After all the discussion around growing IoT businesses at IoT14, we asked our friends at Investable Projects to give us their views on some of the myths and realities of getting an IoT start-up off the ground. This week: finding the market fit.
‘Start-ups face many challenges: not least the initial hardships of getting started and developing the product or service that they plan to offer. But also right at the top of the list is analysing the size and accessibility of their chosen market and understanding the needs and expectations of their potential customers.
‘What users want is what you need to deliver’. This is time-proven advice, but the point that enterprises need to demonstrate the value of the solution that they are developing remains as valid as ever. Investable Projects continually advises its IoT clients that it is vital that they identify their competitive advantage and communicate this clearly to their customers. Too many businesses, particularly in the hardware sector, develop products without taking into account customer needs. Understanding those needs not only leads to the right product or service, it also helps the business to value the market opportunity and devise a strategy to enter that market.
Many IoT start-ups are based around hardware, but we encourage them to consider the service implications of their products. Not only can this offer the potential for additional revenue streams to offset the low margins, it also helps generate innovative customer-centric ideas across whole industries, leading to the development of completely new services. This is being further aided by the dramatic fall in the cost of chip sensors, allowing them to be attached to almost anything to collect and transmit enormous volumes of data. The opportunities that ‘big data’ combined with IoT presents for start-ups looking to capitalise on the emergence of IoT is impossible to overstate, however it is also vital to maintain the pace of innovation to keep that competitive advantage. Investable Projects encourages its companies to adopt a collaborative approach in order to maximise responsiveness to the changing behaviour of customers.
Companies like Investable Projects advise start-ups on how to fit a product or service to its market in order to achieve maximum growth. Passion does not always equate with profitability, and it’s important for a successful start-up to identify either an existing market problem and then set out to devise a solution, or a new technology and then find ways that it can be profitably used to improve on an existing situation.
With one of those achieved, it is then a question of going through a number of phases to ensure that the IoT start-up is in a position to monetise its ideas. Stage one is the verification phase: talking to potential customers and using their feedback to analyse their dissatisfaction with the current solution, and establish how could it can be improved and how much extra they are willing to pay. This process also improves the understanding of the true value of the offer.
Stage two requires researching direct and indirect competitors. Determining their strengths and weaknesses can help the start-up avoid mistakes of its own. It can also identify new targets by exploring their segments. Stage three is the identification and quantification of the company’s target market segments. Although professional market research can be expensive it is often a good investment and can help a company avoid wasting valuable resources and time by trying to sell to everyone.
Stage four is the development of sales projections, including proposals for how much of the target market the business will actually approach. Finally, in stage five, profit and loss projections need to be calculated. This includes estimates for production costs and costs of sales, and the analysis of income statements from similar companies in the industry to gain insights into gross margins, profits and overheads.
In short, a prerequisite for start-ups in the IoT is the need for their ideas, products or services to be carefully analysed and assessed before attempting to enter this fiercely competitive market. It does take time and investment, but devoting the necessary energy and resources to understand your future market is essential to success.’
Suddenly, the world of hardware is beginning to look an awful lot like the software industry of a decade ago. New start-ups, new development techniques, whole new business models are emerging and the result is an amazing new market.
Our friends at O’Reilly share a our fascination with how these ideas are being turned into products, into businesses, that will change the way we live. They are producing Solid (21-22 May, San Francisco, CA), to demonstrate how the technology and market is changing and how entrepreneurs can thrive in the new world.
Over the next few days we will be running a prize draw on Twitter that allows you to win a registration for both Solid and our Internet of Things Forum in Cambridge (April 15th) (or the video output if you can’t make it). To enter, simply use the hashtags #IoT14 and #oreillysolid in one tweet and we will add your name to the draw. Winner to be announced on Saturday 12th April on this site and on twitter.
Great discussion last night with a spirited defense of the much maligned Internet Fridge, and the shock revelation that Evrythng are planning an IPO in the next five years ;-).
