What To Know When Starting An #IoT Business… Part 2 of 3.

What To Know When Starting An #IoT Business… Part 2 of 3.

31-May-2016 by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

This is the second blog post in a series of three written by Alexandra based on the lessons she learned from building the Good Night Lamp. 

Based on my first blog post you should have a product that works well and one which you more or less know how to price and how to get in front of the right audience.

Ideally of course you will be marketing something you know how to make and that’s why I consider crowdfunding primarily a marketing tool and not a funding one. If you’re planning a campaign you may want to read up on what makes a successful one, there is an art to these things and do plan for what happens if you get under-funded or massively over-funded. Knowing how to deal with too little or too much money can save you from having a very stressful time as many founders will tell you. I’d also encourage you to think about what happens if your crowdfunding campaign fails. I don’t personally think it’s the end of the world, it’s a campaign. You’ll have others, and there are many different ways to connect to your audience. Your customers may not necessarily be the crowdfunding type, so don’t give up!

Oculus Rift on Kickstarter

We’ve now pretty much covered the general marketing and design activities, but what happens technically?

Software & Electronics Design

(This is purposefully in Part 2 to raise awareness that regardless of how important the technical side is, if you have no customers it doesn’t matter!)

Chances are you’ve gotten excited by the Internet of Things because you got an Arduino or RaspberryPi prototype. Now what? Well as with design you can choose to go it alone or ask for help.

The only thing in your way if you’re teaching yourself PCB design (with Eagle or Fritzing for example) will be certification (more on that HERE). This is a requirement that you need to comply with to be able to sell your product around the world. CE marking is for the European union, UL is for the US market and there are others for other markets. Certification applies to both normal and electronics-based products so check out which tests your product needs to go through. These tests are usually in the thousands of pounds and can take several weeks so do plan for that.

Certification marks

If you’re looking to get a company to help you with the design of your product, many larger businesses have opened up their development teams such as RPD (partners of the Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices program), Sony in Wales, Creative Electronics in Salisbury and others. Electronics engineer freelancers are also kicking around. Talk to Lawrence or Adrian (adrian@toynbee.org.uk) if this is something of interest… They are lovely.

In terms of numbers you’ll probably find it easy enough to figure out how to assemble and make 10. Sadly this will give you very little indication of what it’s like to assemble and ship hundreds of something especially in terms of how your customers will treat your product once assembled. Try testing the shipping process with a friend to see what happens in-transit when you send your product. You’ll see how the assembled product reacts, if things move, or get disconnected. Yes I’m talking from experience sadly.

The other aspect around dealing with electronics, especially if you’ve built something that’s using a remote connection to the web (wifi, Bluetooth, GSM, LoRa), is how stable the connection is. The fact is it won’t be 100% stable. Just deal with that and create enjoyable ways for the product to be reset. Remote firmware updates, returns, whatever needs to be done for your customer to feel like you’re hearing them.

A general rule of thumb is that radio (XBee, LoRa) seems cheap but once you calculate the cost of the hub it may not be. Wifi and BT are good if you can make the process of connecting to the network as seamless as possible. The chipsets are also slightly more expensive than XBee. GSM notionally works out of the box, but I can tell you from experience it isn’t that reliable and very expensive.

Then there’s the hard bit; backend design. Taking my experience as an example, you’re going to want to:

  • know the status of every product
  • control it remotely
  • push out updates
  • see its status over a particular period of time
  • link it up to orders on your e-commerce site
  • connect it to a customer support query

All of this is probably achievable by using your own backend you develop with a team of people, or by using someone else’s such as SmartThings, ThingWorx, Evrythng, Resin and many others.

Next week I’ll share Part 3 of ‘What To Know When Starting An #IoT Business’, where I’ll talk about user experience and what to look out for more broadly as you consider quitting your day job and eventually joining accelerator programs like Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices.

Applications for Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices close on June 13th. Apply HERE and now!

Product Designer in Residence for the Startupbootcamp IoT | Connected Devices program.