Riding the safety & environmental waves – Robert Kester of Rebellion Photonics

Robert Kester, CEO & Co-Founder of Rebellion Photonics

Robert Kester, the CEO & Co-Founder of Rebellion Photonics, company’s revenue grew from $200K in 2014 to $5.5m in 2017, a 2,647% increase, and now they are on track to hit $12m this year.

Rebellion Photonics provides gas leak detection and monitoring for the petrochemical industry via their proprietary imaging technology.

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Robert shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:

  • Providing a gas leak detection system that’s cheaper and more accurate than the current gold standard.  
  • Innovating constantly to stay ahead of the competition.  
  • Expanding into Asia and Europe.  

Rebellion Photonics Interview - (computer generated transcript)

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Malcolm Lui here. Welcome to Eversprint.com. Today we're speaking with Robert Kester the CEO and Co-Founder of Rebellion Photonics, a fast growing company that provides gas leak detection and monitoring for the petrochemical industry via their proprietary imaging technology. We'll be discussing how his company's revenue grew from $200,000 in 2014 to $5.5 million in 2017. That's an increase of over 2600 percent. And right now they're on track to hit 12 million dollars this year. Welcome to the call Robert.

Thank you.

So Robert how did you do it. How did you grow your company sales so fast over the past four years, three years?

A lot of blood sweat and tears.

Okay was there one thing in particular that was the biggest driving force?

Yeah I think you know for us the industry has kind of a weight and I would say to the issue of improved safety as well as environmental compliance and they realize that the techniques they've been using for gosh the past couple of decades really since the 1950s haven't really improved and changed and we kind of come in and show them what's possible and they're just being blown away and realize that there's a huge need to improve the technology and our systems are. I mean I kind of tell themselves in a lot of ways when you see our technology versus the old stuff you never want to go back

Can you explain in layman's terms because not everyone listening. Are going to be petrochemical industry experts as to how your system is so much better than what's out there.

Yes sure. So currently on the market they were the gold standard is what's called a point sensor. And so the discrete devices around refineries or gas may or may not come into contact with and that may alarm. The problem with those points sensors is you can actually see the gas. We can't figure out where it leaking from. And then it's really dependent on where the wind is blowing. And so what our technology is different is it's like a camera that can see these invisible gas. And when you can see them you can then fix them. And that's just a game changer.

Great. So this is before people would have to hunt around to figure out where the leak was detected in a broader area but then it's a bit of a game to figure out where it's come from exactly

Yeah and it's posing a lot of people to rest and it takes a long time to find the boutiques.

Ok. So the big value here is they can find leaks faster reduce the risk. And I imagine by fixing these leaks faster any sort of clean up costs or any sort of fines they might have would be greatly reduced as well.

Yeah and the number of people you can have a site like we're coming out of a downturn right now in the oil and gas industry and everybody is trying to automate and get more efficient tools. And our technology is fully automated and it doesn't require people running around looking for work. So we actually save people a lot of money and make it said

So it is your system. Quicker to install than that than the current gold standard. Is it easier to use. Is it less expensive more expensive. How far does our value proposition go.

Yeah we say like a lot of money. Typical site to install 2 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF POINT sensors and we come in and order magnitude less and cost and then you install one of our cameras versus tens to hundreds of those points sensors so we're easier to install and then there's no maintenance. So it takes a lot less capital to maintain

It sounds like a no brainer when a human. You have to consider the point sensors versus your system.

Yeah that was willing to work for us. It's really easy to say

Yolla worries over competition of other competitors coming up with a similar system. What you have

Yes there's always that worry. And what we do is keep innovating and pushing hard moving forward. So this year we're launching a fire and gas monitoring. So not just to get attention but adding a fire detection capability. And when you start adding up

So you are saying when you start adding.

Yeah when you add additional analytics we call an alert you make our system just more sticky and in any more valuable than the opposition

Right. So your product is you sell the system and then you also have a monthly service side or mountainside or monitoring site to go with it.

Yes it will sell the hardware and then we have a license in software license a maintenance fee that allows us to provide all the analytics that monitor for different things

Ok. So are you making your money from the monthly analytic side of the of the contracts or from selling the hardware.

We make most of our money from the software analytics

Okay so the key is really to be sticky and have them continue to use the system paying your monthly or annual fees. Ideally forever.

Yeah yeah we do. Our company is kind of been in I.T. services company in a lot of ways to install our hardware. And then you pay for the information.

Right. So when you back in 2014 when you had only a couple of hundred thousand dollars of revenue it was shortly after you start selling your product and service

Yeah. Most of that revenue is coming from pilots. Our industry is very conservative. They typically have to go through two to three years of pilot before the start selling

Okay. So I was there pilot stage. And now when you sell you know is your sales process pretty quick or are still have to go through a mini test before someone sign on

I know it's much quicker. Especially for most of our sales come from repeat customers like large oil and gas or petrochemical customers. So once you've gone through the evaluation by then you are very eager to purchase assets

Okay so they go you prove yourself with the one with the system initially and then they just roll it out to all other sites throughout the country I imagine.

