How Cynthia Rubio Runs Radiant RFID
After years of homeschooling her three children, Cynthia Rubio was anxious to go out and start working again.
Around this same time a friend presented an idea that got her wheels spinning. With a little curiosity and a ton of research, she realized the huge potential for radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. From asset tracking at universities, hospitals, or large events, to emergency management for NGOs and governments, the applications seemed infinite.
Cynthia Rubio and Kenny Ratton co-founded Radiant RFID in 2004 and it’s now one of the fastest growing RFID companies in the industry.
Take us back to your “aha moment” when your business idea came to you.
I don’t know if I had an “aha moment”. It was really more like ‘hey this is an interesting technology with a lot of potential to automate business processes. .’ I had been looking around at what I could do, I had a passion for technology and wanted to do something technical and challenging… and this opportunity presented itself. So it was really more something that caught my interest.
What were you doing at the time that this presented itself?
I was homeschooling my kids. I have an engineering background and had worked in aerospace, petroleum, automotive, and in software for a little while. I started my family while I was in the automotive industry but then moved into software here in Austin. My husband was traveling a lot at the time and I had decided to stay home to homeschool my kids. I was doing that for several years when after my third child I was ready to start working again.
I started looking around for a job and wasn’t finding anything, so I decided to do something on my own. I was investigating business opportunities when a friend of ours was looking for a technology provider for helping him to track attendees at different conferences and events. We began to look at this RFID technology and did some investigating as to what exactly it was and where we thought it could be of benefit in the industry.
After a lot of research on the technology and understanding the many potential applications of the technology, we decided to start Radiant, and be the tracking technology service provider for Alliance Tech.
That’s how we started. We got some contracts with the company to work with them in their trade shows and conferences… and that’s how it began. From there it went to emergency evacuation, then asset tracking technology and human accountability.
What was it like to transition from being a full-time mom to becoming a CEO?
It was fun. It’s been fun. I am interested in a variety of different things and I like problem solving… so transitioning from being at home to being back in the workplace was actually quite smooth.
I was a little nervous at first because I thought, what if I’m not qualified anymore? I’ve just been at home. I don’t know if I can go back out there and do this… technology constantly changes and I haven’t kept up with is as much as I should have…
You know, we all have that self-doubt… but when I stepped out and began working and building this, it was not as hard as I thought it would be.
You don’t think about it when you’re a mom, but you are handling all these little crisis situations all the time with these very little people that don’t understand the world. So it can be even more challenging than just going to work with mature adults at times
Although it doesn’t seem like it really applies … I always say I didn’t think I could negotiate with anyone, until it occurred to me that If I can negotiate candy from a two-year-old at birthday party, then I can negotiate with a lot of different people, right?
So the transition from being a mom at home to getting back into the workforce – aside from that initial set of self doubt that I had – was easier than anticipated . If anything the transition from work to being at home was initially a much bigger shock than going back into the workforce.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while building your business?
Oh my goodness, I could write a book on this.
On the personal side the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m probably my biggest obstacle. So I have to recognize what the things are that I lack or that I’m afraid of and just rise to the occasion.
On a business level: that I assumed or didn’t put a lot of emphasis on some things that I should have. Everyone always says, “don’t assume anything” but you subconsciously assume some things or don’t pay great enough attention to others.
For example, I’ve worked in many different industries and led many different teams of people (engineers, technicians) but it was very different when we were hiring, training, and building a business; it was actually quite a challenge.
Speaking of that hiring process, when building your team, who was the first person you hired and why?
That was our software developer… We needed a lot of people at the time, but that was clearly the one that was going to be a key player, a key role in the company and still is.
In the beginning, how did you test your business model? Did you have an audience you worked with first?
We started with real customers because we partnered with another company… We did do some testing on the technology to see the feasibility and confirmed we could provide a better technology solution than what was already out there and then developed some basic software around that idea.
After some local testing, our first real shot was at a trade show with several thousand people. We collected real data (a lot of it) and refined our solution.
How did you approach scaling your business?
We had a lot of fun brainstorming sessions about the technology and where we thought it could be applicable.– all the way from race timing and marathons, to asset tracking, and other business to business applications..
We then surveyed the market. Asking ourselves, the number and size of companies in the industries we were considering, and where our technology solutions could be valuable to them. Then Kenny Ratton went to a variety of universities, our first pick for asset tracking, and conducting market research as to what their challenges were and what would be helpful for them.
We incorporated those ideas and started out with a simple asset tracking solution and it grew from there. We still have our first ever asset tracking university as a customer today.
Do you have a mentor and if so, how did you find them?
I do not have a mentor and if you have one, I’d love one, she jokes. I don’t have any mentors and I think that’s one of the challenges of being a female entrepreneur, especially one that’s in technology.
There aren’t a lot of other females in technology so it’s hard to find someone that could be a mentor for me. We’re already starting out with a fewer number of people in the technology space and the added twist for women being mentors to other women is that most of us have families and other personal obligations that make it challenging to have extra time to devote outside of our day to day responsibilities..
I would highly recommend a mentor. It would be great, and hopefully for the next generation of entrepreneurs that come there will be some mentors out there that they can rely on as resources.
Connect with Cynthia Rubio and Radiant RFID
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL O’BRIEN
[Published in Reader’s Digest; Cynthia Rubio models her evacuee bracelets.]