WashingtonExec had the opportunity to interview founder of Alarm.com, Alison Slavin. Alarm.com is a pioneer in security mobility and former R&D unit of MicroStrategy, both located in the Tysons Corner area. MicroStrategy founding executives bought the domain name “Alarm.com” in the 90s with no clear business plan…they just liked the name. Years later, Slavin and other executives began initial research involving security systems that could be controlled remotely, an “extremely foreign concept” at that time. Alarm.com is now a mobile security leader in its own right, with over 750,000 end-user customers in the United States and Canada.
Alison Slavin provided WashingtonExec with expertise about the “high hurdle” emerging market of mobile security and how smartphones have changed the industry forever. Slavin also discussed why she believes now is the best time to pursue entrepreneurship thanks to low “barrier to entry” technologies, such as cloud computing.
WashingtonExec: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and your role at Alarm.com?
Alison Slavin: I have been with Alarm.com since early 2000. I came to work for MicroStrategy straight out of college and MicroStrategy was the company that started Alarm.com; initially as a business unit and then spun us out in 2009. I was the first employee here. I’ve been lucky to have a very broad set of responsibilities and roles at Alarm.com since we got started through today. Now I’m the Vice President of Product Management which sits between engineering and sales & marketing and really works to define our product roadmap, design our products, works with engineering on developing our products and then works closely with sales & marketing on rolling them out to the marketplace and getting feedback from the market.
WashingtonExec: Is it really true that all MicroStrategy did was buy the domain name “Alarm.com” and then the business plan came afterwards?
Alison Slavin: Yes, in the ‘90s before I went to work for them, they bought a lot of different domain names and one of them was Alarm.com. I heard anecdotally that they bought dozens and dozens of one-word domain names like Alarm.com which they thought would potentially be valuable in the future. Four years later a lot of the founders of MicroStrategy were in their late 20’s early 30’s buying their first homes, shopping for their first security system and then they realized how old fashioned and just low-tech security technology was at the time. Coming from a very high tech software background I think a lot of them thought they should take a look at the space because it could be an opportunity to do something a lot more interesting, a lot better for the consumers. They used themselves as customers. It was fortunate that they owned the domain name so they put those two together and decided to start this business unit called Alarm.com.
Washington Exec: How was that transition from being a business unit of MicroStrategy and then becoming its own entity?
Alison Slavin: For the first – I would say 3 ½ to 4 years while we were under MicroStrategy we were pretty much purely an R&D business unit. The market honestly wasn’t really ready for a product like Alarm.com in the early 2000’s. It is funny to look at it now because we actually have competition emerging and the type of services we provide are becoming much more mainstream but at the time the idea of connecting to your security system through the internet and controlling it remotely and monitoring it remotely was extremely foreign to the people who were selling security at the time. Before mobile apps or smart phones we relied on people having their laptop out or a BlackBerry. With smart phones like the IPhones or the Android you can do everything Alarm.com offers through your phone without ever having to sit down at a desk and open up a computer. Now we have over 750,000 end user customers throughout the United States and Canada. That’s been the evolution of our company.
WashingtonExec: Do you feel an industry such as yours requires an innovate or perish approach?
Alison Slavin: That’s an interesting question. I think a lot of the big technology companies out there didn’t really want to touch this space because it is such a high hurdle to meet and there are a lot of risks and liabilities. It was actually a very fertile ground for us when we started because at the time, eleven years ago, nothing was really changing and consumer expectations were very low. It gave us a chance to have a tremendous head start ahead of everybody. Fast forwarding to now as I mentioned for the first 6 or 7 years we were a lot about education, now the industry gets it and we are starting to get some competition, a lot of it is coming from the incumbents who sort of got blindsided by us when we first came out.
WashingtonExec: Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs in the area to start their own business?
Alison Slavin: My personal philosophy is it is important to test things and get feedback and let the product evolve through many iterations. The cloud makes it so much easier to do that, and eliminates the need to put your head down and lock yourself in a room for two years and try and come out with the perfect solution in your mind. The way things are situated now for an entrepreneur it makes sense to really think through your business model and all of the variables and unknowns and then build something and put it out there and get the feedback – then use that feedback to really iterate and perfect whatever it is that you are offering. It is easier than ever before to do that.
*Article featured in the 10/14 Fairfax County Economic Development Authority online magazine E-Bird.