Bob Wilson describes RDI Technologies growth as “crazy good”
“It’s crazy good,” Bob Wilson, President of RDI Technologies Inc., says of the growth the company has experienced since its “official” launch about three years ago.
For the well-known player in the Knoxville entrepreneurial community, that description might even be an understatement even for “Mr. Optimism.” After all, RDI Technologies captured the annual “Traction Award,” presented by the UT Federal Credit Union, during Knoxville’s fifth annual “Start-up Day” competition in 2017.
Just a few months later, the company moved into new quarters, occupying 13,000 square feet of space just off Pellissippi Parkway. The hockey stick like growth that RDI Technologies has experienced means it has already outgrown those quarters and will be looking to expand, within the existing building or in a location nearby.
What’s fueling that level of growth? We sat down with Wilson and Jenna Johns, Chief Operating Officer, to get an answer. The two of them joined with Jeff Hay, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to take the latter’s invention to market. The company is based on a license executed with the University of Louisville in 2013, but Wilson and Johns came on full-time in March 2015.
Clearly, the technology that the Hay developed is foundational to the rapid scaling of RDI Technologies. It is disruptive, to say the least, but the discussion with Johns and Wilson also showcased a number of other areas of emphasis that are almost textbook in terms of what entrepreneurs should do to succeed. We’ll cover those in part two of this article. For now, let’s focus on the evolution of the technology.
As noted in some of our earlier teknovation.biz stories about the start-up including the first one from September 2015, there were multiple opportunities where RDI Technologies could focus. The patented technology that Hay developed measures deflection, displacement, movement, and vibration not visible to the naked eye.
How does it do that? It uses video camera technology in conjunction with RDI Technologies’ proprietary software and processing algorithms to extract meaningful data. The technology turns every pixel in the camera’s view into a sensor capable of measuring vibration or motion.
Early ideas for application of the technology ranged from inspections of plant machinery and infrastructure like bridges to human usage that detected respiration which is critical in monitoring babies, identifying sleep apnea, and monitoring vital signs in patients.
The area that took-off the fastest was the first one – inspection of machinery – and that’s where RDI Technologies’ rapid growth has occurred. A key reason is the constant evolution of the core product, called the IRIS MTM, in conjunction with additional technology.
For example, using the motion amplification video system, Wilson says the company “can go into a vibration spectrum and pinpoint a specific peak and visualize the real motion associated with the problem, thus easier communications with asset owners. Seeing is believing. It’s been revolutionary for the industry.”
Johns added that technology improvements are at the heart of its growth strategy. Three major updates to the IRIS MTM product were released this past year, a clear reflection that RDI Technologies is not resting on its laurels, but continuing to be the technology leader.
The company also launched two new products in 2018. One was the CableView™ Tension Meter, a revolutionary cable tension measurement tool. The system is completely non-contact, utilizing a camera to measure the tension of guy wires. The other was the IRIS MXTM, a two-camera system that opens-up the world of motion amplification to high speed applications.
“The IRIS MXTM opens-up other parts of the plant to us,” Wilson says. Those areas include packaging, process lines, quality control areas. “It will take us from a focus on plant machinery or maintenance to engineering, production and quality control. It’s a natural evolution for us.”
Johns said that the original technology that was the basis of the company is not used in every new product. “It helped us get started, but we have developed eight additional patents, three of which have been issued, since starting the company that are now the backbone of all of our products.”
RDI Technologies has focused on planning its work and working that plan
Bob Wilson, President of RDI Technologies Inc., used to coach entrepreneurs when he ran the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth at the old Technology 2020 organization. So, one could correctly assume that he knows a thing or two about growing a start-up.
When we sat down with Wilson and Jenna Johns, Chief Operating Officer of the company, to learn more about the great growth in less than three years, we came away with a clear understanding that the old adage – “plan your work and work your plan” – was at the heart of RDI Technologies’ success, starting with the leadership team.
“Our skillsets are complementary,” Wilson said with Johns adding, “We know what we are good at.”
Those roles align as follows: Jeff Hay, inventor of the core technology and the Chief Executive Officer, oversees the tech side including the development team and product cycles. Johns is the operations lead in areas like marketing, human resources, and customer support while Wilson oversees sales, partnerships and a growing international focus.
“Execution has been our key growth element,” RDI Technologies’ President explains. “We must and will continue to emphasize that. We’re customer centric.”
To that end, the company has a training center at its West Knoxville facility. After new customers are trained, they receive a business card for every key person at RDI Technologies including Hay, Johns, and Wilson.
“All customers have our cellphones,” Johns adds. “We have a support line, but our customers tend to establish relationships with a key staff member.”
From the official launch date in March 2015, RDI Technologies focused on what Wilson characterized as an “assess, assemble, execute, and scale” process. That meant carefully bringing on the right people at the right time so that costs were not an unnecessary burden against revenues. The goal was always to stay profitable and sustainable. There are now slightly more than 20 employees with more recently added including a Customer Success Manager.
Two strategic investors funded the company when it started, but RDI Technologies has been able to self-fund its growth since August 2016. That’s because the revenue growth has been well in excess of 100 percent year-over-year.
“We are very grateful to our two original investors,” Johns said.
Another key aspect of RDI Technologies’ success has been the systems the company put in place.
“We wanted to be sure we scaled properly, both people and processes, so it was repeatable,” Johns explained. “As we have grown, we want to be sure we are the same type of company in terms of our culture and values.”
How successful has the company been?
“We have named accounts in every country on every continent,” Wilson says. That includes 40 plus countries and growing. Customers include a significant number of Fortune 100 companies in all major markets and industries. Those based in Tennessee include Kimberly Clark, Nissan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tate & Lyle, and TVA.
Perhaps the most significant reflection of RDI Technologies’ success is the repeat business from these customers and the fact that those existing customers are part of the company’s unofficial sales force with their postings on social media and endorsements through talks or case histories at major conferences.
“We’ve successfully matched-up disruptive technology, with market demand, and execution plans driven by high performing people that operate as a team,” Wilson says.