Elevat IOT CCO & Co-Founder: Adam Livesay

Summary

Adam was born & raised in Marysville, WA, a town one hour north of Seattle.   His father was an entrepreneur and football coach, and his mother was a principal at a local high school.

Adam always had an interest for math & science, so he pursued a degree in computer science from Portland State University, and after college, he landed a job working for a company that helped manufacturing facilities upgrade their electronics & software to help them be more effective.  He started to make observations about technology and it’s advancements. New technology in general like smartphones are constantly being innovated and updated.  Think about it, you probably get a smartphone upgrade every 2-3 years.  He realized that this was not the case in manufacturing.  There were (and still are) places he would visit where the technology hadn’t been updated for over a decade.  He realized there was a real opportunity to start advancing the technology in the manufacturing industry.

Customers began asking Adam and his company if they could somehow relay information from the new machines they were installing back to their computers through the internet.  Adam and one of the business owners at his company went on a quest to validate the market.  So, they began interviewing potential customers all over the country asking them if this is something they also wanted.  Eventually, they decided to spin this “idea” out as a separate business, called Elevat IOT.  Elevat IOT helps manufacturing facilities connect their devices through the internet and makes sure information is being relayed in real time so that all employees in the facility understand what’s happening.

Podcast Transcript

Note:  There may be errors to this transcript (some funny, some confusing - we used an automated transcription software!)

00:00:02 Ash Faraj: Hey, it’s Ash. Today’s guest is Adam Livesay, co-founder of Elevat IoT. You want to be sure to stick around to the end to hear key factors that enabled Adam to not only work his way up within a company, but eventually spinning off and starting a company with his former boss.

00:00:18 Ash Faraj: Welcome to Season 3 of ExecuTalks. It’s the podcast that connects you with today’s top executives. You will hear interesting childhood stories, stories of extreme setbacks and disappointments, and ultimately hear the story behind how these top executives were able to build an amazing career for themselves.

00:00:38 Ash Faraj: Adam was born and raised in Marysville, Washington, a town one hour north of Seattle. His father was an entrepreneur and football coach, and his mother was a principal at a local high school. Growing up, sports were a big part of Adam’s life. It taught him the importance of winning and losing collectively, the importance of teamwork, and the importance of leadership.

00:00:56 Adam Livesay: So, I grew up north of Seattle in a town called Marysville, Washington, north of Everett. I had divorced parents. Both did a great job co-parenting. My mom was a principal at a local high school, [indiscernible] Washington. My dad had a small real estate business, an escrow company, and he was a coach at our local high school for football. So it was kind of a neat childhood for the fact that I got to see some entrepreneurship. I got to see some leadership at the community. I got to see teamwork. Like all that type of stuff. It was a nice combination of role models that were also parents. My dad’s mom, she lived a few miles away from us with our aunt and uncle. She was an immigrant here from Japan, post-World War II. Married with my grandpa who was a vet. Very tied into the US culture and very tied into the history of Japan, and so it was a really interesting combination. Big into family. Big into the hierarchy of family that if your dad said two plus two equals five, two plus two equals five, right? So, disciplined. She was really big into sports. She was my 80-year-old Japanese grandmother who would watch the Mariners every game all the time, comes over for sporting events and stuff. So I think she had probably the biggest influence for us growing up.

00:02:31 Ash Faraj: What were the principles that you feel your grandmother kind of passed down to you?

00:02:37 Adam Livesay: The family unit aspect. This doesn’t necessarily need to be just your biological family, but you have this tight group that you can always rely on. I’m really positive, really [indiscernible] or sometimes just kind of check your ego into place if you need to be checked. I think having that core group is really important through this journey for sure.

