People of Prospect – Ryan Morris, Software Motor Company
Software Motor Company
Ryan Morris, Executive Chairman
ProspectSV: Thanks for taking the time for an interview. How did you get started at Software Motor Company?
Ryan: The last company I was running was a leader in power electronics for EVs. Like most, I viewed the electric motor as a commodity and was essentially a solved problem – all the exciting work was happening in the battery and the power electronics. But a standard AC induction motor could not survive a hybrid truck engine design so we turned to a switched reluctance motor (SRM) which is inherently more reliable as each coil is independent and there are no rotor currents. SRMs were historically not very efficient because of the difficulty of getting precise control but it just felt like a “Moore’s Law” type of a problem to me that modern computing should be able to solve. Sure enough, after I comprehensively researched the industry I found exactly one company (SMC) that was taking this new software/compute first approach to the motor that was of course based in Silicon Valley! I invested a small amount early 2017 and then joined as Executive Chairman Sept 2017 after leading the $13,141,592 Series A investment round.
ProspectSV: Cool! What are some of the benefits of the product that you like?
Ryan: The purpose of an electric motor is to convert electrical energy into rotational energy. Most people don’t realize that a $1,000 motor turning an HVAC fan in a building may consume $3,000 of electricity per year! HVAC is 45% of US electric bills – double that of lighting. As it turns out, even “premium efficiency” motors today convert over half of that input into wasted heat due to inefficiency and poor control in real world conditions. SMC motors actually eliminate nearly all of this waste – very similarly to LED lights compared to what came before. The motor is also self-sensing, so it’s totally programmable to the system it is driving whether an HVAC, pump, or refrigeration system. Add all this up, on top of the native superior reliability of SRM and HVACR energy bills get cut in half.
ProspectSV: Wow, that’s very impressive. So what have been some of the most positive developments since you’ve joined?
Ryan: First and foremost, seeing the proof in the real world and validation from the customer has been great. We always encounter a wall of skepticism at first because: a) there was a wave of “energy saving” tech that came before us that was actually totally impractical and b) electric motors have not changed in many decades. So their responses to the product after seeing it perform are very positive after they overcome their initial disbelief! The other really positive development has been how well the team as worked together and grown. Since the Series A only 5 months ago we have grown from 10 to over 30 people and the caliber of people is fantastically high. The team has solved engineering and physics challenges that nobody had been able to tackle before. We’re creating a unique culture of smart, intense and also empathetic individuals who understand the global impact of what they’re working on.
ProspectSV: That’s great. On a personal note, what inspires you?
Ryan: Well from a young age I had learned about nuclear fusion after watching a documentary in school. I fell in love with physics and engineering, I think largely because based on first principles you are either right or you’re provably wrong! Youth and experience level aren’t a factor, just your reasoning and facts. My father is very practical and influenced me to always have the business and resource allocation perspective, so I learned about investing by reading Warren Buffett’s shareholder letters. The important outcome of all this is that if you really want to have an impact, I think you have to synthesize technology with an economic approach. History has proven that if you try to guilt the world into ending pollution it will fail. On the other hand, if you can save people money and ending pollution is a happy side effect then we have a good chance of succeeding.
ProspectSV: Because of your interests and background, do you consider yourself to be on the cutting edge of innovation?
Ryan: Absolutely! I think exponential price/performance curves are the most incredible and also predictable forces driving business today. Ray Kurzweil was an early author on this idea and I’ve been an admirer of his work for over 20 years. I’m also a big believer in making innovative technology practical for the customer to use. It can’t just be a distant idea in the lab. It has to be at the intersection where tech becomes feasible to scale and roll out. We’re also on the cutting edge of business models to make it easier for our customers to do business with us. If they want to buy their systems as-a-service with no money upfront they can, just like Salesforce did to software.
ProspectSV: Anything else about SMC that you’d like to add?
Ryan: Sure. I’ll add that we received a handful of awards including the Wells Fargo IN2 award (which incubates early-stage clean tech companies), the GSA Green Proving Ground award, the CEC Epic Award, and the NSF (National Science Foundation) Phase 1 award for small businesses.
We’ve recently been expanding our market to look into refrigeration, pumps, and conveyor systems. NREL is going to be releasing some data soon about how our motor is showing improvement in refrigeration. We know these systems haven’t had much innovation and are eager to jump into this market. If someone wants to learn more they can head to www.softwaremotor.com/#video
Software Motor Company on Twitter: www.twitter.com/softwaremotor