July 19, 2016
Crossing the chasm is hard for start-ups which Geoffrey A. Moore explained so well already 1991. It is also a well-known fact that going from a consulting business model to a product model is really difficult. There are practical challenges like cash flow sales and marketing but the mind-set related ones are the most difficult ones. In essence a consulting sales person always tries to sell at least what a customer is asking for while a product sales person have to manage customer expectations to release dates, price and features. Still companies are trying since the ability to scale faster and more profitable is seducing and the ones who succeed can end up in a much more interesting situation. No risk no glory! There are also examples of bets where companies separate the platform they use as consultants from the consulting and SAP is a great example of that.
In the IoT space I believe we have an additional strong argument for going from consulting to product. All IoT solutions include hardware, connectivity, data collection, data analysis and distribution of information. Customers want to leverage these systems to improve their business why most IoT solutions are customer, application or industry specific. The traditional way to develop an IoT company is to “get hold of” a platform to develop customer applications on. So most IoT companies come with a technical asset which they try to turn into a solution for a specific customer need. The challenge is to learn enough about an industry or application to make customers impressed and eager to buy. Wherever I go today I meet IoT startups with solid but quite generic platforms and some customers, often in different industries to make it even more complicated. They might have invested a couple of million dollars to develop and maintain the platform most often using external money. The combination of IoT rapidly becoming an international business and quite local and not really specialised IoT platform companies will unfortunately create problems in many IoT startups.
I have now seen a couple of IoT startups successfully going from consulting to product and believe it is a great way to go. By taking the de-tour as consultants they can finance their company themselves as long as they need. In the consulting stage they might test different potential markets for their product, they build relationships with customers, partners and potential recruits in the target market and they can develop their product back home in stealth mode if they like.
The most dangerous point in the development of a company like this is when they decide to jump from consulting to product. A clean-cut is required to make sure all resources are focusing on the product from day one and to manage legal, ethical and practical issues. It has to be well planned to secure cash flow and a fair chance to have paying customers. Marketing and sales have to be ready to roll right away. The end result is a well focused, prepared and customer centric IoT company which founders still own. If it fails, it is still painful but clean and quick.
It is still challenging to go from consulting to product like this but if this is the plan already from start one can mitigate risks by hiring product people and structure the company as a product company. And again, no risk no glory!
October 3, 2012
The magic between the generic communication services and the specific application providing desired value to the users business is what we call M2M Services Enablement. This component of a M2M solution is absolutely vital since it shortens time and effort to develop the solution and minimize the effort to maintain and further develop the solution. The more robust and complete the Services Enablers become, the more users will decide to use M2M solutions. Services can be applied in three different ways: communication providers can add it on top of the connectivity, owners of the connected things can run Services Enablement in-house and one can use an independent third-party.
From a pure technical point of view Services Enablement platforms are generic but the successful providers of these services will be very focused on a specific niche or industry. If we look at a straight forward consumer solution like sleep monitoring, there are several solutions available. But one day there will be a market leader and that solution will definitely include some kind of intelligence applied on the information gathered in the cloud. It could typically be world-class sleep experts who can look at your data and give advice or comparisons to relevant indexes. With such services available it will be difficult to sell a plain stand-alone sleep monitoring solution. What is done with the information collected will differ from industry to industry but the logic will still be the same: players in an industry will benefit from using the Services Enabler who can add most value to their business and they will most likely end up using the same one. Following this logic there will be a large number of Services Enablers each focused on a specific industry, application or niche. The marked development for Services Enablers seems likely to follow Geoffrey Moore’s theories about “crossing the chasm”. Targeting a specific pin in bowling alley is the way to cross the chasm. When on the other side, it’s possible to target another pin, using the first pin as reference.
I continue develop the Swedish M2M Service Enablers (SMSE) alliance and we just included two more companies: Springworks and Episcope. They both follow the logic above and focus on the Automotive industry and Process Industry respectively. I continue to believe that M2M Services Enablement will be a forte for Swedish start-ups.