What if you had an idea that could change the way the world worked? You’d probably be like my partners and me – ridiculously excited, a bit terrified and willing to work into the wee hours of the night for years to turn the idea into reality. Our company, reelyActive, is dedicated to making life easier for people through the use of technology.
About ten years ago, I worked with Pier-Olivier Genest and Traian Antonescu at a startup in Montreal. We made radio frequency identification (RFID) devices to track inventory and other things. Creative work but it wasn’t going to change the world in the long run. Still, the concept of wirelessly tracking things turned out to be the catalyst for the work we’re doing today. When that company restructured and we had to move on, we stayed in touch. Occasionally, we met up for beers to hang out and see what each person was up to.
Conversations, of course, would drift, but eventually we – three high-tech dreamers – got serious about one idea in particular: Create simple, accessible, cloud-based active RFID. That eventually morphed into the concept of developing technology that would recognize people and adapt to their preferences so effortlessly that people didn’t even realize they were using it.
Why couldn’t we have a television that recognized us as soon as we flopped onto the couch when we got home at night? Or a system in our homes that knew we were on our way home and would turn the heat up a few degrees so the house was cozy and warm right as we arrived? No buttons to push, no commands to enter.
It was during one of those conversations that reelyActive was born. We decided to make a radio receiver infrastructure using devices which we call reelceivers. It’s similar to what we had worked on years before but with several key differences: it would identify and locate just about any radio device which can represent people, places and things. One of our key innovations is the plug-and-play simplicity of our hardware, which is extremely economical to produce and use, and can be connected to the Internet.
Years of being analyzed, tracked and cookied on the web have changed our perceptions of privacy. People expect personalized care both in their online and offline lives … and enterprises are willing to consider almost anything to deliver that kind of care. Because no one’s really done this type of unique, personalized RFID tracking before, I’m counting on that consideration as a motivator for sales as we move forward.
We’ve done our research on this, by the way. We’ve even published articles and attended scientific conference to defend our ideas and validate that we’re building something pertinent and sustainable. We’re proving that pervasive identification and location of anyone and anything in everyday environments is becoming a reality.
For example, the smartphone that you carry can silently send a unique signal mapped to your persona, so your television can instantly recognize your unique presence and tune in to the channels you prefer while you do nothing.
In my mind, sometimes done is better than perfect. That mindset has prompted us to experiment with our technology at a couple of places, even though we’re still working on it. We build for customer feedback and validation first, attempting to make smart decisions about the long-term effects of scalability and costs along the way. Finding BizSpark was obviously a big plus since it allows us to use Windows Azure free of charge and the cloud is a critical element in our technology.
We wanted to use Windows Azure because it offers a simplified but pertinent set of features and an integrated overall design. Everywhere we looked, it had what we needed: platform as a service, native support for Node.js, notification hubs, great long-term pricing – it’s a good fit for our application and for our company. The whole thing is just very well thought out and well put together. It’s permissive enough to allow us the flexibility to do what we need to do but not so big that we get mired down in making too many decisions.
At Notman House, where we were housed during FounderFuel and which is now a partner with Microsoft Ventures as Montreal’s home of the web, we’ve connected the physical and digital worlds so that people anywhere in the world can see who is there, what they’re doing and even connect on social media to the people in the house.
They can do that because the staff, regulars and accelerator team members carry reelyActive tags on their key chains or bags. Managers in the house, for instance, use the live directory daily to find out when people are in or out of the office. Co-workers can check the directory to see whether or not have teammates have arrived or have left for lunch. It’s making life easier for the people in the building – and it’s supporting the concept that reelyActive can offer instant, real benefits through the cloud and invisible hardware technology.
The other reason we wanted to work with Microsoft is because it’s a bit of a dark horse in some ways. I know that sounds odd, given that Microsoft is a massive worldwide presence. But their partnership with Nokia is something that intrigues us. There’s a realistic chance that we could do something absolutely mind-blowing with our technology if we can push our technology into a Nokia OS and handset combo. That would make the smartphone the carrier of all the equipment so the average person can take advantage of the Internet of Thing even as the phone spends more time in the user’s pocket.
Change the world? We think we can. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.
Here's an interview that we did with Jeffrey on The BizSpark Show.