IoT- Internet of Things · Prototyping

What are the best ways to develop your functional prototype for an IoT concept?

Satyamrut Uttarkabat CEO at Impulse

March 3rd, 2015

Which is better : To approach an expert in relevant field or try to enroll in an idea stage accelerator/incubator. Or is there a better way to develop an IoT (Internet of Things) concept?

Andrew Westberg Nike+ Running App Android Developer at Nike

March 4th, 2015

For my own IoT device, I just started learning. It took 3 years, but in the end, I think the learning investment is worth it. However, my background was computer science, so learning the electronics side of things was a difficult (but not impossible) endeavor.

If you can find an expert who is willing to jump in, I'd say go for it. Otherwise, you might want to pursue Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or another entry-level IoT platform to develop your functional prototype. 

I'd work on an all-of-the above approach and pursue accelerators as well to see what shakes loose. The main thing is to dive in and keep pushing the giant rock forward. The path becomes more clear with each mm.

Gabriel Goldstein 16+ Yrs Entrepreneur, Engineer, Product Development, PCB Design, Electronics, Manufacturing, Founder

March 4th, 2015

I suggest you figure out what your strengths are stick with them.  If you are technical, then sure, learn it and execute and find yourself a co-founder to do the business end.  If you are the business end, find a co-founder/partner who can execute the IoT/hardware side.

There will plenty to do in a startup and you won't be great at it all.

Zvi Epner

March 4th, 2015

The idea is important only as a motivator to start. Almost certainly, you should first lay out your idea in plain terms for yourself and then see what it would take to move it along one step. Learn how to complete that step, and figure out step 2. Ideas are never as important as execution, which will come from deep understanding of what you can do. 

Use the idea as a reason to learn a bunch of other things. (Don't get stuck on any one thing.)

Paul Paetz Startup Advisor, Consultant in Disruptive Innovation, Adjunct Professor

March 7th, 2015

Your question is far too general. Why do you want to do "IoT"? Because it's hot? Unless you can articulate a reason that two or more devices need to share information to produce a superior result (accomplish a job that the consumer needs done that is high value and can't be done now), then getting into an accelerator or bringing subject matter experts on board is either a) a waste of time or, b) a waste of money.

I saw hundreds of new IoT things at CES2015. Most were useless, and in 2 years most of them will be gone -- they didn't solve any critical problems that improved my life, saved money, or allowed me to do something important that I couldn't already do. A good place to start would be to identify something you'd like devices to be able to do together that would save you time or money or improve your health or make you more "green" or track and coordinate things etc. It doesn't validate a general market need, but at least it gives you something to start with that you can validate. You have to at least have a general sense of applications and the reasons why before you start building.

I mostly agree with Karl above -- he's giving you good advice. You might also consider an alternative canvas that I think is better for startups than the standard Business Model Canvas. One that is worth playing with is designed to support disruptive business models, but would equally well apply to most startups. It is available online to use at no cost here: If that one doesn't suit, there are other alternatives on the Canvanizer site that might fit you better, but you definitely need to document some assumptions that you intend to validate about your product and business model before you waste a bunch of time to create something that nobody needs or is willing to pay for.

Paul Paetz Startup Advisor, Consultant in Disruptive Innovation, Adjunct Professor

March 7th, 2015

Hi Shahab:

What I saw was a lot of "me too" in Vegas this year. So many things taking my pulse or temperature or blood pressure and talking to my iPhone that I lost count. Or thermostats talking to lights talking to key fobs. The only winners at this game are almost always the first to do it right, so although I agree about 90% with Karl, I would add that Nest's design is so vastly better that it is the standard to beat, and though it doesn't do much now, everyone else will talk to it (an ecosystem will grow around it which will increase its value). In fact, Nest's visual appeal is the singular defining characteristic that makes it good enough to pass the sniff test, and get early hobbyists to install one with their spouse's approval.

It isn't an opinion though. Products that fail to serve jobs that customers want done uniquely, and better than alternatives (better is a function of how the customer measures value: it isn't necessarily a "quality" measure, but could be a cost or reliability or ecosystem or other metric), almost always fail when created by a startup, because you also have to overcome credibility, switching costs, and the deeper pockets of incumbents. Unless you are Honeywell, trying to be a "better" Nest is a fool's game now that they have established a lead. I guess I'm saying in a different way than Karl ("hipster cred") that the feature that was most important was not the programmability or the ability to talk to an iPhone or smoke alarm or security system, but the look and feel.

