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About this episode

In this episode of The IoT Podcast, Sebastian van Wickern -CEO at Smart IoT joins us to break down how companies can maximise revenue with IoT, supercharge adoption and ensure product adaptability for the future.

Chapters…

  • 03:00 Introduction to Sebastian
  • 05:10 Accelerating market entry and revenue
  • 08:30 Product quality 100% of the time is key
  • 12:01 Ensuring adaptability for the future
  • 15:10 Debunking IoT myths
  • 17:55 Case studies of helping companies be successful within their products
  • 24:50 Emerging business models (SaaS and microtransaction) pros and cons
  • 30:20 Quick fire questions

And much more!

Thank you to our season sponsor 5V Tech. Discover how 5V Tech can help you unlock your scaling potential in cutting-edge tech and IoT: Here https://www.weare5vtech.com/

 

Tom White (00:01.509)
Hello and welcome back to the IoT Podcast. Sebastian, thank you for joining me today.

Sebastian van Wickern (00:07.15)
Tom, thank you for inviting me.

Tom White (00:09.413)
Well, it’s great to have you here. We’re a big fan of German based IoT businesses and the whole middle stand economy as we call it, right? So it’d be great to understand a little bit more about you, your background and what it is that your company does in IoT. If you could kick us off please, Sebastian.

Sebastian van Wickern (00:29.422)
Of course. So I’m Sebastian Wenn -Wicker and I founded Smart IoT 10 years ago with only 26 years of age. And Smart IoT is a bespoke development house that specializes in connecting devices to the digital world. And I used to be a developer for Connect devices 10 years ago and all I really wanted to do was get out of the big company I was working for, the environment.

I wanted to create a new, better environment for developers, you know, where developers could thrive and the problems and the communication problems between product management and development wouldn’t be that big. And, you know, the growth kind of just happened. Today we’re 30 people. We have offices in Dallas, Texas and in Germany. And yeah, we’re doing product development, UIUX.

hardware, firmware development, app development, web development. And we do have the processes to guide big businesses through the challenges of getting their non -digital products into the digital world.

Tom White (01:43.397)
Amazing. Thank you for that intro and congratulations on 10 years. You know, no mean feat.

Sebastian van Wickern (01:50.254)
Yeah, it’s been a long time and it’s been a crazy experience and I’ve learned so much over these 10 years.

Tom White (01:57.349)
I can only imagine. So actually, it’s a very similar story to mine. So my business is eight years old on Saturday, actually, at the time of recording. Thank you very much. It’s the time of recording. It’s the 11th of April. And it will be the 13th of April that we’re eight years old. And I’m 39. So similar sort of age to you, similar length and duration of business in the weird and wonderful and complex world of IoT. So yeah, I’m sure we’ve got many stories, but perhaps it’s…

Sebastian van Wickern (02:05.518)
Congrats!

Tom White (02:26.597)
We saved that for off the podcast. So in terms of the business end, so look, well done, obviously on the growth, getting the further employees, having two international offices. What is it that you specifically help customers do then? Because I think a lot of companies, their market entry into IoT, depending on if they come from an industrial landscape or automotive, can be quite convoluted and slow.

Sebastian van Wickern (02:28.878)
Sure.

Tom White (02:55.301)
And that’s what we’ve seen. That’s what we’ve heard a lot of. So where does Smart IoT Solutions maximize that revenue and that speed to get into market?

Sebastian van Wickern (02:55.694)
Mm -hmm.

Sebastian van Wickern (03:05.87)
So here’s what I think. A lot of the companies I talked to today already do have connected products. And it’s not that you need to teach them that they need connected products. They actually do know that already. The problem, I think, is in the quality they produce. They didn’t know how to do it right, and they didn’t know what to look for when they first did it. So…

they ended up with a lot of broken functionality. They ended up with user experience that was not perfect. And they ended up with an overall slow process. That’s what I’m seeing in industries a lot, not customer facing things so much, but industry facing things, B2B things a lot. And I think…

Due to our 10 years of experience in that field, and we’ve seen a lot of those applications, we’ve actually made a lot of those mistakes too in the early days, we can guide customers through that experience really quickly and make sure they don’t do the same mistakes.

