In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Smart Charging Technologies Founder Nasser Kutkut joins us to share his experience developing Switch Always On, a smart DC micropower supply designed to provide uninterrupted power and connectivity for networking devices. Nasser shares some of the applications Switch Always On works best for as well as his journey developing the product and founding Smart Charging Technologies, including his process evaluating the market opportunity and determining market fit.
Nasser is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in new venture development, technology development and commercialization, sales and marketing development, and strategic management. He has a strong technical background in renewable energy systems, smart grid technologies, power conversion, energy storage systems, battery and battery charging technologies.
Interested in connecting with Nasser? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About Smart Charging Technologies LLC: Smart Charging Technologies LLC is a high-tech firm specializing in innovative IoT energy management products and services. Headquartered in Orlando, FL, SCT has helped thousands of customers by combining 30+ years of engineering expertise with cloud intelligence.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(00:54) Intro to Nasser
(02:05) Founding of Smart Charging Technologies
(04:13) Intro to Smart Charging Technologies
(06:30) Applications of Switch Always On
(10:31) What have we been doing for connectivity issues in the past?
(12:17) How important is it that we solve these issues? Why are they so important?
(16:24) Evaluating the market opportunity
(21:45) What does the future look like for Switch Always On?
– [Announcer] 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, but before we get started, does your business waste hours searching for assets like equipment or vehicles and pay full-time employees just to manually enter location and status data? You can get real-time location and status updates for assets indoors and outdoors at the lowest cost possible with Leverage’s end to end IoT solutions. To learn more, go to IoTchangeseverything.com, that’s IoTchangeseverything.com. So without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast. Welcome Nasser to the IoT For All show. How’s your week going?
– [Nasser] Going well and thanks for having me, Ryan.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s fantastic to have you. Let’s start off by having you give a quick introduction to our audience, just talk a little bit more about you, your background, experience, anything you think that would be exciting to give our listeners some more insight into who they’re listening to.
– [Nasser] Okay, well, I’m Nasser Kutkut, founder and CEO of Smart Charging Technologies. I started the company a couple of years back, 2017, 2018 timeframe. I’ve been in the space of what I call power electronics for the past 20, 25 years developing solutions for sustainable applications, everything from solar to electric vehicle battery charging to power supplies for all sorts of equipment. My background was heavily, initially, in the electric vehicle charging space. As I start smart charging over the past couple of years, we’ve been focusing on new emerging technologies, such that like in IoT, and we’ve been focusing the company more and more on developing solutions for IoT applications.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Tell me a little bit more about the founding of the company. I’m very curious to kind of hear how the company got started, kind of what opportunities you saw in the market at the time that led to you starting the company from the beginning?
– [Nasser] Well, it’s kind of interesting. I’ve been in the EV battery charging space, one of our sister companies, in fact, we’re still, I’m still involved in there. Over the past four or five years we developed industrial battery charging and battery monitoring solutions with Cloud applications. So one of the unique aspects we have done is leverage Cloud technologies to basically remotely monitor and control charger assets that are installed at a warehouses, distribution facilities throughout the country, basically and as we started deploying our battery charging, battery monitoring equipment, we also deployed wireless solutions to interlink those charging and monitoring the equipment to our Cloud applications. One of the challenges we faced was we always had sites, or locations with no connectivity. So we lost communication with many of those sites and the issue was we either were losing internet connection at those sites, or we were losing power at those facilities. So those sites will kind of disconnect. We tried to look for off the shelf solutions, there was nothing available and so we kind of start thinking of developing a solution and that’s pretty much the start of Smart Charging. Since this is kind of slightly outside the space of battery charging and battery monitoring we decided to spin it off as a separate company and start developing solutions for IoT applications and that’s what’s the start of our, Switch Always On development and launch from that point.
– [Ryan] So talk a little bit more than about the company itself. Kind of the, we just talked about the background kind of where the idea came from, but for audience members who are new to learning about Switch Always On, Smart Charging Technologies, what do you do, what’s your offering to the market and what’s been going on on that side?
