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Nadir Ali of Inpixon: “Be ready for the naysayers”

Harnessing the power of indoor intelligence can change the way we experience the world inside our built environment. I often think about how we can make smartphones truly smart, or any other connected device for that matter. You shouldn’t have to ask your devices for information, it should be served to you as you move […]

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Harnessing the power of indoor intelligence can change the way we experience the world inside our built environment. I often think about how we can make smartphones truly smart, or any other connected device for that matter. You shouldn’t have to ask your devices for information, it should be served to you as you move from one location to the next, providing meaningful, helpful content based on the context of your location. It should anticipate your needs and provide safety and security as you move through the world. This removal of friction can happen at scale with a combination of our location data, contextual information, and applied AI analytics. If we think about the impact GPS had in making people’s lives easier, we’re overdue to bring that experience to indoor spaces.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadir Ali CEO of Inpixon (inpixon.com, Nasdaq: INPX), an Indoor Intelligence™ company.

Nadir Ali leads Inpixon with a collective two decades in enterprise software, business analytics and information technology. For over 15 years, in his executive-level roles at Inpixon (formerly Sysorex) he has tapped into the 12 billion dollars industry of indoor positioning and data analytics, growing to $23 billion dollars by 2021. Nadir is a leading expert voice in the indoor intelligence and location technology industry. A University of California Berkeley 1989 alumnus, Nadir holds a BA in Economics.


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

Being based in Silicon Valley, it was impossible not to be surrounded by exciting startups. Many of my friends are involved in building cutting edge technology, and while I’d been in IT for a long time, I caught the bug and wanted to build something exciting. As a systems integrator reselling third-party products, I was on the lookout for interesting technology to buy and build into a business. 
 
 When I found AirPatrol’s basic location sensor technology for a real-time security use case, I was intrigued. As I dug into it, I realized there was immense potential and real value in the data that this technology could capture. We immediately acquired that company, which is now Inpixon, and started building out the data analytics platform to leverage all of the powerful location data that it captured. That has led to what we now call Indoor Intelligence, and what started me on this exciting path.

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

Once, I was meeting with one of our clients — a large US military agency — and they explained to me the value that our indoor location technology brings to them in ways that I never expected. The customer talked about how our devices detect and locate connected devices that come into their facility, and how that allows them to ensure that those devices are registered or approved. He then explained to me that if any of the devices in the facility were hacked, classified information that impacts our actively deployed soldiers could be compromised. 
 
 I was floored! I knew that our technology was meaningful, but I never thought about the sensitivity of the data that we were protecting in the indoor spaces here at home. I have a nephew in the Navy, and I know how much families of military service people worry when their loved ones are on duty. It’s important for us to do everything we can to support and protect the people risking their lives for us. In that moment, the impact of what we do hit home, and I’ve never been more proud of my team and the solutions we provide our customers.

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

We’re proud to have built a platform that offers better indoor intelligence than anyone else on the market. The Indoor location market is very fragmented. There are lots of small vendors doing Wi-Fi analytics or maps or capturing location data from cameras or other IoT sensors. No one was providing an integrated solution with all the key elements so that’s what we focused on. We built or acquired the key technologies and pulled it into one platform creating a much higher value proposition for our customers.

Our most exciting recent breakthroughs include:

More precise positioning moving from three meters to centimeters of accuracy;

Comprehensive transmission coverage beyond just Wi-Fi or BLE to include any RF signal including cellular, Wi-Fi, BLE, UWB, RFID, and more;

Better algorithms for positioning precision;

Advanced integration with maps and analytics to provide actionable insights.

I’m glad you asked this question, because our vision is to use indoor data for good. I can’t think of a more relevant time than today to use this data for good and help protect people as we battle COVID-19 globally. Our solution helps people with safety and security. Our workplace readiness solutions support contact tracing, physical distancing and workplace hygiene efforts to make workplaces safer for employees. Our solutions also improve healthcare worker and patient safety with asset tracking technology and intelligent navigation to help prevent disease transmissions. In today’s world, any opportunity to help keep people safe and healthy is one that is worth pursuing, and we’re proud to provide the solutions that help to achieve that goal.

How do you think this might change the world?

