Behind every success story in technology startups is a set of wakeup calls and learning journeys we can identify with.
We often hear many anecdotes and success stories about success and entrepreneurship, and the saying “you can do anything you want”. I learned when I was in primary school that my parents would not be as enthusiastic when I took apart the only refrigerator in the house to see how it works.
Similarly, the world isn’t as kind to entrepreneurs and their dreams. Studies done by the Small Business Association revealed that close to 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years, and the reality is clear that “you can’t do anything you want”. Not surprisingly, these numbers have not changed much over the years, with many trappings applicable to those starting a business.
For IoT startups, the projections revealed more alarming statistics. With 75% of IoTs doomed to fail, 30% not making it beyond the proof-of-concept stage, and those that taste some measure of success having their progress cut short and cannibalized by bigger companies, the odds were not in my favor.
This made leaving a stable and comfortable consulting job to jump into the unpredictable world of running an IoT startup, the biggest career switch (or gamble) that I’ve made so far. Right now, as I approach our fifth year going strong as a company, I have created a personal roadmap to address a more focused question, “is having an IoT startup what you really want”?
Life before entrepreneurship
This was when I enjoyed stability in knowing when work was due, and when I got paid. The 9 to 5 routine was mundane but gave structure and crunch time; holiday plans were made in advance. But I wanted more autonomy with my time and to make a meaningful impact: I was ready for the next challenge.
The unsuccessful attempt of putting the refrigerator back into one piece was the spark of curiosity that stayed with me, but now I had working experience. With time, effort, and the right team, we could change how we looked at certain technologies, and how we used them. Creating an IoT company was the way to go.
Initial mindsets and expectations
The development costs and cycles were laid out, milestones were quantified, and the go-to-market strategy was sound. Of course, it would be hard work, but eventually, it would be simple for others to understand the beauty of what we were doing.
Soon, companies would adopt our solution, and scalability would follow, and finally I would have more time. Viatick was born.
Personal changes when we first started
The first realization when we started was that nothing is structured, and that there are many other dependencies of the business outside of our control. The early days were a wake-up call demanding that I tighten up what I could control. Two personal changes helped enforce a structure that kept my head above water and survive:
- Time management: Nothing stops. In the bigger scheme of things, we were an expandable commodity, not time. I did my best work on the plane, had the most eventful conference calls during our commute, came up with critical solutions on a half-charged laptop, and the best thinking when everyone was asleep.
- Discipline: We do not skip leg day, ever. Exercise is vital to keep the mind sharp. The story of the financially successful business person who sacrificed health in the name of progress is too common and never pays. Being disciplined to start the day early became our new reality and routine. And as Jocko Willink who wakes up at 0430 consistently would say, “discipline equals freedom”.
Viewpoints about responsibility and teamwork
In the corporate world, people looked out for themselves as individual survival and clearer career focus necessitated a degree of dissociation. However, as we became responsible for teammates and colleagues who were dependent on us, the entrepreneurship journey changed our perspective. Our decisions drove the future of this growing organization we created.
Change and adaptability: Our technical advantages
“Fast, cheap, good” is a simple way to put across what IoT solutions bring to the table that lead to better technology adoption. The nature of our IoT solution and the stiff competition we faced led us to examine what the industry needed, so we could focus on the long-term win. Our solutions needed to flourish with consistent, visible improvements, and outlive what our competitors could offer. We internalized the industrial knowledge and client pain points and focused on what we could address.
“Accurate, stable, and value” became the pillars of our solution stacks that we aimed for and kept sight of in our constant trials and tests. This helped set us apart from the competition.
How our startup shifted from survival to growth
In our fifth year and counting these are the mindsets that have persisted and that you would have to examine if being an entrepreneur in the IoT space is your dream.
1. IoT solutions live and die by the problems they solve. What looks like a feature that you are excited to roll out, could end up being a hassle for the client and you’ve just wasted your R&D resources. Be prepared to take a backseat when needed; trust and fend for your team. It just needs to work.
2. Always lead with “why”. Even if your idea is magical, or your prototype works fine. Always question the pragmatism of your solution, the price point, and how you’ll get it to the market. Competition is real and unrelenting, and if you can answer “why” to a greater degree than what others know to ask you for, you’ll be ready.
3. IoT solutions are often tempted to expand to other markets too quickly. Understanding the markets you are going to, their potential, knowing their business and technological frameworks, is the bare minimum of due diligence. From our experience, it is easier to consolidate your capabilities in one market, and build strong partnerships locally before even thinking of heading out.