More than a decade ago Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket were MIT graduate students in the same research group. They hit it off and made a habit of tinkering on things together. Soon they started a company. That teamwork proved lucrative when they sold Meraki, an enterprise networking company, to Cisco for $1.2 billion in 2012.
After leaving Cisco the duo was looking for a next adventure. It didn’t take them long to find a huge one. Their new start-up, Samsara, aims to disrupt the sensor business. They’re targeting heavyweight incumbents such as GE, Honeywell and Rockwell. They believe they can provide hardware, software and cloud services that are 10 times better than the existing options, and expand the market of a business that’s already worth billions. They say their wireless sensors will fit in the palm of your hand.
“The more I talk to customers the more I become convinced of the sheer scale of this market,” said Biswas, Samsara’s chief executive. “What we’re really doing is bringing data from the physical world into scale in the computer system world. It’s something that almost every type of business is interested in, whether it’s retail or industrial or manufacturing or even education and public safety.”
A water or gas utility probably can’t afford to have an employee inspect its pipes or tanks everyday, but with sensors attached, it could constantly check in to identify problems early.
Samsara has raised $25 million from the esteemed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Marc Andreessen will be joining the start-up’s board.
The ambitions may seem lofty for a start-up that only opened up at the beginning of this year, but the lessons learned from Meraki have given them a confidence and understanding in how to approach the sensor market.
Biswas and Bicket learned at Meraki to obsess on making their product easy to set-up and deploy.
“Ease of use is a hard thing to get right. And it’s something that we as a start-up feel that we can focus on and do really well,” Biswas said. “It’s hard for incumbents to retool their existing technologies and make them significantly easier to use and migrate to new generations of technologies.”
As Biswas and Bicket searched for their next challenge, they quickly became excited by how cheap it had become to embed wireless technology in devices. In grad school this had been an interest of theirs, but it wasn’t feasible with existing technologies. Now in 2015, with the massive global business for smartphones driving down prices for sensors, devices could be connected for a fraction of previous costs.
“That to us felt tremendously disruptive,” Biswas said. “That’s what got us really excited. The technology had shifted so much that new possibilities were going to emerge.”
Samsara plans to get some of its sensors in the hands of early-access customers this summer. They envision announcing pricing for their offers toward the end of the year.