Many thanks to our panel: Wolfgang Emmerich (Zuhlke Engineering), Niall Murphy (Evrythng), Andy Yeoman (Concirrus) and Giles Pavey (DunnHumby).
Here are our notes from the main discussion.
Is the money in the internet or the things?
AY: neither, it’s in the business process.
NM: It’s in the data, stupid! IoT drives more traffic, but it’s the data that starts the process of value creation. But do businesses have the competencies to extract that value?
GP: IoT does apply to how businesses are run (operational efficiency) but also to customers, which is where Giles’ expertise is. Is it as simple as how can the internet and big data put buyers and sellers together more efficiently. If you can do that, everyone wins
WE: the IoT is networking everyday things. Camden BC has network enabled lampposts, which might bring about efficiency improvements for Camden council but is not intrinsically that valuable. The money will come from the insights that the data offers.
ML: IOT lamp posts are interesting – useful for working out what is going on in a micro environment. Connecting street lights is more about controlling brightness at different times of day, changing power as new types of lights are installed etc and that all leads to power savings. Of course, they are a lot more interesting than say, internet fridges…
AY: why aren’t Internet fridges exciting? I can’t conceive why my fridge might order milk. But it can be helpful if they adjust their power cycle to turn off compressors when grid demand is high – when the ad break comes on in coronation street for example. (ML: but how does that benefit flow back from the power company back to the consumer?). One of the things that might characterise the IoT is the constant reuse of data by a number of different parties, the business models for that are being worked out right now so I wouldn’t rule it out.
NM: we tend to think of the IoT in these big utility scale models because the benefits are large and obvious but what’s fascinating is the small puddles of data that are beginning to generate value , for example real time pricing for media rental. When you introduce IoT into consumer items it could completely change the business model, you might subscribe for a supply of baked beans and the model then becomes the bean manufacturer acquiring the sale for the retailer, rather than the retailer acquiring the sale for the manufacturer.
GP: People want three things, broadly in terms of what big data can provide 1) make life more convenient, anticipate what I’m going to do 2) predict and suggest new things that I might enjoy, give me some recommendations 3) protect me – warn me if this things has nuts in it, don’t buy this this week it’s on promotion next week.
In this country a third of all food that get s bought is thrown away. A system that allows you to know what food you’ve got is valuable to the planet as well as customers – eg fridge.
Customers also want inspiration, they’d like to know if they have five out of six ingredients for paella for example. But there are lots of problems before you can get the IoT fridge to work. Not least how does it know what’s in it.
WE: People seem to be challenging the idea of what it is you can do with the connected fridge. This is the wrong way of thinking about it. The original designers of internet protocols had no ideas what they would be used for. Its the same with Big Data, its’ about finding out patterns and information in your data that you didn’t know existed. Big Data could enable innovative business models that don’t exist now but we can’t imagine at the moment.
NM: yes, this is a crucial point – Metcalf’s law says the value of the network accelerates exponentially with each node that is connected with it. So one of the problems we have today is that there are isolated closed loop environments eg Nike Fuelband has a closed system while Jawbone Up, which has an open API and a thriving developer ecosystem. So there is a big challenge for organisations to think about their connected products as nodes on a larger network and to figure out how to share their data, legally and technically, so that the creativity of the internet can be unleashed on them.
What will be the thing that people will be talking about when they talk about the IOT in five years time?
NM: They’ll be talking about the IPO of my company Evrythng
AY: the IOT offers potential to democratise many services, for example home security that is tied to hardware with hard wired alert systems. So you can decide what constitutes an alert, as the price of hardware declines and a more personal set of rules about what it is used for can apply. The insurance industry might have some interesting discussions as it starts to disaggregate.
