The process of Connecting Products

Last December, I was asked by the Connected Digital Economy Catapult to help them out scoping a possible Connected Products Studio. This is great fun for me as I have tangible experience of building connected products for installations, industrial applications and now the consumer market.

The first thing Maurizio Pilu, the Catapult’s Director asked me to do is put together a consultation workshop where, instead of working in isolation, we would reach out to the possible audience or contributors to such a dedicated space. We ran this workshop last week at the Royal Society of the Arts and were extremely lucky to have attendees from the entire landscape of #iot in the room. I reached out to many friends of course and so did Pilgrim Beart who is helping shape the feasibility report with me.

Consultants (Tom Armitage, Ben Ward, Lee Omar, Graham Hitchen, Georgina Voss, Nick Hunn, Paul Tanner), startups (Radfan, MyJoulo, KNRY, BleepBleeps, bergcloud), incubators (Bethnal Green Ventures), maker spaces (DoesLiverpool), SMEs (PAN Studio, Codasign, Sodabody>data>space, Flexeye,, AlertMe, Xively) and corporations (Intel, Cisco, BBC R&D, Ogilvy Digital Labs, SapientNitro) came together and very generously spent the day with me teasing out what the key pain points were in developing a connected product. We then took those and tried to offer possible solutions with the skills in each of the teams. I’ve been to quite a lot of these workshops back in the days of the IOT Special Interest Group  and wanted to live up to the work Graham and Rachel Jones had done.

Pain Points

Maurizio, Pilgrim & I worked on a shortlist of pain points that someone would encounter if they were building a connected product and we put this to the community in a questionnaire via the usual social media channels. They were:

  • Coming up with an idea
  • knowing what hardware to use
  • paying for that hardware
  • knowing what software to build with
  • paying for that software
  • connecting the software and hardware in a scalable way
  • developing a web/mobile service for the product
  • access to space
  • access to prototyping facilities
  • developing a proof of concept
  • doing user research
  • reaching out to potential customers
  • finding co-founders
  • finding corporate partners
  • finding manufacturing partners who can help with small quantities

Through the a morning session conversation the top 5 emerged as:

  • Connecting hardware & software
  • Developing a proof of concept (specifically access to the right expertise)
  • Doing user research / reaching to potential customers (access to experts in user research was also part of this)
  • Finding corporate partners (this related strongly to being to plan the route to market)

The crux of this landscape of pain points felt like it was a lot about meeting the right people at the right time in the process of commercialising a connected product which got me thinking about what a typical process looks like at the moment. I’ve also highlighted the opportunities that were brainstormed that day that felt like they might be totally new and not trying to replicate existing services. All these thoughts will go and feed the report I’ll be writing up for the CDEC in the next month or so. Fun times.


What I learnt from running an internet of things pop-up shop


Today was the last day of Works(Shop) which I’ve been running in my office on most Fridays & Saturdays since end of August. It’s been a very interesting experiment in what the retail experience of consumer internet of things products is about. We went on the road too, showing the products to the British Computing Society, in the Science Museum during an event organised by Flexeye, one of my clients and at Thingmonk where I was a speaker. The clear winners in terms of sales were Little Printers, Bare Conductive kits and a late comer Moistly. Here’s what I think they did right: cute & often self-explanatory packaging or demos. Selling is an emotional exercise. People often buy for others more than they buy for themselves. I used to work in a local art store in Canada as a student, I know.

Bare’s packaging is exquisite. People didn’t care much for what they were buying, they just bought them because it felt instantly that this would be fun and something good for the kids. They’ve thought about this a lot it’s clear and it pays off.

For Little Printer, I’d selected specifically non-geek content to showcase as I knew the people who might buy it would be interested in giving it to someone else or convincing a sceptical loved one of its value. Showing them a publication that showed the current value of bitcoin wouldn’t have helped in that case.

The “For Dummies” books weren’t popular strangely. I think it might be that the brand doesn’t appeal to a geek audience even if the books are awesome (my friends wrote most of the ones we sold). Someone also remarked that if they were going to get their daughter involved, to buy a book “for dummies” wasn’t very encouraging. I agree. Maybe Wiley should have a sub-brand for kids, same content, just a different cover or something.

Finally pricing was really key in the success of Moistly. It was cheap. £13 for a little bit of intelligence when it comes to your plants. Easy. No brainer. It’s hard to do when you’re a startup but it works.

All in all, I’m happy to have done it and allowed products to find new audiences and learn about what I should be doing to get Good Night Lamp to be presented in the best possible light. And it was fun to work with SuperNova studio on this as they designed an awesome brand for it.

