Software founder exits Doorport to PointCentral, recounts startup journey
BEN TAYLOR, the Tennesseean who recently sold his Doorport technology to Alarm.com Holdings' PointCentral subsidiary, is spending the current pandemic season in Nashville, prior to his anticipated relocation to the D.C. area.
Taylor discussed with Venture Nashville the three-year entrepreneurial journey he undertook not long after his graduation from the School of Engineering (E.E.) at Vanderbilt University.
Doorport technology represented a retrofit solution to allow multifamily building managers to transform traditional apartment intercoms into "smart, secured access systems." Its innovations are now being merged into PointCentral's smart property "curb to couch" solution, which enables digital access to community, building and unit levels.
Alarm.com, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia near the D.C. Beltway, is positioned as a platform for management of "intelligently connected property."
Taylor now serves as director of smart solutions within its sub, PointCentral, which is headquartered in Portland, Ore.
The process that led to Doorport's acquisition by Alarm.com was probably triggered by newsmedia coverage in 2018, particularly a story on the sector by The New York Times in autumn of that year. It was apparently well-read by people in security and multifamily real-estate sectors, he said.
Alarm.com-PointCentral representatives reached out to the startup in early 2019, said Taylor. A year later, the deal was done.
That sounds like a piece of cake, but Taylor, now age 25, made clear that the experience he gained in the three years preceding the transaction was not easily won.
It started simply enough with frustration and a hunch, in 2015-16.
By that point, Taylor had graduated from Vanderbilt and was working for EPIC, the giant privately held healthcare technology company based in Wisconsin. His job resulted from meeting Epic reps during a campus career fair.
He lived in an apartment building in Madison, Wisc., that was a "Class A" property with amenities, he explained. However, he became frustrated with what he considered the building's antiquated wired intercom system, confusing symbols on multiple buttons and lack of directly allowing visitors permissioned access.
While home doing his laundry one day, he found himself staring at the intercom unit. Confronting him was a problem that, he realized, he could probably solve.
Reflecting on the Doorport adventure that ensued, Taylor told VNC, "I can't even count the number of times something went wrong, or awry. It often felt that something I'd spent much of my life on was going to be gone, overnight."
Even in such moments, Taylor said that the fact that he had from the outset accepted the risk of failure in a startup; had prepared for the work ahead -- and knew in his heart that he "wouldn't settle for anything else" than full-on pursuit of his objective gave him a real sense of peace.
"I was very accepting, starting out, that the likely scenario is failure and something could cause it to all go wrong, [in which case] I'd go build something else," said Taylor.
He said he's convinced that entrepreneurs' striving is often "energized by an inner need to see what you want to create actually being built in the world."
Given the daunting nature of startup work, Taylor said that when he speaks before groups of college students or others he often emphasizes that "your ability to adapt to your circumstances as they change around you is constantly the most important skill you're going to have..."
Potentially disruptive factors are myriad, including not just competitive sales efforts, finance, administration, and product development, but also the challenge of building and sustaining satisfactory relationships with customers, current or prospective investors, and others.
Even if your company remains focused on the same market segment and customer base, there can be wrenching-but-necessary pivots in your offering.
He explained that Doorport in the span of about two years shifted from first offering to replace entire legacy systems with a new installation of a touchscreen device. Then, it moved to upgrade legacy systems with add-on hardware, before ultimately moving toward a predominantly software solution.
These were all moves that were both right, and tough.
Fortunately, there's upside: Some of the biggest rewards come, for example, when you have your first meeting with a potential customer and you see that they are "blown away" by your product prototype or a developed product that retrofits their old system, said Taylor.
"When you see that impact even with one person [who becomes a customer], it helps you remember that money is proof" that your core vision and objective have become real and valued, he added.
Asked whether he might soon want to launch another startup or begin investing in other entrepreneurs' plans, he said he'll probably give thought to such things, in time.
Now, though, he said, he's excited that he's working with people who are determined to create the "best-in-class retrofit smart access solution for the multi-family market," and looking forward to announcements related to both software and hardware, which lie ahead.
BACKSTORY: Taylor confirmed that prior to the sale, Doorport had raised north of $1MM from about 10 investors, including Y Combinator (Winter 2019 Class). Y Combinator's model calls for per-company investment of $150K (details).
According to Crunchbase, other Doorport investors included ADVC -- Sinai Ventures -- Blue Slide Ventures -- and, tech angel Jimmy Hsu. Taylor also participated in the 2017 cohort of the NYC MetaProp Accelerator, which is aligned with a network of strategic Seed-stage investors.
VNC research suggests that in addition to potential enterprise entrants, the smart-alarm, property-tech startup arena is white-hot.
Potential PointCentral-Doorport competitors include such 3- to 5-year-old startups as Scottsdale-based Smart Rent (which has raised $100MM+); NYC-based ButterflyMX ($23MM+) and San Mateo-based Brilliant ($21MM+).
Advisors to the former Doorport included accounting via Venture-backed Pilot.com, and banking with Silicon Valley Bank. Taylor said he relied on a number of advisors, including some of his investors, for input regarding the preparation and execution of the sale.
VNC review of Alarm.com filings with the SEC suggests the Doorport transaction three months ago was probably a purchase of assets.
ALRM's marketcap today is about $3.1BN, with shares trading around a trailing 12-month highpoint. In 2015, Alarm.com IPO'd at a roughly $630MM valuation, with ABS Capital and Technology Crossover Ventures together the controlling shareholders.
Taylor said that, while he plans to relocate to the northeast, he is currently committed for one or more in-person or virtual speaking engagements at Vanderbilt University. Taylor's LinkedIn profile is here.
Doorport's cofounder and CTO was Reggie Jean-Brice, Taylor confirmed. Jean-Brice did not join PointCentral. VNC