A born entrepreneur, Hunter MacDonald, CEO of Tutela Technologies, is passionate about challenging and innovating the mobile industry. His story is exceptional even by today’s standards: while completing an undergraduate course in mechanical engineering at McGill University in Canada, Hunter began volunteering with Ottawa-based venture capitalists Wesley Clover International Corp. After six months, Hunter received a call from Wesley Clover on a Friday afternoon, with the tempting offer to start a company with their backing – but only on the grounds that Hunter was able to relocate to the other side of Canada (Victoria) by the Monday. In addition, Hunter was given the opportunity to work under the tutelage of Ted Darcie – one of the foremost researchers in communications technologies and former Director of Communications Infrastructure Research at AT&T – as part of the Entrepreneurship@UVIC programme.
This led Hunter on to his role today. Tutela boasts the largest crowdsourced quality-of-experience data-set in the world; the firm collects data to help companies in the mobile industry understand their networks and trends in user and device behaviour by turning smartphones into network probes. We asked Hunter to explain more about what Tutela does and his vision for its future.
Give a brief overview of the business and what makes it unique.
Tutela is a wireless network testing company. We make sure that wireless networks are working properly and help design them for peak performance. Our testing software is embedded on hundreds of millions of phones worldwide. We crowdsource network measurements such as download speed and signal strength. This enables us to build maps for carriers, which show them where they’re doing a good job, and where they need to improve things for their customers. Every consumer at some point has experienced low coverage areas and has wished that their network operator was doing something about it. Tutela is the company that finds these areas and makes sure that cell towers are built where they are needed most.
What makes Tutela unique is how we get our software on mobile devices. Tutela has launched our platform as a new way for mobile apps and games to make money – while improving the world’s connectivity. Our mobile application partners get paid to embed our software, and get appropriate consents from consumers, to collect network data and send it to Tutela. This new monetisation option helps mobile app developers reduce the amount of advertising they need to show consumers to pay for their service.
It’s a double win for the consumer – fewer advertisements and better connectivity.
Tutela’s approach is much different to what is normal in the industry. For the most part, wireless operators need to physically drive network testing equipment up and down streets to benchmark performance (also known as drive testing). Carriers also buy data from mobile speedtest applications which consumers download to test the speed of their networks for their own personal interest.
How did the idea for Tutela come about and how did you turn it into reality?
I started with Wesley Clover International as an entrepreneur in residence. Wesley Clover has a deep history in telecommunications. Together, we researched the drive testing market. We were determined to find a better and more environmentally-friendly way to collect the same information from consumer phones. It was then partially luck that Tutela’s founding team moved into a shared office with a mobile advertising company. Through them we learned about the challenges of monetising mobile applications and realised that our platform could be a new way for these apps and games to make money.
The decision to leave university and relocate to the opposite end of the country for a brand new venture must have taken a leap of faith – what was the deciding factor?
Ultimately, it came down to the team that was available for me in Victoria. I met with Owen Matthews, one of the partners with Wesley Clover. He was spearheading development of a new set of companies for his investment firm in Victoria and we really jived. Owen also introduced me to some amazing local engineers who became my co-founders.
It also helped that British Columbia is a gorgeous province of Canada with lots of mountains and great hiking…
During this time what challenges did you face and how did you work through them?
We built our company with quite limited funds and investment. We’re in the Canadian market and not a Silicon Valley company with access to the scope of funding that is normal there. There are a lot of things that we couldn’t, and still can’t, afford compared to our competition. This slowed down the commercialisation process by a couple years for us. We were forced to develop systems that automate most functions of our business so that we could make it work with a very small team. Now those systems are our greatest advantage.
Tutela uses raw data from across the globe. Will the EU’s new data protection regulation, due to come into effect in 25 May this year, have an impact on the way you source your information and manage your products?
Tutela doesn’t collect any personal data and so it is easy for us to abide by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We pride ourselves with being best in class with privacy and have worked with former Canadian privacy commissioners to ensure compliance. We believe the GDPR will be good for us. Customers will want to work with data companies like us that can show that they have put a lot of work into privacy.
What are the next steps for the company?
Tutela currently has the market’s most competitive solution for crowdsourced network data; however, we are new to the telecoms industry. We aren’t as well-known as some incumbents. We need to educate the market about our existence. Once they see our platform, and learn what we’re all about, it becomes obvious to the customer that we can solve a major pain point for them with significant RoI.
Hunter and the Tutela team will be at MWC 2018 (Hall 7, 7J3A (Canadian Pavillion) 9am – 6pm, running a live data analysis stream that shows the most popular mobile platforms and devices during the conference.