Critical Factors to Solve Before IoT Becomes Mainstream

By some estimates of market research experts, the Internet of Things (IoT) market will exceed anywhere from 50 to 200 billion new devices will be connected to networks over the next several years.  That’s the hype anyways.  Imagine hundreds, if not thousands of new companies, entrepreneurs and developers creating and launching  new consumer and industrial IoT devices.

Expect adoption to be slow until a number of issues aren’t properly addressed.  Here are the top 5 issues:

  1. Security:  Network access and security issues rates on top of the list.  This past year (2014) saw hackers gain access to even the most sophisticated companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, Staples, Sony and more.  This is just child’s play stealing personal and credit card data. What could happen if hackers gained access to our power grid, the nuclear arsenal, our water storage systems, or into the global financial systems?
    With thousands of “naive” developers creating billions of new end-point IoT devices, the problems we have today will only be exacerbated.  It may be less of a problem for consumers but this is a huge problem that needs to be solved before industrial enterprises start adopting IoT devices in a big way.
  2. Privacy:  Who owns all the data generated from IoT devices?  How is that data going to be protected?   Some might say that consumers and businesses don’t care.  I don’t believe that to be true, at least not in the long run.
  3. Standards:  WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Insteon, X-10, and other local communication protocols exist.  There are actually over 400 known “standards” that exist today, which really means there is no standard.  This creates added cost, confusion and will make both consumer and enterprise adoption much slower.  Standardization will allow costs to drop dramatically.
  4. Software-undefined:  Development platforms and middleware applications are just as numerous as communication protocols.  This includes API and messaging protocols.  Where does one start?
  5. Power:  As devices become smaller and more numerous, power will become one of the most  critical roadblocks to unlocking IoT potential.  With billions upon billions of devices, each one can’t have its own charger, AC adapter or replaceable batteries.  Ambient sources of power will need to be created – solar, kinetic, RF harvesting, etc.
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Starting the Start-up: The Initial Idea

While talking among friends or waking in the middle of the night, you might hit upon a really unique start-up idea. Then you start doing research – you google it, search Amazon and eBay, and start thinking the idea through.  You quickly discover that others have similar interests or concepts as yours.  Its rare to find a truly unique idea.  But don’t give up!  Sometimes your idea will become valuable because your success might be more about a unique implementation or the way you bring it to market.  Think back to the early days of Facebook, which had ConnectU as a competitor.  Facebook out-executed ConnectU where both were pursuing similar social networking concepts and was an extension of what Harvard University was already providing in terms of face book pages for students.

Realize too that virtually 100% of all successful start-ups evolved and pivoted from their early original idea.  Working your idea will tell you what works and more importantly what doesn’t work.  The old adage of that the “only constant in life is change” is mostly true.  It about trying and learning from both your successes and failures.

Again, thinking of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg first started “Facemash” at Harvard.  Facemash was similar in concept to the site “Hot or Not”.  When Mark was then threatened by the university because of the way he want about getting the student images, he evolved his concept into what then became “TheFaceBook”.

Start with a cool idea you are passionate about.  Research it.  Test it out.  Learn.  Learn. And, then learn some more.  Then be prepared to adjust and change.  Its this constant state of evolving your original idea that will lead to what will enable you to build a successful business.

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Silicon Valley vs. Elsewhere

When it comes to start-up businesses, many people I know that live outside of Silicon Valley believe their region is hands-down a better environment than the San Francisco Bay area – this comes from people I know in NYC, Colorado, Texas, Vancouver, Seattle, and elsewhere.  They claim there is less regulation, less taxes, a stronger employment base, cheaper employee costs, etc.

All these areas have an entrepreneurial base and access to investors.  Yet, Silicon Valley (which now runs from San Francisco to San Jose) still outpaces any other region.  What makes this area so different?  Is it the water?  Is it the weather?  Is it the people?

Its an environment that has unparalleled access to intellectual capital that is rooted in very decentralized organizations.  It supports a system of rapid changes, e.g. “fail quickly”, and the investment structure to do so.  One common phrase, attributed to Sun Microsystems past-CEO, Scott McNeal, that gets to the essence of Silicon Valley:  “Eat lunch or be lunch.”

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