Smart tech, connected homes, internet-of-things (IoT) is buzzing around in such quantity at the moment. The noise is tremendous, however I do question if we are just doing and not thinking. Are we at risk of flooding the market with products and services that clutter the middle range, reducing cut-through, increasing the gap between brand leaders like Apple and even at risk of creating confusion and putting consumer adoption back even further?
There is no doubt that fantastic innovations are coming forward and re-writing what we understand as a tech company. However, maybe we need to think differently about what we do as IoT start-ups.
What do we really do?
IoT in its simplest form it is connecting every-day objects to a network to send and receive data. This is seen with smart thermostats, intelligent alarm clocks, security systems, utility meters and more. This is underpinned by access to and from networks, objects and open source data through API’s to render a user interface. We see a lot of API’s being developed and user interfaces being designed – great. Then there is the next layer for the user interface by applying algorithms to disaggregate information to set timings of heaters going on and off – definitely heading more toward the customer centred approach.
This is product or service development in isolation, so what’s the gap…
We are only just starting to ask what the internet-of-things really do for the customer. Great I can see my energy usage so what, then I can go to a different place to set my alarm clock and then I need to set-up my security systems and by the way I have a full-time job, mortgage, and 2.4 children tell me when I’m going to get the time.
In isolation these products and services are hugely valuable but to a user who has one view of their connected life these are disparate and high effort. Technicolor’s Digital Life Solution has taken a different approach of an open internet-of-things to deliver IZE an interactive platform that communicates with all connected objects and uses the TV as a one medium for centralised control. Great this is what the customer sees, needs and can adopt quickly.
It’s not a matter of stopping the fantastic work that is going on in the start-up space, no, quite the contrary encourage this innovation but with full-sight of what they are aiming for. I see two categories for the immediate future:
1: You provide a service or product to the connected homes ecosystem i.e. a thermostat an algorithm an API. Recognising that your market is B2B.
2: You focus on the customer experience end and provide an integrated solution that enables cross object management. Your market is B2C.
How we really do it?
Rather than racing to the top maybe we should be racing across the ecosystem. Collaborative working isn’t giving away your IP it is adding value to it, improving cut-through, reducing the gap from brand leaders and simplifying consumer decision making.
Typically start-ups go through venture capital funding rounds, supported through initiatives like future cities and SEEDA to get them going. This process puts them through a panel who decide whether they should / shouldn’t get funding. If successful the start-up will have funding, support, advice and more. However if the objective is to get money first and foremost is this process really ensuring due diligence and educating start-ups on what they are doing.
- Understanding their competitive landscape: Another thermostat, another algorithm how does it differentiate what is happening in the start-up landscape and existing market place that impacts the likely success of this new product?
- Understanding their market position: Who are they selling to? How does it fit into the connected ecosystem – does it fit?
- Understanding the reality of their product: Getting rapid prototyping to really test product assumptions and challenge projections are they going into funding rounds with robust understanding beyond theories?
Filtering beyond yes/no panels in one funding stream would push for excellence from start-ups, remove ‘noise’, and provide another confidence level to would-be investors.
Welcome to the world of the start-up service industry!