– [Nasser] So, the opportunity we identified is that lots of the networking devices used in the IoT space have to two major shortcomings. First of all, they’re all are plugged into AC power. So they are very susceptible to fluctuations, or loss of AC power and if that happens, connectivity is lost and secondly, they’re also susceptible to an intermittent internet connectivity loss. So these are the two challenges that we’ve identified, or we faced ourselves. So the thought basically is we kind envision bringing our experience from the power space, developing power supplies and power solutions to try to address those issues and couple that with, again, our recent experiences in the IoT space. So we envisioned developing solutions that address both of these issues. On one end, how can we make the power supplies to those networking devices more reliable on one end and less susceptible to power fluctuations and power interruptions and secondly, how can ensure that in instances of internet connections due to device hangups, we have an automated/remote way of restarting those devices so we can restore connectivity. So we launched a program, basically starting with our first offering, Switch Always On and now we’re finally collecting our product strategy to address different market needs, to basically address those two underlying problems.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit more about Switch Always On now and some applications that you all have, see it kind of applicable for, maybe it’s been deployed any use cases you’re comfortable sharing, Just to kind of bring it full circle to kind of provide some real-world context to the applications Switch Always On.
– [Nasser] Well, in fact, we’ve been, as I said, we started primarily with an industrial IoT application where one of our sister companies was deploying battery charging and battery monitoring equipment at different warehouse and distribution facilities. These are large warehouses, large distribution facilities that use battery charging to charge their fork lift trucks and battery monitoring to monitor those batteries. So I said one of the challenges they had to interconnect those charger and monitors to the Cloud application that we developed. We needed networking devices which consisted of enterprise wifi routers on one end and cell modems to provide back haul connectivity to the internet. As I mentioned, the main challenge with these wifi/cell modems is that first of all, they use off the shelf power adapters and we’ve seen at many locations, that power fluctuations can cause those adapters to fail on one end, or we have power interruptions that again, pretty much bring the whole network basically down. Secondly, we also, or they also faced device hangups, sometimes a cell modem, the wifi router, basically would hangup and you would have to send a technician on site to basically just recycle power. So the Switch Always On, was as I said, envisioned to solve this problem. So Switch Always On incorporates, first of all, a high reliable power supply battery backup and it monitors both the wireless and ethernet connectivity. So on one end we can provide uninterruptible power to the networking devices, the cell modem and the wifi router and also it monitors the network connectivity. So in case of any device hangup you can reprogram or program the unit to automatically recycle power and ensure that the internet connectivity is restored. So, we’ve installed those Switch Always On devices in the networking cabinets that again, our sister company has been deploying and that pretty much for the most part, resolved all of those issues. So, this has been in our prime use case. We’ve been also focusing on a home office applications. Same kind of issues, like if you are in a home office, you’re probably likely getting your internet through a cable modem. You probably have a wifi router and in my case, my cable modem hangs up once in a while and what you would typically do, call the ISP provider. First thing they ask you to do basically is recycle power to the cable modem and just see if you can restore the internet connection. Switch Always On automatically does that. So we’ve been deploying those at some home office applications, to basically the same thing, provide backup power to your main networking devices, the cable modem, the wifi router, but also automatically recycles power if it detects that internet connectivity was lost, kind of meaning probably one of those networking devices did hang up and requires to recycle the power, to restart, or to reset the network connection.
– [Ryan] Right, that’s fantastic. So tell me then what have people been doing for connectivity issues in the past? Before Switch Always On was available, what was the world kind of using? How does it compare to other solutions, or things in the market that are trying to attempt to solve the same problem?
– [Nasser] Well, in fact, this is interesting. In fact, when we face the problem, we were looking for a solution, we could naturally find a solution. There the whole space of UPS’s, uninterruptible power supplies, but these are tend to be larger bulkier, typically used for larger pieces of equipment. They’re AC based, so meaning for example, you can connect your server, your computers in your data room, through an uninterrupted power supply unit that will ensure that even if you lose AC power you can continue to power the device again, until for example, it turns off in a gracious manner, but those were not appropriate, because of the size on one end and secondly, although they provided backup power, there was no, again, there was no monitoring, or there was no ability to reset the device when you lose internet connectivity. So although there was, I said, the whole space of UPSs on one end. There was no solution that kind of addresses both issues, connectivity on one end and power on the other end. So to be honest with you, this is like a new space that, again, no device literally targeting networking devices specifically to ensure a reliable power and connectivity.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome, that’s very cool. I think this is a fantastic solution and one thing I would like to have you do, if you wouldn’t mind, is shed a little bit of light on, for audience, about the power and connectivity issues that we’re getting into and we’re starting to see more in IoT, kind of like why it’s such an important thing and I know a lot of our audience already understands this and fights with connectivity issues often. So Switch Always On sounds like a perfect solution for them, but for our audience members who maybe are a little new to this, just talk a little bit more about, just from a general sense, in the IoT space, what kind of power connectivity issues are we seeing and why is it so important that we have a solution that kind of eliminates that whenever possible.
