Zonoff prepares for Connected Home IoT Platform Battles

Tom Paine

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The early days of the connected home Internet of Things (IoT) market have been driven primarily by the success of a limited number of one-off applications for such needs as climate control, home security, and lighting.

But as more apps and smart devices come to market, and with them the need for greater integration, the importance of broader, multifunctional and open (agnostic) platforms is growing.

Zonoff Platform / Zonoff Website

And Malvern's Zonoff is positioned to be a leading factor as a white label solution that works as a behind the scenes hosted solution for major partners.

But can a relatively small, independent player survive alone in a land of giants? All the major tech giants are building their own strategies, although some are further along than others.

And the pressure to establish greater standardization in what is sometimes a Tower of Babel of competing standards is growing. And consolidation will come eventually.

Mike Harris, Zonoff CEO /
Zonoff was founded in 2011 by Mike Harris, a true serial entrepreneur, with prior founder stints including AnySource Media (acquired by DivX) and Ravisent Technologies (acquired by STMicroelectronics). Zonoff's initial platform was built "after acquiring a field-proven technology portfolio that had been under commercial development since 2004," according to Zonoff's website, referring to East Falls-based wireless tech firm BuLogics, although Zonoff says that BuLogics technology now accounts for only a tiny percentage of its code and functionality.  Zonoff's current CTO and co-founder, Michael Balog, Ph.D, joined Zonoff from BuLogics.

Zonoff has raised $35.6 million, including $31.8 milion in late 2014. The latter round was presumed to include a major strategic investor, the type of large partner it needed, which was probably ADT, the home security giant, according to reports. There's been no confirmation from either Zonoff or ADT on this.

Zonoff's most widely acknowledged customer has been Staples, the world’s largest office products company and fourth largest internet retailer according to Internet Retailer.  Staples has marketed its solution under the name Staples Connect.

Staples Connect, particularly with the new D-Link hub, has been well reviewed and received in the market, though its not clear what the sales results have been. But Staples has definitely been perceived as an early IoT leader due to Staples Connect.

A recent organizational shakeup at Staples, and the (maybe temporary, this time?) failure of the Office Depot merger to be approved is not expected to have a negative impact upon the Staples-Zonoff relationship, I was told in a briefing with Zonoff, despite some reports in the tech media that it might be "windng down".

Zonoff has other customers, but is very quiet about them.

So is ADT now a Zonoff customer? Well, no confirmation on this either, but here the story gets complex.

Various sources ( CE PRO is the most cited original source) have reported that ADT has split from iControl, the company whose DIY home security automation app ADT had been using. (iControl has also been part of Comcast's home automation solution, and Comcast is an investor in iControl, as is ADT.)  ADT is reportedly going with a base solution developed by LG, with proprietary enhancements by Zonoff,  hosted on Zonff's SaaS IoT platform.

iControl has a patent-infringement lawsuit against Zonoff dating back to 2014, and tacked on additional complaints to it late last year.

Also, I sense that Zonoff may be trying to make inroads at Comcast.

Zonoff has more than 100 employees now, situated in the new Malvern headquarters it opened last year.

At CES in Las Vegas in January, Zonoff made several important announcements aimed at broadening its capabilities. Perhaps the most important of these were Zonoff's upgraded Z1 Software Suite and its partnership and app integration with HomeAdvisor.

You can see Zonoff's partner ecosystem here.

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10 Questions for Badri Nittoor CEO of Cherry Hill B2B Startup eureQa

Marc Weinstein

Badri Nittoor, cofounder and CEO eureQa | Marc Weinstein

Cherry Hill-based eureQa, a test automation Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup, offers a solution to the inefficient, time-consuming and the often expensive task of testing software.

The company’s flagship product, the eureQa Testing Platform, helps build tests without programming and runs these tests on hundreds of combinations of Web-based browsers, operating systems and devices on the cloud.

Since 2014, the young company, a subsidiary of Tripod Technologies (Cherry Hill), has been selling its automated software-testing product to various firms involved in e-commerce, as well as to independent software vendors (ISVs).

With the explosive growth of the $1.6 trillion global e-commerce business, it’s critical that software testing be accurately and consistently done across all browsers and devices, to ensure a positive user experience on e-commerce sites. Otherwise, the odds are high that the sites will not work properly, resulting in frustrated and angry customers and lost revenue for companies.

Automated software testing is considered to be more efficient, less costly and substantially more accurate than manual software testing. Moreover, until recently many of the software-testing tools on the market required programming skills. This meant that companies had to pay high licensing fees for the testing software; and to build and run the tests, they had to hire programmers, many of whom didn’t understand how the applications or sites worked.

That isn’t the case with the eureQa Testing Platform. Those who have a thorough understanding of e-commerce sites don’t need programmers to use it.

The platform provides similar benefits to the ISV market. Because ISVs are making changes to software on a daily basis, the software has to be tested daily as well. And with the large volumes of software testing being done in a very short span of time, ISVs are ideal candidates for automated testing.

Demand for software-testing tools like the eureQa platform has grown significantly in recent years, as the adoption of test automation in the $37 billion worldwide software-testing market has increased.

Basic info:

Company name: eureQa.

When did you launch the company? 2012.

Product name: eureQa Testing Platform.

