Talking with Bob Wilkins is like hearing the story of the best day ever, but instead of a day, it’s a career you’re talking about. One good idea leads to another one, and another one. This is the career of Bob Wilkins.
Wilkins was born in Seattle but came to Peterborough in 1995 to run PC Connection (now Connection), a technology solutions provider based out of Merrimack.
“PC Connection was a struggling company,” Wilkins says. “I, and a few other executives, got in there and turned it around. We took it public in three years and grew it to a billion dollars in revenue in four years. When I left in 2006, we were at $1.6 billion (annually).”
When Wilkins’s PC Connection work was up, though, he didn’t move back west. He made a life and career in New Hampshire, working on innovation after innovation. Currently, he serves as the CEO of a medical device company called SoClean. Based in Peterborough, SoClean produces an automated CPAP cleaning and sanitizing device that eliminates disassembly and time-consuming cleaning processes.
If you know anyone who uses a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, you know they’re quite cumbersome. They’re noisy. They’re bulky. And they’re difficult to clean. But not with SoClean.
Users simply put their CPAP mask in the cleaning unit when they wake up in the morning, and SoClean does the rest. Cycling ozone through the entire CPAP system, SoClean kills 99.9% of CPAP germs and bacteria.
Wilkins says the process takes about one-and-a-half hours, but that’s all automated, while the user isn’t using the device. That sure beats the daily upkeep. Wilkins says theirs was the first CPAP cleaning device on the market.
“Bob is the quintessential entrepreneur,” SoClean CIO Keith Brown says. “He has proven to be ahead of the curve since I first met him in the late '80s.”
The two met when Wilkins was working on his first company, Zones, a mail-order reseller of Macintosh computers and equipment that had written its own order management, warehousing and customer service system. Wilkins likes to say that the software was sold to a “new startup” at the time.
The startup? Amazon.
After Zones, he raised venture capital and founded Mac’s Place, another mail-order Mac reseller — he sold it to Egghead Software, one of the dominant software retailers at the time.
Then came his 11-year career at PC Connection. But how did Wilkins go from selling computers to selling medical devices? Compact discs.
After leaving PC Connection, Wilkins took a few years off to golf, he says. Realizing he wasn’t going to be a pro golfer, he got back to his ideas, founding and working with a number of companies. One of those companies was VenMill, where he was serving as chairman of the board. It produced a CD repair product. CDs, though, weren’t the next big thing, so Wilkins encouraged the team to use their cleaning technology to build something else.
Those conversations led to… CPAP cleaning. Hello, SoClean.
Along the way, Wilkins has founded a number of other companies, too, including three that still operate today: productivity tool Action Items, commerce platform ZiftrShop, and web marketing agency AirTank. The current CEO of AirTank, Benjamin Perez, speaks highly of Wilkins and has known him for the past 15 years.
“Bob is a unicorn,” Perez says. “He is one of the most unique business people I’ve been exposed to. He’s very diverse in the skills he covers — from a technical standpoint, he can go as far as to code. And he’s a talented business guy with strong financial management and marketing skills.”
“For New Hampshire, Bob has had an impact over an extended time, starting with his role at PC Connection, a major employer, entity and publicly-traded company,” Perez says. “For this chapter, he has brought to market some interesting ideas — not all of them have materialized, but he is very resilient and has never wavered. He sources top talent, and with SoClean, he’s not only creating jobs in Peterborough, but is also making an economic impact on other communities.”
SoClean has four warehouses and four call centers across the country and also operates in the UK, Germany, and France.
Wilkins is an active investor through Our Town Capital, Millworks Fund and Borealis Ventures. He says he and his wife have started to think of ways to introduce children to technology sooner.
“Not quite a foundation…” Wilkins says, trailing off. “But some way to get robotics and engineering in the hands of second and third graders, at least.”
If his track record is any indicator, he’ll find a way.