Startup Focusing on IoT’s Tower of Babel Problem
John Younes, co-founder and COO of the IoT platform company Litmus Automation, first caught wind of the potential of the Internet of Things while in an international master’s program with stints in China, France, and at Purdue University in the United States. Speaking with his classmate Vatsal Shah, he heard about the difficulties Shah had encountered in 2011 when working on a connectivity project for one of the largest oil-and-gas pipelines in India. While Shah saw that connecting the pipeline made perfect sense from a monitoring standpoint, it was a challenge to get the various sensors, devices, and hardware to communicate. “He saw that there wasn’t a standardized approach for connecting industrial devices and that there wasn’t going to be one anytime soon,” Younes says.
The idea became the seed for Litmus Automation. There were three cofounders: Younes (pictured) took over its marketing and business duties. Shah became its CEO and technological leader. And Sacha Sawaya, who Younes had known since high school, assumed the CFO role of the company.
Litmus officially launched in January 2014 as a B2B middleware IoT company. Six months later, they had signed a deal with Nissan, which is still a customer. After that deal was announced, French automaker Renault became a customer. At present, Litmus also counts Intel, SalesForce, HPE, HMS, and Dell as partners. And last year, it won $1.5 million in angel funding from backers in the United States and Canada last year.
Reflecting on his tenure at the startup, Younes says he relishes working with businesses to help shape their digital strategy but acknowledges that helping lead a startup isn’t as glamorous as some people assume. “It can be tough, and when you are working in the business-to-business world, things often don’t move as fast as we’d like,” he says. “You sometimes have to work on something for a year and a half before you see results. But when your efforts come to fruition, the results can be big.”
For seismic shifts to happen, however, requires significant force. To this end, Litmus Automation embraces the concept of collaboration. “No one company is going to own the whole solution stack in IoT,” Younes says. “Rather, an ecosystem needs to come together including hardware providers, software and analytics, network providers, SIs, etc,” he explains. This strategy not only supports the various needs of Litmus clients, but also enables channel opportunities for its products, Younes says. “Without spending time on building those long-lasting partnerships and channels, realizing scalability for the company would be extremely difficult,” he explains.
The company’s software platform includes about 25 different industrial protocols enabling it to communicate with equipment from manufacturers such as Siemens, Rockwell, Schneider, and others. “We offer industrial device connectivity and data collection through the gateway,” Younes says. “We’ve created the different drivers to communicate with the various systems and protocols. That is the first point that you need to solve, and you have data coming from various structures and formats,” Younes explains. “You need to standardize that data instead of throwing in raw unstructured data into a database and figuring out what to do with it from there.”
Ultimately, Litmus Automation hopes that its startup culture, which its focus on agility and flexibility, will give it a unique position in the automotive and industrial realms that are dominated by big companies. “We want to be the jolt that industrial companies need to accelerate IoT deployments,” Younes says.