NM: in five years its still relatively soon and there’s a lot of social transformation in mobile adoption left to shake out from 2010. I think people will be talking about creepiness, as there becomes an extreme rise in personalised data, it can be a bit wierd where you turn up to do something and the thing already knows who you are that can be a bit wierd
GP: agreed. The psychology part of this is as important and ripe for change as the technology part. The idea of what ‘consumers want’ is no longer helpful as different people want different things so the market fragments. It will be really interesting to see what happens in the discussion between people who really want every connected and those who don’t and who the politicians want to back is an interesting question
WE: I think people will think ‘what a stupid term’ that a few terabytes of data is not that big and it’s not the size of the data that is the issue, it’s how to generate the question.
ML: how much is the M2M space moving toward IoT?
WE: well M2M is moving away from the proprietary protocols that have plagued it for many years and it will now be more integrated with mainstream IoT
Why is Nest worth 3 billion? A lot of people have asked this one.
NM: Tony Fadell is an awesome product developer – it’s an expensive acqui hire
AY: a thermostat can tell you some interesting things about occupancy, energy consumption, holiday patterns etc. These are data streams that Google hasn’t had before and might be very valuable to them
GP: I don’t have an informed opinion on Nest, but I do think that cars will take us all by surprise. Once cars start talking to each other and deciding on the best routes the non linear effects could be substantial so the acquisition of Waze, particularly if it gets together with self driving cars.
Audience: there are wireless chips inside the Nest, an obvious platform for a whole home system
Aud 2: this is a big signal from Google about their serious intentions in IoT
Aud 3: Nest was a Google Ventures investment and Google have also invested in Calico, in the home space, so there are obvious synergies there
Aud 4: It took 20 years for the internet to get to the point where those concerns about security and privacy became widespread. When will this become a serious issue for the IOT?
WE: it won’t be very long. Partly because we have had the experience with the internet, so security concerns are on people’s minds.There are going to have to be failsafes and security devices built into these systems from the ground up, and unfortunately the data is not going to be so obvious as it when defending a website from attack can also be found by applying analytics again. For example people hack your smart meter to find out that the power has gone out
NM: I don’t think there is a tipping point about this. There is no consumer hysteria around penetration and the internet of things. IN Europe there is about 90% penetration of incredibly insecure home networks. But there is a tipping point as product manufacturers have increasing exposure to their customers the customers are learning which brand they see as most trustworthy.
In the UK consumers were more willing to check in with their Facebook registrations than they were to create new identities for sharing NHS data
GP: I work mainly in food. The food industry, food retail in America is very similar except for GM foods, you’d find it difficult to find it here but it’s opposite in the US. That’s nothing to do with science, it’s about social mechanics and lobbying working in a slightly different way. So there’s a possibility that this could switch quite rapidly for poorly understood reasons.
AY: and it’s also a generational thing, black box data for car insurance illustrates that 18 year olds are very comfortable sharing their data for financial gain.
Audience 5: beyond geolocation, Google glass etc, do you see a market for an internet of people? Geolocating people?
NM: we have one today – everyone’s phones are tags, they are a proxy for people’s location. We are focused on products but also on mapping the interaction of people and products and there’s a lot of value in that.
GP: people being connected together? Yes, we’re foreseeing a rise in people power: telling businesses what to do. Buyers clubs etc. We did some work on reviews recently comparing products with online reviews. If you have products with no reviews playing products with one star review the one star review will sell more
WE: I think we will see a convergence between social media and data connected in the IOT that will create some real valuable propositions. WE uses Strava for his cycling: convergence between data connected on the IoT and people.
Audience 7: Practical question: tell me about a real practical IoT business that a consumer can buy that has benefit.
Audience 8: I went to the school computer awareness evening which was scary. Are we going to see a reaction against the loss of privacy or is this just going to become the norm?