00:03:00 Ash Faraj: Adam always had an interest for math and science, so he pursued a computer science degree from Portland State University. After college, he landed a job for a company that helped manufacturing facilities upgrade their electronics and software to help them be more effective. He started to make observations about technology and its advancements. New technology in general, like smartphones are constantly being innovated and updated. Think about it. You’ve probably got a smartphone upgrade every two, three years. So he realized that this was not the case in manufacturing. There are places he would go where the technology hadn’t even been updated for over a decade. At this point, he realized that there was a real opportunity to start advancing the technology in the manufacturing industry.

00:03:38 Adam Livesay: I remember just having these memories, like why is this thing, like this thing that they’re building for an airplane -- like I’d go into an airplane, and I rent a movie, and I put in my headphones and this massive thing that’d stay in the air from here to New York -- why is this company that is building it, it has like zero technology? It didn’t make sense to me. Then I remember going to another company and they would have all this automation and all this technology. And I remember just kind of thinking to myself, software is going to disrupt this industry or it’s going to enhance it, but no one’s talking about it. All my friends are going to work at Microsoft or they’re going to work at Amazon, or whatever the case is, but nobody was talking about how do we build better software for manufacturing. I didn’t know what that meant, but I just came out wanting to learn more about it. I really wanted to understand; how could I learn to build technology that could improve like this…, you know. If Boeing ever left the Pacific Northwest, we would be like… We were talking about Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing. That supply chain is incredible. So, why is one of the biggest supply chains, manufacturing, so outdated? Not outdated by a few years, like 20 years. A ton of our friends’ parents who had worked for Boeing or worked for a company that supplied to Boeing. I was always shocked how some businesses were automated and had technology implemented to the tilt. It was amazing. And other businesses were super dirty and old and manual and everything, again, and I’d just remembered thinking like, if our cars  -- since I can remember cars make this big advancement than it has to start happening inside the manufacturing world, and so that made me really interested. How can we take technology here and put it into like older industries?

00:05:22 Ash Faraj: What was your first job out of college?

00:05:25 Adam Livesay: It was in fluid power. I was in Western Integrated, and I was actually interning there. I went to Portland State. They had a facility in Portland, and I worked in the shop. So I worked in Build Service. I worked the shop, worked the warehouse. So, I just kind of got to know… I’m learning all those fundamental physics laws and math and all this theoretical stuff, but then I’m touching the nuts and the bolts and everything. At that time in my life, like all I wanted to do is get in the engineering department, right? All I wanted to do was get out of the 6 am factory shift and get into the 8 am engineering shift because I could sleep an extra two hours or whatever the case was or not be in the cold and stuff. But looking back at it, it was awesome because it gave me a real understanding of the issues that manufacturing runs into, like the real nuts and bolts. I was doing bits and bytes and they’re dealing with nuts and bolts.

00:06:22 Ash Faraj: So obviously that was your first experience in the corporate world. What were some eye-opening things about that experience?

00:06:31 Adam Livesay: So, a couple of things that were pretty eye-opening to me. One is, it’s not easy to change something even though it might be obvious to have it changed, right? You wanted processes inside a company to get process-changed. Like a lot of different decision makers would say, “Yes, we need to do this.” The domain experts that were on the factory floor that knew what the issues were and what was causing them issues to complete a job or have it be accurate -- whatever the case was -- didn’t necessarily result in change happening from the back office staff, right? I’d thought it’d be very easy. You know, a young kid, oh, you have a meeting, you plan, you’d implement the plan, but it seemed like other stuff would be prioritized over it or whatever the case is. I thought that was really eye-opening to me because that just let me know, again, that this is one of these reasons the industry wasn’t changing. It was very much, “We’ve always done it this way” technicality through the whole industry. The other piece that was pretty eye-opening to me in manufacturing, there weren’t a lot of young people interested in it. I had this really unique visibility working in field service in the shop that I got to go out on customer locations, and our customers did the coolest stuff. They can do anything from a company that built landing apparatuses for surveillance drones, to garbage truck companies, to street sweeping companies, to the company that transports SpaceX rockets all around the United States. The stuff that’s built that was really in the manufacturing fluids and power and I would think this was like one of the coolest customers I’d seen. Like, holy cow, we were just at SpaceX. We got to see all this cool technology. My college classmates had no desire. I started to see this major recruitment and employment gap coming which was wild. This industry is not sexy. People are interested to get into it, but they do incredible things and they’re lacking technology. For me it was like a dream because I’m like, holy cow, if I can learn this stuff, I can start to determine -- and I wasn’t thinking it from an entrepreneurial perspective. I was thinking of it as a career trajectory perspective which was, if I can bring new technology that would be implemented at the company, this will be really good for my own personal career road.