Yeah you know in the world

How would you do your businesses outside the U.S. right now.

I will pay about 30 percent

Ok. Do you foresee more of your business coming from the U.S. side of things or from the rest of the world.

I would say over the next five years it will become more and more diversified to each region. Right now North America is our guest followed by Asia and Europe.

Right. OK I think it the countries that are more focused on on the environmental regulations with the year would be a better market for you. So I know in Asia when I worked out there you know right there that looser on their standards than than here in the U.S..

And Asia are big and are you in safety. They have so many safety issues. But in Europe for instance that definitely environmental.

Right. What sort of trends do you foresee over the next five years that that rebellion can take advantage of or perhaps get out of the way so that they don't get crushed by it.

Yeah. No I think you know I was at the world gas conference about a month or so ago in D.C. and I had a BP executive BP of a large IOC walked up to us and he said hey we're telling you guys that you know the right industry right. I'm so in oil and gas. There's a huge push right now to reduce methane emissions and overall gasoline. And we're kind of beginning to ride that wave and we think it's going to be massive.

Cool. So in terms of looking back at how you grew your business is there anything you would have wanted to do differently.

You know honestly I I want to I think that we have been pretty fortunate in catching and in industry you know don't need early on in being one of the first movers in the space so I don't I don't have a lot of regret don't have time for that. Just keep moving forward.

Yeah. So how did you and your team come up with the idea of of creating your sustaining or proprietary imaging system.

It was really based on my Ph.D. research Woj with that Rice University so where we are kind of a startup out of a university. So it came from you know really kind of an aha moment in my research where I was thinking about ways of you know imaging CAMAC who is really and that that look or art or core technology who's trying to figure out how

Right. Would you be able to explain it in a simple to understand sinensis as to how your system works in terms of that problem that you solve than a solution

Yes sure. So. So how are you know that the problem we're trying to solve is how do we detect chemicals or gases from a camera and in our solution to it use something known as I guess spectroscopy which is a complicated way that white you know you have this barcode when it passes through to gases like a scanner at a grocery store and our camera can see those barcodes and just based on the Barker can figure out what gas is present in the same

Wow. Very cool. What other applications or technology can be used for outside of the petrochemical space. Because like the detection of gasses could be useful elsewhere.

Yeah I see block just an industrial facility. You know a lot of manufacturing and industrial site use chemicals used gaffer's and so are I any place where those could we could create a problem and imaging system like ours is very beneficial. So you're looking at automotive industry. You semiconductor industries power industries you have chemicals or gases or you just all across manufacturing.

Yeah. Other industries tempt you in terms of perhaps moving outside of petrochemicals and into other spaces and one in particular that might be your your next industry to look at once you've accomplished what you're seeking to do in petrochemicals.

Getting power is really exciting. You know power generation and monitor both of that. So so that will be the next one is branching out out you know from oil and gas to petrochemicals and chemicals in the power

Right. What do you foresee is the biggest challenge that's limiting your growth right now even though your growth is huge but you know what's limiting you from growing even faster and bigger than what you're currently experiencing. Is it a shortage of people is that the biggest constraint.

Yeah you know there's a few challenges scaling especially when you have a piece of hardware is always a challenge. Software companies can absolutely us scale very quickly but when you arrive at a systems level provider like we are with a hardware component we have to go through a lot of these scaling challenges of of any hardware company getting our vendors aligned here people set up their quality processes and whatnot.

Right okay yeah. You know your business is saying I'm a bit of a bit of a science geek myself. I do some work in chromatography space a long time ago but back then it was doing the gas chromatography not as fancy as what you're doing for the people who are listening who would like to perhaps engage your firm services. What's the best way for them to contact you and your team.

Yeah I would say you know go to our Web site or just email that had sales at rebellion. So Thomas talked on or on the Web site there's a contact us Prabh you can just fill in your thoughts or honestly just call or main number off this number and you can reach us there

Okay fantastic. You have that number handy by any chance.

Yet 7 1 3 2 1 8 0 1 0 1.

All right great. Thanks so much for joining us today Robert in sharing how your how you grew your company so fast. It's it's outstanding you're in the right place right time with the fantastic product

Thank you very much and thanks for the opportunity. Thank you.

Great. We've been speaking with Robert Kester, the CEO and Co-Founder of Rebellion Photonics about how he grew his company's business so fast from $200,000 in 2014 to $5.5 million in 2017 and now they're on track to hit 12 million dollars this year. To listen to other interviews with other fast growing companies or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation, visit Eversprint.com.

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