One of my long-time Twitter connections, Jonathan Bacon (@JonBacon) was at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show with his new employer, Wilson Electronics. He invited me over to spend 30 minutes with the Wilson team to learn about cell phone signal boosters. He promised me a good entrepreneurial story – and he was right.
But first, let me tell you about Wilson and their products.
Three or four years ago I remember searching the Web for a product that would boost the signal of a new cell phone I’d purchased that had terrible reception. At the time, I had real difficulty finding any boosters in Google or on mobile-phone forums.
I learned that there’s a reason for my experience: the product category of signal boosters is traditionally not that well known. According to Joe Banos, COO of Wilson Electronics, cell phone signal boosters are becoming better known – in part due to Wilson’s marketing efforts -- but there’s a long way to go.
Wilson Electronics has been manufacturing cell phone signal boosters for over a decade. At the show they introduced their “Sleek” model, which has a cradle so you can attach it and your cell phone to your car dashboard. But it’s more than a mere cradle. Attached to the back is a signal amplifier. You plug it into your cigarette lighter, and it also keeps your phone charged. There’s a portable antenna that comes with it, too.
Another fun fact about the Wilson Sleek signal booster is that you can also use it to amplify the signal of the new MiFi devices. MiFi devices, which are smaller than an iPhone and work off of cell-phone networks, allow you to become a walking WiFi hotspot. But, as Banos explained, they are only as good as the cell phone signal. A booster will boost the MiFi signal.
In addition to the portable car unit, Wilson also has signal boosters for your office desktop. Another model is a mobile version (“Mobile Pro”) that road warriors can take with them traveling, to boost signals in remote areas and in hotel rooms (notorious for weak cell-phone signals).
An Entrepreneurial Story
Wilson Electronics is an entrepreneurial story. Based in Utah, it was founded by an entrepreneur, Jim Wilson, 40 years ago. It grew out of Wilson’s hobby as a ham radio operator. Over the years he developed technology to boost signals. Today the company has about 130 employees. All of their products are made in the United States.
Banos says one of the things the company is proud of, is their network of roughly 5,000 etailers and retailers across North America. Some are very large retailers, but most of them are entrepreneurs and small businesses – Mom and Pop shops, as he points out. An etailer might have set up a website a couple of years ago, started selling Wilson products, has a fulfillment house handle the orders for them, and now has a thriving online business. Banos says the company is gratified when they see these entrepreneurs do well for themselves through selling Wilson products.
Wilson does not sell direct, so their strategy is to put their resources toward helping their dealers be as successful as they can be. Examples: Wilson helps dealers with marketing resources, including access to the Wilson in-house graphics design department. Wilson also issues a dealer newsletter which provides tips for selling more, such as tips for choosing keywords for Web-based marketing.
Banos also noted the company’s technology innovation as a reason they’ve been around so long and have thrived. The company regularly invests in research and development, and they hold several patents. And they are passionate about making sure the market gets the best products. Right now they have a petition pending with the FCC to raise standards for approving cell phone signal boosters so that the public gets access to high quality products.