A very merry internet of things Christmas

It’s that time of the year where people try to connect their Christmas lights to the internet. This used to be a rather maker-based endeavour but it’s taken on new heights with the past year’s corporate interest in the topic. So here are the top 5 connected Christmas lights projects:

1. OpenPicus lets you control the lights on the Christmas tree in Rome’s airport.

2. Moorescloud let you control the lights on the Christmas tree in Darling Harbour in Sydney.

3. Cheerlights lets you tweet colours to some Christmas lights in the IOBridge office.

4. Cheertree lets you tweet colours to it.

5. And of course you can make it yourself thanks to this How to guide from Make magazine.

PS: Last minute addition to the list is Sony’s NFC Christmas tree (thanks Pierre)

Happy Christmas!

End of year review

1.What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Put all my efforts into one project.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
No, pretty much stopped going to the gym in February, but thankfully have been keeping quite well. I’d like to try that again.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Plenty. It’s a thing at my age.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
US, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, Malaysia.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory?
January 30th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Not losing faith.

9. What was your biggest failure?
The end of a relationship.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Some health concerns but nothing scary.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A rather lovely set of ceramics in Munich.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Nelson Mandela, RIP.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The NSA.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp (again)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The growing frenzy around the internet of things, after so many years of working in this area.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2013?
The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
More reflective.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cooking at home. (same as last year)

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Having conversations with the wrong people. (same as last year)

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
In London.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
My mom.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Emmaus by Alessandro Baricco, Travel journals of Jean Paul Sartre to America & South America,

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
This is the Kit.

28. What did you want and get?
A great team to work with.

29. What did you want and not get?
More hours in the day.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
La Grande Bellezza hands down. Only God Forgives wasn’t as violent as I thought and you know, Ryan Gosling.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I’m turning 33 on Monday and will go ice skating, a circus act and my favorite restaurant for a dinner with friends.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More money.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
A bit grunge a bit rock.

34. What kept you sane?
Hanging out with A, K, N, L.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ryan Gosling.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

37. Who did you miss?
M + M

38. Who was the best new person you met?
A & D.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
Things happen at a pace that you do not control.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

“But my life it is good,
And I have what I need
And sometimes the wind,
And sometimes the sea,
And often the rain,
And slightly the sun,
And sometimes I sit still,
But mostly I run”

(Thanks to Molly for initiating this habit, this is the 7th year I’ve done these reviews. Will also attempt Michelle‘s version but might not share it.)

Making, speaking, meeting.

I had lunch last week with some of veterans of the now defunct Special Interest Group on the Internet of Things and we were discussing the taxonomy problems around hackdays, hackathons and other similar events. I drew something inelegant on my sketchbook which I thought I’d cleanup and share.

In the case of this diagram “stakeholders” might be the organisation putting on the event,the sponsors or anyone really who is looking for an ROI on the event itself. This is based on having run all of these kinds of events (except an incubator). I think the interesting tension and frustration of hackdays comes from the completely polar expectations of stakeholders and attendees versus other types of learning, meeting and speaking environments. If someone has had some experience they’d like to share wrt this, ping me on twitter. I’d love to hear it.


Building the internet of things near you.

I’ve been asked to give a talk at BES Forum in Kuala Lumpur and  in addition to my slides I thought I’d try to blog about this one too. It’s an educational supplier conference, one where the British Council and UKTI boost the UK’s presence in education in Asia. It’s hard to think of these types of events as anything more than post-post-colonial and as a Canadian, I wanted to try to address some of the localised potential that the internet of things can have for Malaysia and also more broadly for any big city or country with industrial heritage. I’m also currently working with the Connected Economy Catapult to write up a feasibility report on a possible Connected Studio space for the development of successful connected products so my head is very much in the organisational requirements of iot. Useful in this and many other respects is the 1958 India Report where Ray and Charles Eames were asked to visit India and write about its economic future.

My travels in the past 2 months have lead me to Australia where I was able to convince (or bully) Justin into starting the #iotsydney meetup and Andrew to start the Melbourne edition and I hope to do the same in Kuala Lumpur (maybe the nice people at SensMaster will). There are lots of reasons why those 2 countries should be able to become hubs for internet of things products and companies but they aren’t the only ones. Generally I think any good iot community needs:

1. A space where capital, creativity and IT meet constantly.

Beyond the buzz, Shoreditch and East London are excellent places for innovation in the internet of things space simply because investors, designers and programmers are working within the same square mile (the missing link of course is a Cambridge connection which is why I think a free bus line between the 2 areas would be handy).This is extremely important to a multidisciplinary approach that is essential for the development of internet of things products and companies. In Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjava is 50 km away from the city. Government officials work in Putrajaya a planned city 25km away from town and other planned cities could mean that the serendipity that fosters collaborations is somewhat slowed down and dependant on events like BES which only happen yearly.