Tom White (04:20.037)
Well, yeah, I think that’s primarily been some of the issues actually that customers have had in the past, right? You know, making the mistakes, going at it two or three times. Have you found in the past actually Sebastian, that some of the customers that you might have dealt with have maybe given up or tried to park it because they’ve made those mistakes and actually you were able to come in and help kind of reignite that flame, so to speak.

Sebastian van Wickern (04:45.966)
Actually, I think it’s not one example, it’s an overall issue. I mean, if you go into industry B2B players, foremost, today, and you look at their product management, their product management will have good ideas about digitalization, but C -Level is probably not gonna do it, and not gonna spend a lot of money on it, because…

they have not seen the adoption rates that they wanted to. Just one example, I’ve been to a customer a couple of weeks ago and they have a really great product. I’m not going to get into too much detail of what they do and stuff, but while I was playing around with the product, I couldn’t even figure out how to get that thing into the Wi -Fi.

And that’s a huge problem. I mean, there’s your adoption rate right there. Get the user experience right. And people will adopt, you know, um, especially in business products where everyone just spends 10 minutes and, you know, after that, if, if I don’t need the data, you know, I’m not going to do it. Um, the other thing is, I mean, look at the public infrastructure. If I drive a Tesla today, I had a Polestar before and I don’t know if you, Tom, have an electric car, do you?

Tom White (06:08.645)
Actually, I have a Tesla on order, funnily enough. So yeah, I’m waiting for it to arrive in a few months’ time.

Sebastian van Wickern (06:17.198)
Alright, so if you had a non -Tesla before and you drove up to a charging station, you would have to get out, get your RFID card out or your app, and you would have to fumble about with the charging station. It wouldn’t work, you know? Or, well, it would work like 8 out of 10 times maybe. So you would look at the product, at your car, and look, hey, is it actually charging?

And you don’t do that with a test line. And that’s what I’m talking about. When I talk about quality, if you create a product that actually works a hundred percent of the time, people will love it and people will use it. And if you can’t get to that stage, your adoption rate is going to suck. And after your first product, C level is going to say, we’re not going to do this again.

Tom White (07:07.429)
And I think that’s a lot of the issue, isn’t it? It’s a longer term commitment into doing it. But of course, these things are iterative as well, aren’t they? Because it’s not always going to be perfect out of the box. And there will be issues. There will be adoption issues, as you sort of say. But I think, you know, what kind of…

Sebastian van Wickern (07:22.51)
No.

Tom White (07:33.829)
rings kind of a number of bells here for me is a previous podcast I did with a company called Matekio. And they spoke about the difference in C -suite, the product managers, as you say, and actually not being in harmony. So I think that’s one of the key steps is getting that in harmony first and knowing why you’re doing this because it’s never going to work straight away. So I think that’s a really, really, really good example, actually.

Sebastian van Wickern (08:03.566)
Yeah, you know, I think this could actually work and I’m with you on the iterative approach. What we usually do is we come up with an MVP kind of approach and do something small and then go to friendly customers of that customer we currently work for and then test it out because I mean, you know, if you stray too far from the bunch, you’re obviously going to have adoption problems. That’s a given.

But you can minimize those if you talk to the target audience a lot. And we actually try to do that and iterative is exactly spot on. This is what we do. This is what needs to be done in any software development, especially if it’s connected. If you develop a connected product, it’s always going to be a very complex product and a very, very complex…

using experience because people have to know a lot about your product to actually use it.

Tom White (09:04.741)
Yeah, yeah, totally, totally. So can you explain your approach then, Sebastian, to bridging physical and digital world together, right? But also maintaining that adaptability for the future. How are smart IoT solutions different to say other businesses that have tried this in the past? And why do you think you have an advantage in doing that?

Sebastian van Wickern (09:28.398)
So, we actually try to take the customer with us. We’re not the kind of software development house where you put a bunch of requirements into and say, please do this. This is not what we do. First of all, I get a lot of those documents. They’re called system requirement documents or whatever you want to put as a headline.

