How we went about finding partners for our business

If a startup needs to succeed, it needs to take along itself a bunch of external entities, and all of them must complement each other to give an integrated solution to the consumer.

This holds true for all stages; right from developing a vendor for your raw material, all the way to developing the right distribution channel.

Finding partners is quite challenging for us, because we are looking to grow. The idea is find someone who is willing to work without qualms at small scale, but should also be able to scale up later. There are experiments and explorations to be undertaken, and it requires patience to see them through.

Let me look at it from three different angles in context of inoho- a vendor, a distributor and a service provider.

From a vendor perspective, we needed to partner with vendors who have the technology and the ability of a large player, but are happy working for small order sizes. A major issue with both large and small players is that they are unwilling to spend time in experimentation. Additionally, a large player would have an atrocious expectation in terms on minimum orders, but a small player would just not have the capability to think through the product, or may not be able to scale up. With persistence, we did find those rare ones, who were willing to develop the required solutions and would be able to grow. Those guys share our vision for the future.

From a distributor perspective, we are exploring and developing and entirely new consumer segment in the market. The smart homes market has been low volume - high margin. However, we believe there is a large, un-served mass market, which no one has tried tapping before. So we have spent a lot of time trying to find channels that are aware of the industry, but also believe in the change that inoho is trying to bring in. These are the partners who are willing to explore new models of doing business.

A win-win is to find a startup to partner with, and this worked for us in the installation and service angle. They have complementary offerings, a capability to grow and expand, and willing to work in the growing market. It’s a perfect match. We are now trying to forge partnerships with more complementary startups.

At the end of the day, a business will work if adds value to the consumer, and makes money to sustain itself and its partners. The challenge is to find the partner who shares your end vision, is willing to go exploring with you, and able to modify itself based on the market response.

Read more: techcircle article

5 Aug 2015

User stories

The good thing about a new product is that there are a lot of things people can do with the product. Even when we broadly knew about the functionality that we’ve thought of, it is amazing to see the ways in which it can touch people. I’ve heard stories of fascinating stories of farmers in Punjab using washing machines to make lassi, (read more), and here is our collection of stories on how inoho is changing lives.

User 1: Chennai. Owns two homes, 25 kilometres apart. He used to travel every alternate day to water the garden in his other house. Now, he has put solenoid valves on the water pipe, which are in turn, controlled by inoho. He doesn’t need to travel now, watering plant is now a click on his laptop.

User 2: Bangalore- owns a workshop, 40 km away from his office. Every Monday, he used to go to the workshop to start a particular machine. That would be followed by a couple of hours of wait before turning off the machine, after which he would return to his office. Every Monday. He’s gotten inoho now, and that saves him the travel and the time

User 3: Family of 4, Delhi, kids have just entered teens. The television and most lights were permanently switched on, irrespective of whether there was someone in the room or not. That wasn’t leading to a very pleasant situation. With inoho, that cause of friction has subsided. Both, parents and kids are quite happy switching off things that should be switched off.

User 4: Elderly couple, Bhopal. It is a daily routine to switch on the pump early morning, and switch it off in about an hour. The timings are synced to the municipal corporation timings. Inoho has solved two issues for them, a) now they do not need to go up the flight of stairs to switch on the pump and b) the switch on/off has become automated as well.

User 5: (in works, not implemented as yet). It shall be a switchless house. Everything would be controlled through the app, everything. And for each room, the plan is to have a tablet. So with the change of the theme of the inoho interface, the looks of the switches can be changed as well.

As a startup, it is quite motivating for us to hear such stories. There are a lot of other stories as well, which we’ll share in a while.

23 Jul 2015

How do users interact with a smart home ?

IoT is quite an interesting place to be right now. A lot of action is happening, a lot of new products coming out in the market. A connected AC, connected fridge, connected bulb and a connected garage door and even a connected pet food dispenser. All of them have their uses, and all of them are probably in good demand, but then, how is the experience for the consumer? There are many essays that talk of the disconnected experience which current users could have, if the regularly used appliances are not on the same platform.

We’ve fleetingly touched this topic in our earlier blog, on why it is important to have a central home controller from a technology standpoint. It ensures that all connected devices are accessible through a single platform. In a regular use case, of all interactions with electrical appliances /devices in a home, ~70% is with lights. (We aren’t considering cellphones or laptops here). So even if we get all lights onto a single platform, we would have eased 70% load. Of course, at inoho, we have done much more than that.

A lot of smart appliances today are standalone, so they come with their own app or remote or some other means of access. While that works well when you have only 1 or 2 smart devices, for anything more than that, the system becomes unusable. The user isn’t really going to go through 5 different apps to control 5 different appliances, that is just not practical. Hence, the need to give an integrated , one stop solution.

That’s where inoho comes into the picture. We’re trying to bring a single platform, where all your smart and even the non smart devices can be accessed. Going forward, we will be integrating inoho with a lot more end devices, which will create a seamless user experience. That will allow us to add a lot more features, and create the many specific ways which an individual would want to use a smarthome.