Cofounder and CEO: Badri Nittoor.

New Jersey location: Cherry Hill.

Team: Bhargava “Bari” Chittamuri, cofounder, chief operating officer and CTO

Any employees yet? The company has 68 employees, with 60 at the company’s facility in Hyderabad, India.

Funding: The company secured $600,000 in seed funding from Philadelphia-based Gabriel Investments in December 2015. Sashi Reddi, an investment partner at Gabriel and founder of AppLabs (Philadelphia, Pa.), joined eureQa’s board.

Markets you are serving: E-commerce and ISVs.

Entrepreneurial Questions:

1. What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

In the mid-1990s, I was working at a Baltimore software company when I accepted a job offer at Bluestone Software, a successful South Jersey company. That’s where I met Bari. After we left Bluestone, we started Tripod, an outsourced software-development-product company, in 2002. I live in Voorhees and Bari lives in New Brunswick. For the foreseeable future, we both plan to continue living in New Jersey.

2. What problem are you solving?

Following the global financial crisis in 2008, most startups funded by venture capital firms were told that their software development had to be done in the most efficient way. They were told to look for an offshore provider or a low-cost center to do the testing. But the problem is that today there are no more “new” low-cost centers around the world. So the only way to reduce your costs is through automation. U.S. companies that are using automation for software testing are going to be able to compete better than companies in traditionally low-cost centers like India, Vietnam and other places where a lot of manual testing is being done. These centers have relied on large pools of inexpensive manpower to do the testing — manpower that is not so low-cost anymore. We are providing a path to increased productivity by enabling automation to reduce costs. In addition, we are providing a way for manual testers to migrate to automation, giving them the skills they’ll need to test software in the most cost-efficient way possible.

3. Why can you address the problem better than anyone else?

Our approach focuses on having the people who best understand the software being tested to build the automation. These are the subject-matter experts, business analysts and others who understand how a user will handle the software and how to best simulate the user experience. They can also ensure that the most accurate and realistic tests are conducted.

Furthermore, these tests are easily run at a click of the button on the cloud, thus reducing a company’s capital expenditure and making the move to automation a great experience. Our testing software has the quickest payback, and we have seen much evidence of this, compared with other tools and approaches.

4. How did you come up with the name of the startup?

We were looking at all sorts of variations of a name in order to show that we were coming up with a novel approach to solving a problem. We tried various combinations of names, using such words as “test” and “quality,” but did not like any of them. Then one day, while I was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, I had my eureka moment and realized that that would be a great name for the company. We then decided to change the letter “k” to a “q” so that the name ended in “Qa," which would stand for quality assurance.

5. What was the biggest mistake you made in your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from it?

I’m sure that I’ve made many mistakes, like every entrepreneur. But I think one of the things that really stuck with me was putting people in positions that were not the right fit for them, and then leaving them there longer than I should have. Sometimes the problem is solved when it’s just a question changing their role a little bit or putting them in an area where they are most comfortable. But there are times when it becomes very clear that they are not a good fit for the position. In some cases, like with developers, it is easier to determine fit because you quickly realize if they can or cannot do the work. In other areas, it’s a little more difficult because there are other factors at play. So you have to separate those external factors from the individual’s abilities when deciding if he or she fits a particular role. Right now, we are spending more time assessing a person’s fit for a position before committing to putting them in that particular role. This allows us to have more of an extended evaluation, so we can see whether they are a good fit.

6. When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

We’ve been at this for so long, I don’t think going back to something else is what we want to do. But we did have some serious questions about the business after the global financial meltdown in 2008, when we lost a few large customers.

At that time, there was the question of what we should do. Both my partner and I sat down and talked seriously about the business. We decided that we had put so much time into the business that we should give it more time. We knew it was going to be a difficult six months to a year, but we spent the time, went through it and survived.

7. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

One thing would be to avoid relying so much on a couple of large customers. When the going was good with a few customers, you tend to go with it. But we should have diversified more in order to limit our exposure. After 2008, we had a couple of large customers who closed down, and that significantly impacted our business.

When things picked up, we had a few large customers again, and then we realized that this was the nature of our business. That’s why we moved to building a product to a point where we now have a lot more customers, all pretty much evenly spread, so you don’t have things tied to one or two customers. It’s not an 80/20 situation, where you have 80 percent of your business coming from 20 percent of your customers.

8. What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

I belong to a couple of organizations. One is called “The Indus Entrepreneur” (TIE), an organization with over 60 chapters worldwide. It’s a great place for meeting entrepreneurs. There are local networks as well. I am part of a group called “Technology Leaders of the Delaware Valley,” which is a great group of entrepreneurs and technology company founders. Organizations like the New Jersey Technology Council and the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) are also great places to network with peers.

9. What does your family think of you being an entrepreneur?

They are very supportive. My wife is extremely supportive. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her being part of it. As for my kids, who are 12 and 14 years old, my being an entrepreneur is the only thing that they have known from the time they were born.

10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

I think it’s significant to have the right team of people, support from a great partner, and mentors and advisors whom I can call on to ask questions or to bounce ideas off of them.

Marc Weinstein is contributor to NJTechWeekly. This article originally appeared in NJTechWeekly, and is republished here with its permission.