FestForums is a conference that unites leaders in the festival industry to participate and network. The next installation of FestForums will take place in Santa Barbara on November 14th-16th. This year in partnership with Armored Things, the event is hosting the first-ever TechTrenders program, a program to recognize women in technology and festivals.
INTERESTED IN BEING A TECHTRENDER AND RECEIVING FREE TICKETS TO FESTFORUMS, RECOGNITION AT THE CONFERENCE FOR YOUR WORK AND MORE?
TechTrenders is a program that recognizes women under the age of 35 who have a passion for music festivals and who have made noteworthy innovations or contributions in the technology space. Those interested can apply here.
In celebration of this exciting program, we had the opportunity to interview Julie E. Johnson, the President, and co-founder of Armored Things.
Can you tell us a little more about your background and what led you to found Armored Things?
I started my career at Lehman Brothers. I worked in finance for six years then decided to go to business school. When I was in business school I started thinking about what I loved about coding. I love that it’s idea oriented and very thesis driven. When I started looking at career paths around that I could leverage my skills in I started looking at VC’s. That is how I ended up at Qualcomm, half in their investing arm and half in the R&D arm. I was exploring the internet of things and cybersecurity for the whole time I was there. That is where I met Charles, our CEO. He and I worked on a project together that ended up being the underlying research for Armored Things. Then I went back to grad school and a few months later he called me. He said I need you to help me with this idea and within a few months we co-founded the company and I was running as President of it.
Do you feel like going to business school prepared to found a company?
I don’t think anyone knows what they are doing when they found a company. I say that half facetiously. I think realistically that we knew that there were these problems in this market where people needed to figure out the critical use case for IOP. All these devices are out there but, they are all being used in their own silos and as point solutions. The critical use case normal is security. There are physical devices out there already collecting data but, no one is using it intelligently. So when we figured out we could use these together and view the world in an intelligent way, we realized we could be very helpful when it comes to understanding critical situations and responding to them much faster.
Tell me more about Armored Things.
We take data from different devices, so cameras, WIFI, access control, mobile, etc., we calculate that all together to triangulate an understanding of large venues like university campuses corporate campuses and stadiums. From that understanding, we can actually detect anomalies. A baseball game held at a certain stadium has a certain behavior. If on a none game there is a surge of activity that is not predicted, we figure out how do we alert people, how do we give security personal in the area a notification that there is potentially a problem so that then they can drive their response through those devices much faster. In a lot of emergencies, it takes anywhere from 10 to 75 minutes to get a handle on what is going on. That is partly because your data is coming through so many different silos. Your cameras are separate from your location data separate from your communication tools like walkie talkies or mobile. We are trying to bring that all together in a way that creates an intelligent reaction.
What do you see for the future of festivals and technology?
If you think about your normal festival campus there are certain patterns and behaviors that are tied to events that are going on at the venue. So take a major one like Coachella, there are multiple stages and structures within the festival ground and when you know what the schedules are you can predict certain behavior. You know how people are going to be moving throughout the venue. So then if a critical event or a minor event, like when someone is injured or faints from the sun, and you need to stage a response so you have a better idea of where people are, how they are moving, and the best way you can route your first responders and security personnel. It’s all about getting those responders better information faster to help them do their jobs better and more quickly. A lot of them have manual tools. They are receiving information but it can be very scattered and everyone is very flustered. But if you report it through technology, it ends up being much more black and white and usable.
How can Armored Things impact the live event space?
We believe that the festival space is an emerging market for technology. When you talk about university and pro sport campuses, they are not that different from festivals in terms of behavior. With incidents like that in Las Vegas, there is some special attention that is being given to live events. Another thing that is interesting about these kinds of events is that a lot of them have new technologies present. Unlike a stadium that was built 30 years ago, a lot of festival grounds will have the new version of things like WIFI every year, pop up new cameras in key places, or the security and police detail that is there as contractors might have newer technology than other venues. That being said, I think there is an opportunity to utilize the newer version of devices to get better robust data so that we can build a more robust solution. I think festivals are one of the best areas for us to explore.
What is one piece of advice you have for young women working in technology?
Do not be afraid to self-promote. What I have found both in my career as an entrepreneur and my career in finance is that women tend to be very literal about their skills and experience and that tends to hurt us. What we need to do is imagine what our skills can be because the people that are investing in us want to believe in where we can go not just where we are. I found that to be very powerful. I am very fortunate to have co-founders who believe in my skills and expertise. They have always built me up as a woman and their partner. I think we need to do ourselves a favor and not downplay our own successes. Finance was also heavily male dominated but I think there are equal opportunity for both men and women that are equally talented but you have to be willing to play the game. It hard sometimes being the only woman in this environment. I think we need to be willing to at least try and not be afraid to be the first or only one to forge the way. I think people are a lot more open about giving opportunities than some people think.
I should also note that our company is half women at the executive level which we are really proud of. The rest we are a little under 50% but we are really striving to equally represent women and underrepresented minorities. We haven’t’ had as much hiring success but we are trying to make as much effort to continue to push to hire the best people from every walk of life. I think we will get there. I think it has to be intentional. I think when you bring in five candidates you have to evaluate are we bringing in the five best from the population or just from our network. I think starts ups especially struggle with this because you are under such a time crunch when it comes to hiring. However, I think with your core team you need to be thoughtful about the people you are bringing on to your team and make sure that your interview practicing doesn’t naturally cause someone to say “Maybe that culture is not for me.” It is important to check your culture and make sure it shows that even though you may not be where you want to be in terms of diversity, that you mean what you say and want to change it to make it more equal. Being a tech company that has 50% women at the executive level and me on the board and as a co-founder is pretty unique. I would say that we have both an opportunity and responsibility to do better than most tech companies that are only 10% women and low on underrepresented minorities.
What has been one of the biggest successes?
My biggest success is not that tangible. I have done a lot of reflection with employees on how things have been going since we founded the company. I think my biggest success is that people really respect me and like to work with me as a leader. As I look down the road I think that being a good leader that people will follow and want to work with I think is a goal I always had. In the future as the team grows to 200 or 500 if they can look up to me, believe in me and if I can lead them down the right path and get our company to where it needs to be then I will count that as a huge success.
What has been on of the biggest challenges of your career?
Starting a company is hard, everyone says it for a reason. You eat, breathe, live, and sleep your company. Re-finding balance when you have stability in a startup is really challenging because it is a very high stakes endeavor. You put your whole life into it. You invest personally, financially, you have to make sure your significant others are as bought in as you are. I think that’s the biggest challenge of it all.
Who is your favorite musician?
That’s hard but I have always loved Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I think she has such a unique style. She is such a badass chick. If you ever see her live. She is one of a kind. I saw her first at central park and then again at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. If you have never been there, it’s one of the coolest venues it’s this old church that is one of kind. Seeing her there was a special experience. She is pretty big in Northeast, she comes from a very artistic family. I’ve read a few interesting pieces on her and her background that are really fun.
What excites you most about the TechTrenders Program?
We are really excited to do what we can to try to increase women to take the risk. Taking a leap of faith into the high risk startup pursuit is not always easy for women. We haven’t seen too many female companies funded as we have male, so that just means there are tons of opportunities for companies and ideas that resonate with the female community. I think there is a whole population out there with ideas that are not being represented. If we can somehow help out with that even though we are in our own infancy then I think that would be a pretty awesome thing.
Apply for the TechTrenders program here.