Louis Stilp had a nice idea of helping parents keep track of their children through their cell phones. But TruePosition Inc., Stilp's company, really made it when the technology was adapted to geographically pinpoint someone dialing a 911 emergency call over a cell phone.
In 2000, Stilp sold TruePosition, of Berwyn, for several hundred million dollars to Liberty Media Holding Corp., and its equipment is now on about 75,000 cell towers.
The Drexel engineering graduate was not done. Next, he dreamed up a do-it-yourself burglar-alarm company, launching InGrid Inc. in 2004 about a block from TruePosition in Berwyn.
InGrid is backed by several venture capital firms and is a thoroughly modern lean corporation. The manufacturing and call centers are outsourced. Marketing is conducted through the Internet.
Homeowners install their own InGrid sensors and interact with the alarm system through the Internet. When a door opens, a person can get a text message.
Here is what Stilp, 47, had to say:
Question: So, Lou, a burglar-alarm company is your new venture. Why home protection?
Answer: It's an industry that is crying out for something new.
Q: I understand this is a do-it-yourself system. Explain that to me. How much does it cost? How is it different?
A: We have two starter kits, one designed for single-family homes. And that one costs $299. We have a second starter kit that's designed for apartments and condos and maybe small townhomes, that's $199.
Q: This is new technology, you say. How many patents do you have and what are you most excited about with the technology? I mean, it sounds sort of low-tech compared with what you've done in the past.
A: Actually it is not low-tech at all. It's very high-tech. So I have a total, I believe, of 43 patents, of which 17 are at InGrid. And with InGrid having 17 patents, we actually have more patents than any of the security companies out there, including the majors like GE and Honeywell. Now we don't have more patents than GE does as a total, but when you look at their home-security products, we have more patents than that small division. And the technology is exciting because, from a consumer perspective, it lets them put more protection in their home for less money.
Q: You had hoped to sell InGrid as a package through cable companies. That apparently hasn't worked out.
A: It's been delayed. There's a lot of interest among telecom companies to get into the security business. It's very complementary if you're selling a customer a voice, video and data [package]. Security is about the same, right? It's about the same $30 a month. You can share the billing system. You can share the customer service.
The problem, though, as you know, is we're in a recession. And like a lot of industries, when your growth slows down, you sort of retrench and focus on your core things. So most of the major cable and telecom companies haven't rolled anything out new in the last 12 to 18 months.
Q: What are the retail channels for InGrid?
A: The retail channels today are primarily direct. We buy a lot of advertising on the Web. And a lot of people find us through Google, Yahoo, MSN. . . . So Google obviously has 80 [percent] or 90 percent of the search traffic out there. And what we do is take advantage of the fact that ADT and Brinks run ads on TV and that people go on the Web and they start searching on home security. And the more they learn about us, the more they like us. We've also been experimenting with some other direct channels. We've got a radio station network that is running some radio ads in a few western cities.
Q: What are your goals for the company? Put this in terms of subscribers or revenue.
A: We could end up one day as large as a company like Brinks. Brinks has a million subscribers and it took them 25 years to get there. And it is entirely possible that a company like InGrid could get to a million subscribers in maybe five years. When you look at the growth rates of companies like TiVo or Vonage, or you look at technologies like high-speed data from cable companies, you know, modern services that provide a lot of functionality can grow very rapidly. And we are really limited only by spending money on advertising. We haven't gone to TV yet.
Business type: Self-described serial entrepreneur
Education: Drexel engineering and Wharton M.B.A.
Hobbies: Tennis, travel and history
Recent book read: "Napoleon in Egypt"
Family: Wife, Caroline, and children Jessica and Jonathan