Today's Entrepreneur


Today's Entrepreneur: Charles Pontious

No. 1 Mistake: Thinking a great idea is enough to succeed

Innovation series by Mingmei Niu
April 29, 2014
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Today's Entrepreneur is Charles Pontious, CEO and Founder of Spot Labs, which makes it easy for location owners to reinvent their location experience. The software, as a service platform, provides the infrastructure and services they need to integrate in-location with their online and mobile investments.  Spot Labs bridges the gap between online and physical worlds by providing a software platform that extends the Android ecosystem to public devices. Location owners benefit by leveraging their investments in online and mobile  to optimize their in-location experience. Developers benefit by having a way to impact the physical world in a way they never had before.

Spot Labs is one of the top 15 finalist to present at Splash Oakland on May 6-7. Be sure to support Pontious and Spot LabsRegister here.

Here's a look at his entrepreneurial background:

Companies I've founded or co-founded:

Companies I work or worked for:

If you are an entrepreneur, why?
 Building a successful business is the ultimate career satisfaction

My favorite startups:
 uber, square, kiip, Airbnb

What's most frustrating and rewarding about entrepreneurship/innovation?
 The most frustrating thing is competing for resources with companies that have bottomless pockets.

The most rewarding thing is setting a goal, working towards it, and bringing trusted colleagues along to share in your success.

What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs make?
 Thinking that a great idea alone is enough to succeed.

What are the top three lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?
1. It is a small Bay Area. Treat everyone with respect and integrity 
2. Those that succeed are those who relentlessly refuse to fail 
3. Don't be afraid to re-invent your ideas or challenge your assumptions

Full bio
 I was fortunate to go to college as a music major, as it taught me patience, hard work, and resolve in a very competitive environment.  Along the way, I took the practical step of gaining a minor in computer science, which became my professional direction.

I began my career as a business computer programmer.  I was always poking around the underlying systems, and this led to me being recruited by the systems group to be an IBM mainframe systems programmer.  This environment, where downtime was measures in seconds and valued at $1000's of dollars/second laid the groundwork for my understanding of high availability systems. 

I was recruited to work for a startup, Molecular Design Ltd., that developedchemical information database sytsems. As an IBM systems programmer I maintained  a hardware abstraction layer (IBM 370 assembler) that allowed us to support multiple operating systems.  This company grew to become the world's leading supplier of chemical information DB systems.  It was at MDL that I switched my focus to Unix and networks.  The combination of PHD talent, international customers, and working on all the major computing systems of the time made MDL fun berth while I raised my young family. 

In 1992, I had an ephiphany about the rise of the Internet, and jumped at an opportunity to join an ad agency for major SV companies, to build our own web hosting business.  We then merged with a telecom company MTC, to create one of the first vertically integrated internet providers.  I was in charge of our ISP division, which included Scruznet, in Santa Cruz.  Our plans to become a tier 1 ISP evaporated when the company failed 1 year before "the web" became a household word.  After it failed, I ran my own web hosting business for over a year. 

I joined a Cisco reseller and began working on my CCIE as a sales engineer. A short consulting contract at Blue Shield of CA extended to a 2 year assignment, overseeing their relationship with EDS.  

I returned to startup mode at, a spinoff from Diamond Micro Devices, to build the web destination their new RIO MP3 player.  Despite being the exclusive download provider for MTV, VH1, and SonicNet, we ran out of money and were merged with the Internet Jukebox pioneer, Ecast, Inc.  

I stayed at Ecast for another 6 months, shutting down the Rioport operations and moving the Ecast data center and then took a job at Covad Communications as head of Production Operations.  At Covad I was responsible for stabilizing several troubled systems and creatng a culture of operations excellence.  2 years later, I was recruited back to Ecast which was now growing and needed my skills with high availability operations. 

Ecast provided a fascinating mixture of consumer facing products, technical challenges, and legal complications.  I built an internal system for managing music publishing copyrights and royalties which eventually led to assuming control over all of Product Development.   During this time we introduced the first  HD touchscreen jukebox, and later begain forays into digital signage including impressive installations at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2011 Starwood Guests Quadrinnial Technology expo.

 In 2011, I also  managed two hardware projects, developing, and manufacturing a legacy hardware upgrade kit and a new 27" HD low cost jukebox. 

In 2012, Ecast ran aground  and a competitor, AMI, assumed control.  I was hired to muster a team to keep the network running and migrate the customers to AMI systems.  That team became the nucleus of Spot Labs, founded in April 2012.  We successfully completed the in-the-field migration of Ecast units to AMI in January of 2013.  

At that time, based upon a solid understanding of the issues of running unattended devices in public locations, we  turned our sights to building the NV Platform of today based upon open source technologies, making it easy and cost effective for companies to provide rich interactive experiences in their remote locations.



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