00:08:58 Ash Faraj: Interesting. I guess one thing that I just kind of thought of. What tips would you give somebody who’s new in the corporate world, very early in their career, still new. What tips would you give them on selling their idea internally, if you will? Like, if they have an idea for a project or some kind of new venture, what are some tips you would give to communicate their ideas better?

00:09:16 Adam Livesay: So this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few years is, you really have to understand who you’re communicating with and how they like to absorb information. Some people like to absorb information on very long emails and reports and pictures and diagrams. Any time you’re [indiscernible] on a management leadership, you need to understand how they absorb it. Other folks: one page, one-slide PowerPoint, tell me what it is. So, if you don’t understand who your audience is delivering the information, the information can be the best information out there, and it might just fall through the cracks. So, I think a lot about that in the business world depending on who we’re going to be communicating with internally and externally. Then I think the other piece with it too is understanding a little bit of the company politics, right? So, you’re going to have to be the champion. If you’re just starting out in your career, or your mid-level, you got to build a champion, right? You got to build someone that is going to go to bat for you. I’m like you, an optimistic. I believe that most people want most people to be very successful. They’re there to really empower people. I think that also people like to be shown not told. So, I think if you’re new in a corporation, you want to show your desire, your passion to change this stuff, and somebody inside the organization will latch onto that. I also think there’s a positive way to do it and a negative way to do it. I think positivity is going to attract a lot more champions than a negativity, right? If you’re like, “This way is horrible, and I don’t know why you do this?” Well, you’re not going to want people to listen to you and it won’t all automatically go well. If you’re positive about it -- I always say ‘AP’, all positive. I try to be positive all the time because you have no idea what’s going around for this to be this way. And then once you get that opportunity to communicate it, know how your audience is going to consume it. Because if your CEO or your VP wants a one-page PowerPoint presentation, one slide on it, you better figure out how to get that information processed on a slide. If they want to read a three-page report on it -- and I know a lot of executives like to do it that way. I mean, Amazon, right? 5-page reports, no PowerPoints -- write everything out, get that out there. Know how to deliver the information.

00:11:54 Ash Faraj: You’ve obviously been very successful in working your way up the ladder, if you will. You’ve been successful in the corporate environment. What do you feel like enabled you to do that? What was it if you could kind of pinpoint it?

00:12:09 Adam Livesay: After graduating, I went from the shop and service and manufacturing to basically a design engineer up in the engineering department. One of the engineers left and there was an opportunity to get into a control position that was going to be in the field of customer requests. So, I was still pretty young, but I felt like I had two things. One, I had no problem getting on the road at five in the morning and driving down to Medford, Oregon, to be with a customer at the sales team because I had been doing that inside the shop all the time. Like, already, I think just that attitude again was a big deal. I think people kind of saw that I had no problem getting my hands dirty and climbing on machines and stuff like that. Two, there was an inflection point in technology, and, again, we were going to see this everywhere we go, especially the young person, right? A young person in any corporation is going to bring in technologies, either that are for the industry or they’re tools that industry can use or whatever, and they have a chance to implement it. And so I was able to dive into this technology and really absorb it. One of the really powerful things we have as young folks is, we don’t have as many responsibilities as we do when we get older. So, you have a lot of time to dive in and learn everything you can about the company, the customers, the product, but you can’t be overprepared. You have to be overprepared because you walk in with experience and you’ll lock in with domain expertise, so you have to be able to know enough. And then I think one of the best advices I ever received was for a guy that’s retired while I was in the shop -- and it’s industry advice now that we all take for granted -- but when you’re young in your early twenties, and he says, “If you don’t know the question, don’t give them an answer. Tell them you’ll go back and get the answer and come back.” I think as a young person that’s really hard to do. I know I’ve made this mistake a few times. But the customers you work with find a lot of maturity in that. To know this person doesn’t know everything and they will go find out the answer, and that builds up a ton of credibility and trust.

