Szymon Slupik is a technologist, inventor of Bluetooth Mesh technology, as well as co-founder of Silvair (formerly Seed Labs) where he currently holds the CTO position. The best way to describe Szymon is that his mind and thoughts constantly live in the future. He’s always thinking 10 steps ahead, piecing together and marrying concepts that do not yet exist or have not been explored in a certain way. In his professional experience, Szymon was also tasked with launching Wind Mobile, a Polish VAS telecommunications company which subsequently ended up listing on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. Szymon remained with Wind Mobile as CEO until October 2008. Following his time at Wind Mobile, Szymon went on to work as an independent consultant until he founded Silvair in 2011. Since then, he’s been busy disrupting the world of connected things with Bluetooth Mesh technology, changing how smart objects ultimately connect and communicate with each other. Here’s more from Szymon on business, technology, and how he’s leaving his dent in the universe.
1. Where did the idea for Silvair originally come from and at what point did you realize that you could turn it into a real, profitable, multi-million dollar business?
Back in 2010 I realized the cost of a low power silicon radio was less than a few feet of a copper cable. I realized we could replace copper with sand and software. But that software part was not trivial. This is why I wanted to build it.
I live in the future, building what is missing. So when I look around I see the world of connected objects. Everyday things like lamps, wall outlets, door locks. Electro/mechanical objects are software. Even cars are software. I saw the chasm those who were creating them would have to cross. From making things of metal, glass, plastics, to making things of hundreds of thousands of lines of software code.
That software was missing. Still is and will be. It is an enormous opportunity. How to turn that into a billion dollar company is another matter – of mindset and execution.
2. What makes Silvair technology so unique from what’s already out in the market?
We dig down to the roots of the problems to solve them. We looked at all low power wireless protocols and pick one candidate: Bluetooth Smart. It is a fantastic radio. Orders of magnitude better than nearest competitor. But the software layer and topology of Bluetooth Smart was not enough for what we needed. Bluetooth was a point-to-point link. We needed a network. So we ripped the Bluetooth stack apart, went down to the metal, and built a completely new stack capable of creating large, secure IoT networks. Then we started the crusade to establish this as the global standard. It is called now the Bluetooth Smart Mesh. I think it is quite an achievement for a startup.
Once we knew we had a solid foundation: the right underlying technology established as a standard, we pushed the excellence of the implementation to the limits. Today we have the highest performance Bluetooth Mesh stack on the market. It is our “Formula1” engine. Capable of accelerating the products using it to pole positions.
It is a completely plug and play solution. On average it takes our customers 2-4 weeks to build a product based on our Bluetooth Mesh module and software.
3. When you accepted the CEO role at Wind Mobile, the company was still operating in startup mode. What was your biggest challenge in growing the business past that phase and into an established market player? How did you overcome it?
Wind Mobile was a great story. It still is. Our challenge was convincing the big players (Tier-1 mobile carriers) to trust us. We had great software. Fundamentally better than any of our competitors. But we were a team of 25 and were certainly not a safe choice for CTOs and procurement departments. Gradually we managed to build the trust relationship and step by step the big players stopped being afraid of awarding us very large projects. It paid off big for both sides.
4. You spend a lot of time travelling between Silvair’s offices in China, Poland, and the US. What are some of your favourite tips for managing a startup team that’s spread all over the world? How do you keep everyone motivated, engaged, and happy?
There is one tip. Sharing the vision and desire to change the world. We are not a safe place to be. It is sweat and blood everyday. But then there is this enormous satisfaction that we could do something nobody dared. I’ve learned it starts with being completely open about the sweat and blood part when hiring new team members. Surprisingly there are people looking for places to earn scars and frost bites. They make a great team. The key is keeping them up to date with the vision and planned milestones. Once they share that vision they don’t have to be managed.
5. What do you find most exciting about the future of IoT?
That what we see today is just the beginning. IoT presents a galaxy of easy – hard problems to solve. Problems that look easy on the surface but are really hard.
6. What advice can you give first time founders regarding fundraising and investor management?
Build a network. The more people you can reach out to, the better. You will be surprised how many will be turning you down. But then somebody, out of two or five hundred you’ve met, will write you the big check. But first you will need the several hundred investors in discussion.
7. Where do you see Silvair in the year 2020?
I like the “air” part. It is invisible, but indispensable. We want to be that for hundreds of millions of everyday products.
8. Who’s your idol? Why?
Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm. At an age of 53 founded a startup that went against the odds creating the CDMA technology, which was fundamentally better, but considered not practical. Known today as 3G / 4G it is the “air” for mobile, a trillion-dollar industry.
9. What are the top 3 characteristics that you think all startup founders need to embody in order to be successful?
Vision. Courage. Perseverance. They are needed exactly in this order. VIsion on the first day. Courage during the first month. And then perseverance all the way through.
10. Why is it good to be Szymon Slupik?
Because it is your passion to keep silently changing the world. I love walking a street seeing people using products I helped creating. Bluetooth Mesh – the technology we’ve developed, will be the most widely adopted IoT standard in residential and commercial markets.