As an entrepreneur who has founded and successfully sold companies across the software spectrum, Todd now shapes PubNub’s vision of revolutionizing the way people interact and connect with each other, virtually. Before PubNub, Todd most recently was CEO of Loyalize, an audience participation company successfully sold to Function(x) (FNCX), a Robert F.X. Sillerman company, where he designed the first-ever massively multi-user social TV mobile and web applications licensed to companies like Viacom and Yahoo. Todd previously was founder and CTO/VP Products of CascadeWorks, a company providing services procurement solutions to Texas Instruments, Charles Schwab, and ABN Amro, and acquired by Elance. After working with companies like GE, SGI, and Quantum while a consultant at Price Waterhouse, Todd joined NetDynamics (sold to Sun Microsystems in 1998) to help create a truly game-changing product: the first application server built for the internet.
Interested in connecting with Todd? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About PubNub: PubNub powers apps that bring people together in realtime for remote work, play, learning, and health. Thousands of companies use PubNub’s Realtime Communication Platform and its APIs as the foundation for online chat, live events, geolocation, remote control, and live updates, at massive global scale. Since 2010, PubNub has invested in the tools and global infrastructure required to serve customers like Atlassian, Hasbro, Peloton, and RingCentral, delivering SOC 2 Type 2 security and reliability while meeting regulatory needs like HIPAA and GDPR. PubNub has raised over $70M from notable investors like Sapphire, Scale, Relay, Cisco, Bosch, Ericsson, and HPE.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(00:33) Intro to Todd
(01:43) Intro to PubNub
(08:11) If the goal of IoT is to allow us to leverage data and control devices seamlessly, how close are we to that goal? What do we need to do to get there?
(11:50) What are the needs for consumer products vs. industrial IoT products? How do you approach those different needs?
(14:18) How have you overcome the challenge around supporting new and old hardware?
(17:00) When working with customers, what’s their comfort level with API/web knowledge? How do you approach that?
(19:16) What have been the greatest challenges in growing PubNub, and do you have any advice for companies starting that journey?
(21:27) How do you see edge and 5G potentially changing IoT products?
– You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast on the IoT For All Media Network. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, one of the Co-Creators of IoT For All. Now, before we jump into this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform, or join our newsletter at iotforall.com/newsletter to catch all the newest episodes as soon as they come out. So, without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Todd to the IoT For All show. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Todd] Really appreciate it, thanks so much for having me.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s great. So let me start off by just asking you to do a quick introduction about yourself. Just go ahead and give a little background experience, anything you think is relevant for our audience to get a better sense of who they’re listening to.
– [Todd] Absolutely, without boring people to death, let’s see, one of the co-founders and the CEO of PubNub. I’ve been at the company for going on eight years now, which seems crazy, it’s gone very fast. I’ve been a CEO prior at a company that was actually doing virtual events back in the early days when the iPad and the phones were just coming out. We were figuring out how to do effectively large scale synchronous communication across hundreds of thousands of people so they could participate while watching television. Which turned out to be actually really similar to data patterns for the IoT. My career has always been in sort of either founding or working for infrastructure companies and being able to bring that to market, and try to translate between somewhat, you know, esoteric infrastructure into kind of business requirements and business value and vice versa. So I’ve kind of got up the ranks as a founder of a company. Founded my first company in 2000, sold that in 2003 to Upwork, and had been a CTO, VP of Product Management, and now a CEO.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome. You wanna talk a bit more about PubNub and kind of what you all do, kind of your focus and how, the role you all play in IoT.
– [Todd] Yeah, absolutely, we started the company, actually, kudos to my co-founder, Steven Blum, our CTO and the original founder of PubNub. You know, the ideas for PubNub came up just a year or two after the App Store was really taking off. And it wasn’t solely based on mobile, but I think we saw the explosion of the kinds of experiences people wanted to do with their phones, with their tablets, and with IoT devices that they saw in Hollywood movies, right. Being able to see where things were in real time, being able to press a button and blow up the submarine like a James Bond movie or something, or maybe turn on a light bulb if you’re not a secret agent. Being able to collaborate and communicate with people online. And so, we were looking at the technologies people were using to build those kinds of experiences, and what we discovered was, whether you’re talking about IoT or things that seem seemingly different. like multiplayer games or e-learning or chat application, things that seem to all kind of disparate and different, were all requiring the same underlying infrastructure. And that infrastructure requires the ability to connect to devices, send signals at high speed to them in a reliable way, control them, and whether that’s a chat message or a device on or off message, it turned out a lot of the infrastructure was the same. So PubNub is really a company that is specifically for providing the infrastructure so that you, the IoT product developer don’t have to think about all of the underlying communication, security, infrastructure related to launching products, and you can just focus on the value of the device or the application itself.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome, and as it relates to the kind of the applications and devices that people are utilizing your technology and offerings with, can you talk, I guess, expand on that a bit. And maybe talk through some use cases that you’re comfortable sharing of how your audience kind of uses what you guys bring to the market.