00:14:20 Ash Faraj: As Adam was interacting with customers and helping them upgrade their technologies in their manufacturing facilities, they began asking Adam and his company if they could somehow relay the information from the new machines they were installing back to their computers through the Internet. Adam and one of the business owners at his company went on a quest to validate the market. So, they began interviewing customers with manufacturing facilities all over the country, asking them if this something they also wanted. So Adam and one of the owners of the company decided to spin this idea out as a separate business called Elevat IoT. Elevat IoT helps manufacturing facilities connect their devices through the Internet and make sure information is being relayed in real time so that all employees in the facility understand what’s happening in real time.

00:15:05 Adam Livesay: What I was finding was when I was out there these customers would just start telling me a ton of either problems or opportunities, and that would allow us to start having a lot more increased sales. So within our industry, I was like, wow, we are onto something here. That we have one application engineer, myself really -- so we’re all kind of design engineers -- that’s going out there and uncovering a ton of opportunities -- and not because it was something I was saying or doing -- because they’re in a relationship change with the customer. So the proposal I gave to our company was, “Why don’t we have two or three of these application engineers? Why don’t we all work together as a team? And why won’t we be driven by a manager? And our whole goal will be able to try to get and find new opportunities, new solutions, new deployment, and then back off the design engineering to the typical sales engineering type squad. It had never been done this way before. We were bringing a whole spin on it which I believe comes from my generation; the younger generation which are teamwork, teambuilding, collaboration, all that stuff. We’re bringing this now to an industry that really has desires to innovate, but they’ve never had that before. Yeah, so that got me into the business development side and eventually the business unit, like management side. It wasn’t easy. It was a ton of hard work, a ton of long hours understanding customers and industries, working nights and weekends and everything, but I think that’s kind of what your twenties are made for.

00:16:44 Ash Faraj: So the way I understand it is that Elevat IoT, the company that you co-founded, was essentially a spin-off from Western Integrated, the company you were working at before. How did you and your partners decide to spin it off? What went through that decision and how did you know it was the right time to do that?