When we think of smart homes, there is a segment of users who are actually thinking artificial intelligence, and learning. There is the question mark on if the system can learn the user behavior, but the bigger question is how does the user adapt to the learning curve of the intelligent system ? During the learning period, the system is bound to make some mistakes, but would the user be willing to take kindly to those mistakes? Moreover, at a later date, if there are user exceptions to the learned behavior, how would those be inculcated? It’s a larger argument around behavior and psychology, but we are sure there is bound to be some level of intelligence in a smarthome, and that it will make smart homes cozier.

14 May 2015

Must make a usable product

We’ve made a product that is simple, usable and is used. There is a commonly occurring use case scenario for each feature that we put in, and use case answer for our choice of technologies.

Why retrofit ?

Because many of our customers have existing houses. It adds to the simplicity of the product. Secondly, easier installation also makes it portable, so living in rented place is also not a constraint anymore.

Why zigbee ?

We considered wifi, but we faced issues with connectivity. Wifi builds what’s called a star network, where each device needs to reach out to the router directly. This causes issues in devices placed in far corners of the house where the wifi signal is typically weak e.g. bathrooms & terrace. So with wifi, the consumer could have trouble setting an alarm on the geyser. This issue is resolved in zigbee and zwave, both of which work on a mesh network. In a mesh network, messages can hop from once device to another. So the home controller could relay the message to device 1 which would relay it to device 2 which would relay it another device, and so on, till the message reached the intended device.

We considered zwave, but found the data carrying capabilities of zigbee better than zwave. Second was the issue in operating frequency. Zigbee works on 2.4GHz, which is free throughout the world. You could take inoho anywhere in the world, and it would work. Zwave works in different frequencies in different regions, e.g. the European frequency is not free in India. So had we been on Zwave, the customers would need to buy a different inoho for India, and another one for Europe.

Zigbee is designed and optimized for home automation, so it makes sense to use it. And it’s open source, so we believe that the ecosystem will gravitate towards it.

Why a browser based interface ?

It increases inter operatability by leaps and bounds. With inoho, anything which has a browser can be used to access inoho. You phone could be android or windows or iOS; your computer could be windows or linux or iOS; you could have a new device with a new OS, they will all work for inoho. You may want to use Chrome or Firefox or IE or any other browser, it’s upto you. We will build an app as well, to leverage other functionalities that a smartphone can provide, but the user would not be constrained by the lack of it.

Why do we not have a physical remote?

We can, but given the huge leeway in accessing inoho from any device, the use case of a physical remote is very limited. Instead of buying a physical remote, you could simply buy phone and use it specifically for inoho. Or if a dedicated touch panel on the wall is required, happy to take any tablet and stick it to the wall with a double side tape. That gives the more functionality than a touch panel, at a lesser cost.

Why does our portfolio not have “fancy switches“ –touch buttons and all ?

We can, but again, the use case is limited. Inoho can potentially eliminate switches entirely. That would make electrical wiring simpler, and would also reduce the cost of wiring. Instead of a touch switch, a tablet on the wall works better. Instead of we providing a fancy manual switch, we’ve left the whole world wide open for the clients to choose the switch from. Inoho works with all manual switches.

Why a home controller based system ?

The short answer is that a home controller ensures scalability.

Let’s say the use case scenario is that a single device needs to be automated, and more devices will never need to be automated. In such a case, accessing the device directly, without use of a home controller works well.

However, this becomes very user unfriendly when the number of devices to be controlled increases. When ten lights need to be controlled, a “no home controller” system would either be a burden on user friendliness (e.g. 10 apps for 10 lights) or a burden on access device resources (e.g. drain the smartphone battery)

Moreover, what happens when more functionality needs to be integrated... let’s say a home theatre? Or sensors ? or cameras ? or voice recognition ? or gesture recognition ? In our opinion, if the home controller cost is not prohibitive, then a home controller is a more robust solution.

The internet of things is not just because it’s the “in” thing now a days, it’s the in thing because it can make things simpler and usable. And if applied correctly, it will make things a lot more smart.

15 Feb 2015

A shout out to our early adopters

We’re doing beta for our first product. It is being piloted with few clients, and they are delighted with the product. So we are delighted with the product.

We’ve made things simple, both our product and our business model. Our product is plug and play, easy to configure, easy to install, easy to use. In our product development, and in our business, we’ve kept the user and use cases in mind. We want our product to be used, not just bought. And we’ve wanted things simple. Complex technologies have been used in our product, but they all converge beautifully to give an experience that is simple to use, and powerful to experience.

We are thankful to the early adopters, who are placing their trust in us. For any new product, there are always unforeseen issues. One may do much as controlled testing as one wants in the lab, but the real test is when the product performs in a use case scenario. This holds true for a space shuttle as well as a cellphone. We know that the early adopter takes a risk by buying the product. We appreciate the early adopters and would want to reward them for it. Our way for now, is through the introductory price, and the personalized service that we offer them. We expect the early adoption phase to last a couple of months. Gradually, we will move towards prices that we can sustain long term. It’s fair, to our clients, and to us.

We would not sell anything that we would not be happy buying as clients ourselves. And we would not give the clients an experience that we would not be happy receiving. Providing an awesome, affordable, usable product remains our philosophy.

25 Dec 2014