“Leaky buckets”: Switch Automation’s CEO on helping companies to create smart buildings

Deb Noller

Deb Noller, Co-founder and CEO of Switch Automation

Having recently closed a US$3.8m Series A round led by Allectus Capital, Switch Automation is now – in the words of co-founder and CEO Deb Noller – seeking to help a greater number of companies worldwide transform their buildings from “leaky buckets” into smart assets.

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“Using next-generation smart building software and analytics, we’re helping enterprises boost sustainability, comfort and brand equity while reducing operating expenses,” Noller explained. “On our quest to fundamentally improve the way people manage buildings, we’ve rapidly acquired innovative customers and partners who realise that big data and analytics can drive cost efficiencies while delivering an exceptional customer experience.”

Due to high-profile direct customers like WeWork, Lendlease, Oxford Properties and Forest City, Noller said she and co-founder John Darlington have been able to attract many global partners, such as NHP and Pioneer Energy, to their smart building platform. In addition, the company serves multiple Fortune 100 clients across the retail, financial, grocery and commercial real estate sector.

“We’re in high-growth mode and hiring aggressively in our Denver and Sydney offices to meet increasing customer demand,” Noller said. “We’re particularly focused on augmenting our engineering and development teams to support new clients and existing customer expansion.”

Noller spoke to Dynamic Business about the evolution of Switch Automation, the wastefulness of traditional building management and the strategies that have fuelled her company’s global success. The homegrown, US-based serial entrepreneur also discussed the support provided by Heads Over Heels, an Australian not-for-profit that provides female entrepreneurs opportunities to expand their professional networks.

DB: How did you and Darlington come to partner on Switch?

Noller: After initially enrolling in environmental management studies at James Cook University in Townsville, I discovered an affinity for technology and earned my degree in computer science. Following graduation, I began my career as a software engineer and, shortly thereafter, met my ‘kindred Enterprise IT spirit’ and business partner John . The success of our first three companies – Crater Software, Dune Software and Web Garage – paved the way for the launch of our fourth, Switch Automation, in 2005. Having learned the nuances of helming a company and built an extensive network of supporters, we were able to attract high-quality investors who’d seen us prove ourselves repeatedly.

DB: How has Switch Automation transformed since 2005?

Noller: In the beginning, John and I served the local home automation market; however, we were busy laying the groundwork for a scalable solution for enterprises. We’d always planned to become a global business because broken buildings are a worldwide problem.

Over time, we reinvented the platform using brand new cloud technologies, IoT and machine-to-machine communication. Anticipating a radical transformation in the way people live, work and experience their surroundings, we gained a three-year advantage over our competitors in 2012 by rebuilding our platform architecture entirely in the cloud.

Then, in 2015, we took a huge leap of faith and relocated our headquarters to San Francisco to fill a gap in the North American market for building performance optimisation technology. We wanted to be the first to claim the space and knew that if we could prove ourselves in the US, it’d be an ideal launch pad to access the global market. Today, we’re highly focused on helping big businesses optimise their expensive, wasteful assets using tailored smart building platforms.

DB: In what way has building management been inefficient?

Noller: Well, you can’t fix what you can’t see. By that, I mean traditional building management has relied on vast amounts of building data siloed in spreadsheets, cloaked by vendors or not collected at all. Without truly transparent, real-time building operations, operators were constantly rushing to fill a leaky bucket they couldn’t find the hole in.  Enter increased operational costs, preventable capital expenses, energy inefficiency, tenant non-renewals, and decreased occupant health, wellness and productivity. We help find and patch those holes (and actually prevent them from occurring in the first place, when possible) by gathering and mining data to identify hidden inefficiencies.

DB: How did you manage the move from Australia to the US?

Noller: I came to the US. first, followed by a few additional Australian team members and we connected with local groups like the Aussie Founders Network and the Australian Chamber of Commerce. That helped establish our company culture stateside before we went on to expand our offices with U.S. hires. John remains in Sydney and leads our technical team from there.

DB: What strategies have fuelled the success of Switch?

Noller: We’ve always maintained that to deliver a superior product, you must cultivate an exceptional team. Our people are the absolute best in the industry at what they do, and we’ve handpicked them for their expertise and shared passion for our vision.

We’ve also invested heavily in the Switch Platform, taking our time to develop features and resources our customers need in a way that puts them at the center of the experience. We’re especially excited about our new mobile applications, which allow busy building operations professionals to manage and control assets in real-time from their smartphones.

DB: How has Heads Over Heels helped you with Switch?

Noller: Heads Over Heels is an invaluable network of supportive people. We’ve built lasting, high quality relationships that, in our case, led to at least three investors – all of whom bring extensive value and insights to our business.

DB: How do you plan to continue growing the company?

Noller: Our growth strategy is very much about fostering an ecosystem that serves our customers. We seek to eliminate some of the competitive barriers in the industry, move the needle for our customers and partners and create a rising tide that lifts all boats. To that end, we’re very active in programs like Linux Foundation’s open source project, EdgeX Foundry, which aims to unify the IoT ecosystem and Project Haystack, an open source initiative to develop naming conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data.

DB: What have been the three defining moments for you?

Noller: Firstly, we decided to go into the cloud in the pre-iPad days. That easily put Switch years ahead of competition, and we continue to benefit from that early investment in technology.

Secondly, I had an ‘a-ha’ moment at an industry event, CoreTech, last year when I saw the leaders of three Fortune 100 companies on stage discussing their efforts to build what we’ve already built. Since then, they’ve become Switch customers.

Most recently, we made the decision to create a mobile app that would enhance the application layer of this collaborative ecosystem we’re nurturing. It serves our vision for the future that the industry will be transformed by not one, but a family of new and interesting companies that deliver a comprehensive solution for customers.