Thursday, July 13, 2017

Internet of Things - and Entrepreneurship

Attended two presentations by AlexandraDeschamps-Sonsino yesterday. Each with a different message. Alex has, since she graduated from design school, been working on developing, launching and support structures of a product based on the internet of things - the Good Night Lamp. She runs the consultancy designswarms which earnings support the entrepreneurial Good Night Lamp company.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for a long time, holding lots of promise but most people tend to think of as applying to the 'smart home'. 

First presentation was at Signal - the post-graduate school for IT which is a joint venture between Ara, University of Canterbury, Lincoln University, Otago Polytechnic and Otago University. The title of the presentation was "Harder, better, faster, stronger – a case study in internet of things entrepreneurship". She covered how to account for IoT when developing ‘products’. Sharing her experiences to assist us to leverage off her experiences and learning.

Provided overview of her education and experiences since graduation. Has an industrial and interaction design education. Was the first UK distributor of Arduino. London IoT meetup organiser since 2011 – 11,000 members on virtual site and usually 40 or so people at f2f meetups. Writing a book on smart homes for Apress.

Founder of Good Night Lamp – easiest way to sync up with your global friends and family. Provided an overview of rationale, development since 2005 and future plans. Challenges of working with cutting edge tech – in 2005 IoT was still just a concept. Especially working with existing corporations who may be unable to see how a new concept fits into their existing portfolio. Also academic systems not available to protect IP.

Experiences as distributor also provided learning – how to balance a service company with a development division. (2006 – 2012).

Set up company to revive and develop the Good Night lamp after registering trademark in UK.  Detailed development, technical, design and marketing etc. required to work together. Also challenges in finding funders, who envisage tech investment as software, apps etc. and unfamiliar with IoT. Kickstarter was an option but also struggled. Cautions on using crowd sourced funding as often, after initial funds used, there is no backup plan to keep refining and increasing market.
Found a partner – eseye – who had technical expertise – which worked out OK. Important to establish a viable customer base – used Shopify. Then worked with an industrial design studio to produce the ‘holder’ for the electronics. Detailed challenges with production, the design (types of clips, LEDs), technical (shifting from 2G to 4G), material and production (differences in craftsmanhip and quality) issues and how these had to be resolved. Took time to trademark in US to protect IP. Stressed importance of customer service – ensuring all customers had a good product experience. As product is IoT, data from each item sill available and usable for customer service improvement and future enhancements. Plans to go through IndieGoGo to finance shift from 2G to 4G.

Being an early entry means the product is mentioned in various books on IoT. Shared the many lessons learnt and recommendations for support at the early stages, affordable on demand talent and specialised entrepreneurship education and training – which needs to be trans-disciplinary – engineering, design, business etc.

Advice to entrepreneurs is to be ‘driven’ to get ahead with their project.

Second presentation was across lunch time to at Ara tutorial staff.
This time around the emphasis was on how education is able to support the development of entrepreneurship, in particular, around the IoT.

Large number of failures in ‘start-up’. Therefore, a place for support, development in the educational sphere and curriculum for inclusion of aspects of entrepreneur preparation.
From her experience, IoT products require designing a consumer product people will want to buy (product design, pricing, marketing); offering solid web connectivity electronics, firmware and backend design); and designing a universal user experience (ux, web design and e-commerce).
Product design includes product, accessories, packaging and shipping box. Can be done by self, hire industrial designer or most costly option of hiring an industrial design company. Working it out on your end now more possible with hacker/maker spaces, learn CAD online, use laser cutting / 3D printer. Need to account for the supply chain.

Pricing requires selling whole sale price being 4 times of costs which include bill of materials (use Dragon standard BOM google sheet), labour, shipping, tax, cost of returns, IP and other registrations etc. Allow for certification of your product if there are legislative / regulatory requirements – e.g. connected product. Actual prices to consumer will then be marked up 50 to 65%. Is it competitive?
Marketing requires press release, short video on social media, spare units to give away and conventions / trade shows etc. Currently, Consumer Exhibition showcases 50% of products with connectivity, rest a mixture of AR, VR and cars. Build list of websites and magazines and their editors contact details. Consider Christmas editions.

Cloud funding not the only way. Angel investment for lower amounts; If under a million, try a group of angels; above a million is very difficult. Incubators have a role but can cost and take time. Try government and academic grants if looking for under ½ million.

Ability to work across disciplines is important. Helps to understand how each discipline sees the world, what is important to them and how they approach a problem. Much of entrepreneurship is relationship building, resilience and ability to work through large challenges. 

Provided resources for further exploration. List of books via and her blog.

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