Lessons From a Tech Titan: I’d like to inspire a #UnitingTheForcesOfGood movement

With Barry Oberholzer, founder of Royal Holdings Technologies

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I would inspire a #UnitingTheForcesOfGood movement. By uniting all good acts to others, uniting technology that does good for people, and uniting leaders who have “do-good” thoughts, I would be able to inspire a global population of good.

As a part of our series on “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that seem copied from science fictionI had the pleasure of interviewing Barry Oberholzer, the founder of Royal Holdings Technologies and the SWORD device. Barry is a former intelligence contractor with expertise in terrorism, sanction busting, narcotics, narco-terror groups, and has worked with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Intelligence, and the U.S. Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Service (DCIS). Barry is also the author of the Amazon bestseller, “The Black Market Concierge.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Wanting a proactive solution to things like terror attacks and mass shootings put me on the path to the development of SWORD. Being an intelligence contractor, I always had the need for having real-time, accurate information at my fingertips. The idea of long lines at airports and standard, old-fashioned, reactive solutions to things like mass shootings always got me thinking about how we could use modern-day technology to prevent mass casualty events. Waking up to news stories of mass shootings becoming a norm in our society spurred me on to develop a mobile device that can detect concealed threats before they lead to a mass casualty event

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Years ago, I needed a car rental and saw a startup called Turo. It was very new then, only a few people knew about it, and I decided to give it a try. I flipped through the few cars that were available, selected one, and went to meet the guy. I used his car for a few months and ended up buying it. While we were busy finalizing the car sale, we started talking about what work we were doing, and I told him about the idea I had for SWORD. He wound up becoming my business partner as he had a lot of startup experience — and it also helped that his family founded Oakley, Inc. Now, 5 years later, Turo is one of the most well-known mobile apps worldwide, and we are finally launching SWORD to the world.

Can you tell us about the “bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

SWORD is a proprietary, mobile-based, IoT device that combines thermal imaging and mmWave technology. We use the Apple iPhone and iPad as the interface, and our IoT device, SWORD, to do concealed weapon detection, facial recognition and gunshot detection in under 1.5 seconds.

SWORD will be deployed to schools, airports, security firms and the military to identify concealed threats, such as weapons, knives and explosive devices, and to identify people on customized watchlists distinct to each user. All of these functionalities are combined into one mobile platform which is battery operated, and that will protect masses of people from terror attacks or mass shootings.

How do you think this might change the world?

For the first time ever, security personnel and law enforcement agencies will be able to have a mobile device that can detect threats well before the adversary can cause any type of mass casualty. Schools can detect concealed weapons at an entrance and airports can identify people on a watchlist. People will be safer by means of a mobile device that can detect the threat far from its actual target.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

People might be concerned about facial recognition privacy issues and the right to lawfully carry concealed weapons. In its report regarding the commercial use of facial recognition technology, the Government Accountability Office noted that facial recognition technology is actually less intrusive than traditional video surveillance in that facial recognition technology only captures biometric information, so there is a limited invasion of privacy, if any at all.

Regarding Second Amendment concerns, SWORD will only be utilized by trained security or law enforcement personnel. You won’t have a member of the public walking around and scanning random people for weapons. If you are in an area like an airport, concert venue, sports stadium, school building, etc., SWORD will be utilized to protect the “asset”, which is the building and people. In most cases, you will in any event not be allowed to carry a weapon at these venues — even if you hold a concealed carry license — so SWORD’s use is limited to areas where carrying a weapon, unless you are law enforcement, is not allowed.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I think citizens globally are tired of seeing one mass shooting or terror attack after another. It has become the “new normal.” The catalyst for me was the Manchester Arena bombing where the suspect carrying the explosive device could’ve been detected by SWORD if it was available and deployed correctly. When I saw the news images of parents looking for their kids who had died in the attack, it really motivated me and my team to increase development efforts to get SWORD to market as soon as possible.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