So, as previously mentioned, I did not see anything that solved a problem that isn't already solved in a way that made me think "I must have that" (or I can understand why someone else must have that). The thing that came closest was a shoe with built-in haptics that could guide (nudge) you towards a destination based on talking to your smartphone, as well as count steps and estimate calorie consumption. I don't know whether they've done a good enough job to catch fire in the marketplace because I couldn't try it, but it was just about the only unique idea that I saw, integrating location awareness with sensors and fashion and comfort in a way that I could see why people would buy them.

The idea of walking in a neighborhood that you're unfamiliar with, especially when traveling in a city you don't know, or you're trying to find friends who are in a pub 3 blocks away and having your shoes be the guide is a job that no else is doing, and the fact that the founder was smart enough to realize that no one would wear them unless they also made a fashion statement statement and could potentially also massage your feet is unique. The lesson: don't think of unique features, think of unique jobs or use cases. If you can't answer the question 'why would someone choose this when compared to all available alternatives (including doing nothing)', then you don't have a reason to start building something. Market incumbents can do this (although it usually just helps them stay relevant in a category -- it doesn't establish leadership or strong market share); startups cannot, and have better than a 1 or 2 percent chance of succeeding. I don't like those odds.

Rounding back to the original question -- it's a bit ambiguous whether there is already a concept that uniquely addresses a valuable JTBD, and the goal is to build something to validate, or whether the need is to figure out an idea to build, and what is the best way to do that. If there's already a concept, then the best way is to implement a prototype for a "must have" customer, not with experts or in an accelerator, although an accelerator can help you avoid making rookie mistakes and put you in touch with the right people and partners at the right time, as well as with execution. If there isn't a starting concept, then I don't see how experts or an accelerator could help.

Earl PMP Senior Project Manager, University of Utah

April 4th, 2016

Recently saw an awesome demo of an IoT concept using multiple Raspberry Pi's. Very low cost device with a programmable OS and flexible I/O alternatives seemed to fit that bill pretty well. 

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

March 4th, 2015

If it is IoT... you need to SERIOUSLY follow the Business Canvas model.    Most IoT "solutions"  are "solutions in search of a problem".   NEST Thermostat is a great case study.    the vast majority of NEST users stop using the SmartPhone interface except occasionally after the first 2-3 months after install.

Which means their $300 NEST is adding no value over a $70 programmable thermostat you can get at Home Depot.  


Turns out the NEST does add value to its customers... but it is not in its programmability or its interface to the iPhone.   The NEST's primary value add is "hipster cred"... IE it is a form of conspicuous consumption - and the value it offers the customer is that it tells guests of the customer that "the owner of this house understands technology, is a Mac fan, and knows what the Internet of Things is"

THAT is the true value add of the NEST. 

MOST IoT devices do not realize what their real value add is.   And thus they fail.

So if your question is as basic as the one you posed - I would suggest you need to step back and understand much much much better:

Who your customers really are (for example the customers of a StereoAmp are not the end users but the HiFi stores that interact with the customers)

What is the value you offer them

How does that compare with what is already in the marketplace

and the Business Canvas will help you do this better than most things I've seen

Euripedes Rocha Filho

March 5th, 2015

Can you develop a proof of concept solution quick to show your idea? If you can just do it and take the outcome from this first prototype. If you do not feel confident in your skills this may be a good way to find someone to worl with you. Experience is excelent but it cost, less than the effects of the lack of experience.

Burr Sutter Product Management Director, Developer Products

March 5th, 2015

Depending on your skillset and goals, some IoT devices are somewhat easy to prototype.  It seems like many folks are hacking with Arduino-compatible microcontrollers and the various sensors/actuators that they need.  For instance, I think the Light Blue Bean makes for an interesting prototyping platform for a potential wearable - offering Bluetooth Low Energy and leverages Arduino-compatible sketches and IDE.  Or the Spark Core, easy programming (copy & paste Ardunio code) model and built-in wifi + cloud communication model.  And there are many other competitive "platforms" in this same space. 

I have only recently started exploring the hardware side of IoT a few months ago, so my experience is limited.  I have a lot of experience in software but virtually none in hardware, finding that expertise will be critical - even if that can be found in an incubator.  You will also need to worry a fair bit about how to have the Thing manufactured and all the parts properly source.  A well connected incubator should have a lot of expertise in those areas (e.g. engineering/eagle CAD/specs, parts sourcing & supply chain, etc).

Shahab Layeghi Software Professional

March 7th, 2015

Valid points Paul.  Just curious, did you see some good IoT products there as good examples in your opinion?