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Your World, at Your Fingertips

Serial entrepreneur Robert Diamond ’56 combines an engineering education with marketing savvy to create technologically innovative consumer gems.

By Wendy Wolfson Photography by Patrick O’Connor

Bob Diamond is in your home. First, he gave you Caller ID. Now he lets you watch over your aging parents or rambunctious kids while you’re at work, keep a virtual eye on your vacation home in Aspen, and even turn up the heat in your home before you leave the office.

His Manhattan-based company, Xanboo—the world’s leading provider of Internet-enabled devices—has been showered with numerous honors: the 2001 and 2002 Consumer Electronics Show’s prestigious Innovations Design and Engineering Showcase Award, the 2001 New York Technology Fast 50 Shooting Star award, Home Automation magazine’s Top 50 Editor’s Picks for 2001, the Most Promising Company award at the Energy Venture Fair, and Electronic House magazine’s New Product Editor’s Pick, to name a few.

Matthew Growney, a venture capitalist at Motorola, and a Xanboo investor, says Diamond can sense a market opportunity and match it to a consumer-proven technology. “He’s a serial entrepreneur who builds the value chain from the consumer’s point of view,” says Growney. “It’s a very smart approach: instead of building the technology, Bob has been very pragmatic at building value.”

Take, for example, his solution for monitoring the elderly. “There was a study done at Miami University, in Ohio, on a big problem: elders living at home, with the focus on caregivers, who are very often their grown children,” says Diamond. “Their burden is overwhelming.” Xanboo’s system—which Diamond describes as “an extension of the baby monitor concept that works by tracking habits”—gives caregivers an extra set of eyes via a remotely accessible, always-on “smart home” monitoring system. The in-home wireless sensors (for door contact, water, temperature, and motion), controls (for power, lighting, and thermostat control), and cameras provide alerts on such things as wandering (sensed as “abnormal traffic”) to an overflowing bathtub or an appliance that has been left on unattended.

Justin Moor, program manager in the Area Office of Aging of Northwestern Ohio Inc., researched similar products on the market but couldn’t find anything as comprehensive as Xanboo’s. “Sensors and video cameras in homes enable caregivers to check on their parents,” he says. “Even if they are not monitoring the system 24-7, they can have messages sent to them via phone or e-mail.”

From schlepper to soaring success

Diamond’s career path was forged early in his life by a chance remark made by his older brother.

“I grew up in Worcester, a poor kid in a factory town,” says Diamond, who started earning money at the age of eight by shining shoes and seemed headed for a career as a laborer. His brother, on the other hand, was in college and viewed as the family genius. One day Diamond came home tired from his job as a baker’s apprentice. His brother told him, “You’d better get used to it; you’re a schlepper,” using the Yiddish word for laborer.

Stung by the remark, Diamond enrolled at Worcester Junior College, where upon graduation he was urged to apply to Harvard and MIT, but he felt WPI was the best choice. He studied for his electrical engineering degree like a fiend, he says, while working part time in a bakery, in a factory, and in construction. He graduated second in his class.

He landed a job at Philco as a senior engineer, then worked in sales, marketing, business development, and sales management at FXR, a microwave equipment manufacturer. When a company executive left to work for North American Philips, Diamond followed, and became director of marketing for its broadcast TV division.

Entrepreneurship comes calling

Through his sales and marketing contacts, Diamond says he became “the enabler, finding the application, fitting the technology to it.” He started Robert Diamond Inc., an engineering consulting and manufacturer’s representative firm. As middleman, he brought the Hughes CMOS chip technology to Timex for watches and to Milton Bradley for portable game technology, and the Fairchild LED technology to Monroe to make an early four-function calculator. “By this time, I wasn’t designing anything anymore,” Diamond says. “I was doing more business.”

In the early 1980s his firm focused on telecommunications. With one of his clients, he won a contract to manufacture the 5000 Series cordless telephone for AT&T, which provided the technology. Diamond’s client provided the factory in Singapore.

The connection with AT&T and Bell Labs took Diamond in a new direction. With his Singapore partner and an investment of $50,000 each, they launched a Caller ID business, CIDCO Inc., in Morgan Hill, Calif. They developed a Caller ID unit (Diamond holds an engineering patent) and received their first production order from Bell Atlantic. CIDCO provided the fulfillment services and operated a 400-person call center where customers could order the service through a toll-free number.

“In the beginning, Caller ID was looked at as an invasion of privacy,” he recalls. “We launched a whole campaign saying that you have a right to know who the caller is. We wrote a lot of papers advocating the ‘Peephole Theory.’ If somebody knocks at your door, you can look through your peephole and see who it is. If I make your phone ring, then your knowing who I am is not invading my privacy. If I call you, I’m not allowed to be anonymous.” CIDCO landed contracts in the United States with Nynex, Ameritech, SBC, and all the regional Bell companies, and internationally with Japanese phone company NTT and Hong Kong Telecom.

“In the beginning, Caller ID was looked at as an invasion of privacy. We wrote a lot of papers advocating the ‘Peephole Theory.’ If somebody knocks at your door, you can look through your peephole and see who it is. If I make your phone ring, then your knowing who I am is not invading my privacy.”

The birth of Xanboo

Diamond then took CIDCO’s business model—working with a large service provider to develop services to offer to its customer base—and created Xanboo [simply “a unique name,” explains Diamond]. Founded on the concept of allowing users to control, command, and view their home or business remotely over the Internet, Xanboo designs Internet-based services and applications for both the consumer and business markets. Its business partners include Motorola, which markets the Home Monitoring and Control System. Xanboo is currently working with Living Independently on a motion-sensor-based system for the elderly that uses less intrusive monitoring than the system used in Ohio.

“My belief is that you just need to get out there into the mainstream,” says Diamond. “Things will find you, and you will find things. Part of success is having vision; much of it is jumping on opportunities.”

In a career marked by numerous achievements and new ventures, Robert Diamond ’56 has evolved from his pre-computer days as an engineering student to a technological wizard.
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Last modified: Apr 12, 2005, 15:27 EDT
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