00:17:03 Adam Livesay: We started the inflection point habit. And the inflection point was, as customers were having us put in more advanced technologies on the machine, they’re asking for that information to be transmitted back to their corporate offices, basically. So IoT, right? They’re trying to get like… “Can you connect my machines to the Internet, so I can make business decisions off of that data?” When this was happening, we looked at it initially as, holy cow, we can really grow ourselves at Western Integrated because we would be the only people with this product. And that’s what we did. We did it throughout a year. And we had not [indiscernible]; we had a very kind of integrated thing. But it was winning business and it was really early on with the whole deal. Well, it started to get some of our big suppliers’ attention, like big Fortune 200 companies. What is it that you guys are doing at Western Integrated because the customers are loving this. And so then we started saying… We had internalized everything. Okay, this is bigger than just Western Integrated. Can we roll this out? One of the owners, he’s also my co-founder Bill, we spun this out as a separate company eventually. But we didn’t do it overnight. What we did was, “Hey Adam, if we want to spin this out, there’s a ton of work that needs to be done. We need to validate it. We need to figure out -- meaning we wanted to make sure that we can build a business off of it and not a product -- so, while we’re growing this business rapidly fast inside WIT, I was also working a ton on research; market validation, customers, you name it. Then we finally said, let’s go do a trip back to the Midwest to find out if this is really a Pacific Northwest thing and are we tied into technology and the cloud and all this stuff that’s happening out there, or do people want it all over the country? Well, sure as heck, everybody wanted it. And they said not only do they want it, their companies are asking for the same thing. Then from there we made a strategic decision to land a Fortune 250 company and have them be our first customer. We wanted to make sure that we could deploy the technology, they white-label it, they resell it to their customer-base, and they’re going to put their name on it. And if that happens then we understand that this thing has real legs, because a Fortune 250 is not going to put it under their largest customers unless everything works, and it provides the ROI that they need. So it was a… But to do that job -- like you’re leaving a pretty fast trajectory inside a corporation to go do this. Like you said, it’s a lot of long hours and it’s a lonely road for sure. I think my family… Family is a really big piece for me growing up, as we talked about earlier. They’d want you to come to these family weekends or whatever the case is once a year or twice a year, but I would be working. I remember being at Cape Cod and there being all our cousins back East. Everyone’s at the beach and I’m in the car on meetings with that big Fortune 250 company. We’re making sure everything is going to work well and we have a 2.5-hour meeting. So you make those sacrifices to get there. I also saw how I was changing manufacturing, so as we said, we really want to help people out. I could really see that the technology we were delivering as having an absolute impact on manufacturing. When I look back on my career, my life whatever, I want there to be a chapter that I was part of that was really about this evolution that is happening, and I knew we were on to something. So the question was, did I want to do it locally or did I want to do it more globally? I really thought that we could drive this on a global scale and change hundreds, if not thousands of industrial companies.

00:20:56 Ash Faraj: So Adam, I want to switch gears here just for a second. I guess some of our audience members feel like they’re kind of stuck. They’re in this career rut. Like they feel stuck, and they’re not sure what to do. What advice would you have for somebody that’s in their mid-twenties that is feeling a little stuck right now?

00:21:15 Adam Livesay: I’m a big believer -- and we talked about it earlier -- that we’re all builders of stuff, right? We want to build careers, we want to build businesses, we want to build communities, churches, you name it, like families, like we want to build something. It’s in our DNA to build stuff. And so, I think a lot of the times we might be confused on what we think people expect us to build and what we want to build. Now, I think that takes a lot of honest discussions with yourself about that to understand. I have worked with people inside the companies that we work with that are some of the most intelligent, passionate people I’ve ever met. That are very good leaders, but they chose not to do that inside their career. They chose to do that with youth sports or with their church or something else. They have decided that they’re not going… they’re going to have purposeful career, but it might not be with a company they’re at. It might be in a parallel path. I think that’s really interesting because I have a ton of respect for that type of person because they’re very self-aware. For whatever reason they love this piece of it -- which is opposite of the way I think. I want to build my companies and businesses and change like industries -- but I have a ton of admiration by this. It’s something that… Just because you might feel like you’re in a rut in your career-wise, what are your other passions, parallel passions? The other thing is I’m a big believer in reading. I read a ton of books. So two things: there’s something about reading an actual book rather than reading it on my iPad or on my phone. There’s something about that for me personally. I’m a big believer that sometimes you can read like three books that are kind of the same and you take a little bit of piece out of… I mean a topic, right? They’re all attacking a topic, but you pick little nuggets out of it and you’re never going to that “ah-ha” magic pill overnight that’s going to change everything. But when you look back at collections over a decade of reading, you’ve built up a lot of perspectives and information that it allows you to kind of mold how you think about the stuff or approach that, right? So I think that for whatever reason when we get out of school, we quit reading. And I have always believed that you got to continue to read, especially when you’re in entrepreneurship, especially when you’re in leadership inside a company. If you’re stuck inside your career rut, what other things that you can start to look at that you might find super interesting. So is that free-lancing? Is that looking at these side-hustles like this? The whole deal. I’d say that the last piece of it is, getting a perspective that it’s a long game. Just because if you’re 25 -- like again, I think back to my grandma, be 25 and you just came back from World War II. You’re in Oklahoma, you know -- Like we’re 25 in a career and watching Netflix on our parents’ couch. Those are two completely different scenarios. So, having perspective on it a little bit, is always good. I think it’s always good to kind of gut-check for that. Like we live in this really… I’m reading a book right now, it’s called Irresistible. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book, but it’s about our dependence on technology. And about how these companies are really good at getting you to like stuff more, and share stuff, and then check stuff because you spend so much time on your phone. It’s a really interesting book, but I think about this. We’re in one of the most interesting times in the history of the world where, if I wanted to go read about Tessla, I have everything I could possibly want to read about Tessla in the palm of my hand at five in the morning when I get up. But I can also just scroll Twitter for like 20 minutes, in like 20 minutes of my life, right? So I think harnessing that power is going to be our biggest challenge and opportunity for folks. And if they can figure out how to do it, then I think you’ll have a leg up on the majority of the rest of the people inside your career.