And what we do is we ask a bunch of questions about them and usually and I have very good examples for that They’re not complete starting at you know, you want to create a locker and That locker is going to sit on airfields on the aprons So have you thought about minus 30 minus 20 Celsius or plus 85 Celsius on an apron? on top of hey, um, I

have we put every user that is going to use the product into the frame? Why are they going to install your app? These kind of questions, we ask that at the first stage. It’s a lot about user stories. It’s a lot about how do we get people to actually use your product because that’s most of the problem today to me. And then once we have a set of requirements that we all feel comfortable with,

Tom White (10:47.973)
Mm. Mm.

Sebastian van Wickern (10:54.958)
We start in a scrum like process, um, where we start throwing out software iterations and we actually talk to, so what we do is six weeks in advance, we require the product managers of our clients to give us user stories and we’re going to break them down with them and expand and put a lot of detail in them and, and get a lot of verification by the product management to that. If.

what we understood from their user stories is actually what they want. Because that’s one of the big issues in software development to me. People don’t understand what the other person means. And listening and verification is the hard part. Software developers, you’re going to find software developers that anywhere in the world that can do a fantastic job. But getting those requirements right.

I think that’s what we’re good at and that’s where we differ.

Tom White (11:56.965)
That’s a great answer. I think it’s easy to cut code, right? In the same way, it’s easy to run in one direction really, really, really, really quick and do it really, really well. But if you’re running in the wrong direction, you’re still in the wrong direction.

Sebastian van Wickern (12:12.302)
Yes, and it doesn’t serve anyone.

Tom White (12:15.493)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, completely agree. Yeah, completely agree. So I think, look, I’ve always got a lot of respect for businesses like yours, you know, someone that’s gone out, been entrepreneurial, built a company, got it to a certain point, expanded and tried to take on the status quo, right? That is IoT software solutions. But I’m curious, within our show flow and our elite,

and well -known researcher Katie. She told me secretly that you don’t like the term IOT, Sebastian, is that right?

Sebastian van Wickern (12:53.774)
Yeah, and it’s funny, right? Because my company is called Smart IoT. But what I think is… Yes, I am, absolutely! Which is completely funny, but here’s what I use. I use the term connected device. And you’ve heard me say that a bunch of times today already. And I do that because what we talk about when…

Tom White (12:59.077)
Yeah. And you are on the IoT podcast as well.

Tom White (13:16.805)
Yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (13:22.83)
When I say connected device is mostly actors and sensors in one device. And what people think of when they hear the term IoT is they think of sensors, I think. Or that’s my feeling. And the second thing is I’m not always talking about the internet. You know, if we talk about LoRaWAN, it’s not necessarily the internet. If I talk about Zigbee or Bluetooth Low Energy,

Tom White (13:37.317)
Yes.

Sebastian van Wickern (13:51.854)
It’s not necessarily the internet they talk to, you know? If it’s never been IoT or, well, let’s say LTM, yes, then it’s the internet. Or, well, it might be, you know? So, internet of things is not really a good term to me, but, you know, we’ve all agreed on IoT, so it’s fine to me.

Tom White (14:15.589)
Yeah, it’s funny, I had the same conversation with a lot of people, you know, I think, you know, IoT really only describes the ability for devices to connect or for devices to connect to the environment around us. But actually, in the future, that’s just going to be what it is. And so we don’t need a term for something that is ubiquitous because it’s ingrained within society.

So I also agree with you in the sense that the term itself may be redundant in the future. So yeah, completely agree. I wanted to jump on, if I could, Sebastian, to talk about a couple of maybe some case studies that could be quite useful to share. So a little bit about some of the work that you’ve done. We’ve heard so many weird and wonderful case studies in the past.

Sebastian van Wickern (15:01.774)
Mm -hmm.

Tom White (15:11.717)
from lots of different businesses and some of them have been really eye opening. And I wondered if we could talk about a couple of things which are notable to you that you might want to share today.

