Interview: Finis Conner, Founder and CEO, BluStor
In today’s mobile world, size and capacity are important considerations — two things serial entrepreneur Finis Conner is used to keeping in mind.
Conner is a hardware veteran, having founded Seagate in 1979 and having created the first 5.25-inch hard drive used in the Macintosh. He later started a company called Conner Peripherals and developed the now common 3.5-inch drive for personal computers.
In 1990, Conner Peripherals set a record by reaching $1.337 billion in sales in four years, without acquisitions, making it the fast-growing manufacturing startup in United States history.
Today, he’s working on a state-of-the-art smart card with an impressive 8GB storage called the BluStor, which he hopes will revolutionize the smart card and mobile identification spaces.
“I felt that the mobile world had already adopted an identifying tool – and that was the smart card – and it was made primarily for the brief amount of information and a bit of security, but that was it. We started a company called Storcard to provide a higher-capacity card [to address this need for more storage]. We had the product developed, people paying, and then a key vendor we depended on discontinued their work,” Conner said explaining the process of getting BluStor off the ground.
“About two years ago, there was a combination of technologies that had arrived primarily to service the mobile device market, and that was in the form of Bluetooth 4.0 high-performance low-power devices, ultra-thin polymer batteries. I pulled my guys together again and we designed a solution, which is the BluStor platform.
We call it a ‘platform’ rather than a smart card because what we’re designing to is a Bluetooth 4.0 LE battery high-speed processor and really it’s becoming more of a platform in which applications are downloaded.”
The BluStor platform is a smart card with a whopping 8GB capacity. It has an integrated ultra-thin polymer battery that without being charged or without harvesting energy, lasts 3-4 years, as the BluStor consumes little power.
As Conner explains, BluStor and its 8GB capacity will allow for greater identification and storage, but also reduces strain on your smartphone’s resources as no additional readers are needed to use the card.
“Mobile devices have the readers along with the application built into the device. There are readers, cameras, fingerprint readers already built into the device, there is voice and there are applications you download to the device, so BluStor is a platform that is Bluetooth-enabled — you don’t need any new readers. Moving forward, the readers will be the smartphones and the tablets—and so the cost of use is less, the capacity is higher, the security is higher. We look at the BluStor in the BYOD world as ‘the gatekeeper.’”
As we enter the era of BYOD, security is an important consideration and as Conner suggests, the BluStor’s ability to authenticate users locally, without a network connection is a breakthrough.
“It is important to understand that when everybody talks about the mobile world, the presumption is that you’re tied to the internet. What if you can’t get on the internet?” Conner asks. “BluStor allows you to connect with the device in an untethered environment.”
Though the company is still in its early startup stages, Conner thinks that his high-capacity card can be successfully leveraged across a number of sectors, including government, social services, healthcare and mobile payments.
“With 8GB, you can store multiple biometrics on [the BluStor]. Biometrics are always with you. You don’t need to remember that they’re there, or remember any pin numbers or passwords,” Conner said. “The benefit of having higher capacity is that you can put your entire health history, including MRIs, X-rays, all on your phone.
As the company is still in startup mode, Conner and his team are still in the process of trying to raise funds, though the tech veteran believes a pilot product is feasible by the fourth quarter of this year.
In terms of first steps after launch, Conner thinks there are some obvious starting points.
“In particular, the BYOD issue is probably something that will be sooner rather than later in the launch cycle. Our plan is to work with partners who are already addressing those markets and who – those markets – many of them have already adopted the smart card platform,” Conner explains. “The upward migration from the current platform of smart card to the BluStor platform is modest and requires very little change.
“I believe that [initial adoption] is probably going to be first in Europe and the Middle East and Latin America,” Conner said, adding that the US market will probably come later.
Conner founded BluStor himself and currently owns all of the intellectual property. The team he has carefully assembled is mostly comprised of people he’s worked with on other ventures extensively in the past, and he’s confident they can make a splash.
“The technology that we’re using is in production from sources that give us a high level of integration and volume. Our cost and technology risk in this venture is quite low. There is a low barrier to acceptance by a large and growing existing market,” Conner said.
In terms of lessons Conner has brought with him from his past ventures, he says there are many, but among them, a few stand out.
“Well I probably made as many bad decisions as anyone,” Conner said. “I’m a student of market trends and by that I mean, you look at what’s happening in the market in the form of applications and technology and sense a need by mere mortals.
Having something that people can see is really important.”
Conner also says he has many mentors that he’s followed throughout this evolving career.
“I have lots [of mentors] that I follow. There are people in today’s market that are doing things that are just phenomenal. Look at the guys at Cisco, or people like Salesforce.com. Look at what they’ve done! It’s amazing!,” Conner said. “I want to learn from those people because they have a perspective on the global market that’s different.
If I could be a stepping stone to moving mobility to the untethered world, but with the same effect – that to me is important.”