Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. My guest today Juston Western, Co-founder and CTO of Knomatic; Juston, welcome to The EnergyMakers Show.
Juston: Thanks for having me Russ.
Russ: You bet, tell us about Knomatic.
Juston: So Knomatic’s a mobile software product company, we’ve been around for about a year and we’re focused on building great mobile apps for folks that are out in the field doing works maybe in oil and gas or industrial settings. We spent the better part of the last 13 months fleshing out these ideas, making sure that we had market validation, that we were going in the right direction and right now we’re on the cusp of launching.
Russ: Okay, so we’re still early stage?
Juston: We are, yes.
Russ: Okay, well how is it looking?
Juston: Well it’s looking good so far. Like I said, we got a board of advisors pretty early stage from oil and gas companies, different service providers saying if we had a piece of mobile software that did this or did that would it actually make your worker’s lives easier? And by and large we were pretty on the mark from the outset but we’ve iterated a bit – as you do with any product company – and we really wanted to hone in on things like safety and operational excellence and employee development and retention. So as we’ve gone through the ideation process that’s really what we’ve honed in on and we try to map every single app that’s going to be within our portfolio back to one of those key factors.
Russ: Okay, so it sounds like it’s more of a platform offering lots of app capabilities?
Juston: In a lot of ways it is. It’s a platform because we knew that there were these mobile app use cases but each company is going to have some individual needs that are specific to them. So we needed to have kind of a quick and ready way to allow them to self-serve, to tweak or configure these apps tailored exactly for their use cases. So we came up with something called the Knomatic Studio and it’s a browser-based tool that allows folks, business analysts – you don’t have to be a developer to learn how to use this – allows them to configure these mobile applications and then deploy them into the field very, very quickly.
Russ: Okay, so I imagine the fact that it is a platform is a differentiator, but are there other differentiators as well?
Juston: So one thing that we spent a lot of time researching and then subsequently building is something called a pattern library. So I mentioned commonalities between different companies in terms of what they need to get the job done, but even within different mobile apps there’s a lot of commonalities; maybe it’s an image or you want geo fencing capability within these different apps. So we tried to abstract away these kind of core elements and then make those the logical modules that you can select from within the studio. So that’s really where a lot of the R & D time went into was to make it modular, to make it widely applicable regardless of the use case.
Russ: Okay, the studio, that’s the part that’s browser-based, right?
Juston: That’s correct.
Russ: Okay, so but the apps themselves – they’re native?
Juston: They’re fully native. So that was something we wanted to ensure that we met the bar on because we’ve done hybrid apps before in previous lives, we know the pros and cons of those, and when it comes to native apps there’s a lot of intangibles that you get along with that. So you think you’re going out into the oil field and you go outside the cellular network, now what do you do? If you’ve got a hybrid app you’re kind of dead in the water, so we needed the ability to allow people to still get their job done using this mobile software and native was kind of the way that would ensure that to the highest degree. In addition to that, we wanted to make sure that the user experience was absolutely top notch so that pattern library that I mentioned earlier, we put a lot of time and energy to researching this out in the field to ensure that folks, when they used it they knew how to intuitively use it, they didn’t need a big training manual to understand how to use the application.
Russ: Okay, give me a couple sample apps that you expect to happen out in the oil patch.
Juston: Sure, so one that we see a lot of interest in is Custom Forms. So let’s say you’re going out and delivering a piece of equipment and you need to enter some information about that; in today’s world it’s just usually a clip board with a piece of paper on it and some sort of carbon copy form and what we wanted to do was basically templatize that in a digital way so there’s no lag with data entry once you get back into the office. So Custom Forms takes a lot of different forms – they could be something like a Job Safety Analysis, it could be some sort of inspection-based application – but they all pull from that same form-based pattern library to give you the extensibility that you need.
Russ: Okay and you have done some research where you sort of expect people to be using their phones, their PDAs out at the oil patch?
Juston: Yeah, so you know when you think of offshore there’s a lot more regulation around being intrinsically safe.
Juston: Some of that still exists onshore, don’t get me wrong, but what we found is people are using their mobile devices out in the field anyway, especially people out in managerial types of roles and so for them it’s a critical tool to get their job done, we’re just trying to give them more of those tools in order to do it safer and more effectively.
Russ: Okay so do you expect them to go beyond iPhones and Samsungs to iPads and bigger format devices?
Juston: So we’re looking at a variety of devices so it really needs to make sense for the individual use case; some things might be best done on a phone, another use case might be best on a tablet to where you need that increased screen real estate – something like reference materials to where you need to see a diagram possibly blown up – you don’t want to look at that on a phone or it would be way too small.
Russ: Right, right.
