Here’s What XOi and RealWear are Doing About 10,000 Baby Boomers Retiring Every Day (Interview)
Customers are Using the Hands-Free Voice-Controlled Ruggedized HMT-1 solution today, and expect larger production deployments in 2018.
We recently interviewed Aaron Salow, founder and CEO of XOi. Aaron’s no stranger to the hard work required in blue collar jobs. His father and grandfather were both manual laborers. Aaron worked in a manufacturing company running machines for several years early in his life. The lessons learned during those formidable years became the foundation of XOi Technologies. Aaron is Founder and CEO of the company which develops cloud-based, enterprise-level software to equip service organizations in the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) industry to solve their skilled trades gap by putting their best tech on every site. Aaron also loves his family, motorcycles, and great food in his hometown of Nashville, TN.
Tell us a bit about your company.
We started XOi Technologies in October of 2013 as a response to the growing skilled trades gap which was the #1 problem my team and I saw during our experience in the field. We knew there were many ways to solve that, and we believed we could develop software to bridge that gap.
In the early days, we started in the smart glasses space, creating hardware well before Google Glass or even RealWear HMT-1 existed. But we quickly realized that soon larger, more mature companies would start producing hardware that would become available on the market, so we decided to focus on software.
Today, software is our only focal point. We provide software solutions that are used through mobile devices and wearables for the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) and HVAC space to help streamline, manage and scale field services.
Tell us a bit about your product or solution.
Our system is really a mobile-first application whether with smart glasses or wearables, phone or tablet. It allows technicians to automate the identification of photos that they take in the field and consume that information in a highly curated way. The ancillary component is live video or telepresence.
How long have you had that product?
Vision was released January 1, 2016, so a little over two years ago.
Is it an app?
Yes, we have two components. We have the mobile application that’s going to run on technicians’ smartphones or tablets. We also have a backend system that is a cloud-based desktop web application that is a culmination of all that content from the field into administrative and management tools that allows you to build a significant knowledge base, share and retain digital service tickets, manage and administer customized workflows, while sharing support and assisting technicians through live video support.
What problem are you trying to solve and for whom? What’s the pain point you are alleviating?
We talked about the skilled trades gap – 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day is a known problem.
Customers are trying to find young talent and provide them the knowledge to execute upon their company’s growth goals and be able to maintain a workforce. The big problem with that is knowledge– it’s not about age–it’s about knowledge or the lack of knowledge transfer when someone retires. We believe that at XOi we can provide a tool for our customers that allows them to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Whether that’s a technician in the field looking for a blueprint, a wiring diagram, or a training video that Vision™ enables them to create and effectively consume. Or it’s them looking for assistance or the ability to be more efficient in the field. It’s all about getting right information to the right people at the right time to solve that skilled trades gap.
Our customers are forced to answer this question: In the face of the growing skills gap, how do we grow? Not how do we stay afloat… but how do we grow? It’s not about addressing efficiency of the skilled trades gap but also impacting growth.
How did you get interested in all this?
My background as a young kid was in manufacturing and construction. I grew up in Michigan, in a blue-collar world. It was part of my blood and my family had a manufacturing company growing up. It was also during the course of my professional experience where a light was shined on the skilled trades gap and how big of a pain point it is.
I can sit down with a CEO that has 5 technicians or 4,000 technicians and they have the same number one problem – the skilled trades gap. It impacts every size business in the built world and it’s something we’re looking to solve for the MEP space.
What’s the size of this problem?
It’s going to balloon to 20M unfilled skilled trades jobs in 2020. Effectively, those are jobs that could be filled except that we don’t have the talent or desire because let’s be honest–young kids aren’t excited about being plumbers. Plumbers make great money, but kids are more interested in careers in graphic design for example. It’s a generational difference.
Will your product help engage the younger generation?
Most definitely. Kids in their early 20s or out of high school don’t think it’s sexy to get a job in these fields. We need to change the paradigm. Our tool is about aggregating meaningful information that will modernize the field industry and engage younger generations with what they’re most comfortable with: taking pictures and videos on a mobile device.
Video is the fastest growing form of communication in the world. Everyone consumes video and it’s only growing by the day. Companies are starting to realize— especially on the nuanced commercial space that there’s no YouTube video on how to fix a 2 million dollar chiller. Why? Because that information about that chiller retired with Jerry. So who’s collecting that information? Not only is XOi’s Vision™ platform about automating and identifying content but it’s also about creating a curated knowledge base – because the solution is knowledge. We can’t have the knowledge unless we create it.
