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Meet Tracy Markie of Small Box Energy in Chandler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Markie.

Tracy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Small Box Energy is the result of a customer’s frustration. Technically, it was spin-off of an existing technology company, however, the ‘spark’ igniting the fire was frustration. It happened about 10 years ago while working on a project with the largest QSR chain in the world. The customer was frustrated because they were having trouble measuring savings and consequently, calculating an ROI for the project. It’s then the team (later to become Small Box Energy) figured out a novel way to offset project costs for its customer and overcome this frustration.

The team was helping create the “kitchen of the future,” adding “smarts” to kitchen equipment and networking it all together to collect data and information about status and performance. Everyone involved with the project thought loved the results, but savings from the new system were difficult to measure in real dollars. This is when Small Box Energy founder, Tracy Markie, suggested adding energy management to the customer’s system and using the energy savings to offset the costs.

A few years later (in 2012), and after lots of market research, the original team was spun out to form Small Box Energy. The company now provides an operations platform for restaurants and convenience stores, integrating equipment controls with mobile and cloud-based apps. It provides users with visibility and control over their operations never before available. The platform, known as chameleonTM, incorporates HVAC, lighting, and refrigeration control as well as temperature monitoring and food safety to provide visibility and information about how the restaurant or convenience store is running; and STILL uses energy savings to pay for it all.

Today, Small Box Energy has taken on investors including Cadre, Grayhawk Capital and Intel. The company continues to grow its reach into the market and remains the only company offering a solution (chameleon) for all these operations. Chameleon is deployed in more than 60 brands throughout North America and is the only integrated (hardware and software) cloud-based solution available as a subscription-only service, with no upfront capital requirements.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not! We’ve had more than our fair share of challenges, some of which we still deal with. Of course our ups and downs are likely similar to most start-up, but whenever you’re out in front, providing leading-edge solutions, you’re going to get some arrows in the back.

When we started, we set out to solve two main problems: 1) Similar systems were too expensive to provide a reasonable payback for customers, and 2) the systems available were too complicated. It has taken two generations of hardware and continuous improvement to our software to overcome these challenges.

The sales process can still be long too, at the end of the day we are providing a very technical solution to customer base made up of “non-techies!” To overcome these challenges, we’ve adopted principles and design practices allowing us to use off-the-shelf hardware with wireless technology allowing us to install into restaurants and convenience stores very cost-effectively. We addressed the “too complicated” problem by creating our “20/20” design principle, meaning we can teach a 20 year old to use the system in less than 20 minutes!

Another common problem we run into is the “you touched it last, so you broke it” phase. We interact with a lot of our customer’s critical systems, they only realize after our equipment is in, providing visibility, their critical systems aren’t being maintained or aren’t working as well as they thought. We use every situation as an educational opportunity to teach our customers about their equipment. We want their equipment to work at peak performance, which is why we work alongside their facilities people to uncover and remedy problems. Our equipment and data often make it easier for technicians to decipher what may be occurring when systems fail.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Small Box Energy story. Tell us more about the business.
The chameleon solution offers a fully integrated food safety, equipment diagnostics and energy management system designed specifically for restaurants and convenience stores. Chameleon provides 24/7 remote monitoring and control of refrigeration, HVAC and lighting
systems using your phone, tablet or computer. Real-time temperature monitoring and alarms elevate food safety and help prevent food loss and are accessible via our secure cloud-based application. Our extensive data collection helps provide real-time and historical data for analytics and reporting.

We provide dedicated Client Success Managers who review sites regularly and identify equipment maintenance needs and operating inefficiencies. They provide 24/7 monitoring for alarms, equipment analysis and maintenance needs. On-going operational support and employee training are available at no extra cost to the customer. Our Client Success Managers do not just provide data for a customer to decipher, they provide actionable recommendations provided to improve efficiency and profitability.

Reports provide insights and recommendations to improve profitability. They provide status information about store equipment and suggested maintenance through early diagnostics. Employee behavior, such as HVAC overrides and refrigerator doors being left open, is provided too. Reporting also encompasses summaries of overall energy consumption, anomalies and trends as well as a summary of alarms and corrective actions taken.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m not much of a believer in luck, good or bad. However, I would say I believe luck favors the prepared. When I look back over everything we have done, most of the things that look like “good luck” can be traced to something we did to plan and/or prepare for an opportunity. On the other hand, things that look like bad luck can often be tied back to a lack of preparation or planning.

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