Meetups are a great way to create create this “third space” as the topic is so broad it tends to attract all sorts of people. The London iot meetup I run attracts investors, software and hardware developers, artists, architects and many more. Because it’s monthly it means there are people who are used to seeing with each other and engaging and possibly working together.

2. A close relationship between academia & industry

Dedicated Internet of things courses don’t quite exist yet (if you know of any ping me on @iotwatch on twitter) which means that universities that have technical courses have a lot to offer a marketplace full of ideas and crowdfunded projects . High value manufacturing, electronics design capabilities and supply chain design are skillsets that are lacking in the early stages of most iot startups. Instead of looking to large corporates to hire interns, a space for startups to have access to young technical talent in a way that goes beyond a voucher system and more IP neutral incubators would be great.

3. Access to early-stage consumer product friendly capital

This is the hardest nut to crack in the UK at the moment. I overheard an investor say that investing in consumer products was tricky because “they could be gone in 6 months”. Considering the rate of failure of online businesses I find that short-sighted. Most of the most successful product companies took many years to really embed themselves in people’s lives or become a preferred Christmas gift. The US’s sudden increase in incubators for connected products shows that they get it. Hopefully everyone else will follow. Angel investment in the connected product space is still a little sparse as you need a lot more than £10-£50K to get a product pre-industrialise. Perhaps the equity gap could be shortened with funds that specialise in these types of investments. After all all you need is a few key industrial partners to accelerate this. This is another chance for Asia to shine here as they have facilitated the production of consumer goods for many decades.

4. Coding & making for kids

You can’t train an entire industry up from the university upwards, you have to start much younger, which is why codeclub and other programs are key. It’s also a question of diversity. If 16 year olds can create products the rest of us want to use online, there’s no reason why hardware and consumer products should be any different.

I hope this is a little useful to anyone looking to build an internet of things ecology in their own country or city. There will be great changes in the industrial landscape because of it, and we really ought to have this come from the ground up.

The Internet of Things in Parliament

Before I dashed off to Sydney I was invited by John Riley to organise an internet of things showcase as part of the Parliament and the Internet day, a yearly conference. We ended up showcasing a small selection of my pop-up shop the Good Night Lamp, the AirQualityEgg Makie dolls, a RepRap and John invited Lauren Bowker to show her responsive fabrics along. I’m told it went well. More of these things should be happening if not actually displayed permanently as advocacy around these topics is never job done.






Growing the energy side of the internet of things

Last July, I met Sam Lowe at the Internet of Things meetup I organise for Xively. He was working at British Gas at the time and we got talking. British Gas has a product development group called Connected Homes (they just launched their own #iot product called Hive) who were interested in organising a hackday but I really wanted them to do something else entirely: give money away to startups in the home energy sector. I figured if I was having trouble finding funding for Good Night Lamp, I was probably not the only one. But unlike a consumer product that’s a little blurry in its market space (part tele health, part social) an energy startup is a pretty clear offering.

I didn’t exactly know how many people had startups in that space, so I started working with Mark Lowther  and we started planning a series of events called Connecting Homes which started with a startup competition for home energy startups where a cash prize was given out to the 3 most innovative startups. We were also fortunate enough to have Martha Lane Fox deliver an amazing keynote and stay for the day to join the panel of judges who went around the room. I roped the wonderful Ana Bradley into helping organise the day as well as SuperNova studio who share my office with me.

We had over 50 startups apply from around the world who were all squarely in #iot territory but for home energy which was great. 25 of them showcased on September 28th and 3 of them ended up with a cash prize. We’re not stopping there though as we move towards an online community for the startups where they can share knowledge and opportunities as well as Office Hours where startups in the home energy space who want to talk to British Gas about a technical problem, testing opportunities or funding can sign up.

I’ve been working with energy companies since the Tinker days, and it’s a real pleasure to help startups get the best of large corporates in this space. The glue between the 2 is really essential and that’s how greener homes will happen.

The Inventor, the Designer and the Maker: 3 different ways of getting things done.

I’m giving a talk at the Centre of Fine Arts in Sydney today and last night worked on 3 ways of visualising the evolution of making in the past 10 years with the emmergence of Arduino and crowd funding particularly. I’m trying to work this into a small publication on the subject so really work in progress but thought I’d share it.

The Inventor Model

The Designer Model

The Maker Model