Leadership

M.R. Asks 3 Questions: Marc Jones, Chairman, President & CEO, Aeris Communications

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As one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative technology entrepreneurs, Marc Jones, and his teams have spent over a decade helping the world’s largest companies fundamentally improve their business through the Internet of Things (IoT).

His list of accolades accelerated when he was named by Goldman Sachs as one of the nation’s best entrepreneurs in 2012 and 2013. Growing up in Chicago before coming west to Stanford University where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees, Marc was recruited by top tier investment banks and soon by their clients. In his early thirties, he was named President and COO of Madge Networks, where he helped to turn a young $40M revenue company into a $500M industry leader. 

Needless to say, our conversation with Marc was an intellectual one – best enjoyed by his ability to not over-complicate his viewpoints.

 

M.R. Rangaswami: You have experience in connected cars. Will anybody catch up to Tesla? What would other automotive manufacturers need to do to catch up? 

Marc Jones: From where I sit, the answer is yes, they absolutely can catch up – and perhaps one day surpass – Tesla. But it will require a lot of help from the right partners. Tesla began with a completely fresh mindset, unburdened by legacy organizational structures, processes, and teams. They re-invented the vehicle as a dynamic and ever-changing technology endpoint. Other car companies aren’t like that. They are massive organizations with broad partner networks built with heavy mechanical and electrical engineering expertise. They have powerful, global brand recognition and distribution networks. That’s their strength. But it’s also their weakness, in that none of that infrastructure easily accommodates software development, which is rapid, messy, and eternally dynamic.

To compete, car companies will have to partner with technology companies who can provide both the end-to-end software infrastructure required to deliver dynamic applications that meet today’s high standards, as well as the partner ecosystem integrations required to offer services like insurance and on-demand repairs.

They can’t build it all themselves, and they can’t surrender their customer relationships and data to companies like Google and Amazon, who could one day put them out of business. We built Aeris to fill exactly that void.

 
M.R.: Is it a realistic prediction that there will be billions of connected devices? What needs to be done to penetrate IoT deeper into market segments? 

Marc: Believe it or not, when it comes to IoT, “billions” of devices is a drop in the bucket. In fact, billions of ‘things’ are already connected today and we are just scratching the surface.  We will eventually achieve hundreds of billions of connected devices.  To get there, two key enablers will need to be present: lower costs and greater simplicity. Today, the industry is only addressing initial high-value use cases where the ROI is high enough to cover current solution costs.

But there is a long tail of IoT use cases – from healthcare to smart cities – that will explode when total solution costs come down. Component costs (hardware, connectivity, and cloud software) are declining with scale and new 5G technologies, and operational costs (monitoring and managing connected deployments) are coming down with intelligent automation and artificial intelligence.

Simplicity is the next barrier to tackle. Right now, IoT solution development and deployment is time consuming, complex and costly.  A developer must assemble components from hardware and module providers, connectivity service providers, cloud providers, and potentially many other software vendors. Vendors will have to work closely together, through partnerships and collaboration on standards, to create simple, plug-and-play building blocks which will help to usher in the next significant wave of IoT applications. Aeris is laser-focused on turning this vision into reality.

 
M.R.: As a Black investor and CEO, what’s the best piece of advice you can offer VCs and CEOs who are seriously committed to addressing racial injustice?

Marc: First and foremost, leaders need to accept that racism is happening in almost every organization of a certain size. Legal segregation was not that long ago. Anyone who is over the age of 60 lived through it. That means that almost anyone reading this was either raised by someone who lived through it, or lived through it themselves. As such, racist behavior is still very much part of our cultural norm. And it has serious impacts on Black employees – it affects their confidence, their energy, their happiness, their effectiveness, and their careers.
 
With this in mind, CEOs and VCs who are serious about tackling racial injustice need to approach it the same way they approach any other critical initiative: with seriousness, intensity, thorough data capture, a playbook to make it happen, and metrics to measure success. When you’re gathering data, don’t only gather stats – how many Black employees you have, how many Black founders you’ve backed – but also capture qualitative data to help you understand what Black employees or Black founders experience in your organization.

And seek to really understand what the data tells you, even if the findings challenge what you’ve always thought to be true about your organization.
 
From there define a new reality. Where do you want to go? If your organization were to emerge as a new model for diversity and inclusion, what would be true six months from now? A year from now? What would it take to get there?

Really push yourself here. Don’t just hire one Black executive or back one Black founder.

Recognize that today, it’s incredibly difficult to think of Black entrepreneurs who founded companies and led them to a major exit. And that’s not for lack of visionary, capable, brilliant Black entrepreneurs. It’s the result of barriers to entry, and those barriers need to be understood and dismantled with targeted action. Neutral third parties, like Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a non-profit where I chair the board, can help you with both the assessment and the construction of a plan.

 

M.R. Rangaswami is the Co-Founder of SandHill.com

 

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