Sebastian van Wickern (15:21.166)
Sure. So what I always think of is last year when I think about things we’ve done because I mean, we do a lot of projects every year. And one that particularly stood out last year started in October 2022 when Noble Firm, a manufacturer for industry doors and operators,

came to us and asked us if we could connect their current customer -facing series. And it’s an industry door that’s used by DHL or Amazon. So huge warehouses, 50, 70 industry doors right next to each other. And what they wanted was an app.

to set those up quickly and do copy and paste functions. So you set up one industry door and they do have like 200 parameters. You wouldn’t believe. And right next to that is the exact same industry door. And you would have to, you know, go through the same process 50, 70 times. Why can’t you just copy paste the setup you’ve just done? That was the first app. And then the next thing is,

Tom White (16:39.205)
Yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (16:44.43)
Hey, you need these infos about, hey, how much current are they drawing? What’s gonna go wrong next? You really need those in the internet because you want a maintenance crew to be able to look at them and call the customer and ask, hey, do you need maintenance on this door? It’s gonna break next week. Or when it’s already broken down,

you want a first time fixing rate of 100%. So you want the right spare part in your car. That was the user story. And then the other user story is a lot of Nordfirm’s competition have LTE contracts for every operator. So imagine you have 50 doors and you have to buy 50 LTE contracts. That’s not a good solution. So…

we created a Bluetooth Low Energy mesh between the operators to let them talk to each other and created a gateway that’s talking via LTE to the internet and to all these 50 operators. So it became a lot cheaper to operate these things. And that’s what it’s all about, cost savings. And that was basically the project. The timeline was very, very difficult.

Tom White (17:59.941)
Hmm.

Sebastian van Wickern (18:06.542)
Since they wanted to present this thing in April on a trade show in Germany So we had like five months of actually doing stuff And well we did and a month later after the trade show they delivered to a first friendly customer

Tom White (18:28.645)
Wow, that’s amazing. That’s great. And that’s what it’s all about, right? It’s about using the right technology for the right use case. And precisely, as you said, that wasn’t right for them to be using LTE. There was another way of doing it and more efficient way and ultimately a cost saving element. So it’s great to hear those case studies. You guys must have been at Embedded World recently, then I would imagine. Would you guys go down to Nuremberg for that? Or?

Sebastian van Wickern (18:45.134)
Yes.

Sebastian van Wickern (18:55.15)
A couple of our guys were yesterday and the day before yesterday, two of our devs and our business development, head of business development was there. Yeah.

Tom White (19:06.757)
Yeah, yeah, it’s a fantastic event. Very, very large, right? I think one of the largest in the world, isn’t it? So lots of use cases. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did say to Katie, actually, maybe next year we’ll go and film out there at the event, which would be quite cool, right? Go and grab a load of people and do some shots. Fantastic use cases. And I think, you know, again,

Sebastian van Wickern (19:13.838)
Oh yeah, it’s huge.

Sebastian van Wickern (19:22.99)
Oh, that’s cool, yeah.

Tom White (19:31.045)
great to be in the position that you are in as a business, you know, and hopefully by coming on the podcast today, you know, we can give you that exposure to the other people viewing and listening, get to find out a little bit more about you. And you mentioned at the start Sebastian that you’ve now expanded into Dallas, is that right? Why Dallas in particular?

Sebastian van Wickern (19:51.662)
Well, we found a new customer in the US and they wanted us to have a US base. So, you know, I grabbed the opportunity and thought, well, this is this good news. Let’s let’s expand into the US. Then we found a CEO who represents our company in the US in the US and kind of just became Dallas because it became Dallas.

There’s no particular reason for that location in the US. It just happened, you know? Like a lot of things in Smart IoT just happened. But it’s going great. We’re actually currently talking to another two potential clients in the US. And I think we’re going to expand a lot in the US in the next couple of years.

Tom White (20:44.805)
Oh, amazing. Yeah, we’ve done the same here, actually. So, you know, we’ve grown our business. We work with, I can tell you openly and publicly, because I mentioned it on the podcast, but Ross Sebolsik from Silicon Labs came on our podcast recently and we worked with them over in Austin. In fact, Texas is a great place to be because you had a big migration to Texas from the Bay Area many years ago. You spoke about Tesla earlier. I think it’s when Tesla first built their gigabat tree outside of Austin.

Sebastian van Wickern (21:07.598)
Yeah.