– [Todd] Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s interesting we have way over a thousand customers now We have a global network of servers that on which we transact IoT transactions for all of these customers. And these, like I said, they’re all different use cases I described before. So a few examples. Companies like Peloton, you know? If you think about Peloton, well, it’s a large IoT device that you ride a bicycle on. And why is Peloton an exercise bike company whose name we recognize, and we probably couldn’t name any other exercise bike brand? And the difference is that it’s connected, right? It’s a connected device where the experience we have is interactive with all the other people. And if you think about, well, what does that mean? It means taking little bits of data from your device, your in this case, exercise-bike, sending it to other devices, receiving information for other people, and being part of a virtual space where we can exercise together. And PubNub underpins the communication in Peloton, but there’s many other IoT companies too. Happiest Baby, allows people to monitor their children while they’re sleeping. It’s a crib company that it’s a really neat startup that’s done really well recently and they use PubNub to command and control these devices. So if the baby’s heart rate starts to change, they can alert the parents. If you use Logitech Harmony Hub, you’re using PubNub. If you use Vivien or Insteon light bulbs and other smart home products, you’re using PubNub. We are kind of the underpinnings in communication, I think, let’s see, August locks, Heroes, Sprinklr. A number of companies under which we are the communication layer for the kind of command and control of this large population of devices.
– [Ryan] Oh, fantastic. So, I guess before we jump to some more general conversations around what you all do, and just kinda your expertise in the market, I’d love to hear a little bit more about kind of the founding of the company, that you were, you know, as you were involved in it. And kinda how it got started, the problem and opportunity you saw in the market that kind of just led to what we have today coming out of PubNub.
– [Todd] Yeah, great question. Well, you know, the challenge with… Let’s see, I’m just thinking of the best way to describe it. The challenge with creating devices that communicate with one another involves a lot of knowledge of networking, infrastructure, reliability, security, regulatory compliance, you know, whether it’s HIPAA or GDPR. It turns out like whenever you start taking a device and connecting online, you’re all of a sudden, in this world of death by a thousand paper cuts. And so, you know, before PubNub, you’re all of a sudden transitioning from an infrastructure company that may be are really good at building devices to one where you’re either hiring a large infrastructure team that thinks about internet connectivity and networking, everything else, or you go with PubNub. And where we really provided value of the hypothesis of PubNub is how do we make it easy? How do we make it easy with just a couple of lines of code, someone who is not necessarily a masters in infrastructure, you know, distributed systems, to have their system work reliably regardless if it’s in India, in North America. If it’s in, Europe or Africa. And so, we kind of set apart this kind of multi-phase strategy of saying, okay, what it takes to do that. Well, first of all, we have to have, SDKs that you can plug in that just work, and you just put a couple of lines of code and it’s doing connectivity. And then we have to have servers distributed all over the world where your IoT device automatically connects to the closest server, and then can communicate the latency around that. So we kind of set these rules in mind, with this premise that whether you’re building, you know, a multi-player game, an IoT device or anything else that you can do, this kind of low level communication and connectivity with simple APIs and that’s really taken off. And so, our first customers were at least a starter, you know, with like five or 10 people, and next thing you know, we were getting publicly traded companies using us. And all of a sudden we ended up with like, I think, now we have over 2 trillion messages a month going through PubNub that are basically signals from one device to another with hundreds of millions of devices connected at any given time. And they’re all really just building their layer of communication, a real-time communication platform across, over around. So that was kind of where it started, and you know, and then the rest is sort of history.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome, fantastic. So, let me ask you then, I just kinda little to move away a little bit from this, the company speak and talking more about just the general kind of, I guess, view you have into the market. So if the goal of IoT, as we kind of view it, is to let people use data to control devices seamlessly in some fashion or another, where do you think we current stand on the path to achieving that? And how do we kind of get to that seamless interaction? Which I assume as it’s kind of like, a goal of your alls and kinda what you’re offering to help us get there. But where do you kind of see us currently stand in that progress, and how do we kind of bridge the gap from where we are now to kind of being able to use IoT devices to let people use that data to control them?