WE: so the first question really was, isn’t it a stupid thing to do, to put the fridge at the centre of the house? Well, yes, there were plenty of stypid dot.com ideas that came in the early days of the internet but I firmly believe there is value in connecting everyday things and using protocols to get them to exchange data
NM: I was looking at an awesome medical application last week which involved an ophthalmologist diagnosing eye conditions off grid in Kenya using smart phone. So we shouldn’t assume that IOT gains are only going to be seen in the developed world. On the privacy front, the creepiness factor is going to be variable for people and needs sorting out, the challenge is to provide applications that have real value for the people whose data it is.
GP: Disappointed we didn’t have the fridge spam joke. Yes fridges could be hackable, but so are your PCs, and life goes on. I think the big companies will have to respect people’s privacy: they can’t afford a PR backlash.
AY: Something else that is changing is that everything else gets more difficult, so for example the traffic patterns in London are getting worse and these technologies will be forced upon us to maintain the status quo: to allow the aging population to stay in their home. In terms of big data I’m cynical about big data because knowledge is not enough: you need to induce new behaviour.
ML: OK, so we’re going to have to wrap up there and continue the conversation in the networking. Thank you all for coming and thank you in the audience for some very thought provoking questions. Huge thanks to our supporters, Zuhlke Engineering and Taylor Wessing for making the CEO Tales happen.
We knew from last year that there are many great businesses emerging in the IoT space and this year’s showcase entries proved the point. The quality was tremendous and we have been able to select companies from a range of verticals and business models.
So congratulations to our shortlist for the 15th April:
NWave Technologies Ltd
Friendly Technologies Ltd
The companies on this list are at all stages of the lifecycle but all have great potential to drive the IoT forward. We are looking forward to hearing what they have to say in their five minute slot on the day. We are also working out how we can get some of the other applicants air time on the day. Watch this space.
To hear from each of the companies about their businesses, their aspirations and their needs, sign up for IoT13 here. Or if you want to know more about IoT14 – including all the other speakers, the sessions etc, there is much more detail on the IoT Forum site here.
If I had 10 pence for every stupid approach from a marketing agency or big corporate who wanted to grace an event we were running with one of their corporate executives who wanted to,
“Share a thought leadership piece with our audience at, what was your event called again?”
I would have made 70 pence this week.
We don’t run events for big companies to come and pay their way onto a stage and then share videos like this because their views are usually incredibly boring. We want our events to be filled with great people who are actually doing stuff, not looking at an audience of people as a way to sell their existing chip solutions, router solutions, engineering solutions, security solutions, platform solutions, consulting solutions, finance solutions and then feed them stuff that is totally indistinguishable from any other corporate presentation that has to contain at least one video like this which we think is brilliant.
We love this.
In all honesty, it is virtually indistinguishable from a video that we got sent from a PR agency in New York last night.
I just had a little Q&A session with Tim Taberner at Eurotech and he said something unexpected: that the internet of things should become invisible to consumers. Of course the results will enrich people’s lives, but the system driving those results will remain mysterious.
More than that: many of the benefits aren’t accruing directly to consumers. We finished last year’s IoT forum with a panel on new business models in IoT, and one of the interesting points is how much of the value realised in the IoT right now is effectively invisible to end users – from process improvements to sustainability to deeper understanding from product data.
See the panel (with Stan Boland (Neul), Andy Hobsbawm (Evrythng) and Rob Treloar (Unilever)) here – sound quality is a little low, we had some issues with the microphones at the end of the day, but stick with it for some great insights into the competitive landscape of IoT.
And thanks to Tim Taberner for some great insights from one of the most established players in Internet of Things
1. Which markets are you most excited about? If you were starting again, which segment of the IoT market would you focus on?
Eurotech offer a truly cross market platform, and so we’re equally excited about all sectors. The difficult thing for companies coming from a long legacy in M2M, like Eurotech, is realising how much of the IoT landscape falls outside what we think of as M2M, and we’re constantly challenging ourselves to reach beyond our traditional markets.