Juston: And even beyond that we’re exploring things like wearables, whether it’s a watch or some sort of glass-based interface, again it depends on the use case but sometimes you don’t have the luxury of holding something in your hand.
Russ: Okay. I noticed in the beginning when you first described it you kind of emphasized oil and gas and energy, but you didn’t exclusively emphasize it; do you expect it to cross industry boundaries?
Juston: Well that’s kind of the hope, right? We’re in Houston and so we know a lot about oil and gas from our extensive research in that area and just our past professional lives but you can envision a world in which a checklist would be applicable beyond just oil and gas; it could be an industrial setting or even healthcare. So being here in Houston with the medical center only a few miles away, we’ve already had some interest from people there saying your use cases really are applicable in a healthcare setting, could we get in on that action?
Russ: You know, with the price of a barrel of oil now being down around $50.00 I’ve noticed with interviews with some CTOs and other people focused on technology in this space that they seem to be doing fine, in fact it seems like their stock might have even raised because it feels like that’s an area you could hold down costs; does that apply to Knomatic too?
Juston: You know when the price of oil cratered back in November there was that knee-jerk reaction from us since we were targeting that industry initially saying oh man, this could be bad. But then we took a step back and kind of caught our breath and realized that we’re kind of uniquely positioned to provide these tools, still in a lower cost way than doing something custom software – based, where you have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars up front before you can get the mobile software into users hands. So we’re a software as a service sort of model, there’s not a big upfront expenditure, you just pay on a per user, per month basis and so dipping your toe into the water is a lot more palatable.
Russ: So software as a service, what made you chose that?
Juston: So there are a few different models we could have employed and some that we’ve done in the past to where you do one off projects, you spend a lot of time up front gathering requirements and then you hand over a software project to somebody and they have to maintain it themselves, but when we talked to service providers and operators by and large they relayed this to us with resounding consistency. They have a buy over build mentality, so if the product is out there that they can just but off the shelf, they would love to do that as opposed to hiring their own team of developers or outsourcing to an agency where you gotta pay a premium, so that’s kind of the niche that we’re looking to fill. We take care of all the maintenance for them, we roll out new versions consistently and it’s very similar to consumer-based software in that people get updates to their applications on a regular basis just like they do with their Facebook app or their Instagram app.
And so we find, especially for younger users, that fits within their mental model better and so Sass was a way for us to accomplish that, to where we can continue to refresh the software and make it modern on a month to month and quarter to quarter basis.
Russ: So do you think you’ll have users that you know, after 6 months or so they’ll think of another app and they don’t want to do it but they want you to do it?
Juston: Sure. So I mean that’s always something that we would evaluate. The thing with products is it has to be widely applicable, right? We don’t’ really have a lot of interest in doing these kind of one off solutions but if we see it could be applicable for this operator and maybe a dozen others, then yeah, that’s something that we would explore putting on our product road map.
Russ: Okay, when do you think you’re going to have your first product out in the field?
Juston: So we have some Beta users and pilot users already out there kind of kicking the tires for us. What we’re really hoping to do is around the June time frame have a splashier, kind of commercial release. In advance of that we’re still iterating and refining like you would expect to do with any mobile software product but we’re feeling reasonably confident about a summer launch.
Russ: Okay, and what do you think the company’s going to look like a year, 2 years from now?
Juston: Well, hopefully we’re wildly successful and you’re doing a follow up interview here in our offices but, you know, it is not our ambitions to scale this company in terms of headcount to 50, 60, 100 folks. We’re really focused on hiring really smart people that can understand what the business cases are and build the product in a way that we can still remain lean and we can still kind of be the type of company we want to be.
Russ: Okay, I assume you’re probably outsourcing, offshoring some of the development?
Juston: No, it’s all here in Houston right around the Galleria area. So that was very intentional that we wanted to stay local, stay with folks that we could reach out and touch and if we had questions about what they were doing they would be able to collaborate with us in the office and go to a white board and solve problems. So there are different models that you can employ, this is one that we’ve chosen and we think it’s worked out well so far.
Russ: Really cool. Okay, somebody’s watching, kind of interested, how do they find you? How do you spell Knomatic?
Juston: So it’s a kind of a play on words, it’s nomadic like you’re on the go but it’s also a combination of knowledge so it would be Knomatic; there’s this notion of an automatic way of generating these apps – producing these apps – so Knomatic is the one we went with and we got the domain too so that was kind of a critical piece.
Russ: Okay so information is there right now, Knomatic.com?
Juston: Absolutely. We have a landing page up there right now, within the next probably 3 to 4 weeks we’re going to be posting a lot more stuff on there so I encourage folks to check us out.
Russ: Okay Juston, really appreciate you sharing this with us.
Juston: Enjoyed it Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Juston Western, Co-founder and CTO of Knomatic. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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