Tom White (21:13.957)
that enabled a number of other people to grow and go out there for taxation reasons and so on because California is very expensive out there. So yeah, great place. Oh, sheer size and scale. I mean, you being a German national, me being from the UK, we’re not in small places, but actually you place Germany or you place the UK into the US and it could be replicated many, many times over in terms of the actual land mass. So yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (21:19.566)
Very true.

Sebastian van Wickern (21:41.07)
Yeah, I actually used to live in Indiana, so I know the scale a little bit better maybe than most Germans, yes, but it’s still huge. Well, humongous, to be honest.

Tom White (21:45.093)
Oh wow, okay.

Tom White (21:52.357)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And just my kind of final question today is wanted to touch on how you see the proliferation of business models. So, you know, in the past, you know, we used to have this very what we see now as an old fashioned way of buying or procuring software.

where we’ve now moved into the world of SaaS based models, software as a service, and ever increasingly seeing micro transactions where we’re paying for small individual aspects. What are the pros and cons to this in your view? Because are we leading consumers into more debt by not managing their monthly payments and so on? Or are there other benefits and…

Sebastian van Wickern (22:24.238)
Mm -hmm.

Sebastian van Wickern (22:29.518)
Mm -hmm.

Tom White (22:48.677)
Why do you think the world has gone that way specifically within the IOT ecosystem as well?

Sebastian van Wickern (22:54.222)
So I actually disagree with your question. Let me discuss why. So SAS in the IoT kind of world to me is not perfect. I see a lot of business models out there that work better for the typical use case I see. Let’s say Razor and Blade.

Tom White (22:58.501)
Okay.

Sebastian van Wickern (23:19.534)
product as a service may be in industries where a lot of leasing happened already anyhow and the likes. SAS as part of the business model space in there is as good as it is, but there are other options. I actually think that consumers and businesses can…

Tom White (23:29.381)
Yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (23:48.11)
live through the pros a lot more. I mean, I’m on the business side and I usually consult businesses. So what I’m telling them is that they are going to get the better side of SAS or PAS or a razor and blade if they prolong the time that users spend on the platform. So the lifetime value of a customer.

the customer lifetime value, you need to increase that to reap the benefits. As a customer, obviously, I need to know what I’m paying for. Obviously, I mean, we all pay for Spotify or Apple Music or something or Netflix. And it’s probably not cheaper than buying DVDs, but there is no DVD anymore. So, you know, yeah. But to me, there are three things in this.

kind of thing. There’s cultural change. You can’t stray too far from the bunch. If your industry doesn’t do SAS, PAS yet, don’t start with something crazy. And you need to watch who pays for it. So who has the most benefits needs to pay for it. All others should be free and not aggravating users. So if you buy an Apple iPhone for ¬£1 ,300 or the

Tom White (24:49.829)
Yep.

Sebastian van Wickern (25:14.318)
equivalent dollar amount or euro amount, you don’t want to enter into subscription a day later. Give your users some free month or free years if they bought your product.

Tom White (25:30.597)
I love the fact that you share that view, right? Because it’s easy just to go along with the status quo. And word I used earlier, it’s easy to go along with the narrative of it. But actually, what do people want? What would they need? And what will make them loyal? You mentioned earlier, the RFID, the tags, you know, when charging, etc. Things need to work and people want to feel

that they’re buying into a company that has equal kind of care around their user experience as well as the profit that they’re making. So I agree. I mean, personally, I’m not a big fan of all SaaS based models because I think it can get out of hand. I also don’t like micro transactions when it comes in the car. Like if the car already has heated seats but I’ve got to spend 50p a month.

Sebastian van Wickern (26:22.318)
Yeah.

Tom White (26:30.437)
to pay for it, that’s just really frustrating. And someone’s going to hack it anyway, right? And get it to you for free. So you might as well just change it. But as an ecosystem, as a world, we seem to be going more that way, don’t we?

Sebastian van Wickern (26:30.894)
Oh, yeah.

Yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (26:38.126)
Very true. Yeah.

Sebastian van Wickern (26:48.526)
Yes.

Tom White (26:52.005)
So I think, yeah, I think that’s a good way to end that question actually. It’s not necessarily that it’s always fit the purpose for everyone at all times. And I think that’s one of the things that perhaps if people are listening, smart IoT solutions might be able to help you with. But they’ll actually listen to what you want rather than just tell you, right? So there we are, there’s a little plug. Sebastian, it’s been great having you on the podcast today. I’ve really, really enjoyed it.