2. What do you see as the biggest obstacles to widespread IoT use?
The main obstacles are not technological, or even really about price points, they are much more to do with the way projects are conceived and funded. It is still true that most projects are created to sole a point in time monitoring problem around a particular process with a single stakeholder funding the process. This silo funding almost inevitably leads to silo implementations. In an IoT world, many of the benefits of the systems will accrue to departments, organisations or individuals who are not directly part of the funding body, and new business model need to be found to overcome this.
3. Do you think the Internet of Things will ever become a well understood concept for consumers?
I think it will become invisible to consumers. The full concept of the internet is not really well understood by most users of it, and the same will be true with the internet of things. Consumers will see the benefit through new services and applications which will enrich their lives, but I don’t think that they will think about the technology that is underpinning it.
4. For 2014, where do you think we will see the greatest growth in the IoT?
The landscape is still very dynamic, but certainly there seem to be some very interesting initiatives in the transportation sector. Whether these will translate to volume during 2014 is still open to question, but certainly I think that transportation will be one of the early and important drivers of the technology.
5. How do your customers use the IoT to make money? Are you seeing any changes in this?
I think that this is still the biggest question for the industry. There are a number of different models being used, and at the moment I don’t think that there is any single model that is becoming dominant. Some customers see IoT technology as a way to decrease their time to market for what would otherwise be a silo system. Some are using the technology to optimise entire ecosystems rather than individual process, and gaining from the savings made. Others are developing new services and offering these directly to clients.
For various reasons I was revisiting Alex Osterwalder’s excellent talk from BoS2011 about Business Model innovation. It’s a great talk on a great topic: using a new business model is often overlooked as a way to produce some competitive advantage but can work brilliantly, as Alex explains:
And never more so than when combined with the expansion of new technical tools and processes. Step forward the IoT. Here’s a brief clip of Dr Karolin Frankenberger, from the St Gallen Business Model Innovation Lab (by the way, all the best work on business models seems to be done in Switzerland, it seems to be a national specialty) talking about some of the radical new business models that IoT enables
If you want to spend a bit more time thinking about your business and how to monetise it, the St Gallen team have thoughtfully published an extensive guide to their research in Business Models. It’s a fairly academic, but very thought provoking read, and if you don’t come out of it with at least three new business ideas, you’re not the entrepreneur I thought you were.
Along with lots of lovely messages after we announced BoS UK, we also got quite a few questions. No surprise there, but we thought we’d share our answers to the most common ones. Please do keep sending us your questions, we’re really grateful for all the insight you’ve been sharing with us.
Are there discounts for attending both conferences?
Yes. We are offering individual attendees a 20% discount on the current rate for the second conference if they would like to attend both events. We will send you a discount code on registration. Please note that this is specific to an individual, not a company.
Will attendance at the Boston event be affected by running a conference in Europe too?
The two events will be different – both because there will be very little cross over of speakers, but because they are slightly different in nature.
Business of Software Conference US (BoS US) is well established, runs for two and a half days and is held in one of the leading business hotels and venues in the US in our opinion. It is a truly global event with participants coming from all round the world.
Business of Software Conference Europe (BoS UK) We are running BoS UK, partly because there is such an interest in Europeans attending BoS US but it is not always possible to get over every year to the Boston event and partly because the European software scene has some features that are different from the US experience.
We want to spread the BoS community further and try to run an event which has the same sense of community and collaboration but the where the total cost of attendance is lower for Europeans and indeed attendees from the US. For this reaon, it is being held at Cambridge College with purpose built conference facilities, an intimate auditorium and low cost accommodation. Cambridge is half an hour or so from Stansted and Luton Airports which makes getting there relatively simple from mainland Europe.
Will there be the same speakers?
No. While some speakers at BoS UK will have spoken at BoS US in the past, we want to try to keep speakers and talks fresh and different. We do not intend to have a speaker speaking at both events in the same year except in exceptional circumstances.
