An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Justin Silva (founder and CEO) of Momentum IoT, which was honored in our:
- 2022 Best Tech Startups in Long Beach
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Long Beach
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Long Beach
Tell us the origin story of Momentum IoT – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I was an IT guy at a company with a good sized fleet. We wanted to get GPS, so I tried like five different companies. It was incredibly frustrating.
It was like these guys were set up to make me hate them. And the more I looked around, the more problems I found. You can see it yourself if you look at review sites. Check out Verizon Connect’s reviews on Yelp or G2.
So I got to thinking I could do it better. Better devices, better support, open API, more contract flexibility, all at a lower cost, solving a problem for a million small businesses! I’m not kidding on the size of this market. I mean tracking your trucks is a massive problem for thousands and thousands of small businesses – people like plumbers and landscapers and pest guys and city inspectors and construction and EMTs. You name it. They all have pretty much the same basic needs from a GPS product, and they’re not being solved.
So we got into it. Our premise is that there is a vast market of small and mid-sized fleets who have been left behind because their needs seem trivial, basic, and uninteresting to the large vendors. And if we solve it for them, the big guys will want it too.
I had a demo product up really fast. I got together some talented people who wanted to join me on this mission. Our first customer was the fleet I used to work at, and it just took off from there.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Making hardware is hard. We knew very early that we had a winner, that customers wanted to pay for what we were offering. One of the interesting things is that it’s almost crazy in this day and age to say you are going to make hardware, because so much of it is developed offshore and in scale so that the economics just don’t work.
And we are talking about lead times that are a year out. We built our product from scratch, designing boards, getting certified, getting materials. I mean, it’s crazy what we went through, and that’s not even counting the supply chain issues that emerged with COVID.
The good news is that when you go through it, you know how hard it is for others to just decide to do it. We think it’s a defensive barrier that helps us. We’re less worried about new competitors stealing our ideas, because ideas are just the beginning.
So, big hurdles were making hardware, and hiring A+ talent. Once we had those, and thousands of customers, raising capital was decidedly NOT the hard part.
What does the future hold for Momentum IoT?
We have very exciting rollouts coming next. We started by shipping a basic product that is now in the hands of several thousand customers. We now want to add more features for them, while also adding new ways to track more stuff. For example, we think small fleets want to know where the equipment on the truck is, and when it’s used.
Imagine being on a job site, and forgetting a generator, or a power tool. It’s happened to me, and happened a lot at the company I used to work at. So I know how important it is to just get a text to the driver if they left a power tool behind, or to get a report to a fleet manager where they can see the streets where work was performed.
We’re going to solve these problems with a totally new product launch that is so exciting, I can’t wait to tell you more.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Long Beach?
Long Beach is a boom town when it comes to tech startups, for some very good reasons. It’s located in a place where we can tap both the L.A. and Orange County job markets. That means we can hire better people, faster. It’s got a great downtown vibe, where people want to come to work. Then you look at costs, which are much lower than Santa Monica or Venice. It’s such a no-brainer to be a startup here.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Build a product you would use, and solve a problem for which you understand what’s wrong with how your big competitors are trying to solve it. Go after a huge market, and not a niche. Figure out quickly how to solve it for one customer first, where you can work at cost while you develop the product which can work for everybody.
Do not take shortcuts when it sacrifices your basic essence. For example, we were all about simplicity. So we could compromise on a lot of things, but not on how we ship a device, or how we set up an account automagically. We were about getting new customers using self-serve principles, so we spent a lot of time on giving free trials and an instant demo. We wanted to give customers a transparent experience, even though the cost might be that our competition can see our product.