Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Stuart Rench, founder of ihiji, photo by Leslie Anne Jones

Stuart, founder of ihiji

Remote diagnostic tools have been available to big companies with complex computer networks for many years, but the options for your average residential IT support provider were limited. It’s a waste of time and expense for the IT guy when he has to go to a house just to reboot the printer. Stuart Rench knows this from experience, and his ihiji invision – a little black box that plugs into a wall socket and lets specialists monitor what’s going on with the network remotely – is now saving many IT guys many trips.

Rench started his first company in Florida in 2005. There, he installed home automation systems for high net worth individuals – homes with $500,000 in-home theater systems and dimmable lighting controllable by touchscreen interface. On occasion, a client would come in on his private jet late on a Friday night after months away, something wouldn’t be working and Rench or one of his partners would have to go figure it out.

For several years, they tinkered with a prototype that could monitor networks remotely and eliminate needless in-person visits. In March 2010, Rench and his team packed up their computers and servers and relocated to Austin to work on ihiji full-time, but it took awhile for business to pick up.

“We were ahead of what the market needed,” Rench said. In the four years since moving to Austin, the team grew to eight members, but shrank down again for a period during slow sales. Today, it’s back up to nine full-time members, including three sales people. In those four years, the Internet of Things grew, home networks became more complex, and so too did the need for monitoring and support. “Now we’re the go-to company.”

The ihiji invision – which allows IT service providers to remotely see all the devices on a network and diagnose and maintain those connected devices – is now in 46 states and 25 countries and sales are strong. Some of ihiji’s clients are big national brands, but many are small businesses, one- or two-man shops for whom the ihiji invision helps conserve time and resources. Rench says their customers come from both ends of the geographic spectrum: He has a lot of clients who are city dwellers and remote monitoring saves them from having to waste time in traffic to visit clients in person; and he also has rural customers who need to cover a lot of ground – one client in Montana services homes within a 500-mile radius. Another customer based in New Zealand works exclusively on IT systems for mega yachts, ihiji’s service and monitoring solution is especially useful to him since his clients’ boats go all over the world. Earlier on, ihiji’s customers were mainly IT providers servicing residences, but Rench says now they have more clients who service commercial networks too.

Ihiji’s team works out of an office at Austin Technology Incubator, where they’ve been since arriving in Texas. Today, Rench says their focus is on making sure their upcoming products are ones people really want, not just what they think they might want, and to that end they’re paying close attention to feedback. So far Rench says, “We haven’t built anything where weren’t pushed in that direction.” Now the company is looking to grow its product line and expand the platform’s capabilities.

It used to be that IT service and system integration were seen as two separate jobs. Drawing on his industry experience, Rench equates them to a ven diagram with an ever-increasing area of shared space. “If I project forward, there will be very little difference between the two,” he says.

The home automation industry is in a growth phase, and the pace is expected to pick up with the proliferation of devices like Nest, the Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostat, whose parent company Google bought in January for $3.2 billion.

“Only three percent of American homes currently have home automation systems, but we are only starting to approach the point at which such systems can really save people money and make their lives easier,” said Howdy Pierce, co-founder of engineering consultancy Cardinal Peak. “In the next five years we expect penetration of the Internet of Things to grow exponentially.”

With more devices on their networks, homeowners will likely need more help maintaining it all, and in turn the IT industry’s need for remote monitoring systems will grow, which will be good for ihiji. Things are already looking up, Rench says, “We’re on track to double revenues over the next year.”