– [Ryan] So let me ask then, on the consumer versus industrial. What are the needs of like consumer IoT products versus the industrial IoT products, and how are they kind of, how is that difference handled? Because I assume that you are interacting with tons of different devices across all different use cases and all different kinds of technology. So how do you kind of view the difference between the devices as well as how do you kind of approach that as it relates to your offering?
– [Todd] Yeah, really good question. Well, we’ve really made a bet in the consumer space for consumer IoT devices because we see that there are a number of differences, and for us, we realized that focusing there is probably the best place to start. So some of those differences, right. If you’re looking at industrial IoT, there’s a huge brownfield challenge to address. I guess from the term brownfield, I mean, that, almost always in those scenarios, there are existing devices in the field. Those devices usually have communication stacks that don’t even have a TCP stack on them, right, they’re aren’t internet connected. And then you’re dealing with these massive integration issues of taking new devices, legacy devices, hooking them together on some industrial site. Those are usually very, you know, SI intensive, you know, consultant intensive, so they bring in large teams of consultants. It’s great business for the large SI’s in the world, but it ends up with a relatively small amount of internet traffic in many cases. A large amount of SI work, a lot of bunch of custom development work. In the case of consumer devices, I think you have a different set of challenges. You know, you’ve got this challenge as a, I wanna get to market quickly, right? B, I have to deal with millions of devices, potentially if I’m successful in disparate networking environments. You know, people have different networking setups at home, they’re on different ISP’s. So I have to support them in a consistent way even though they may be in the Philippines, they may be in, you know, South Africa. Like who knows what kinda a good thing I’m gonna… But I still need to provide a good experience for those consumers. And so, the ways you need to think about provisioning, the ways you need to think about regulatory compliances in different regions, the way you need to think about reliability across kind of unreliable internet connections, those all together into being an interesting problem set which we’ve been really really laser sharp focused at solving. And I think we’ve been pretty effective given the customer base there.
– [Ryan] So how have you, if you could elaborate a little bit more on that, how have you kind of overcome that challenge and that need, or I guess, solving that need for supporting new and old hardware hanging on the security side, the encryption side, upgrading side. You just you just name it as you interact, or you bring together new devices with legacy devices and you kind of have that mixture probably with every situation that comes up. How have you kinda approached that challenge? And what advice do you have for kind of dealing with a situation like that?
– [Todd] Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, people spend a lot of time thinking about encryption when it comes to security. And yet that’s one of the more straightforward sort of binary things, either kinda works or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t work, it’s usually ’cause you’re on an old, you know, an old library, an old CPU that can’t support some of the later things like TLS 1.3 and other sorts of newer encryption protocols that people expect. So there are limitations with respect to older hardware, just with how much horsepower there is and what kinds of AES encryption you can do, let’s say on a hardware. But assuming you getting away from sort of what’s physically possible on a device itself, and you actually now have an encryption library which we provide by the way. Sort of, you know, any number of ways to encrypt the data. I think the questions around security are much broader, right. So, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, there’s the whole regulatory question that’s region by region difference. There’s the issue of access control. So maybe the data is encrypted, but how do you know that the device has access to a particular channel of data and not access to others or that someone can just listen to that channel? And then, how do you provision a device so when it first comes out of a box, especially consumer device when it’s not linked to anything, it should have no access? And how do you then security deliver access to it? A lot of this stuff for PubNub, are design patterns around the technology we already have. So for example, provisioning has to do with sending encrypted keys down these private and public channels of data that allow the device to sort of provision itself. And a lot of it is actually just knowing what are all the check boxes. You know, security is like one of those great things. There’s like, “Okay, you know, we need to be secure.” But you know, it takes a security officer to have to sort of outline and say, “Okay, here are all of the things that make a device secure.” And for a lot of companies, they may not have a dedicated security officer or that security your officer may wanna go to a vendor like PubNub to sort of ask, what is the full scope of considerations I should keep in mind when I deploy devices. So that’s one of the areas that we also provide help, and it’s just, overall kind of solution architecture around these devices.
– [Ryan] Sure. So as it kind of relates to the support you all provide. When you deal or work with customers, I assume the level of knowledge that they have around APIs and the web and so forth, probably varies greatly depending on the organization, depending on obviously the individual themselves, you know whether it’s more, you know, I guess you could compare IoT developers to developers of web and mobile apps that you probably interact with. So how do you guys kind of handle that challenge in kind of the education side and of what it is that you do, and when you’re kind of working to not just sell but also work with customers to bring your technology into their products and then eventually into the market.
