July 15 2015 02:22 PM

Dan Palmer knew nothing about irrigation controllers. So what made him go into the irrigation controller business? Sometimes things just happen.

Born in Norman, Oklahoma, Palmer elected to get his college degree from the University of Colorado. He then went to work in the telecommunications industry, initially as an engineer. Over time, he got more into the business side and ended up running a couple of companies, one of which he took public. He spent more than 20 years in that industry.

Every six months or so, Palmer would get together for lunch with Josh Sakov, a friend whom he had worked with at a couple of startups. Palmer had sold a startup and was looking for his next venture. They were kicking around a couple of ideas, one of which was a little sprinkler controller, about the size of his hand.

Sakov remarked that he was tired of going to his garage to turn off his controller when it was raining. In his spare time, he built a controller that allowed him to sit in his living room, connect to the Wi-Fi, and turn the controller on and off.

Like Palmer, Sakov was also an engineer and ‘techie’. He built this controller for fun, never dreaming it would turn into a business venture. Because neither he nor Palmer was from the irrigation market, Palmer suggested they check out the existing market and validate the idea.

“I’ve been in a number of businesses, and the first thing you want to do is to see if something like this is already being done.” said Palmer. “So I began doing the research. I met with some irrigation contractors, some distributors, and interestingly enough, I also met with a lot of municipalities and water districts.”

“The feedback I was getting was very different than what I’d imagined—how great it would be to sit in my living room and turn the con troller on and off. The story that most people were telling was that we really needed to be better at saving water,” said Palmer. “They told me about smart irrigation controllers, ‘smart’ having nothing to do with Wi-Fi or the Internet, but smart by adjusting irrigation based on the daily weather and rainfall.”

Some of those devices on the market are pretty tough to use—they’re hard to program and most people don’t understand all the landscape coefficients and other things.

So in a lot of cases, smart controllers get deployed, but then they get turned off, or they just get turned into regular controllers. “That was the need that I was hearing, more so than just, ‘How can I make this very basic function easier to use?’” said Palmer. “I got pretty excited about it, and talked to Josh, who became my partner in this venture. We decided to start a company to see if we could make smart control easier, and in doing so, get it more broadly deployed.”

While investigating, Palmer and Sakov checked the brands that were already on the market. What made them think that their product was going to be so different? “Part of our view was that we wanted to make a controller that could be accessed from anywhere, and you could easily understand what it was doing, and look at why it was doing that,” said Palmer. “We wanted to be able to program the controller from an iPad, smartphone, or tablet.” Although some of these companies offered remote accessibility, they use a different technology and have monthly fees.

“When we first got into this, did we understand how it needs to be done? I don’t think we did, but we benefited from great advice from irrigation, landscape and water-conservation experts throughout the industry,” said Palmer. “However, it was still a challenge to implement a highly reliable smart controller system. It takes time and real-world deployment experience to get to where a solution saves an optimum amount of water. After 18 months of successful deployments, we have documented results of substantial water savings.”

Just three-and-a-half years ago, in 2012, they launched OnPoint Eco Systems. Palmer and Sakov felt they could offer a controller that can be remotely accessible and programmed from anyplace in the world. “Our ultimate goal is, and continues to be, making smart irrigation as easy as possible,” said Palmer. “We’re marching down that path. I believe in continuous improvement, and our customers benefit from this, since we incorporate new capabilities into the controller seamlessly over the Internet.”

“We’ve been focusing on the West Coast, because that’s where the biggest message of saving water is. Our mission is to try and make saving water easier.”

How do two smart people, with the guts to put up their own money, start up a business in a very competitive market? “There are new opportunities,” said Palmer. “We’re getting more recognition and new business every day. Would we like to be further along? Of course, however we’re excited with our progress. Every business wants to push harder.”

So what’s in the future? “Keeping within the framework, we need to keep smart irrigation simple. We’re developing larger capacity systems, further simplification of controller programming, and additional communication options,” Palmer added.

Although OnPoint has some other solutions, they are not yet ready to announce them. They are excited about what the future holds and feel they could add their expertise and the knowledge they’ve gained to making irrigation easier, all the while conserving our most precious resource—water.