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Auburn company sees continued growth despite slow economy

Business
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn business is showing how a good idea can succeed even in a down economy. ioSafe, which produces fireproof and waterproof external hard drives, is seeing continued growth nationwide and worldwide. The company, which is located in the Auburn Airport Business Park, moved from an 8,000-square-foot building to a 20,000-square-foot facility nearby in March. Staffing, which was at 12 in early 2008, is now 30, CEO Robb Moore said. Moore declined to discuss sales numbers, but said growth more than doubled from 2009 to 2010 and he expects it to more than double this year. “Everyone has to buy a hard drive to store data on anyway,” he said. “We’re reaching a price point where people can choose between the pretty red one or the waterproof, fire-proof one.” Moore invented the device and is co-founder of the company. “My background is in engineering. I’m a mechanical engineer by training,” he said. “One day, actually shortly after I had my first child, I started snapping pictures like crazy and started to create lots of digital data. I realized that my family photo album was now digital and very vulnerable. I went out searching for a solution to help me protect all those photos and videos.” What he wanted was a fireproof hard drive to back up his computer. “I went looking for one and it just didn’t exist,” he said. “I started to realize what the engineering difficulty and challenges would be in producing a device like this. You’re asking the hard drive to not only be impervious to heat, but also to exhaust the waste heat that all electronics make. From an engineering point of view, it is a bit of a conundrum to resolve.” Moore’s invention accomplished all that. “It’s like an aircraft black box but for your computer or server, meant to protect family photos, business data and any kind of critical data that may be vulnerable,” he said. “It sits in your house and in your place of business.” A lot of ideas went down in flames during the early days of development. “We’ve probably made more than 100 different kinds of prototypes and configurations in exploring ways of combining these elements together,” he said. He launched ioSafe in early 2005. The first disaster-protected drive weighed 75 pounds and cost $3,000 to $15,000. Six years later, the company is in the fifth-generation design — the ioSafe Solo — now reduced to a 15-pound single drive “and basically an optimized version of our very first generation,” Moore said. “We are at one-fifth the weight and $149 versus $3,000.” The ioSafe Solo has a capacity of up to 3 terabytes. Moore typically launches the company’s latest product at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, lighting a barbecue and charring a drive in front of an enthusiastic crowd. He’s planning another demonstration, or “demolition,” for next year’s show. Last year’s “demolition” was covered by Discovery Channel, PC World, BBC and PC Magazine, as well as Computer Shopper, Financial Times, ABC and even Playboy, he said. “It was really a lot of fun,” Moore said. “We introduced our new Rugged Portable Drive — the other product we are primarily selling.” The ioSafe Rugged Portable fits in a briefcase. It protects against shock, crush, saltwater and chemicals and it can be dropped, he said. ioSafe’s drives are available on the Internet, through Amazon.com, Costco.Com and numerous other sites. The company also sells to corporations. “There are lots of recognizable names of companies purchasing ioSafe products to help protect data that sits vulnerable,” Moore said. The list includes McDonald’s and White Castle. “One of our bigger (sales) this year was a 4,000-office deployment for a large insurance company looking to protect each of its small remote offices,” he said. “There’s no way to do disaster recovery at that remote office. The amount of data is so large and the pipe so small. To push all that data back to a central location in the middle of the night, it just proves to be impossible. It’s like trying to move 20,000 gallons of water through a straw.” Gradually Moore is reaching out to put the drives into stores. “We’re being very careful in the retail environment,” he said. “It’s a difficult place to sell, especially for a small company. We are going to be stocking (ioSafe products) at Fry’s in the next couple of months. They’re also in Micro Center stores in the Midwest. … We’re working on products that will address the more retail environment at even lower price points.” And ioSafe stands behind what it sells, he said. “The added benefit of physical protection is that we also attach a data recovery service onto the hard drive,” Moore said. Fire, flood, system crash or accidental deletion, the recovery team will help get the data back, he said. Moore declined to reveal what’s next on the product line, but said the company is always working on something new. “Seventy percent of the world’s data sits vulnerable,” he said. “Iosafe is on a mission to protect that vulnerability. We’re creating solutions to help people (eliminate) data vulnerability wherever it sits.” That included tornado-ravaged Joplin in May. “We had four iosafes in Joplin that went right through the tornado and recovered (the data) the same day,” he said. As the company continues to grow, Moore says he has no plans to move it elsewhere. “We’re really excited to be in Auburn,” he said. “We love it here and it is a good place to do business. Being out at the business park has worked out very well for us. I have a small plane and it is easy for me to jump to the Bay Area or LA or Seattle. A lot of people don’t realize how important the airport is for the small businesses in this area.” At the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, CEO Bruce Cosgrove said that although businesses are expressing a lot of concerns, he’s seen a slight uptick in general attitude. “ioSafe … and there are a handful of other businesses in the Auburn community that are doing very well — their products and their services are in high demand,” he said. “It’s not just happenstance. They worked hard to position themselves where they are to have the products and services they have and they are operating smart. It’s not by accident and it’s not just good fortune or luck. But for many businesses (locally), it is still a struggle.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.