Simon Coombes, CTO at Gooee, invited Savannah and Roxanne to Gooee’s state-of-the-art St. Petersburg office, and we talked about Tampa, tech, IoT, and more.
Roxanne Williams: For those don’t know who Gooee is, can you give us the 30,000 foot overview of your IoT building performance solutions?
Simon Coombes: We’re an IoT platform, focusing on lighting, spatial analytics, and now forward building intelligence. You connect into the building management systems and get a full 360 view on the energy analytics and the performance of the building.
Roxanne: Is it just me or a year ago, you guys were doing strictly lighting?
Simon: Yeah, we definitely started with a focus on lighting. The desire, or the dream, was always to move horizontally. We started from lighting because that’s the area of expertise we came from, and then spatial analytics – there was a lot of demand for that, and it was very easy for us to move into that. Since then, we’ve been working for a while on an integration to the building management systems and a lot of the work we’d already done on the analytics engine side, that kind of opened up that pipe quite easily so we’ve now got 3 very clear verticals: lighting control, spatial analytics/workplace analytics, and building intelligence.
Roxanne: What kind of analytics do you collect?
Simon: We look at energy performance: ways in which we can reduce energy consumption, schedules, rules on how devices should operate based on the occupancy and the people in the environment. We correlate head counts – right now, we’re tracking how many people are in this room. We track how many people are at each desk. I’m not looking at John there from the time he’s meant to start, but it just allows us to see utilization of desk space, meeting rooms, meeting areas. For example, is a meeting room meant for 10 people only being used 10% of the time with an average headcount of only 3 people? If so, we could actually repurpose that room for something better.
This is a big demand from companies in bigger cities where they’re wanting to get the best value and money out of the space they’re leasing, and so if they can identify underutilized areas, they can either repurpose or sublease that space.
Simon: It’s all about efficiencies, yeah. On the wider building integration, it’s about putting through all the energy data from HVAC systems, things like that, where we can then start looking at ways of making 10-20% energy savings.
Roxanne: Wow. You guys very recently opened your first smart building in the Netherlands. Koopman, I think?
Simon: Yeah, Koopman. They’re a company that we partnered with 2 years ago and have sort of been with us for the journey. That was a collaboration where we provided the technology, they installed it, and then they’ve started showcasing that as a flagship showroom for people in the Netherlands.
We have other activities in the Netherlands as well, we’re working with CBRE who is the biggest property manager in the world, and I can’t say too much, but we have another big project in the pipeline for the Netherlands. The Netherlands is very progressive out of all the countries in Europe. The whole Benelux region actually seems to be progressive. We have stuff happening all over Europe right now.
Roxanne: Fantastic, and this actually ties in well with my next question. What sort of expansion and cool milestones can we expect to see shortly? Is there anything you can speak to?
Simon: Yeah, definitely a lot of expansion in Europe. We’ll be expanding the team in Europe, and a little bit here as well. We’ve got some big projects in South Africa too. We have one with a big banking corporation there, ABSA Bank. US is definitely on the horizon, but we want to get it done properly first in Europe. I think there’s kind of one shot in America, so we want to make sure we get it right.
Roxanne: Sounds like there are awesome things coming! Has there been a particular project that Gooee has struggled with? What’s been the most difficult situation to deal with?
Simon: I don’t know about projects, but building some of the technology has definitely been really hard sometimes across the whole stack. At the sensing level, we’re designing our own ASIC Chip, and that’s not been without its problems – but we overcome those. Firmware, we’re working with a brand new form of mesh communication at the bluetooth level, because we’re kind of right on the edge of development and we’re innovating stuff ourselves, and that’s not without problems. So, I think that it’s not so much projects, but certainly product development, where we’ve hit problems along the way – but we’ve invented solutions.
Roxanne: You guys have won a fair amount of Lux awards and you were recently on a panel at the Lux Live conference. I see the panel touched on IoT privacy in data, so what technologies does Gooee leverage to ensure security of data and privacy?
