In five short years a perpetual motion machine named Rose Hwang turned her mom & pop computer store into a $40 million supplier of real-time remote video surveillance and teleconferencing systems.
by Scott Hays
he's only 5-1, and she's only in her late thirties. That makes it easy to underestimate Rose Hwang. Maybe to discourage that kind of costly mistake, maybe because human dynamos like the color, Hwang wears a bright red suit. She also carries a big title--President and CEO of Alpha Systems Lab, the $40 million Irvine-based hi-tech company she and husband Mitchell Phan founded only five short years ago in one corner of their floundering video store.
For the moment at least Hwang is in a state of rest on a chair of ASL's conference room. In a corner of the room stands a convention booth next to a personal computer system used by sales reps to demonstrate MegaMotion, the product that has put ASL on the map of hot hi-tech companies.
In an age when companies big and small demand smaller, faster, cheaper, MegaMotion is shaping up to be a big winner. It's a circuitboard that turns ordinary off-the-shelf personal computers into remote video surveillance and teleconferencing systems. The U.S. Coast Guard is already using six ASL RemoteWatch systems--which incorporate MegaMotion circuit boards--in shipboard control rooms to monitor real-time aerial videos beamed by cameras mounted on reconnaissance planes. That gives top brass the capability to respond minute-by-minute to developing crisis situations like oil spill cleanup operations or law enforcement missions.
Similar surveillance systems are used in the Pentagon so generals can keep a wary eye on troop deployments in hotspots like Bosnia. But they're sold by companies much bigger than ASL, and cost hundreds of times more. That's why MegaMotion's biggest potential is in real world businesses like retail and fastfood chains that don't have Pentagon-sized budgets. ASL's inexpensive systems are used to monitor up to 32 outlets at a time. Security companies link Mega-Motion systems to strategically placed video cameras to eliminate the need for large numbers of on-site guards. They also cut down on responding to false alarms. What's more, digital files containing real-time images of security violations are invaluable aids in later criminal investigations.
Then there's the small entrepreneur who wants to keep an eye on his store or office from home, then go to work and reverse the cameras to keep an eye on the kids when they get home from school.
In fact, that's how Rose Hwang herself keeps an eye on her three young children when she's at the office.
"I can see the living room, the piano room," Hwang says of the RemoteWatch system she has set up in her own office. "I can hear them playing, tell them what to correct."
That is, if she isn't running between offices. She tried walking, she says, but found she needed to take three steps to other people's one. "I can't allow myself to slow down because I always feel as though I have to catch up."
Hwang's dawn-to-dusk running has helped carry ASL to $40 million a year in sales and into the video teleconferencing and multimedia arena staked out by giants like IBM, Intel and TrueVideo. What gives ASL a fighting chance is that its products are designed to work inexpensively, using ordinary telephone lines. That's the kind of advantage that can take a hi-tech company places.
And Hwang is bent on going there. That's why she's keen on keeping up her energy level.
"In relationships or business you have to keep working on finding a solution," she says. "And you have to have the energy to care. That's not so easy. People get physically tired, or they let other influences get in the way. It's easy to give up when you come into hardship. That's why I need energy. I can't afford to be a wimp."
She works exercise into her mornings with the help of an aerobics video after packing the kids off to school.