cStar is leading "Internet wave III" by linking non-tech devices to the Net via wireless WANs, LANs, Phone lines & PLC

Canadian Business - December 11, 2000 Volume 73 ISSUE 23 page 28

Change given-cheerfully

This would-be pom-pom waver is as sharp and plugged in as any other tech CEO

If an ultra-upbeat CEO were enough to turn a tiny tech company into a giant, Toronto-based cStar Technologies Inc. would be the new Canadian Amazon.com. Sure, (Solbyung) Stella Yoon has an executive MBA (from the Joseph Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto) and has experience heading up two high-tech companies, but she's no buttoned-down CEO. Want evidence? Her business bible is the children's classic The Little Prince; the company's vision statement asks, "Are we happy today?"; her official titles include Cheerleader and CEEO-for Cheerfully Encouraging and Executing Optimist. "People will laugh at me, but that's OK," says Yoon, 38, through a fresh coat of purple lipstick.

Of course, perkiness alone does not a great company make. So it's a good thing cStar's 20 employees and its somewhat wacky founder have a pretty hot technology, too. Yoon, who emigrated from South Korea to Canada in 1992, says cStar is leading "Internet Wave III" by linking non-tech devices to the Net via wireless WANs, LANs, phone lines and even power outlets. "It's great, because the non-IT world is much bigger than the IT world, and it's an untapped market," she says. "Anything you can plug in can be connected." 

The enormous vending machine market'-here are 5.2 million candy- and soda-dispensing machines in the US alone-was a perfect testing ground for cStar's flagship products, DirectGate and SkyGate. CStar's patented tech allows vending machine operators to network hundreds of units in the same building to one wireless device. Since the device relays data on sales, inventory, temperature and coin jams to HQ, fewer trucks and service personnel need to be dispatched. "They can prepare everything at the warehouse and plan their routes beforehand," says Yoon. Other uses include monitoring oil, gas or water pipes. When Long Island, NY-based software giant Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) met with Yoon, it was convinced as much by the promising technology as by Yoon's go-get-'em attitude. "'Unique' is the word I would use to describe Stella," says John Pincomb, CA's vice-president of real-world management. "She's terrific." And so, he says, is the technology's ability to transmit data through power outlets-which networking firms plan to offer in a year.

 "We didn't find anybody else who had that," says Pincomb. "Any place you need connectivity between devices, then cStar's technology is going to be terrific," he says. Under a deal signed last February, cStar will package its product with CA software that manages vending machines.

Yoon now hopes to sell a major US vending machine operator on the tech as early as this month. She clearly needs a deal: cStar pulled in less than $1 million in fiscal 2000. But Yoon, ever the optimist, says that in the next 16 months, revenue will be $15 million and will increase by 400% annually. That's a tall order. "We don't believe we'll make billions of dollars in vending," she says. "But I feel that tomorrow there will be great things. I just want to make sure today is happy." And there's something about Stella Yoon that makes you think she just might pull it off.

Dawn Calleja