Simon: We’re using industry best practices. It’s not so much using the right tools, it’s about implementing our processes and implementing the right practices. We obviously implement encryption and security measures where necessary, and all data communication is encrypted. Data privacy and security is top of the list for anyone who wants to put in an IoT system. We’ve gone through a whole certification process with one of the biggest testing houses globally where we’ve gone through and been validated as being GDPR compliant, the whole system’s gone through a full security architecture review, and we’ve also done penetration testing as well. So, I wouldn’t say there are one or two specific tool sets we use. There are some components of Amazon which we use – they’re Amazon-branded components to assist with security – but it’s more about ensuring we’ve got the right practices in place, implementing the right processes.
Roxanne: Other than your involvement with Suncoast Developers Guild, what do you do in terms of community engagement?
Simon: There obviously are the Suncoast things. We hosted their free kids coding class, which was awesome because my daughter attended.
Savannah Starnes: What age range attended that class?
Simon: The age range was 8 to 13, but I snuck my 6-year-old in, and she loved it. Up until now, our community involvement has been with Suncoast. We’ve hired 5 engineers out of the school, and then did the kids coding stuff. I find it a little hard in the St. Pete area and Tampa Bay area – I find that there are a lot of technology groups, but I feel like there’s a lot of segmentation of technology groups here as well. You have Tampa Bay Tech, you have Suncoast, and then you’ve got various different other groups and they all kind of seem to be targeting or tailored towards a certain tier of company or a certain profile of people. And it’s hard to engage with everyone at the same time. We’re still trying to get to a sustainable stage of the business and it’s hard to proportionate and understand the amount of time it takes to do that. I want to be as community-integrated as possible, I want to be as supportive as possible. But it is hard to strike a balance between the commercial aspect of things and also what we give there. So we try to support Suncoast where possible. Because we’re still at that post-launch phase and growth phase, it’s difficult to be throwing money at different organizations.
Roxanne: That’s understandable. You guys use AWS, right?
Simon: No. Some of the guys here may have heard of it though.
Roxanne: Yeah, he’s over in Tampa. If you see anything AWS in the community, it is probably him. He’s awesome. Highly recommend his group when you do look at community engagement again.
Simon: Some of us don’t like to cross the bridge. Some of us do. I’m one of the ones that don’t. The only reason I go to Tampa is Ikea or to go to the airport.
Savannah: Big Ikea fan?
Simon: Not really, no [laughter]. I’m not at all, at all. Recently, I did go to Armature Works. That place is awesome.
Savannah: It’s really cool, right?
Simon: Yeah, that is. If WeWork opened up a place in Tampa (because we use WeWork in London), just for a change of scenery, I would probably go there to work.
Roxanne: Just because I’m curious about AWS, what sort of services do you guys use?
Simon: I don’t know if I can reveal that, give our secrets away! We use the core services for sure, EC2.
Simon: All that kind of stuff, yeah. We’re leveraging some of the data analytics tools like Kinesis and things like that, and when we get further down the analytics stack, that’s when we lean towards the Snowflake platform, which is super cool.
Savannah: How many people do you have over in the London office?
Simon: It’s kind of a transient office. I would say there are around 12 people that are based there, and we have people up north in England as well, and they travel down.
Savannah: How in the world do you manage all that?
Simon: I have a counterpart in the UK who heads up the embedded and hardware engineering. So, he deals with all of that.
Roxanne: Is it hard to collaborate with a team five hours away?
Simon: Slack is a wonderful tool.
Roxanne: Yes, yes, it is.
Simon: It’s taken us 3 years to get to a really sweet spot of collaboration. The team here, it happened very quickly. They’re all awesome. Everyone works together really well. There’s a lot of openness here, a lot of collaboration. We also have some people in Ukraine that work on the very low level embedded stuff. It was hard, but through perseverance and enforcing certain processes, I think we have a much better level of collaboration. We’ll bring engineers from the UK over here because we have a large test lab up on Gandy, 14,000 square feet. I’d be happy to take you there though if you want to see it some time, for sure.
Roxanne: Um yes, I want to see that. That’s awesome.
Simon: I’d be happy for you to come by. We have little robots there that automate–
Savannah: There are robots?!
Simon: Yeah, that we built.
Savannah: How cool it that! So how did you end up in the little teeny, tiny town of St. Pete?
Simon: I lived here prior to this job. This company spun out of a lighting company which I worked for.
Simon: Yeah. The whole concept of Gooee was conceived there. Myself and the other founders realized very quickly that for it to be successful, it couldn’t be attributed to one lighting company. It had to be an independent business.
