Interview Published July 19, 2000|
Dave Barton, N2Power
Dave Barton, a longtime list subscriber and local entrepreneur, is
President and CEO of N2Power (www.n2power.com), a local startup in Westlake
Village. N2Power is unique as a core "hardware" company (power supplies),
and also has an interesting story in getting a series B from Garage.com.
DB: N2Power's main products are characterized as efficiency in the use of electrical power and efficiency in use of space. The two concepts are embodied in a our revolutionary high efficiency, ultra-small power supply providing the OEM designers of Internet hardware (routers, switches, web servers, etc.) with a solution to the age-old problems of smaller, more power, less space, higher reliability, less heat. Those involved in design of tomorrow's products will recognize these issues. N2Power provides a ready answer with a series of power products designed specifically for Internet applications that fit in 1/3 the volumetric space, have 2X the power/cubic inch, only need 1/5 the cooling and give off less than 50% wasted energy when compared to others. Our technology is unique... unique to the point that we have filed for patent protection on 18 different claims for our topology.
N2Power's main thrust is along the lines of "fabless" semiconductor companies... we listen to the customer and define his needs, design the core technology and then prototype power supplies in the U.S. We then provide volume production from a key strategic partner, Primax Electronics, in Taiwan. You may know Primax from its consumer products such as scanners, AC adapters for cell phone use, digital cameras, high density power products, and, most recently an entry into the "Bluetooth" space. N2Power's key role is in the identification of future power needs and subsequent high technology designs to answer those needs with volume production provided with the highest quality and the most economical price.
BK: How was the company founded, and what is your background?
DB: The company was founded in 1998. Previously, I was Senior Vice President of WorldWide Sales and Marketing for a high volume producer of switch mode power supplies, the type found in most desktop computers. I witnessed the gradual reduction in physical size of computers, switches, routers, and web servers and was introduced to many organizations searching for high power and smaller size with corresponding reductions in cooling and weight of the power supply. The advent of the great growth of the Internet confirmed my belief that this need would continue to grow. Today's "all-in-one" PC (not quite in the U.S. yet) and 1U high rack mountable systems further fuel this tremendous growth in the power supply industry. Together with one of the industry's leading power supply engineers, we put together the specifications and came up with a design for an ultra-small, high efficiency product that is just now beginning its manufacturing phase.
BK: I understand you found your last round of funding through Garage.com-- what can you tell me about that?
DB: In June of 1999, it appeared that we had the makings of a great product. We had been funding this project on our own and it became apparent that we would need cash and a strategic manufacturing partner. I became aware of garage.com through the Internet. Some years ago (too many), I had one of the first Apple II's and one of the first Macintosh's, and when Guy Kawasaki's name surfaced I jumped at the chance of telling the N2Power story. I made application via the Internet, was contacted by a great Account Manager, and we were on the way.
BK: Garage.com has been known for funding lots of dot-com startups: how was your company received by investors, being a hardware and not Internet company?
DB: It was a unique experience... as you know, garage.com orchestrates a variety of investors in exposing new opportunities to them. We had accomplished a small "F&F" round before our association with garage.com, so it was not totally foreign. Garage helped with our Series B round and really helped us with this step. It so happened that ".com" investing was in its heyday and here was N2Power, a hardware company, trying to get some attention. As soon as "power supplies" were mentioned, you could see the eyes of investors glaze over. After some coaching by the garage.com staff, N2Power presented at a breakfast meeting and hosted a luncheon in the marbled streets of Palo Alto and today we count a number of their ".com"r's among our investors. Although our Series B round was not as successful as we had hoped, we obtained enough to get to manufacturing which was our intent. I attribute this mostly to the .com atmosphere so prevalent in the Bay Area. Hardware oriented companies have a tough time battling against the lure of "get rich quick" schemes, but I think that time is rapidly passing.
BK: Finally, what's the next steps for your company?
DB: Well, we are just finishing our initial product which will let us make our mark. We have a number of customers waiting and will satisfy their needs momentarily. Next on the list is the expansion of additional series designs and new and unique designs for higher power and smaller size products. Of course, this means expansion of our design staff and sales and marketing group. Guess what? This takes more money so we will be back to the investment people once again.