– [Nasser] Interesting question Ryan. Again, although there has been lots of innovation when it comes to networking devices, when it comes to the power side, how you power it, the solution has been pretty much, I say it rudimentary, meaning everyone uses off the shelf AC adapters. Again, most of these devices, all of them are powered from DC, meaning you need a five volt, 12 volts to power them, but in order to get five or 12 volt you would use an AC adapter to convert your AC power into five or 12 volt. Lots of those AC adapters are pretty much what I call a low cost. They are less reliable. So if you have power fluctuations, when I say power fluctuations, at most locations, manufacturing, warehouses, even lightening, you could cause power disruptions that could cause those adapters to fail. So you’re highly, for your first bottleneck is that you’re really relying on a power source that could be unreliable and if you lose that AC adapter, for whatever reason, either loss of power or power fluctuations that could cause that adaptive to fail, your network connectivity is gone or down and that requires what we call a truck roll. Someone has to go to the site, inspect the device, swap if that device, or swap that AC adapters to restore connection. So again, so a big part of this whole IoT is that we we’re connected 24/7, but if you lose power, or of that power supply fails, that premise goes out the window, So that’s the first challenge. The second challenge is that, I said like most, I mean, lots of those networking devices do hang up. You have memory issues, memory leaks. To think about cell modems, they’re always like an update, they have updates to the, whether it’s a firmware, or like an update. So they’re kind of like in a network protocols. So quite frequently your cell modem, basically same thing, may hangup and may require to be restarted, to reestablish connection. So I said we’re kind of in a space where we assume that the minute you install networking devices, you’re set, you’re connected 24/7. The reality is that again, power is unreliable. We have lots of device hangups and they happen whether we like them or not and again, IoT, or users of IoT technologies have to think proactively as far as anticipating those problems and how they’re gonna solve them.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, that’s fantastic. I think, the more connectivity officers that are out there, the more deployments that are getting out into the market, a solution like Switch Always On is very important to ensuring that the ROI is realized, because without the connection, if the connection fails and you’re not getting the data you need, you’re not being able to make the decisions you need and just the overall solution doesn’t seem as, or doesn’t have the best chance of succeeding. So I appreciate those insights. I wanted to take it back for a second to when you create a Switch Always On and just talk to me about how you all evaluated the market opportunity and kind of identified the target markets for the product and the reason I’m asking you is because I’d love it if you could provide some advice for those in our audience who are looking to kind of get into the IoT market, maybe they have an idea, or they have a solution they’re looking to build in some capacity or some component for IoT and they’re trying to better understand how do they evaluate market opportunity. How do they identify target markets for a particular product? And I think your product is so unique and such a great offering that I’m sure there’s some good insights that you should be able to share from the kind of the creation of it.
– [Nasser] Again, very interesting question. I think literally started with a need that we did identify, I mean, what I call a pain. So we literally had a challenge that we face ourselves. I said we literally, I remember like in one of the sites we had was an Ikea distribution center, like in upstate New York and we literally, would loose connectivity once a week, or once every couple of weeks and a technician would go there and in most cases just like unplug and replug their networking devices. So it was becoming kind of costly and it was becoming a challenge, because again, with that specific site we lost connectivity quite frequently. So I think my point, the first issue is just identify some sort of a pain, some sort of a void. In our case, again,, there was a pain point and we’re trying to address that. So that’s, again, that’s how the opportunity basically started. Secondly, we started scouting for solutions. Our first reaction was not, okay, let’s go ahead and develop a product. We assume probably we may find solutions in the marketplace that may address this issue. As we search here, we did find gaps. As I said, there were UPSs on one end that probably could provide uninterruptible power insured. Again, at least from the power side, power is maintained, but as I said, that solution has its limitation in terms of size and weight and backup time. In fact, most UPSs are only good for like 10, 15 minutes. We want something longer. They were quite bulky. They won’t fit in those cabinets. So again, although there were solutions in the marketplace, they’re were challenges with those solutions. So the first thing I would say, again, find a pain point on one end and secondly, hopefully find, probably start with a niche market. In our case we’re lucky, because it was our sister company that was in need of such a solution. So we have, if you think of it, our launch customer was already kind of ready to start using our solution, our product. I think for a new idea, it’s more of find a niche market where the pain is very visible. I mean, that means they’re really experiencing that problem and they’re really in need for a solution, because it’s way easier to present such a solution and have acceptance versus going to a market that’s probably not necessarily experiencing that pain and it’s gonna be take more time and effort and investment to, again, first of all, establish that there’s actually a pain and they do need the solution. So I think start.