3 or 4 years ago, when someone came up with a technology concept in a business, it’s like, “Okay, we’re heading west.” So, I did. And yeah, it was brutal. We rented office space in San Francisco. We’d interview someone in the morning and they’d have a job somewhere else 3 hours later. I was going to stay here and commute there because we still had a lot happening in Europe and I could see leaving Friday afternoon and coming back Monday and half the team would be working in the startup next to us because we were in one of those coworking spaces.
So Andrew, the main founder of the business, was like, “Why don’t we just look into St. Pete? You like it there, you live there.” I sort of started looking around and investigating and then realized there’s actually quite a good talent pool of engineers here. So, it kind of started then, and we worked out of an office up in Clearwater, and then we found this place. The building owners here seemed to really be interested in attracting startups. They constructed a really good deal for us here and then we kind of just started growing really.
Roxanne: Just out of curiosity, where in Clearwater were you guys?
Simon: On the corner of US 19 and Gulf to Bay, but I think it’s being demolished to be condos.
Roxanne: Of course, it’s all condos now.
Simon: It’s on the water, so it’s inevitable, right?
Roxanne: Sadly. You were just heading into the talent aspect of things. How have you found St. Pete to serve your needs for talent? Have you still had to look elsewhere?
Simon: I mean, I think it’s peaks and troughs, right? There is a good pool of talent here, but there’s also a growing number of tech companies, which is good. I like that. It creates better community. I think that it’s not as big a pool as, say, New York or Austin or the Bay area in California. So, at times, there are good people available that we’d like to bring on, but it just hasn’t worked out. At times, we’ve had to look remotely. We have four remote workers right now.
Savannah: Where are they at?
Simon: One’s on the west coast of Florida, one’s in North Carolina, one’s in New Jersey, and one’s in LA.
Savannah: Those are kind of unusual places too.
Simon: Yeah. North Carolina’s on a lot of people’s radar. Mine as well. I want to move there one day.
Simon: Charlotte or Asheville area, yeah. Asheville’s on the top of the list. It would be for most of the people in this office, I think. If I walked out of this office now and said, “Guys, we’re moving to Asheville,” there would be a celebration. I love it. I love the mountains. There’s a good community of people there.
Roxanne: Yeah, it’s a more progressive area. Gooee would probably do pretty well there.
Simon: But I always say St. Pete is very progressive, very accepting, great bunch of people here, great lifestyle. From my perspective, it’s great connections for travel. I can go to London, I can go to Switzerland, I can go to Frankfurt, and they have Amsterdam coming up next year. I can go straight to New York, I can go straight to San Francisco. It’s perfect.
Roxanne: And Iceland too now! Do your employees still get creative time here?
Simon: Last Friday of every month, we do a hack day, and just give people the freedom to do whatever they want. And we try and have fun as well. We do game nights every month.
Savannah: Here, or do you guys out and do those?
Simon: We do it here. We’ll do Mario Kart or we’ll do board games. We’re doing Mario Kart for our Christmas party as well. We’re going to get a projector and a screen at 3 Daughters and smash it out then. But yeah, back to the original question, yes we do. Again, it’s the balance between ‘shit, we need to get this work done’ but also, ‘okay, we need a bit of down time’ as well. And we try to go for dinner, or we’ll go for lunch and stuff as well at times.
Roxanne: What do you hope to see in the next few years in Tampa Bay when it comes to tech?
Simon: I would like to see a more unified non-profit group that’s bringing companies together. Because I do feel like Tampa Bay Tech is serving a purpose for the big companies, the Nielsens, the Tech Datas and all that kind of thing, which is sort of why we don’t get actively involved with them.
I would really like to see Suncoast expand as well. I feel they had a really cool space down at Station House and it’s a shame they lost that space.
Roxanne: Back when they were The Iron Yard.
Simon: Yeah, I thought that was a good space.
Roxanne: Station House is beautiful. Their new space is nice. I’ve been there a couple times. It’s a little bit smaller than what I would think they’d need. I hope they expand, and I hope it goes well because they’re doing such a good service.
