Jasper Wireless became a $1 billion company by being into the Internet of Things way before you were

By James Robinson , written on April 18, 2014

From The News Desk

Jahangir Mohammed remembers his first pitch for Jasper Wireless in 2004 to investors at Sequoia and Benchmark going something like this: “All people are getting connected, all things are going to be connected, inevitably a platform is needed to do this.”

In 2014, the company bills itself as a pioneer of Internet of Things solutions. In 2004, Mohammed had never even heard that phrase. Jasper Wireless was five years old at least he says before he even heard the term used.

The genesis moment for Jasper sounds commonplace now, but ten years ago Mohammed was well ahead of the market. He was driving towards Tahoe to go fishing. The engine light came on his car and he detoured two hours out of the way to Reno. The mechanic spent thirty minutes with his car. It turned out that all they had to do was reset the computer and Mohammed could be on his way. It was a pointless detour that cost him a lot of time. Surely, he figured, a smarter connected car could have worked this out on its own and reset itself. (Today, his company helps 11 car companies do just that.)

And so from this, for the past ten years Jasper Wireless has provided cloud software to help companies connect devices, manage data, and monetize Internet of Things services. Mohammed says the connectivity is the base, while its software -- which connects into 100 mobile networks around the world -- affords its clients scope and breadth to offer worthwhile services.

In 2004, the playing field for this was small. Mohammed says they were not connecting things at great scale. They looked for enterprises where people didn’t have access to a phone network, but still needed mobile connectivity. Taxi cabs were an early target, as were car companies. “There were fewer businesses where this was really necessary,” he reflects. “It used to involve a lot of convincing.”

“Somewhere along the way, people started seeing powerful capability to transform their business,” Mohammed says. Jasper’s job has become easier simultaneously by how much simpler the software solutions have become and how much quicker it is now to get a company to market with a connected device.

Despite the changes though, the business approach and pitch is the same. “The first company in any vertical takes a bit of thinking through still, but once you get them all of the other companies follow,” Mohammed says.

“The first company has a substantive advantage. So we look for the companies that want to leverage that and innovate.”

This week, Jasper Wireless announced $50 million in Series F funding, led by Temasek Holdings, which now values the company at $1 billion. Alongside the generally hype-y feeling around the idea of the Internet of Things, Mohammed says that behind that several forces have come together in the last 18 months to create the “perfect storm” of growth: better big data services, more developed cloud infrastructure, the LTE network and an almost exponential increase in the market penetration of smartphones.

“Last year, we grew 100 percent. The year before that, 100 percent. This year, we see 300 percent growth as being possible,” Mohammed says. The company has gone from having to closely pick its spots, to now having no part of the market off limits. It is working with everyone from GE and GM to a baby company making connected pajamas that relay vital signs to hospitals.

“I think the Internet of Things fits just about every business you can think of. Baby pajamas. Starbucks. Insurance companies. The Internet has profoundly changed us and I believe the change with IoT will be even more profound and the transformation even faster,” Mohammed says.

It is a funny thing being camped out in a market for years and then watching it become a mania. With tennis rackets, toothbrushes, coffee pots, thermostats, golf clubs, basketballs and dogs all given new connectivity in this recent blur of activity, Mohammed says that there’s a key insight that people miss. The Internet of Things isn’t about things, it is about providing a service. When Jasper’s clients can change their view accordingly, the whole thing becomes simpler, he thinks.

“The most amazing thing about IoT is you take common day things and you plug them in to become part of this bigger network. It changes the object from a thing, to a service,” Mohammed says. The important thing in this change becomes not what can you link up, but what utility you can provide.

Inside that insight also lies risk. Jasper's latest surge is built on the current rampant enthusiasm to put a chip in everything and see if it works online. Not everyone will get it right in the rush. With the Internet of Things it feels like we're on a huge upswing, which will probably be followed by a swift correction when people settle on what they like being connected and decide against that once cool-looking connected toaster.

Jasper Wireless has had many years more than its competitors to figure this stuff out, developing a commanding lead in IP and infrastructure in this time. But its future isn’t a slam dunk. Mohammed says that trying to work out how to best utilize this head start keeps him up at night. There isn’t one specific thing that he thinks can go wrong. There’s still a lot of educating about the Internet of Things that needs to happen. The company needs to evangelize and innovate at the same time, continuing to develop the market and staying ahead of new competition.

For the moment, Mohammed doesn’t seem to be congratulating himself too aggressively for being ahead of the market.

[image adapted from thinkstock]