Harnessing the power of indoor intelligence can change the way we experience the world inside our built environment. I often think about how we can make smartphones truly smart, or any other connected device for that matter. You shouldn’t have to ask your devices for information, it should be served to you as you move from one location to the next, providing meaningful, helpful content based on the context of your location. It should anticipate your needs and provide safety and security as you move through the world. This removal of friction can happen at scale with a combination of our location data, contextual information, and applied AI analytics. If we think about the impact GPS had in making people’s lives easier, we’re overdue to bring that experience to indoor spaces.

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

Every technology leaves room for abuse. In this case some may believe that there is tension between the significant value that can be realized with the data obtained with the use of our technology and the privacy rights of the individual. However, Inpixon is very focused on balancing the need for security with the right to privacy. There is value in the data we collect to provide our customers with safe and enhanced experiences, but there are also ways to leverage that data for good while also protecting individual privacy rights for example by taking measures such as ensuring that any personally identifiable information is masked unless there is a real security-related need to identify users. Our customers also care about protecting privacy rights and we work collaboratively with them to ensure that they have options to address privacy related concerns in connection with the use of our technology in their buildings.

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

There wasn’t necessarily one major event that tipped the scale for us, but rather a culmination of the determined focus on delivering on our vision. On day one, we didn’t have all of the pieces in place, and we didn’t have all of the answers, but we were committed to our vision and understood that this was important and valuable technology. We saw the opportunity to build an integrated Indoor Intelligence solution that differentiated by offering a comprehensive platform solution versus our competitors which were only able to offer single components of the solution. The fragmented nature of our industry presented an opportunity to bring the puzzle pieces together, to integrate the key elements into one platform and create a stronger value proposition for our customers.

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

We believe that as people come to understand the importance and value of indoor data and the many ways it can help them with their operations, safety, marketing and more, there will be a wave of widespread adoption. Indoor data is too valuable to be ignored, and while COVID-19 has created more awareness around the availability of this information, this goes well beyond one public health use case. Across industries, most CEOs will come to see this is valuable information that can help them grow top line, cut their costs, and provide safety and improved experiences for customers and employees.

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

We’ve invested in traditional marketing and PR strategies as we grow, including extensive lead generation activities as well as thought-leadership initiatives like our Reclaim the Workplace roundtable with CNN. But I think the key is always to stay focused on our customer’s needs and problems and provide the best support we can. From product management to engineering and customer success, the primary focus has always been on our customer experience. Our customer’s exceptional results speak volumes to the value of our solutions, and showcasing their results has been the best way we’ve found to build awareness around our business.

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?

I’ve been fortunate to have had very strong mentorship from the businesspeople in my life who have helped shape my career. First is my father, Mohammad Akber Ali. He came from very humble beginnings in Pakistan but had a dream at a young age that he was going to be different and change his circumstances. He envisioned moving to America and having five children who were going to attend UC Berkeley. He quickly built his career as a successful entrepreneur in a variety of businesses along the way, moving first to the UK, then to America, where he had five children, and two of them (including myself) decided to attend UC Berkeley. His determination, ambition, ingenuity, and belief in himself has been an inspiration to me all my life.
 
 The second person to whom I am quite grateful is my father-in-law, A. Salam Qureishi. Salam is best known for being the ‘Moneyball guy’ for football. He was a statistician by training who built the first computerized scouting and draft player selection system with the Dallas Cowboys and, subsequently, other NFL teams. He then built a highly successful systems integration business which is where I learned the ropes in the IT world. He provided me with strong business skills and served as an exceptional role model for giving back to society. 
 
 It’s nothing new to see the hunger and passion immigrants have to build a better life, but these two men in particular became very successful entrepreneurs, creating hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in assets, paying their taxes and living the American dream. I consider myself truly blessed and lucky to have them in my life.

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

We all do our part as individuals to give back to the community in various ways. I also believe that one of the biggest impacts I can make is through what we’re doing with Inpixon. Our vision is to do good with indoor data. We truly believe that, and are working to bring about good across the world. If our contact tracing solutions can prevent the spread or transmission of a disease, that’s bringing goodness to the world. If we can secure our soldiers on duty, that’s bringing goodness to the world. That’s why everyone at Inpixon is so committed to seeing our technology deployed — that’s what employees like about being a part of this company and why they care about their jobs. Together, we want to bring this goodness to the world as best we can.

