by some centimeters. Before the Internet of Things era, it took days before you would have received a letter telling you to take the car back to the dealer. What a hassle for the consumer.
How long before we reach the tipping point?
I am certain that it's inside 10 years --and likely inside of 5 years. There are very visible signs about how many things we are touching and feeling that have Internet of Things about them and we didn't know. As an example, anyone buying a General Motors vehicle next year will have an Internet of Things car.
So, in practice, what will that mean?
When an airbag gets deployed, an ambulance will show up.
Then we're talking about IOT already being here and now?
People like to paint the 30,000 foot view of the Internet of Things and it's easy to do. You can let your imagination run and come up with 1,000 examples of a Star Trek-like world...If you had asked this question 18 months ago, I would have said that somehow the market is not catching on. That's no longer case and I'm less concerned about the take-up.
What's the highest tech hurdle?
What makes this particularly complex is that many of these companies deploy in different countries and the software has to integrate locally.
And from a marketing/PR perspective?
I now see lots of interest in IOT but we still need to pin down what this actually means. To educate (customers) on this and how they can make more revenue. That evangelization still needs to happen.
When it comes to IOT, there's no shortage of hype but what will the selling point be?
I think the most amazing insight about the Internet of Things is that all things become a service. When the thing becomes part of the IOT fabric, it's not really about things anymore; it's about services. For example, when a car connects to the Internet of Things, it becomes a conduit for a wide variety of services that the car is connected to. There'll be an ambulance if there's an accident. The car will be connected to the police if there's a theft. The car will connect to the car maker so if there an engine failure, then someone can come and repair it right away.
What's your biggest worry?
On the more selfish side, we've been at this for 10 years now and we feel that this is our moment. But now that big companies are finally recognizing the potential, this keeps us up at night. We need to capitalize on what we're building.
You just closed another funding round. The company's plan is to go public?
Yes. We are building the company to be public and will likely become the first IOT company that's public.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Mohammed's current relationship with Kineto, who is no longer chairman or on the board.