Sebastian van Wickern (27:10.862)
Yeah.

Tom White (27:22.053)
You’re clearly an entrepreneur, clearly very bright, your business is doing really well. I enjoyed the case studies and learning more about your company. So as usual in the IoT podcast, I was just going to wrap up with a couple of questions, if I may. So great question this is, and this one comes up every episode. What challenge are you facing at the moment in your everyday life that there is not currently any tech solution for?

Sebastian van Wickern (27:31.758)
Sure.

Sebastian van Wickern (27:56.75)
I don’t have an answer for that.

Tom White (28:00.709)
Okay. Maybe it is a trick question. Maybe there’s a tech solution for everything now.

Sebastian van Wickern (28:07.854)
Maybe there is. I honestly don’t know. So the kind of things we’re actively doing research on is a lot of CGM based things for cats right now. Because obviously I don’t own a cat. I just know the trouble of some of our pharma customers that they have a lot of cats who are overweight and have diabetes. But…

Tom White (28:21.413)
Okay.

Sebastian van Wickern (28:37.614)
Actually, pricking a cat is not really a good idea, so you should really not be doing that.

Tom White (28:43.589)
Amazing. And what’s a gadget that you can’t live without in your everyday life and you can’t say your phone Sebastian?

Sebastian van Wickern (28:53.646)
All right, now my phone. Swift and my indoor bike. I’m a huge fan of road biking and gravel biking, and I do races, but I also have a nine month old. So I don’t have a lot of time to spare. And indoor racing on Swift with the Wahoo Kickr bike is a game changer. You can do it at 10 p .m., no lights out, you know.

Tom White (28:58.821)
Oh nice!

Tom White (29:08.709)
Oh.

Sebastian van Wickern (29:23.15)
Um, it still works. Fantastic.

Tom White (29:26.661)
Amazing, amazing. And that was going to lead me on to nicely to my next question. So a passion that you have outside of work, but I guess it’s road biking then, is that right?

Sebastian van Wickern (29:37.07)
Gravel biking to be honest. So I do a lot of road biking every year. Yes, I do. But but gravel biking. I’m actually at three rides in Aachen on the 12th of May. And I’m starting in that race. I’m I’m completely passionate about this. So yeah.

Tom White (29:38.533)
Gravel bike. Oh, gravel biking. Yep.

Tom White (29:47.013)
Okay, yeah.

Tom White (29:54.981)
Oh wow, okay. And so for those that don’t know, the difference between gravel biking and road biking clearly is just the surface in which you’re riding on. It’s a gravel, a kind of loose texture as opposed to tarmac or asphalt. Is that right?

Sebastian van Wickern (30:08.302)
Yes, very true. It’s still a road bike from the looks of it. It just has wider tires that are fit to go off road. And it’s not really just gravel anymore. It’s light mountain bike trails and everything in between and a lot of mud. And it’s fun.

Tom White (30:25.605)
Nice, nice, I’ve got a Canyon at home myself. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m a big fan of Canyon bikes. In fact, that’s a whole other topic about how they change the game on direct to consumer, right? But no, it’s great. Sebastian, thank you so much for coming onto the IoT podcast today. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Sebastian van Wickern (30:28.846)
Ah, nice.

Sebastian van Wickern (30:38.798)
Yeah, you too.

Sebastian van Wickern (30:46.19)
Thank you for having me, Tom.

 

About our guest

Sebastian is the CEO at Smart IoT (IoT Software & Platform Development). He is an expert in Digital Product Development & Consulting. Connect with

Smart IoT Smart IoT has established itself as a leading innovator in the connected product space for the past decade. The company bridges the physical and digital worlds, partnering with businesses to develop next-generation products that leverage the power of the Internet of Things (IoT). Their expertise lies in transforming ideas into reality, crafting hardware and firmware that seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructure. They don’t just focus on creating new products, but also breathe new life into existing offerings by adding IoT capabilities, ensuring a competitive edge in the market.

Connect with our guest