For the last few years Brivo has been seeking capital to fuel its growth ambitions, including hiring more salespeople, growing its international footprint and investing in artificial intelligence R&D.
Those plans suffered a setback last year when Brivo terminated its planned SPAC merger with Crown PropTech Acquisitions (SPAC). But Brivo’s growth plans received a shot in the arm this year when Japanese security giant SECOM announced a $92 million investment.
During last week’s Cloud Security Summit in Austin, Brivo CEO Steve Van Till talked with SecurityInfoWatch.com about what the SECOM investment will do for the company, the future of artificial intelligence in the proptech and security space, and whether a future IPO for Brivo is still possible.
SIW: Looking at the roadmap for next year, where do you want to take the company going forward?
Van Till: Any company that's dealing with information or certainly IoT devices that isn't taking advantage of artificial intelligence is going to get left behind. To me, it's a lot like any company that didn't or isn't migrating to the cloud is going to be left behind because on-premise computing just isn't going to be a thing 5 or 10 years from now. Having an information system that’s not using AI tools will be a death knell for anybody that's writing software products. AI looks very cutting edge right now and companies beginning to use it may falsely perceive they will have a permanent advantage over other companies.
But if I go back to the early days of the cloud, doing cloud implementations in the year 2000 was extremely difficult for several reasons. There weren't very many programmers who knew how to work with it. There weren't very many tools. We had to roll out our own.
We’re in that early phase of AI where there's a growing number of programmers, but you can't find them for anything shy of a king’s ransom. There is a growing set of tools, but they’re not as mature as with other areas of software development. But AI tools will reach a point where they're very, very easy to use. They're getting easier to use every day. There's really no excuse for companies to not build those into their products. While AI is remarkable today, it won't be remarkable in five years’ time.
SIW: Supply chain disruptions were tough on a lot of manufacturers. Did Brivo make any adjustments this year to alleviate any issues you had?
Van Till: We were very well positioned as a company on supply chain before the pandemic. We’d always bought a couple of years’ worth of parts and advanced inventory, at least the component parts. As a smaller company at the time, in order to get economies of scale in the manufacturing process we bought larger bulk for components and wrote larger orders for manufacturing.
We were doing that mostly for economic reasons. Once the pandemic came along, what had been a financial strategy ended up as a very effective supply chain strategy. We had lots of inventory and component parts and weathered that storm much better than most anyone else. On a go-forward basis we’re taking the same degree of caution in how we do things, so that if there's another disruption a year from now we’ll survive it the same way we survived the last one.
SIW: How much of a difference will SECOM’s $92 million investment in your company make?
Van Till: There are really three things that we're doing with it. One is growing our sales force domestically, and the biggest growth segment there is in the enterprise market. We're investing a lot in enterprise sales teams. Secondly, we're accelerating our product development to do some of the AI things that we're talking about.
We're adding lots of other features and developing new hardware products. And the third piece is we’re funding international expansion. These are all the same initiatives we announced when we were considering the IPO through the SPAC mechanism. Our strategy on these three points has been the same for a good two or three years, but the SECOM investment enabled us to go forward with them, whereas we had had to put them in the can for a little bit when the SPAC didn’t go through.
SIW: Are you going to revisit the IPO again?
Van Till: I’d say that's the long-term direction of the company. Is it a market-driven thing. You have to go out at the right time, and that's why the SPAC market specifically fell apart a year, year and a half ago. Btu all IPOs stopped in roughly the same timeframe, and they've only just started in the last few months. Anybody who is considering going public must do it at the right time in the market, otherwise it's just foolhardy.
SIW: How do you see the enterprise market coming together?
Van Till: Enterprise access control was the last segment of the market that warmed up to the cloud. But they're fully on the bandwagon at this point, whether they're implementing a year from now or two years or three years from now. They've got complex infrastructures that need more elaborate rollout plans. But consultants who work for those large enterprises tell us that at the next technology refresh on access control or video surveillance, customers want to migrate to the cloud.
Think of the migration to electric cars. A lot of people are saying, well, I'm not going to buy an electric car tomorrow, but the next time I buy a car, I want it to be an electric car. We’ve been in every other segment already, so enterprise is the only one left.
SIW: What’s your feeling on President Biden’s executive order regarding AI technology? What is a reasonable amount of regulation for the security industry with AI technology evolving so quickly?
Van Till: If you look at the set of regulations proposed, you have to ask yourself the question, ‘Who's benefiting from those?’ And one point of view is that anything that comes out from the government was heavily influenced by lobbyists from large companies with established interests in protecting their own dominant positions in the market.
There may be that bias running through some of the new rules that entrenches or further entrenches companies like Google and Amazon and Facebook and Microsoft and Apple -- and anybody else in that sort of gigantic tech position. And there are disadvantages for people who are doing startups and AI.
A lot of the stuff in there is fairly obvious and benign and can go ahead. But if you ask yourself how effective regulation has been in other areas of digital commerce, it’s hard to enforce and measure. The fact that AI I s moving so quickly right now makes the regulation doubly difficult.
SIW: Any changes coming with how you work with integrators or resellers?
Van Till: Probably the biggest thing is better tool sets for them to interact with us, and that includes CRM issues. It includes lead management or lead sharing with integrators. It includes improving access to company documents through the chat mechanisms. We’re making the dealers’ lives easier and making them more productive in the time that they spend with us.
About the Author: John Dobberstein is managing editor of SecurityInfoWatch.com and oversees content planning and creation for the website. Dobberstein continues a 34-year decorated journalism career that has included stops at a variety of newspapers and B2B magazines.