Michigan entrepreneur adding to the Internet of things
Source: Detroit Free Press on November 5, 2016 | Frank Witsil
Jake Sigal, the founder and CEO of Tome, is helping to create the Internet of things.
To put it simply, the Internet of things — IoT in tech-speak — is the complex concept that everyday objects have network connectivity, putting them on the path to automation and artificial intelligence. Tome — pronounced like home but with a T — helps devices talk to each other using apps.
"We are a software development company," said Sigal, 35, and a third-generation entrepreneur. "We help Fortune 500 companies retrofit existing products that they've made for 30 to 100 years and help get those products connected into the Internet of things."
Sigal, who grew up in Ohio, said he combined his love of music and engineering by studying product development of music devices — especially electronic ones, such as amplifiers and speakers — at Ohio University. He also, he said, always knew he eventually wanted to run his own company.
He ended up in Michigan after he was hired by Delphi. He worked on XM satellite radio projects in the auto supplier's consumer electronics group. He later started Livio — a combination of the words living room and radio — and sold it to Ford.
Since Sigal started Tome in 2014, the Royal Oak company has been steadily growing. It now has 16 employees and is expected to generate $2.4 million in revenues this year, up from $1.5 million in 2015.
In a conversation edited for brevity and clarity, Sigal talked about what the company is doing — and may be doing in the future.
QUESTION: Tome is an unusual name. What does it mean, and how did you come up with it?
ANSWER: Tome is an old English word for a book of knowledge. We have our mascot which is the all-knowing owl buddy. We have plenty of versions of the owl. My business partner Massimo Baldini came up with Tome for this new company. It sounds kind of weird, but getting a good name is really hard. There are some people who have trouble pronouncing it right away, but there's a decent story behind it. It has fared well for us. One of the ways I know we have been successful locally is everyone can actually say the name correctly now.
Q: What is the Internet of things?
A: I've been known to say it's an annoyingly vague term. But what it means to us is having a better user experience by interacting with products to connect to services you love. So talking to the Amazon Alexa so that you don't have to find your computer, press a button to buy something. Talking to your vehicle so you can keep your eyes on the road. Those are Internet of things-like products. The ability to have your thermostat from Nest talk to your weather application so it knows it's going to be sunny today but it's a cold day and maybe we shouldn't turn the heat on yet, instead let's collect heat from the sun. Those are experiences that create value for the consumer that happen either autonomously or with your support without as much effort, and that's what — to us — is what the Internet of things is. It's more than just getting one thing connected. It's more about creating new experiences because of the connection.
Q: It's really complex, a deep concept?
A: It's deep when you get underneath the user experience. But think about an ATM. It's something that you take for granted, but at the time it was created there were so many concerns about it: You are putting cash in a machine that's going to connect over a telephone line and connect to a computer that's somewhere, hundreds of miles away. How are you going to get phone lines in every 7-Eleven and gas station? You had to pay the phone company for an extra line. You had to make it secure. That's an Internet of things product that wasn't called the Internet of things at that time. It's not new. But when you think of an ATM today, you think, that's not that complicated. You just put your card in, press a couple of buttons — and there you go. The idea now is because there are so many different services, you have all these products but they are all independent, they don't talk with each other. In the future, with the Internet of things, a lot of things can be automated. But if the Internet of things is successful, it's not going to happen because it's deep and complex, it's going to happen because it's fast and simple to use.
Q: Isn't the Internet of things really three things at the same time: The connectivity you're talking about, the automation you are talking about, and there's an element you hinted at with the thermostat example that we sometimes call artificial intelligence?