Internet of Things

M.R. Asks 3 Questions: Julie Johnson, Co-Founder and President, Armored Things

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A new player on the scene, Armored Things is using Internet of Things devices and their data to keep large venues like university campuses, concert halls and convention spaces safe. The idea is to automate incident responses by engaging devices that are already live in venues like these, such as lights, cameras, locks and sensors, thereby taking three-ring binder emergency plans and translating them into instant, tech-based responses.

I sat down with Julie to find out more about creating a new market category whilst building a new company, and to learn more about her ideas on diversity in tech.

How did the idea for Armored Things come about? How did you become involved?

The idea first emerged when Charles [Curran, now the Armored Things CEO] and I were working together at Qualcomm in 2016. We spent a lot of time looking at the security landscape, particularly as it relates to Internet of Things. There were so many places where the IOT landscape was undeveloped, and security for the devices themselves was a real concern. 

I was actually finishing grad school later that year when Charles called to say he was starting a company related to the idea, and would I be willing to help. I don’t think either of us at the time anticipated that within a few short months I would be his cofounder and president! It’s been quite a journey since we started the company. 

The epiphany moment though came to us in mid-2017, when one of our university thought leaders shared that while she was certainly worried about device and network security, she also still worried about the security of her students and her campus. That was it. That was the moment when we realized that our mission was beyond securing devices, that we could use these same IOT devices to make our physical world more secure.  

We are now 16 people, including our third co-founder, CTO Chris Lord. We are using IOT devices and their data to provide early warnings of risks and better information to assess threats, and to power faster responses through automation. Our mission is to keep people safe where they work, live and play, starting with large shared spaces like universities and sporting and entertainment venues.

The company just announced last month a 5.5 million seed funding. This is pretty much your first institutional funding, yes? How has the search for institutional investment gone so far ­– is it difficult to garner interest in such a new idea?

This was our first institutional funding. We love all of our investors, including the angels who got us started, and were excited to welcome Glasswing, iNovia and MassVentures into the fold.

Creating a new market category definitely has its pros and cons. We get to imagine the solution from scratch, and work with our customers and partners to get it right. On the flip side, the onus is on us to prove the market opportunity to potential investors. While fundraising is never easy, we are lucky to have very innovative, forward-looking investors on our team.

As a successful woman, are you starting to see any change in the diversity of founders, key players and investors on the scene? 

I do think that there is more of a conscious effort to expand gender diversity in the investor community, and more funds going toward diverse founders. This is great progress. 

I also believe that there is still room to grow. While conscious efforts are being made for change, subconscious attitudes and behaviors exist and undermine the everyday success of diverse founders. For example, when I walk into a meeting, if I am accompanied by a man, he is often addressed as the leader. These moments are not always obvious but are an example of people’s expectations or actions revealing the old – and in some cases current – reality of diversity and roles in the workplace. I would also like to see more conversation around inclusion of underrepresented minorities. Gender is only a piece of the puzzle. 

At Armored Things, we are very lucky to be half women at an executive level and throughout the rest of our team. This includes women who have proven themselves as domain experts prior to joining us. For example, our chief security officer, Elizabeth Carter, has physical and cybersecurity experience at Apple, Chertoff Group and the City of New York. My hope is that by starting with a diverse team, we will have an easier time as we grow and scale, continuing to attract the best talent from a naturally diverse applicant pool for all of our open roles. 

  

M.R. Rangaswami is co-founder of Sand Hill Group and publisher of SandHill.com.

 

 

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