• Billy Comes to Life Through Engineering and Business Talent

    With a childhood love of maths and a passion for engineering as he grew up, there was only one direction in which Rob Deeming’s career path could travel, and it is a path that has led him to found a software business set to revolutionise the care sector. Rob knew that the key to career progression was in expanding his horizons via business education, and winning a Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) MBA scholarship opened avenues that would, otherwise, have not been available.

    Before business school, Rob gained a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham. “I always loved maths growing up,” says Rob, “and as I started thinking about university, I was eager to find a practical outlet.” Upon leaving university, Rob needed a little time to decide which direction he wished his career to take, and so spent five years as a consultant at global management consultancy firm, Bain & Company. Throughout his time there, Rob was able to fine-tune disciplines; working through practical skills such as problem-solving and collaborative working; giving him a platform on which he could consider a range of exciting careers.

    Rob says, “There have been times during my career when I have been closer to engineering than others, but my degree has given me tools that have helped me in every professional situation. My background in engineering has always meant a foundation in process, structure, and a keen interest in using first principles to solve problems.”

    Working at Bain gave Rob the time and freedom to decide what he wanted to do longer term. As Rob says, “It was the classic non-choice coming out of university; as it turns out, it was an incredible place to start a career. The level of learning, skills development and personal support available in consulting is second-to-none – I have never experienced anything like it since. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that experience.”

    Winning the SMF scholarship made a huge difference to Rob; offering opportunities that otherwise would not have been available. “I chose not to take sponsorship from my employer; studying a two-year program in the US amounts to a considerable expense. The scholarship really helped ease some of the burden while at business school, and most importantly in the years since, as I have been paying down by business school loans. On top of this, the scholarship gave me the freedom to really go after the entrepreneurial career path I wanted.”

    The MBA gave Rob professional and personal perspective; giving him the opportunity to travel to the US to work, and opening his eyes to brand new career pathways he had not previously considered, in particular, those which combined his engineering and business skills. Since graduating, Rob has spent time living in both New York and Sydney building tech-driven businesses.

    Rob agrees that there is often an image issue surrounding engineers, but he feels strongly that the limited image of engineering is changing, particularly as many organisations are now working to educate the public, and young people, on the variety, diversity and excitement a career in engineering can bring.

    Rob says, “Today I run a software business and I love that our software development team identify as engineers. I believe that the world now clearly recognises that engineering forms the building blocks of future development, not just a retrospective understanding of the past.”

    Rob would encourage young people to choose engineering as a profession, quoting the value it has had for him in building an incredible foundation from which any number of professional directions are possible.

    With an MBA under his belt, Rob built and sold three start-ups from his base in New York, and most recently has set to work developing technology that would address the fundamental challenges of caring for seniors, while allowing them to remain in their own homes as independently as possible, on their own terms. Billy was born. Rob explains, “Across the world, the lives of seniors are changing every day. For too long, seniors have been seen as a problem to be managed, rather than simply as consumers with needs to be met.”

    Billy was founded with the objective of addressing the fundamental challenges that seniors face when trying to maintain their independence in their own surroundings. “We recognised that technology had a role to play in helping seniors feel confident, and giving families peace of mind,” Rob explains, “we put Billy into testing and pilot eighteen months ago.

    Billy uses a series of IoT sensors to identify patterns of behavioural routine for seniors, and share this information through an app, in real time, with family members and professional carers.” Billy uses no cameras or wearables; it is an entirely passive kit, which requires little user input. It can read all the activities of daily living, including knowing when someone is eating; taking medications; leaving the house; and rising from and going to bed, using smart analytics to determine patterns in routine and identifying changes before they result in medical emergency.

    The focus when developing Billy was on prevention, rather than reacting to an emergency. Recognising that the newest technology is not always the best solution to a customer’s true problem; the team at Billy will often forego the latest innovation to deliver an improved customer experience.

    The future is exciting for both Rob and his company; Billy is growing in both size and reputation, being in almost 1,000 homes across Australia and the US. Initial feedback shows that customer confidence is high (receiving a NPS score of 58 which is regarded as excellent), and there has been a reduction in hospitalisations in the households where Billy is installed.

    Rob attributes the success of Billy to the commitment and hard work of the whole team and particularly to the talent of the software developers who have “built a market-defining product that is having material impact on one of the major social issues of our time.”

    Emphasising the positive combination of having both engineering and business skills, Rob says, “A good understanding of the hardware and software design and its capabilities, and limitations, have been very helpful to me.” The needs of his customers are the cornerstone of what Rob does; guiding the development of Billy, and keeping his team cohesively aligned behind their goals.

    Rob values the five years spent in a non-engineering role prior to his MBA; he sees it as having the space to think and work out what he wanted from his career and his studies, something not everyone gets to do. And his advice to engineers with a desire to become entrepreneurs?  Keep engineering: “Engineers make great entrepreneurs – they are practical, problem-solvers and they recognise the value of building strong, multi-disciplinary teams.” Rob says. “The next generation of great businesses will be built on increasingly complex technology and engineering principles. That puts newly graduated engineers in a very strong position to pursue an entrepreneurial path.”

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