LISNR: The Black Owned Business that Raised over $10 Million and is Disrupting the Mobile Technology Industry

I have a huge appreciation for disruptive technology. That’s why I was excited to discover LISNR, a Cincinnati-based business that is easily one of the most disruptive companies within the mobile communication industry.

I chatted with Rodney Williams, the co-founder, and CEO of LISNR.  This is what he had to say:
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What is LISNR and how can it be applied in day-to-day life?

LISNR is the creator of SmartTones, a new communication protocol to connect devices.  It is similar to Bluetooth, however, we simply use sound to generate second-screen experiences, drive proximity marketing campaigns, and to connect devices.

Think of all of the places you’ve been in the last 24 hours.  Now, think about how many of those places have a speaker infrastructure.  Your car, Starbucks, your office, your computer, your TV – with LISNR, all of these places and devices now have the ability to send data over audio.

We can send promotional offers while standing in line for coffee.  We can replay a huge play you missed when you got up from your seat at a sporting event.  We can deliver an interactive game through your television while you’re sitting on your couch watching Walking Dead.

You left your job at Procter & Gamble to pursue this business idea. How did you know it was the right decision to make?

I knew that LISNR had the potential to change the world.

You were born without hearing. Thankfully, your hearing is now restored.  Is that part of what inspired you to create a company that uses inaudible sound waves?

Yes, it was absolutely part of the inspiration behind the company.  Being born partly deaf has forced me to always examine how I solve problems.  That ability to problem solve has allowed me to approach real-world challenges in entirely new ways.

I always look at the world from the other end of the telescope – and doing so, gives me the ability to see things some people can’t.  As an example, when I started thinking about how to interact with consumers while they are shopping – I thought, “Why not use this ubiquitous medium (sound) that’s all around us??”  It was that question that ultimately led me to start LISNR.

You recently raised $10 million from Intel Capital. Before that, you raised $4.4 million. What do you feel makes your business attractive to investors?

I think that investors see the potential that this company could have at scale, and they believe deeply in the team we’ve built.  If you think about it, the real potential for LISNR is beyond the amazing work we are doing with people like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Visa.

The fact of the matter is that LISNR provides a utility to connect devices – and when every device, appliance and gadget coming to market today is connected to the internet – that means very powerful things for LISNR.

Additionally, we’ve been able to attract some of the brightest minds in the world to work on this technology from places like P&G, Gracenote, Yahoo, Lockheed Martin and more.  That says a lot on it’s own.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?  

Take out your phone and open the menu.  Do you see that Wifi icon?  The Bluetooth icon?  Soon, LISNR will live right next to those…in the hardware on hundreds of millions of devices around the world.

Besides not needing hardware to perform like Bluetooth – how does your brand enhance the customer experience better than other similar brands on the market?

I could go on and on about the advantages of LISNR over other technology in the market.  No hardware, exceptionally better coverage, no wifi, no app open and running, little battery drain, and so on and so forth.

I think the reason that we continue to win in the market is that LISNR gives brands, retailers, and teams a new, scalable way to reach consumers with contextually relevant information at the moment that matters.


What are your growth plans? Do you plan to use this technology for military or medical device communications?

What I love about LISNR is that we are relentlessly focused on building our core technology.  When we are able to be so focused on doing one thing with excellence and open our technology up to other bright people to build on, we are constantly surprised by the new use cases people come up with.
Yes, we absolutely plan to see SmartTones in use in the military and in medicine.  Some projects are already in motion – but that’s classified 🙂

What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Prove people wrong.  I don’t want that to be taken as negative – but I love the doubters.  I love the naysayers.  I’m motivated to show the world what I know to be true.

by Tony O. Lawson

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