– [Ryan] Yeah, basically trying to force it in a sense.
– [Nasser] Exactly.
– So I think starting with a pain point, starting, or finding a niche market, or customer that’s really experiencing that pain probably is the best way to start exploring, again, developing, or again, taking some of those ideas to market and even through that process, in fact, when we first started, you kind of learn, and figure out and tune in your products. So for example, as we started, again, make that product available to other clients and customers, we started learning about new pain points. So for example, we are seeing more and more devices that require POEs, power over ethernet. So we’re developing a new, that’s more POE based, because I said some of the new networking devices don’t even have a five volt, 12 volt. They’re powered by a POE, or POE+, or ++ and so on and so forth. We’ve seen some customers looking for longer backup time. They want six hours and 12 hours. So as you start also, I would stay always in the test market test mode, meaning don’t assume that your product and your solution is perfect and everyone should buy it. It’s more of try to offer a solution you think that may solve the immediate need, but I think could be on the look, because you may identify other problems, other more pain points that are more pertinent and you probably have to, again, change focus, or pivot to try to take advantage of those opportunities.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. I think that’s fantastic advice. I wanted to kind of wrap or start to wrap up here and ask you a question about what the future looks like at the company as a whole, but also just with Switch Always On, where do you see kind of it evolving into? Are there different versions of it, is there different applications for it, different industries you’re trying to penetrate with it? What does the evolution of this look like, without giving away, obviously any secrets, but so know we can get a sense of how it could evolve?
– [Nasser] Well it’s kind of interesting. We started with the Switch Always On, our first product offering and I said, as we interfaced with different market segments, we’re identifying different pains. So for example, on one end, one of the new accessories we’ll be introducing is a smart AC, what do you call it, plug, that also interfaces with the Switch Always On. So we can always restart, or cycle AC equipment, for example, there’s what they call DC power. Again, we’re introducing a POE version, so it’s gonna be primarily for wifi, enterprise wifi routers that require POE and we envision more and more, adding more backup power, more backup time. I said we have applications where they require 12, or 24 hours. To be honest with you, we are more in a, more of a co-creation mode as we identify a product is legit we’re trying to see if we can expand our offering to meet those needs, but we’re, at least on the product roadmap with a POE version on one end, and we have an accessory, which is an AC plug that interfaces or expands the capability of Switch Always On, at least around the short term. On the enterprise side, we’re also developing enterprise application that allows enterprise users to remotely manage Switch Always On devices at multiple sites, do a grouping, group programming. So were trying to, and also developing APIs so they can integrate it with their equipment. So, again there’s some API/Cloud enterprise application development on one end and we’re looking at like different products spinning out, or expanding our Switch Always On to meet different needs.
– [Ryan] Right, that’s fantastic. It’s very exciting and to hear what you have going on, obviously the current offerings seems fantastic. So I can only imagine the future’s gonna be even better for the market and for the company in general. So if our audience out there is interested in learning more, wants to reach out with follow up questions, anything like that, or even buy your solutions, what’s the best way to do that?
– [Nasser] Well the best way, probably find us on SwitchAlwaysOn.com, or SmartChargeTech.com. You’ll find lots of resources and they’ll be able to connect with us through those two websites.
– Fantastic, we’ll make sure we link all that up in our description and any of the promotion that we do for it and hope that our audience can find out more information, follow up if they have any questions and get Switch Always On in their solution. So this has been fantastic Nasser. Thanks again so much for your time.
– [Nasser] Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. Thank you, Ryan.
– [Ryan] All right 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 Ryan.IoTForAll.com 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.