00:25:45 Ash Faraj: Hey guys. Thank you for sticking around and listening to Adam’s story. We’re now at the last segment of our show called “Connection Session Questions” where we ask questions that allow you to get to know our guests on a much deeper level.

00:25:58 Ash Faraj: So Adam, if you could go back and talk to your 25-year-old self. What advice would you give to yourself?

00:26:06 Adam Livesay: Three pieces of advice. One, play more golf. Two, I would say that your personal health and nutrition is key. I definitely did not stay as healthy as I could have for a big portion of my career. I had realized later on in life that the more that I’m rested, the more water I have, the more nutrition I have, the higher function I have, right? So, don’t use being busy as an excuse not to be healthy. And then three, I’d say empathy. I think when we’re young and we want to go blaze the world, it’s easy not to be empathetic about situations because you’re very targeted on where you want to be. And I think empathy ends up being a really big role that we all learn later on in life.

00:26:56 Ash Faraj: What in your life do you feel like has given you the greatest sense of fulfillment?

00:27:00 Adam Livesay: I think that we have a very… a great community. And that has made me feel very… I don’t know if half of my family or friends even know what we do. It’s all about just being people together.

00:27:17 Ash Faraj: So obviously you have a long career ahead of you. You’re still early in your career. But kind of foreseeing the future, if you could be remembered for just one thing towards the end of your career, what would you want to be remembered for?

00:27:28 Adam Livesay: I would say that what I did came from passion. That I really was a passionate person.

00:27:33 Ash Faraj: In your opinion, what is the most important life skill?

00:27:37 Adam Livesay: Listening. I think listening. You’ve probably seen this with a lot of your guests that are CEO’s of companies and they’re just such great listeners. They will really hear what you’re saying, and they’re interested. I mean being present with that person and really listening to that person. I’m always super impressed when I leave a conversation with someone like, wow, they were really interested and listening. That is something that I’ve seen CEO’s that have been mentors of mine; some of them are phenomenal at that and some of them are not, and you can tell the difference between the people.

00:28:17 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice someone has ever given you?

00:28:21 Adam Livesay: When we grew up as kids, my dad would tell us before sports, “What I had I gave, and what I kept was lost forever.” That was basically, you’re going to go out there and you’re going to go play a match or a game and if you take a play off, you’re never going to get that play back. So what I had I gave, and what I kept was lost forever. I think about that all the time in so many things because we don’t get do-overs. Time is a real thing. Whatever you’re going to put into it, you’re going to get out of it. So, that piece is just drilled into my DNA.

00:28:56 Ash Faraj: And then the last one is, if you were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, what would that meal be for you?

00:29:02 Adam Livesay: Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

00:29:04 Ash Faraj: For real?

00:29:05 Adam Livesay: For real, yeah! Absolutely!

00:29:10 Ash Faraj: Thank you so much for listening. Now, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. It only takes a few seconds, but it’s worth so much to us. We are helping new professionals in a very unique way, and we need people to hear about it. We need you to help us help reach more people by leaving us a rating and review. I hope to see you again next week.