The Enplug Display is an HD smart screen that is helping businesses increase sales and engagement with their customers by instantly showing their posts on the big screen.
Today we interview Enplug Co-Founder and CIO Navdeep Reddy. Learn how they are using Open Source on Azure to scale their business.
What is your company’s mission?
Enplug’s mission is to become the de facto platform for public computing – bringing the revolutionary developments of the web into the physical world. We are currently in the age of mobile, and while the internet and device technologies have ushered in era of unprecedented connectivity – this is all happening on small screens in the hands (or glasses) of users, reducing real life interactions between individuals. Enplug and public computing will reestablish, enhance, and generate connections between individuals in the real world.
How did you get the idea for your company?
The original concept of Enplug came about when some of the co-founders were chatting about monetizing idle times in public places. This led to the development of v0.01 of Enplug which was a digital display located in restrooms. After testing this concept by bringing a prototype to market, we looked at feedback and market research and pivoted hard into our current offering.
What has been your biggest "aha" moment since founding your company?
During the initial beta roll out of our displays, we gave them away for free to venues and monetized strictly via advertising. The "aha" moment was when we realized that our displays added value to venues by increasing their social media presence and driving sales - so much so that new venues started approaching us wanting to pay for the product.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding?
As of this writing, Enplug has raised a seed round of $2.5 million dollars. We have a great gallery of investors including Oaktree Capital Co-Founder Larry Keele, Juniper Networks Founding Member Rasoul Oskouy, Idealab Founder Bill Gross, Former AT&T President and CTO Hossein Eslambolchi, Interscope Executive Vice President David Cohen, Lightspeed Venture Partners Managing Director Justin Caldbeck, Atom Factory CEO Troy Carter, Activision Co-Founder Howard Marks, DominateFund, zPark Venture, and Amidi Group. As far as accepting new funding – we will never turn away the right investor who can bring us value by having the right connections, experience, and advice to take Enplug to the next level.
How many employees do you have? How many of them are developers?
30 employees. 12 developers.
Microsoft technologies that you are using in conjunction with the development of your application:
Server 2008 R2, Server 2012 R2, C#, .net, ASP, Visual Basic, SQL
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Our internal operations platform is based on Azure.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
We have a number of Linux servers spun up on the Azure platform where we develop and host our operations platform.
How did you get excited about Azure?
Two of our engineers are ex-Microsoft developers. We got our feet wet with Azure as a company thanks to BizSpark.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Ease of use, reliability, scalability.
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
Rather than focus on either extreme, we strike a fine balance between focusing on building for scale and building for revenue. Focusing on one aspect or the other might makes sense at different stages in a company’s lifecycle. Initially we had to build for scale, to prove that our model was viable and we could scale rapidly if needed. After growing to a certain size, we zeroed in on revenue. They are inexorably intertwined, as revenue can contribute to scale, and hitting milestones in scale can open up revenue opportunities which were previously unavailable.
What questions do you think a startup non-technical founder needs to answer when considering a cloud architecture for his or her startup, specifically during the business model generation period?
There are numerous questions that would go into making a decision like this, but some key ones are;
Can I benefit from rapid up and down scaling to save costs?
Are there any legal ramifications
What are my engineering resources? Would I benefit from building on IaaS / PaaS?
What questions do you and your technical co-founder/engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
Our engineers are always exploring new ways for people to interact with our displays. While they aren’t our customers, the users of our platform are just as important as our clients.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
Technical members of our team are involved in all stages of our company’s development. We are a very tech heavy start-up, with engineers making up nearly half of our team.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy vs technical challenges vs making something just for fun?
Definitely a solid combination of all these aspects. Our team is relentlessly driven to create the best possible solution. ESR once said "…the most dangerous enemy of a better solution is an existing codebase that is just good enough." We take this to heart, and have a mission to innovate for innovations sake. The reason why we are able to this is because everyone at Enplug loves what they do, and love working with the people around them. Without the fun, there would be no [good] product, without the product there would be no profit, and without the profit there would be no scale (and no legacy). We’re on track for all three.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
I always had an affinity for start-ups – not the traditional Silicon Valley stories; but the individuals and groups who would ‘do it for its own sake’ – ranging from organizations like the GNU Project to “scene” groups. I had a chance to interact with many organizations doing freelance work, and also had the opportunity to be a part of a ‘traditional’ corporate structure. I got to see firsthand the systemic issues that can arise from different types of structure, and resolved to be in an environment that would actively respond to such problems.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
Enplug hopes to usher in the age of ‘Public Computing.’ We are currently in the mobile age, and we believe this is going to be the next big paradigm shift.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family or social life?
Enplug is amazing because it’s like a family of its own. Initially, the entire company lived and worked out of the same house (and even before then, the co-founders were crammed together in a one bedroom apartment in LA’s Korea Town). While working on a startup is undoubtedly a challenge and sometimes seems like a Sisyphean task – having a group of amazing colleagues to lean on can help during those times when it feels like you are "eating glass and staring into the abyss of death."
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
The ability to constantly question yourself, your ideas, and your product without going crazy is key to being an entrepreneur. Enplug is a startup because while we have outgrown our “garage” stage – we have retained our speed and flexibility. We can move fast when we need to – which is what systemic issues prevent “regular” companies from doing, even when they have large war chests and vast resources.
Do you have any advice for young startups?
Talk to your customers early and often.
Research, but don’t let existing solutions drive your development.
"You can't lose what you don't put in the middle... But you can't win much either."
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Microsoft has been an invaluable asset in building our startup. Access to the BizSpark program allowed us to dedicate resources where we needed while keeping to the ‘lean start up’ mantra.
What do you think of the BizSpark Program?
BizSpark is a phenomenal program that really makes a difference during the growth pangs of a start-up. Access to Microsoft software while still being lean is a huge benefit.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
Microsoft offers world class infrastructure, an amazing network, and top tier software.