– [Todd] It’s a great question, I mean the… It’s very hard to generalize because, you know, every team seems to have a different level of expertise on internet communication and REST APIs and Streaming APIs and best practices. You know, I think that it’s also changing dramatically, when we stepped into IoT in 2014 and 15, I think that you were just seeing the beginnings of device creators, you know, hardware people, all of a sudden lifting their heads up going, “What it’s more than just firmware? What do you mean there’s a TCP stack? What’s that?” you know. And if you contrasted that with people who had spent, you know, 10 years of their lives building web or longer, it was night and day. I think now there’s a lot more savviness amongst IoT developers, but really for PubNub it’s about… You know, in fact it was literally our theme for 2020 is keep it simple like, how do we really make it easy, actually was the theme. To be more specific, how do we make it easy for these kind of developers? So then, like, even if you have a just a basic level of understanding of REST based or web based APIs of one sort or another, we can walk you through tutorials, through documentation, through best practices to make it easy to get a ticket online. ‘Cause you’re absolutely right, You know, there is a real difference in knowledge for some of these people about inexperience, right? And what you wanna do is, it’s really about two things at the end of the day. It’s about reducing risk and it’s about time to market. And if we can do two, you know, both of those things for customers, it’s generally the win for them and for us.
– [Ryan] For sure, yeah. Now, as you’ve been involved obviously with companies since its inception, where have you seen as technology has evolved in the market, where have you seen kind of the biggest challenges that you’ve kind of faced growing the organization to kinda where it is today, and kinda how you’ve kinda address that challenge and just any general advice for that approach.
– [Todd] Wow. Ask a CEO, it depends on what side of the bed, he or she wakes up on to answer that question. But I think like, you know, we’re building a new product for a new market. And that is exciting, and it’s different than if you’re building a new product in an existing market. Because not only do you have to develop your product, but you also have to define the space, you have to define the terminology, you have to define the go-to-market, you have to define a lot of things where, maybe if you’re a better mouse trap, you know you can always point to other things and say we’re better, faster, cheaper or secure, whatever your differentiators are. But in our world, I think we have a different challenge which is, or at least that challenge of defining everything, to finding the terminology, define, like I said. And I think that it’s been really interesting, it’s been rewarding when we get over one of those hurdles, and when people start using our terminology or people start seeing the world the way we see it, that’s always kind of a big win. But that’s always been the biggest challenge for us. I think we timed the market really well, and our growth rate, I think, reflects that, it’s been a pretty exciting time to be at PubNub. But I think like, you know, understanding like when those concepts were gonna become more clarified across the industry, when the language, the terminology, we’re gonna be used, that was a hard thing to predict. And it’s been nice to see now, really that adoption of the kinda mindset really revolving, not just around us, but we see some of our competitors using the same mindset, we see customers using our terminology. We’re starting to see people think the way we think, which is exciting but that was one of the harder challenges that we’ve really struggled with over the years.
– [Ryan] That’s great. Appreciate you kind of sharing those insights. I know it’s not an easy question to answer, I’m sure you could list a hundred of those kinda challenges, but it’s always interesting to kick on CEOs and put it there. And before we wrap up, I wanna ask you one quick question, a pretty broad question just around, kind of the future landscape of the market that you apply in as it relates to 5G, and has that kinda comes to fruition a bit more and is more widely used and available. And at the same time, the edge computing side of things, which we’re seeing a lot of kind of movement towards if not already kind of a pretty big shift. So just generally speaking, how do you kinda see edge and 5G changing IoT products or potentially not changing IoT products?
