First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eric Graham: It’s been a wild ride through COVID. I think the entire country and the world have been dealing with incredible amounts of stress and anxiety. The pandemic has undermined everything we think and do. These changes are both good and bad, and change like this is frightening for most of us. This has offered us more time with family but has limited everyone’s interaction with the broader family and friends. We have been settling into the new realities, having some new and different memories, and just hoping we can get to the end-point and enter the new normal.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded CrowdComfort.
Eric Graham: I’ve been an entrepreneur in the building and energy tech space for more than 25 years. In 2007, I joined EnerNOC while this early stage energy company was going public. While there, I was involved in energy data systems and early IoT types of systems. Trying to extract data from large buildings. In 2009 I had the chance to join the Fraunhofer Institute while building a new Center with MIT. I led the development of their Living Lab HQ, which incorporated about $4M of the most advanced building systems in this 100-year-old warehouse transformation in Boston. I was also the founding Director of their TechBridge program that was in part funded by the Dept. of Energy’s Innovation ecosystem grant program where we funded and supported early-stage building technologies emerging from the labs of MIT, Harvard, Fraunhofer, and the Massachusetts technology ecosystems.
During these experiences, I recognized the need for better interaction and communication between the people in buildings and systems that serve those people. That was the inspiration for CrowdComfort. My co-founder, Kevin Loos, and I believed there was a way to use mobile apps, like we use in our daily lives, to better serve people in their workplaces. In essence, we wanted to bring the on-demand services and information that we have at our fingertips into workplaces.
How does CrowdComfort innovate?
Eric Graham: CrowdComfort operates at a unique intersection of Interior geo-location & crowdsourcing. Everything we do or focus on starts there. The combination of these two elements provides building blocks for a unique and powerful data model. We apply these methods to greatly enhance employees’ experience in the world’s largest enterprises at some of the U.S.’s largest corporate campuses and facilities.
Our focus is on employee’s workplace requests and making them as easy as ordering from Amazon on your phone. However, recently, with the enhanced need for data on workplace cleanliness due to the pandemic, we added our COVID Cleaning Maps and Analytics solution. This is a visual map that shows exactly what spaces in the workplace have been cleaned and when. We do this with patented geo-location technology and easy to use mobile tools. We also can integrate occupancy data supplied by sensors or through room booking systems to trigger a cleaning event and mark a room ready for the next users after it has been cleaned.
There is so much room for innovation in the built environment, and we continuously speak with customers about what they need and try to apply our unique methods to help them.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Eric Graham: There have been plusses and minuses. The expansion we expected in 2022 has been pushed out a bit due to the delays in the broad return to workplaces. These projects will be ready to go once the signals change from red to yellow and then to green. On the flip-side, we see very strong demand for the COVID Cleaning Maps from Fortune 500 clients as many more have joined the CrowdComfort platform in just the last few months.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Eric Graham: There are always difficult choices in the early stage of a company. I think the most important lesson is to test and iterate in your go-to-market plan. We are continually testing messages, positioning, product offerings, and pricing to see what resonates with our audience and customers.
We also realize the importance of being customer-centric. The COVID Cleaning Maps and Analytics product was born out of collaboration with our customers and has been an extremely positive product for us by just listening and creating solutions that solve customer problems.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and CrowdComfort in the future?
Eric Graham: I try to take care of myself, but it’s not always easy. As a CEO, there is always something that needs to be done, and it’s a game of prioritization. You need to establish the top priorities and stick with those both individually and as a team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Eric Graham: For us, we focus on usability and providing better solutions to help work get done easier with better tracked. CrowdComfort is the request portal for all employee requests directly from an employees’ smartphone. We take requests from employees across a whole spectrum of request types (facilities, maintenance, safety, janitorial, lighting, furniture, and many others), and based on where people are. We deliver their requests directly to those who can respond. There have always been ticketing solutions, but the fact is most employees don’t use them because they are archaic and require too much investment. We make it easy to use and implement, which leads to a better experience for employees and better real-time data for corporate real estate and facilities leaders.
Above all else, we really believe that an on-demand, personalized experience for every employee is the workplace’s future, especially as the desire for flexible work becomes the norm. The current legacy systems are focused on the operational aspects from a facilities perspective. Our employee-focused approach not only creates a better employee experience but provides better real-time data and return on investment in the long-run for companies while integrating with these systems of record.
Your final thoughts?
Eric Graham: Bring on the new normal, and stay strong!