Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington…

Noel Coward, the English playwright and actor, described the motivation behind writing his most famous song as: “Some years ago when I was returning from the Far East on a very large ship, I was pursued around the decks every day by a very large lady. She showed me some photographs of her daughter – a repellent-looking girl, and seemed convinced that she was destined for a great stage career.  Finally, in sheer self-preservation, I locked myself in my cabin and wrote this song – “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington”. 

I know how he felt. As I spend more and more time in meetups, startup conferences, incubators, co-working spaces and accelerators, it feels that our industry has adopted the same rose-tinted spectacles in the belief that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can be trained to be an entrepreneur.  Hence the following update:

Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington.

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The Barriers for Digital Health Startups

It’s over forty years since the first personal wireless telecare products came to market.  Over the years, along with many others, I’ve been writing about their potential and the opportunity they present to save healthcare costs and by extension, our healthcare systems.  Five years ago, many of us got excited when the Tricorder Prize was announced, with the promise of a Star Trek-like device that would diagnose multiple conditions being demonstrated by 2015.  That deadline has now slipped to 2017, but it’s not stopped a plethora of new healthcare devices being announced in the meantime, helped along by the twin vogues of crowdfunding and lifestyle.

So where are all of these digital health devices?  If you visit a hospital or GP, they’re mostly noticeable by their absence.  Startups are coming and going with ever greater rapidity, whilst healthcare costs grow relentlessly.   What is stopping digital health devices fulfilling their potential?  At the recent Future of Wireless International conference, I chaired a session with speakers from within the medical device community and working at the sharp end of healthcare, who shared their views about the challenges.  It was one of the most brutally honest and candid discussions I’ve come across, which deserves to be heard by anyone entering this market.  So here is a precis of their essential advice for any digital health startup.

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What sort of Hardware Startup are You?

Everybody seems to agree that it’s never been easier to start a hardware company than it is today.  After years of being eclipsed by software and services, hardware is sexy again.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to be successful.  Over the past few years I’ve mentored a number of startups and realised that their expectations often don’t match the reality of what they are.  That doesn’t mean they can’t succeed, but it does mean that they’re probably wasting effort trying to be the wrong sort of company.  There are lots of different models which can be successful, but a company is most likely to work if it knows where it is going and what it wants to be.

Hence this article.  If you’re contemplating a hardware startup, or have already taken the first steps, you need to think seriously about what you want to be doing in five or ten years’ time and how you’re going to get there.  It’s every bit as important as getting your product out.  Recognising that gives you the best chance of achieving your goal and minimises the risk to your investors and employees – considerations which should be at the top of your priority list.  It still won’t be easy, but if you can reduce some unnecessary pain by getting the right model, it will certainly be a lot less stressful.

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The Snakes and Ladders of Smart Home

What has the hacking of Ashley Madison got in common with smart homes?  The answer is that both are likely to increase the number of divorces.  If that seems a strange statement, talk to the wife or partner of anyone who’s got a smart home system (it’s generally the husband who buys and installs them).  Most feel that it’s not improved their quality of life; it’s just added another level of frustration, because now they have a home which can go wrong.

Of course, that’s not the message the industry wants to get out. If you believe the analysts and the smart home manufacturers, your home is about to evolve from the thick bricks on the block to the Nobel Prize winning genius of housing.  Technology is finally about to transform the place you live in into a high IQ domicile that reacts to your mood and presence, keeps you safe and saves you energy.

It’s a great story that plays to some excellent futuristic videos, from global technology giants like AT&T, through boutique technology leaders like Nest to the successful crowdfunded visions of Oomi, Nuimi, and Blaze Automation.  In their vision, it’s slick, it’s sexy and it’s almost here.

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Acquire a Tech Visionary for just $3 billion

Today Apple announced their purchase of Beats Electronics for a spectacular $3 billion. It’s left many industry analysts scratching their heads. Although a little shy of the original, anticipated $3.2 billion price tag, it’s surprising how close it is to the amount that Google paid to acquire Nest earlier in the year.  So what’s behind the new $3 billion price point?

There are some interesting similarities in the two acquired companies. Both were started for similar reasons – their founders were exasperated with the quality of products which were currently on the market. In the case of Nest, Tony Fadell wanted to design thermostats and other household products which were intuitive and worked, whereas at Beats, Dr Dre was exasperated that expensive music players and smartphones shipped with low quality earbuds which cost less than $1 and failed to reproduce the music. (The Register has a nice opinion piece on whether they succeeded.) Both companies have produced high profile, high end products to address these deficiencies along with very high media profiles for themselves and their founders in industries which have historically had little branding.

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The Cost of Wireless Standards

How much does it cost to produce a wireless standard?  And how long does it take?  Surprisingly those aren’t questions that are asked very often – probably because most developers are happy to use what already exists rather than starting again from scratch.

In the UK, some members of the smart metering programme have begun asking these questions, potentially for the wrong reasons.  They’ve realised that ZigBee – the current front-runner for the UK smart metering deployment, can’t provide the range to cope with every single house or block of flats, and have started wondering about whether it might make sense to start again from scratch.

A few years ago, when I was writing my book on the Essentials of Short Range Wireless I attempted to put some numbers to those questions.  It seems an appropriate time to publish them, as the answers are a lot more and a lot longer than most people think.

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