Interesting article by Alicia Asin at Libelium in GigaOm about funding for the Internet of Things. Alicia suggests there are three main sources of funding for IoT companies: Public, Public/Private Partnerships, Crowdfunding. It is a fair overview in many respects but I believe the article (and some of the comments) dismisses, unfairly, the impact of venture capital from dedicated venture funds AND indeed corporate ventures on the long term strength of the sector.
Each of the three funding sources that Alicia identifies has a place.
Public Funding: from e.g. EU, has put money into a lot of academic and industrial collaboration projects though many of these are a very long way off getting to a point where they will have any meaningful impact on commercial activities.
Public/Private Partnerships: i.e. Large companies working in partnership with e.g. where a city invests in a ‘Smart City’ or ‘Smart Transportation’ project that is usually delivered a a trial project with a view to rolling something bigger out should the trial be a success. In my view, the funding for these projects however is still coming from the public sector so should really count at ‘Public Funding’. there aren’t too many companies that can afford to invest in this type of project, not should they, unless they can see a clear ROI. Most private companies will be reluctant to do this given the noise around these projects at the moment.
Crowdfunding: Funding the development of a product or project using crowdfunding. A rapidly emerging source of funding and the news this week that Kickstarter has funded over $1 billion of projects in its life is validation that the model can work. HOWEVER, typically, this type of funding is most appropriate for smaller projects rather than raising significant funding to support the growth of a business. The vast majority of crowdfunded projects are for significantly less than<£50k.
So where is ‘venture capital’ in all its forms in this discussion?
Well, it is probably not going to have much of an impact on the types of projects that are either publicly funded or crowdsourced? Why, very simple, neither option is likely to be seen as being evidence that the type of project that takes those types of money will be a commercial success that offers an investor a return on their capital. Investors, both independent and corporate, will want to fund projects that offer a return on the money they invest (though there are some corporate funds that have another purpose i.e. helping their organisation learn about the IoT).
So where is the venture investment and how can we as an industry unlock the money? Actually, there is already a lot of money invested by venture funds into the sector. Intel Capital, as investors in e.g. SigFox, IQ Capital, as investors in e.g. Neul, DFJ Esprit, as investors in e.g. Greenpeak, Index, as investors in e.g. AlertMe), Amadeus Seed, are just some of the examples of active funds investing in the space.
All of these funds have something in common I think. They are investing in BUSINESSES, not projects, with an expectation of getting a financial return. They would probably regard public funds as, ‘soft’ – though they would never suggest to a company that they invested in that they should turn that money down. They would probably regard crowdfunded projects favourably if the crowdfunding received enough interest to actually be able to do something that moves the business behind it forward (i.e. they are using the crowdfunding as evidence of market demand). The flipside of a small amount of crowdfunding money raised by a company though could be taken by some investors as evidence that the entrepreneur is not being ambitious enough. Investors have a lot of deals to choose from. All their investment involve risk and they have to invest in projects that can show significant returns.
One of the most important things that we have to do as an industry at the moment, is understand very clearly what different investors – angels, venture firms, corporate investors want from a deal and understand the dynamics of the investor businesses if they are to attract equity funding of this type.
Some people, not unreasonably, want to know just one thing. This is a good 1 minute overview of ho you should frame a conversation with a professional investor.
The good news that we see is that serial entrepreneurs, who have attracted venture funding in the past for one or more companies, and who have achieved one or more exits for their investors are getting more involved in the sector. Niall Murphy, founder of The Cloud and Evrythng and Stan Boland, Founder of Element 14 and Icera before becoming CEO of Neul are but two examples and we know of a lot more that are working in the space under the radar at the moment. These entrepreneurs have made money for investors in the past and understand the language they speak as well as what investors need to see in a company they invest in.
This is one of the big topics that we will be considering at the next IoT Forum, April 15th 2014 where we have two discussion sessions: one focused on serial entrepreneurs and what they believe companies need to do to become successful in the market and; one on investors and what they are actually looking for. You would of course be mad not to be there.