What’s the ROI opportunity?
These are timely questions. One of our customers, Lee Company, located locally here in Tennessee, has been using our product for over 2 years and recently ran the numbers. Their reported ROI is nine dollars for every dollar spent. 9-to-1 ROI.
Let’s pivot to RealWear now. When did you learn about RealWear and why did we start working together?
We had created a bit of a splash by selling the largest amount of smart glasses in late 2015 to a single customer in the world so RealWear reached out. When we saw the device we thought wow, this thing is big. We were very excited. It shows extremely well to customers. And we have customers beta testing it now. It’s going to be a meaningful addition to our arsenal to provide a truly hands-free experience. That’s the biggest feedback I have from customers is “Wow, this is truly hands-free.”
Is that pretty unusual? Being truly hands-free?
It sure is. Others claim voice-activated commands but you guys have done it in a way that actually works, to be frank. In loud environments that techs face every day, that’s a huge benefit to be able to put that thing on and you’re off and running. It also creates a much safer experience.
So it was the voice recognition and hands-free feature that you were attracted to?
Let me put it to you this way. We had an opportunity to deploy over 1,000 other smart glasses into a space that beats the crap out of anything else they use. When you’re an HVAC tech in the commercial space – you’re not dainty with technology. We learned a lot about durability and battery life. We learned a lot about general adaptability to weather conditions and connectivity. I can speak to the fact that the biggest wearable challenges – quality and the product itself – and RealWear has been on the top of our list. HMT-1 battery life is very strong. When you’re on a 10-12 hour shift—battery life is important. It doesn’t matter how slick it works, if the battery sucks, your product is going to disappoint and irritate. Voice commands, larger screens, the overall user experience is very impressive.
What’s the durability feature that is unique for your customers?
It’s the durability of the unit itself in terms of its mechanical functionality. You don’t leave a lot there to break with two buttons on the whole system. If you had 13 buttons and a 4-way directional control, a lot could break.
What kinds of customers would be interested in this solution? Who are you currently working with?
We have several customers beta testing our solution on the HMT-1 today, and expect larger production deployments this year. We have built a stable of customers who are all interested in a wearable solution that works, and the HMT-1 is at the top of the list when it comes to functionality on the Vision™ platform.
Let’s talk performance and experience. How does your product perform on the HMT-1? Talk about the experience. Have you conducted any performance tests that you can share?
It’s stellar. Our guys are continually optimizing. I have an HMT-1 with a hard hat. People are trying it on at the event. After 100 commands were spit at that thing, very few times did our app not respond—2-3 times maybe. Worst case scenario, they had to say it again. When I think of interoperability of your voice command, it works like a charm every single time. We’ve been really impressed. Seamlessness between the two will create a strong proposition for the field services space for all the reasons we discussed before. Durability, battery life, safety.
How long did it take to port the product? Did it take a day?
Nothing takes a day! From start to finish hunkering down was 90-120 day process.
In partnership with RealWear?
Massive partnership. You were instrumental in getting over the finish line during a hectic time in our business.
Is Vision™ available?
How much does it cost?
Cost per user license is $59.00 /user. We should talk about our pilot process. One of the things that sets us apart is we’ve deployed this tech a lot as a team. We have the ability to work with a customer through a metrics-driven pilot process with a high level of support which has been key for our customers. They have the ability to reach out to RealWear or us and talk through a discovery call of what their pain points are. We will tailor a project and track those metrics across a 30-day period. Our goal is to work with our customers to build a substantial business case for the purchase of smart glass wearables like the HMT-1 powered by our solution by the end of that 30-day trial. In fact, we wouldn’t recommend a customer to buy online. It’s enough of a change and there’s a process that that involves technicians in the field.
To tie this together, last week Lee Company created over 14,000 pieces of content and they’re into year three of their partnership with us. They built a workflow that is structured on every call and is now the expectation for working at the company. Anyone would be shocked with that number. It shows an absolute step change for the ability for this tech to reform a business and add value. That’s good evidence and ties back to that idea it’s not go buy it on the app store, it’s a process. I want to be careful not to make sure that process is onerous. We’ve got your back.
Anything else you want to add?
It’s not just about efficiency and helping your techs be smarter; it’s about allowing you to grow revenue. People get excited about efficiency but are over the moon about revenue. Our system no question creates that opportunity. Being able to answer that question in the face of a growing skills gap is how do we grow? That’s a central piece that our customers will identify with.