George Tsintzouras, CEO and Co-founder of Alert Labs tells us about minimizing property damage in buildings.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
George Tsintzouras: My family and the Alert Labs team are doing well. Thank you for asking. Like the rest of the world, we’re adapting to a new way of life, including work and school, but overall, everyone is doing well, and we’re finding creative and different ways to have fun and keep in touch with each other.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Alert Labs.
George Tsintzouras: Before co-founding Alert Labs, I spent two decades in the ProAV (Professional Audio Visual) industry, with responsibility for discovering, commercializing, and creating industry-defining products and solutions. I am also a property manager with a few rental properties.
While I was away on business, I received a 3 AM call from a tenant who said there was major water damage in their unit. If the leak that caused the damage had been detected earlier, expensive repair costs and wasted water could have been avoided. At the time, I was only concerned about the damage to my property and the inconvenience of getting it repaired. The experience quickly opened my eyes to the serious problems facing the water resources in Canada and the world. I had no idea that my search for technology that could let me know about problems to avoid property damage and promote water conservation would result in the creation of Alert Labs.
I teamed up with co-founders Ruth Casselman and Kevin Wright to create Alert Labs and develop smart building sensors that make it easy for everyone to better manage water and energy, as well as minimize property damage in buildings where people live work, and play.
How does Alert Labs innovate?
George Tsintzouras: Alert Labs designs and manufactures a suite of 24/7 remote monitoring solutions that use a cellular connection to provide professional-grade property protection for commercial and residential properties.
We create solutions that are reliable and easy to use. By using a cellular network, along with backup batteries, the sensors can keep working even during power outages. They can also be installed without tools.
Property owners, managers, and HVAC contractors use a dashboard and app to gain insight into normal water usage and air conditioning performance, as well as receive alerts for unusual activity that help reduce water waste, A/C breakdowns, and property damage. Alerts and notifications can be customized according to the user, time of day, property, and more. They are sent by email, text, and in-app so that users have access to the information even when they are off-site. The solutions are also customizable and scalable to fit the needs of the building, and the goals of the business and property owner – one size does not fit all.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
George Tsintzouras: The pandemic has affected how our customers and partners work, manage and live in their buildings. Restricted access to buildings because of lockdowns and physical distancing has been a challenge, and for many, their buildings are vacant while others have 24/7 full occupancy. These extremes have affected their operating expenses, regular maintenance of buildings, and revenue from rent and other income sources.
Our products are designed for remote monitoring, identifying issues, and prioritizing maintenance and repairs. People don’t have to be onsite to know what’s happening in their buildings. We have continued to work with our customers to make sure that water and air conditioning systems are managed and maintained, but also help bring awareness to sources of waste. By managing equipment and resources, organizations can make their operations and business practices more efficient – saving money as well as conserving resources like water and energy.
As for the Alert Labs team, we’ve been fortunate to maintain our operations during the pandemic. Most of the team works at home, while the manufacturing team has continued to be in the office to build and ship our products.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
George Tsintzouras: The decisions we’ve made were required in order to keep supporting our customers and growing our business.
We now hire and onboard new employees – remotely. We’ve adapted our onboarding information to include remote and in-person information. Our employee welcome kits are now sent by mail to their homes instead of being placed at their desk on the first day.
We’ve set up committees to help everyone stay connected, and we host games/trivia on Zoom at lunchtime to keep up with our in-office traditions.
We learned that we need to focus on priorities and make sure that our communications are clear and simple, so everyone understands the goals and expectations. We have set aside two half-days during the week where internal meetings aren’t booked so that people can focus on their work without interruptions. There’s still a collaboration, but everyone is conscientious about how those blocks of time are used.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
George Tsintzouras: Before the pandemic, we used Zoom for many team and customer meetings, mixed with in-person events and meetings. Now everything is virtual. Our CRM tools haven’t changed, but we make sure that we are using them as efficiently as possible. Our manufacturing team has several tools and processes that keep them running efficiently, building and shipping our products.
We use email, phone calls, and Zoom, but virtual trade shows, demos, and webinars are how we keep in touch face-to-face with our customers and partners.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
George Tsintzouras: Like many countries, our federal and local governments have supported businesses and employees with a variety of programmes throughout the pandemic. We have been fortunate to keep operating without funding specific to this global crisis. We do take advantage of regular R&D funding and other industry programmes that are available to us.
Your final thoughts?
George Tsintzouras: This past year has given us the opportunity to focus on our customers and partners differently than we might have in the past. Listening and learning about their challenges and goals because of the pandemic has strengthened our relationships and how we collaborate and work together to help them achieve success. It’s been a year of reflection, but we’ve also been able to focus on the priorities for our business and families.
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