– [Todd] Yeah, this is a big area of focus for us because it’s sort of, at least on the edge side, something we were already doing. And then with 5G, it really helps tell our story, and I think provide some benefits. So, let’s address edge first, maybe. So we talk about edge. Edge computes really well. First of all, it’s an amorphous term, because it’s defined differently by different people. You know, some people define edge as being computing on the device itself, other people talking about computing at the edge, in the network. We defined it in the latter way, computing, you know, not at your app servers, but doing the latency sensitive communication computation as close to the edge of the network as possible. And, you know, as mobile providers start being able to compute in their network, we’re able to a lot of PubNub into those places where we’re actually experimenting with a large telco right now, and having some capacity there, and bringing latencies down by the tens of milliseconds which has been pretty exciting for certain use cases. And that’s important for us because we have something, one of our many sort of API layers is called PubNub Functions which allows customers to upload those latency sensitive business logic components into our network. And then the closer we can get their code into, toward the device, the faster things operate. And again, speed is not all that important for a lot of use cases. So I think the lower latency story is a bit oversold. And if you think about, there’s a large category of IoT devices where frankly, it’s like good enough if it’s one or two seconds. No, they don’t care that PubNub’s under a hundred milliseconds worldwide, right? Like it doesn’t really matter. I just need to make sure that the light bulb turns off, you know, within a second or two me pushing the button type of thing. So I think in some cases, it’s not a latency story, but it is a distributed computation story. So it’s a scaling story. And so, edge provides a whole host of benefits if you can make it easy. And I think the challenge with edge, until it comes like PubNub is that it’s all been kind of back to that, you know, industrial IoT, Strategic Si’s, custom development sort of world. Edge is great from like a custom basis, but I think now with PubNub, it’s been an interesting way to take what we already have and then just move it out closer to the edge. And then when you kinda pivot to 5G now, where does that fit in? Well, here’s the thing about 5G. Like if you’re building request-response based IoT products. Where the device is requesting data from a server coming back then, I mean, it’s maybe not politically correct to say this, but it doesn’t matter. Because your latency is not the 4G to 5G connectivity, your latency really is. And a lot of other issues are really about the servers behind the scaling and everything else there. However, if you are building applications that are message-based, you know, around the ideas that we resolve in PubNub, where your devices are constantly transmitting and consuming data on the fly, computations happening, as close to that edge as possible. And 5G just gives you that added bonus, the added bump, the added experience benefit. And what’s nice about PubNub, is when you build apps on PubNub, they’re instantly 5G ready. What I mean by that is, the benefits of 5G all of a sudden sort of appear as soon as your customer base migrates to 5G. And what’s nice is, one of your customers stay on 4G, some get onto 5G, and those consumer devices just work better and better as the population was more and more to 5G. So that’s been a big win for us ’cause we kinda don’t have to do anything, but our customers benefit.
– [Ryan] Right. That’s fantastic, that’s awesome. So last couple of things I wanna ask you before we finish up here is just generally, as it relates to PubNub, are there any kind of new initiatives or news or anything kinda coming out from your guys’ end in the coming weeks or months that you’d like to talk about or share? Kinda any are excited about and our audience maybe kinda able to keep look out for?
– [Todd] Yeah, and there’s a lot of we’ve grown significantly in the last year from a head count and from an ability to deliver interesting products perspective. We’re not ready to announce anything yet, but interestingly, we are working on a big new piece of infrastructure which I’ll be excited to talk about in a few months or sooner depending on how fast we get it out there. Then I think we’ll have a huge benefits for a number of our use cases, but especially for IoT. And as a matter of fact, the initial concepts for what we’re working on, came out of our IoT use cases. So I’m pretty excited about where that’s going, and we should have that out Q1 next year.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome. Oh, congrats on that. The last question I have is, if our audience has any followup or questions or wants to kind of engage further, what’s the best way to connect with either you or the company just gonna do a follow up?
– [Todd] Oh, well, I’m always available at [email protected] It’s an easy email.
– [Todd] You know, I think like if you’re interested in the company itself, you know, I hate to say just go to our website, but we actually have everything. Everything on our web, every product I just talked about, every feature of PubNub is available to try out. All the documentation’s there, all the SDKs are there. You can sign up for a free account, you can download an SDK, and we provide unlimited amount of, within reason, of free solution architecture support for qualified you know, for any kind of qualified project. So if you’re working on a real project, we’re happy to help you out for free, but you can simultaneously play with everything that’s there. And sort of then, ask us questions. So, you know, from our website, you can talk to technical people, you can talk to salespeople, you can talk to product managers. We try to have a very transparent communication flow back and forth. But also, email me directly, so any of those work.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, all right. We’ll make sure we link all that up in our description on the right that we do. But Todd it’s been fantastic to chatting with you, I appreciate you taking some time to connect with me and you know, and through me, our audience. I think they’re gonna get a lot of value and not just discussion, but just learning even more about what it is that you all do and bring to the market. So I thank you again for your time
– [Todd] You know, Ryan, thank you very much really, think it’s been a great podcast, and appreciate letting me participate.
– [Ryan] Thank you, absolutely. Alright everyone, thanks again for joining us this week on the IoT For All Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a rating or review and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you’re listening to us on. Also, if you have a guest you’d like to see on the show, please drop us a note at [email protected], and we’ll do everything we can to get them as a featured guest. Other than that, thanks again for listening, and we’ll see you next time.