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

Focus on the Why? Why are you doing this; why are your customers going to buy your product

Read Ben Horowitz’s book — The Hard Thing About Hard Things — It contains lots of great practical lessons for business leaders in there like:

“Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do.”

“People always ask me, “What’s the secret to being a successful CEO?” Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”

“That’s the hard thing about hard things — there is no formula for dealing with them.”

Hiring great people is hard. It’s very hard to know if you are hiring the right person until you hire them and work together. Or you can have great people, but they might not be right for the job you have open at that time. It takes time to find the right team in the right seats at the right time.

Be ready for the naysayers. Lots of people will say it’s not possible, or tell you to give up, seek opportunities to call out your mistakes and there will be mistakes but most importantly own them/learn from them but don’t be discouraged or give up because of them….be determined to keep moving forward if you really believe in it.

It can be a long road; the more typical path is not usually the overnight success you usually hear about. Just like anything you must put in the time, adjust and adapt to challenges, and pivot as needed. But persevere, and you will get there.

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?

One of my favorite words is niyat in Urdu. It means ‘intention.’ Those closest to me know that I bring this up frequently. I think the world would be a better place if we thought about intention before we made assumptions about what someone else said or did. This definitely has applications in the business world, and I see it inside our company and others, but it is also very important in everyday life. If we could all give each other the benefit of understanding intentions, perhaps there wouldn’t be as much vitriol and polarization in our communities as we see today.

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

It would be another quote from Ben Horowitz: “Great CEOs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what my friend the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA systems) calls ‘the torture.’ Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense, or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’”

As this relates to me, every business I was involved in faced challenges and difficulties of various types at some point. As a CEO, there have been plenty of times that we faced challenges and people inside and outside the company suggested we quit and shut the business down. That’s just not who I am. I don’t give up that easily. I was determined to find a way forward. I had employees and their families who were counting on me and so quitting was not an option. A few years ago, we had an offsite and we asked everyone to come up with their superpower…..mine was “perseverance.”

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

We are a public company, listed on Nasdaq (INPX) so may have a slightly different audience but the message would be the same. In today’s world, the value of information and access to data cannot be understated. The ability to use data to inform decision making at every level is critical to the operations and success of any organization, whether public or private, in any industry, for any vertical, in any geographical location throughout the world. And even more valuable than just more information, is better, more precise, more accurate information. There are statistics available indicating that on average, people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, even before COVID. That’s incredible and almost unbelievable! With this understanding, just imagine the wealth of information that can be gained from having greater visibility into indoor spaces.

Inpixon’s Indoor Intelligence solutions allow organizations to harness the power of their indoor data by providing key decision makers with critical tools to access actionable indoor intelligence allowing for smarter, more informed decisions in order to drive results. Inpixon’s technology combines the positioning of RF signals emitted by UWB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular devices, with intelligent mapping and AI-powered analytics into a single Indoor Intelligence platform offering valuable insight about an organizations indoor premises that would otherwise not be able to be leveraged. Organizations in various industries and sectors including enterprise organizations, government, healthcare, hospitality are able to leverage our technology to solve for a wide range of use cases including wayfinding, visitor analytics, asset tracking, cybersecurity, collision avoidance, man-down, social distancing, contact tracing, targeted cleaning, and more. Not only are we able to provide our customers with more information, but with comprehensive locationing using multiple RF signals and precise positioning from 3 meters using Wi-Fi to 30 centimeters with UWB, we are able to provide our customers with better, more accurate data about their indoor locations.

While the pandemic shelter-in-place resulted in some slow-downs in the second quarter of 2020, since 2018, Inpixon has experienced over 65% in revenue growth year-over-year. In each of the last two years we have been recognized by Gartner, in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Indoor Location Services, most recently in 2020 as a Visionary, in addition to winning several industry awards validating our innovation leadership. In a highly fragmented market that is poised for significant growth, we believe we are one of the only available technologies that can offer an integrated indoor intelligence platform providing customers with an end-to-end solution for smarter, more secure indoor spaces using mapping, positioning and analytics.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For the latest in Indoor Intelligence, please follow us online at inpixon.com, twitter.com/InpixonHQ, inkedin.com/company/inpixon/ or facebook.com/inpixon.

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