A Sacramento wireless start up remembered

Wireless irrigation controller

IrriDigital wireless irrigation controller: from dream to reality to memory.

It was a flood of memories when I heard Sacramento Business Journal Editor Jack Robinson discuss a new Comcast hi-tech home security service on Capitol Public Radio. Actually, my application was meant to prevent floods, of the irrigation type, that I started 10 years ago.

Back in 2000, my partner Steve Wilson and I had a vision to take an existing commercial irrigation controller and send wireless programming messages to it from a computer. We were already representing the controller to parks, school districts and municipalities. Many of our customers mentioned that they would like to send programming messages to the controller to change water days, run times or turn it off when it was raining. IrriDigital wireless irrigation controller was born.

Building from scratch with a vision of simplicity

While this was not an entirely new idea, our application was going to use pager technology to send the messages instead of complicated radio base stations and antennas. We pooled our money and I started working with the controller’s engineer to integrate a wireless data transceiver. A version of this particular data transceiver is now being used by PG&E to remotely monitor electrical and gas usage by their customers.

While the hardware integration was being designed I was working with a programmer to develop the software. Because we put a premium on simplicity the software development went pretty smoothly. Of course, we had other little items to research and integrate like antennas, contracting with a vendor for the wireless data plans and the marketing. By the summer of 2001 we were ready to go to market.

It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

My partner was great in that he never got in the way. On the flip side, I did most of the work. In an effort to save money, I actually soldered the components together on the board that held the data transceiver. Essentially, I built all the units from start to finish. I was the billing, repair, accounting, marketing, and sales departments. And I would not trade that experience for anything.

There will be no more exhilarating and proud moment of business as when I saw my prototype IrriDigital controller receive it’s first wireless programming messages right in my little home office. Months of work, building and testing had paid off. It was alive and it worked. From my computer, through the air, programming messages made the LED lights flash in recognition of executed commands.

Something is in the air

September 11, 2001. In retrospect, I can’t totally blame the lack of sales on 9-11. However, many of our customers were now spending money, time and management on Homeland security issues and saving water was a low priority. Regardless, I did make sales throughout California to several park districts, school districts and landscape maintenance companies.

Goodbye roommate

After 5 years of keeping IrriDigital going I finally put her to rest. There were several issues that hampered our growth such as flow monitoring and areas with no wireless service. It was also evident that most of the wireless technology and application was migrating from desktop software to internet applications. All but a couple of these items could have been addressed with additional capital that neither my partner nor I had.

Stamp it: PAID IN FULL

The one lasting legacy that I am proudest of is that everyone got paid. Every vendor I contracted with and all credit cards had a zero balance when I closed the company. The only people that lost money were the people that finance IrriDigital: Steve and me. It was a great time in my life where I learned a tremendous amount about business, technology, marketing and sales. Thanks for the memories.