I’ve always been fascinated by problem solving and my personal mission has always been to develop things that change the way people live for the better.
During college, I created social apps using the HMTL5 technology, which was cutting edge at the time as it made the same app accessible on all types of mobile platforms my friends were using. I then built what is now Uber, where taxis can find your location through an app. It used to be that you had to call a number in Singapore and tell them exactly where you were, which wasn’t easy if you didn’t know the area well. We didn’t do as well as Uber (obviously), but we did have a little rollout with some friends and family.
After that, I moved to Goldman Sachs and focused on building large distributed systems before moving to a startup in Singapore, where I led the technical development of their new product, which focused on connecting different smart devices in a smart home, to share and collaborate data with each other. Unfortunately we could not find a suitable product market and the company was closed.
I then came to Entrepreneur First (EF), met Max and SensorFlow was born.
Interestingly, both Max and I had been working on the same problem of connecting different smart devices in a house, but with different capacities – Max was working on it from a research perspective and I built this product at the startup where I worked.
When we first met at EF, we agreed that the cost of buildings implementing an IoT solution was extremely high due to their investment requirements. Because of this, it has been difficult for the industry to adopt the Internet of Things at high speed. However, we realized that with our collective engineering skills we could consistently design and build the entire stack. Vertical integration meant lower costs.
We wanted to fix an important problem and climate change was one of the biggest problems we had to deal with. Buildings account for 40% of global CO2 emissions. For this reason we decided to work on a wireless system for buildings to solve this problem.
Hotels were the perfect choice as there is so much waste, e.g. B. when guests leave the air conditioning or heating on at ridiculous temperatures. We realized that we can automate hotel systems and save enormous costs.
If you fail to achieve product market adaptation, you will be spending a lot of time developing the product for the wrong customer.
One of our first customers wasn’t that enthusiastic about the product, but the buyer we spoke to wanted to look good in front of management by talking to startups. We made no progress with the opportunity as SensorFlow had no track record and was founded less than a year ago. Their business processes would not allow them to contact us.
At this point, one of our early investors recommended talking to a few other smaller clients we were hiring at the time, even if they weren’t that important commercially. This enabled us to collaborate with other customers and quickly identify the right customer, avoiding further wasted time.
Most important lesson: think about how fast you are going through the sales cycle and process. Have your customer journey mapped out with the buyer, with clear dates to make sure you are making progress. If they’re not interested, they may text you to keep you warm with no real progress.
In the run-up to the EF demo day, we went on stage every day in the EF Singapore office to practice our pitch. Founders recommended by pitch coaches use hand gestures throughout the pitch. We never questioned this as we practiced 50 times a day and it became like second nature.
On EF demo day, when we presented to investors, we discovered how strange it looked that we were all using the same extravagant hand gestures as if they were coordinated. It was a strange and funny realization.
Always hire the right person for the role, even if it takes longer and you have to do the work yourself.
Don’t just hire someone you can easily delegate your duties to. Otherwise, the amount of work you put in to compensate for the weaknesses far outweighs the benefits of joining the team. If you play the role yourself long enough, you can also understand the skills and person that will be required to hire it in due course.
How we turned our business model several times in the early days.
We quickly learned that the Capex model, where the customer makes the upfront investment in hardware and installation, is something that customers couldn’t. Hotels are driven by Opex rather than Capex. Our first linchpin was a fixed monthly subscription fee model.
Then Covid hit and the load dropped. Customers were uncomfortable with sticking to the same fixed amount. Our second linchpin was a savings-only model where the hotel kept 30% of the monthly savings it generated. As a result, we did not see any brain drain during this period of COVID.
Our plan is to return to a subscription fee when the business climate stabilizes. We have already determined this in agreement with our customers so that they are happy and we are happy.
It is critical to work with customers and do what is right for them without worrying about short-term gains. We didn’t sit back and wait; We were proactive and looked at the long-term health of our business.
Making intelligent buildings a reality. Hotels are just the beginning for us. We want to go beyond hospitality and help make all types of buildings more sustainable: schools, offices, shopping malls, warehouses, etc.
To make this a reality, we need to make it super easy to collect the right data, provide the relevant insights to drive action and automate systems to improve the productivity and energy efficiency of these buildings, resulting in lower carbon emissions and makes these buildings run more sustainably.
There are so many things that go wrong the first time you start. There’s always something that needs to be fixed, or the product isn’t scaling the way it should, or the customer isn’t happy. But what will help you get out of bed during these difficult times are:
- Believe in what you do. Make sure you don’t do anything better – thinking that way will motivate you to do wrong right. and
- If you build a team with the same collective belief as you, with 10 people who believe in your vision and 100 people who don’t, you will go further and faster.