Simon: Yeah, for sure. I’d like to see them expand their curriculum to include Python because we use it. And maybe more data science based as well. Right now, they have one course, don’t they? A full stack course, encapsulating .NET, Ruby, and some front end stuff. I think a Python course would be very valuable.
Roxanne: Yeah. I talked to her about this when I was doing the interview with her, and I don’t think it’s-
Simon: I don’t think it’s going to be happening for a while.
Roxanne: No. She did mention they want to do DevOps course at some point.
Simon: I think I have an issue with that. I don’t know if you can learn DevOps in three months. I wouldn’t hire someone who learned DevOps in three months.
Roxanne: I would assume it would be a longer program.
Simon: It would be going into a junior position as well. And you have to have an intrinsic background because the best DevOps people I’ve seen are engineers that have kind of moved into that space. So, I feel that.
Roxanne: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone thinking of going into tech? Any words of wisdom from your years in the industry?
Simon: Just find something you love and do that. If you want to do front end, do front end. If you want to do back end, do back end. I think as long as you have a passion for it, that passion will make you a better engineer, because you’ll get that problem that you just can’t put down, and that you’ll just want to get through it because there’ll be such an interest in wanting to do it. So, I’d say pick the area that you love the most and do that. And learn Python.
Roxanne: And learn Python [laughter].
Simon: We’re doing a lot of Go now as well. So, Python and Go.
Savannah: Okay. Python and Go, got it.
Roxanne: I think I know the answer to this one because we’ve been talking about it, but who is a person or an organization that you think is doing something right and innovative in the area, and why?
Simon: Gooee [laughter]. Just kidding!
Roxanne: Damn, I even put ‘outside of Gooee,’ I just didn’t say it!
Simon: Suncoast Developers Guild would obviously be there. I like the not-for-profit approach. I think that’s very noble of them.
Roxanne: Any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline for Gooee or for yourself?
Simon: Next year, we have a lot of opportunity to expand, so we have some very big contracts on the horizon.
Savannah: Is that mostly overseas?
Simon: Correct. Although we do have an initiative underway which is horticultural projects for the US.
Savannah: With that, how do you see the expansion in St. Pete going?
Simon: I mean, we’re not really geographically bound to any one area. The horticultural project, which is effectively an automated growlight system for the cannabis market, will be–
Simon: Canada, California, Colorado, Oregon.
Roxanne: Much obliged.
Simon: We have a fully working solution that we exhibited in Portland a month or so back at – I can’t remember the name of it, PotCon, whatever you want to call it [laughter]. The reception was great, and we’ve got some really interesting ideas about how we could make it very energy-efficient and automate the whole process for the different species and optimizing for various different properties like weight and so on and so forth. Sensor-driven, analytics-driven growing process, so it’s kind of cool.
Roxanne: That is really cool.
Simon: Yeah, and one I’m very interested in myself as well. Interpret that how you will.
Savannah: Where do you test that out at?
Simon: Not in my house, okay? [laughter] We’re looking at different spaces. We certainly can’t use our test lab, that’s for sure. We’ll be looking at ways in which we can do it, and we’ll be looking to pilot it in with some growers, but we can put that in a subsection of their area to see how we benchmark against the manual process.
Savannah: How did you come up with the name Gooee?
Simon: It was actually an idea for a cliché social media app in 2012. There was going to be a private social media aggregator, so I would aggregate my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with my wife’s and so forth, and we could create a very private network and then curate content based on imagery, location, messaging for families. Myself and the other guys thought of it. We’d relocated over here, and we were trying to keep parents and siblings up to date with what we were doing on a day-to-day basis, we’d just had kids, and it was like, “Well I use Instagram but I also use Facebook and I use Twitter.” At the time, I was using Foursquare as well. And so, we were thinking, if we could just funnel this into an abstract layer… and so that whole Gooee thing was one, we had the five-letter domain name, so we were like, “Cool, it sounds like it could apply to anything. We could be the next Google.” And it just kind of grew from there really. That kind of got cast aside, and then when we came up with what Gooee is now, we were like, “Let’s call it Gooee!”
Gooee has designed & engineered an enterprise scale IoT lighting platform that provides sensing, control, and communication layers that integrate with an enterprise scale cloud platform. The innovative service-driven, scalable framework enables lighting manufacturers and building management companies to connect to the IoT.
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