In the tech business, especially as a startup, you always need money. Everything costs twice as much and takes three times as long as your projections. More importantly, though, I think creating the awareness that this new technology does exist, and it’s for saving lives by stopping unwanted people or by detecting people concealing items to cause mass casualty events, needs to happen. SWORD combines available technologies, such as concealed weapon detection, facial recognition and gunshot detection, into one mobile, battery operated device. And, it is cost-effective and can be scaled.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Early on in the development of SWORD, we made the decision to onboard a PR firm to start creating awareness of the product. Instead of just issuing press releases, we focused on tying into breaking news stories where SWORD could’ve made a difference. This was in order to educate future clients of our different use cases. We also decided to donate $750,000 worth of SWORD devices in 2019 to impoverished schools in the California, Alabama and New York areas that desperately need new security measures. That alone creates a lot of buzz around the product, seeing that it provides critically needed features but is yet so cost-effective.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Indeed, one always needs help along the way, especially in tech. Since I come from a non-tech background, the person who had the most impact on me is our CTO, Chuck Bloomquist. When I first approached him about the idea of SWORD, he was already retired, waiting out his non-compete on his ranch after he had sold his previous, very successful cyber security startup. Our daughters were in the same class and we spoke about things in general, as you do to break the ice. Knowing he had a tech background and two engineering degrees, I asked him to advise us on the development. He jumped right in on it without ever asking for a penny as he believes in the cause of SWORD — which is ultimately about saving innocent lives from mass casualty events. The rest is history. He is now our chief technology officer, spearheading the final rollout of SWORD while still attending to his ranch and his “me time” on his John Deere.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I recently read a somewhat old blog post by ex-Microsoft employee Scott Berkun that got me thinking about this collective fascination with making a difference in the world. He wrote:

“We rarely need big things. As soon as someone starts talking about changing the world or radically reinventing something, odds are good he’s talking from his ego, not his heart. Unless he’s working on bringing safety to the scared, health to the sick, or opportunity to the poor, the reinvention serves a want (or an ego), not a need.”

He went to explain how on his last day at Microsoft, he gave a lecture and one of his colleagues thanked him for the first time, saying he’d never expressed his admiration before because he assumed it was apparent. According to Scott:

“…it takes a better man to acknowledge goodness in others than it does to merely be good oneself. Anyone can criticize or accept praise, but initiating a positive exchange is a hallmark of a difference maker.”

By using success, one can create massive change by just acknowledging the good in others rather than to create polarization as we see in the world today.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Get ready for the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime.

My co-founder and I discuss this daily. In the startup world, you have massive highs and deep lows. It is all part and parcel of the epic ride of having a startup. Some weeks, we will have great success in achieving our sales and development milestones, other weeks everything will just go south very fast. Prepare for the unexpected, and then some.

2. Ignore the noise

During SWORD’s development, we had a lot of noise from naysayers: “Your product won’t work”, “Who will want to buy that?”, “You are outside of your playing field.”

The best thing we did was to prove them wrong in every single way.

3. You can’t do everything

As a founder, I am tempted to try and do everything on my own. It gets to you. You need help and you need to delegate tasks so that you can focus on the holistic future and vision of the whole company.

4. It’s not all fun and games

It was extremely exciting to develop SWORD from a sketch to an actual product. However, you are faced with tough decisions in order to get to the end goal. Cost-cutting measures and optimal team planning can be difficult but are worth it in the end.

5. Raising money is not easy

Besides what you see on Crunchbase on a daily basis — startups raising millions of dollars in seed and series rounds — it is not easy to raise money. For every 500 no’s, you will get one maybe. It gets discouraging. I’ve been in meetings with the biggest VCs in the world, and when they say, ‘It’s too early for us”, or “It’s not our space”, it’s easy to just give up and get a day job. However, if it is an obsession, you will never let go. Don’t let them discourage you. Somewhere, someone will get it and jump in with you. Until then, just keep trying.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would inspire a #UnitingTheForcesOfGood movement. By uniting all good acts to others, uniting technology that does good for people, and uniting leaders who have “do-good” thoughts, I would be able to inspire a global population of good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life” — Steve Jobs

We are living in a world of social media. People post vacations, cars, dinners, every aspect of their life to be one “up” and get more likes, views and comments. We want to become viral to become famous like someone we admire so that we can be accepted by society. Just be yourself. Be the author of your own life story.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

You see that iPhone in your hands? What if that can be turned into an IoT device which can save lives and prevent the next tragic breaking news story by combining existing technologies and AI? Are you keen on saving lives and making a difference while still getting a large ROI on your money? Call me.

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