Introduction to Adappt

The Little Multinational Startup That Could

When I came to MIT for business school, my dream was to start a cleantech company. I had gotten a taste of entrepreneurship as an early employee at an anaerobic digestion startup and wanted more. MIT has such a rich history of entrepreneurship that the annual revenue from the companies of MIT alumni is greater than “the GDP of the world’s 10th largest economy”–I felt the environment was ripe for me finding my future cofounders. During my second year of business school, I was still seeking to fulfill that dream. During a class called Energy Ventures, I was paired with two PhDs, a policy student, and a Sloan Fellow (Sloan’s mid-career MBA program) to commercialize a fog harvesting technology. The five of us formed a dynamic team and a power-plant-plume-fighting startup called Infinite Cooling.

When at the end of the semester it turned out that the PhDs needed more time in the lab, and we wouldn’t be able to continue pursuing the business further, I was deeply disappointed. My hopes were dashed, until the Sloan Fellow Vivek Bagri, a serial entrepreneur whose unique mix of open-mindedness, discernment, sense of humor, and intellectual curiosity I had grown to respect and admire, offered me a new opportunity: he told me that he was on the board of an LED lighting company in India and wanted to know if I was interested in expanding the business to the US. My consideration of that opportunity turned into a consulting project that culminated with a trip to India to present my market assessment. I will never forget the night before that trip. It was New Year’s Eve 2015, and I had turned down a night as a glittery-gowned gal because my 14-hour intercontinental flight was in the morning, and I was far too nervous to carry on with champagne-inspired conversation. After triple-checking my suitcases, the thought I had been repressing finally forced its way to the front of my mind:

Molly, what on God’s green earth do you think you’re doing?!? Dad’s freaking out, Mom is confused, and why shouldn’t they be?? You’re a white woman heading off to the Asian continent alone to present to a bunch of Indian male engineers, and you ACTUALLY expect it to go WELL?!?

Well, I did manage to psych myself up to get on that flight, and I couldn’t be happier that I did. The team not only believed me, but listened intently, asked great questions, contributed their own knowledge, and showed me unparalleled hospitality. On my first night, the team took me out for traditional South Indian food eaten on a banana leaf, and I got food up to my elbows and in my hair (I stubbornly ignored the spoon a waiter tried to hand me) while my hosts contained the residue to within the first two joints of their point finger, middle finger, and thumb. During the workweek, Pradyoth, the CEO of Arraystorm (the lighting business) used his decades of experience in the industry to teach me every component of a light from the luminaire down to the switch. Satish showed me around the factory and gave me a ride home while his wife scolded him in Kannada (local language in Bangalore) for not having me over for dinner. Akshay, a brilliant technologist, spent hours with me patiently explaining highly technical concepts while shuffling around in his shock-resistant socks and flip-flops, hunting for product samples and network diagrams as teaching aids. Ashish, the effervescent former-HSBCer turned marketing/salesman extraordinaire and coincidentally the only drinker of the group, took me out for cocktails at a gorgeous rooftop cocktail bar where we exchanged ideas about our respective markets.

Adappt Team on Trip

Vivek and I continued to work closely together to understand the market opportunities (“We have to find the gap, Molly, where is the gap?!?”), name-dropping MIT to get meetings with very important people to monopolize their time asking them which of Arraystorm’s various existing products sounded useful to them. Several months into the exploration process, we started to notice a pattern of what appealed to our various contacts: the product team had started work on a custom product requested by a client with a particular issue of desk usage. Sure, the client had the lighting solution they wanted, but their multi-shift, unassigned seating setup was total chaos. They wanted technology to solve the problem. The product team obliged with a desk occupancy sensing system, and the beginning of Adappt’s product line was born. As our confidence grew that we had product-market fit with this offering in India and the US, we realized ‘workplace optimization’ was a big enough market opportunity that it made sense to spin out from the lighting business, and on July 6th, 2016, we incorporated Adappt Intelligence, Inc.

As I reflected upon this pivot, I was excited but wondered if I had wandered off my desired path. “Is this still fulfilling my dream of starting a cleantech company? Does this achieve the impact that I had hoped for?” Nevertheless, we persisted down that path, and the dots started coming together in an unexpected way. We realized that while real estate efficiency and employee productivity were the primary sources of our value proposition, the ability to understand spaces with granular, real-time data creates an AI backbone that transforms smart buildings into cognitive premises, where managers, employees, and the environment are all better off. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” We’ve enlarged the problem, and our solutions accordingly, with our one-off desk sensing system becoming a holistic workplace sensing solution and our analytics platform becoming a workplace management toolkit.

Of course, it isn’t always easy–startups are hard enough with a team concentrated in one continent–, but I’ve immensely enjoyed the ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where we go next! We’d love for you to join us on our journey to make workplaces work smarter.

-Molly Bales, Chief Development Officer

Share this article!