Build to Validate, not Illustrate

The best way to get investors for your IoT project

Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEOBy Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEO – April 04, 2019

Many Internet of Things (IoT) projects are presented in a way that makes them less appealing to both investors and customers. This causes projects to never get off the ground and, if they do get off the ground, makes them much likely to fail.

We have developed a five-step system to help our customers get people excited in investing in their IoT projects. Getting people invested makes projects much more likely both to get off the ground and to succeed.

To get people invested in your project:
1. Solve a problem
2. Quantify your solution
3. Keep it simple
4. Build to validate, not illustrate
5. Make it beautiful

Before we begin, some background terminology:

  • IoT (Internet of Things): wireless hardware that are deployed in the physical world to collect data or to control something.
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence): a blanket term for a piece of software that processes the information collected by the IoT.
  • Investors: in the early days of a project, everyone is an investor. Not just monetary investors, but founders, employees, early customers, colleagues, bosses, and family members are all investors.
In the early days of a project, everyone is an investor.

1. Solve a Problem

In 2019, there is no shortage of IoT / AI projects that are novelties or mere proofs-of-concept for some technology.

By solving a specific problem, and actively presenting your project as a solution to that specific problem, your project will immediately stand out from the herd.

This will make your product easier sell to your first customers and, more importantly, makes it easy to find those first customers: those who experience the problem that you are solving.

As simple as this may seem, this step is often harder than it looks, particularly for product-oriented people.

Often, the idea that sparked the initial excitement for the project was not a clear-cut solution to one, single high-value problem. The excitement often comes from the potential so solve many problems, all at once. And this is fine. But pick the most important problem, and describe your project as a solution to that problem.

And be prepared that it usually takes several iterations before settling on a problem that is valuable enough to solve. How do you find out if a problem is valuable enough? Quantify!

2. Quantify Your Solution

This is the step where you figure out if the problem is worth solving.

Quantifying means to describe the problem and the solution in numbers. Specifically, this means finding answers to these two questions:

  • How much money is currently being wasted because of the problem you are solving (from step 1)?
  • How much money will be saved because of your solution?

By figuring out how much money is currently being spent on the problem you are solving, you will get a sense of its importance. If the problem is a low-value problem, you should go back to step 1 and focus on another problem. Repeat this until you find a problem that costs a lot of money today.

By figuring out how much money your customers will save thanks to your solution, you will immediately get a sense for how much money you yourself can make from your product. Again, if this amount if small, you may want to go back to step 1 and find another problem.

But what about quantifying the amount of money that can be made thanks to your project? This is a valid question, and it is often worth thinking about the potential money that your customers can make by using your product. But it is much more difficult to convince people that they will make money than that they will save money.

3. Keep it Simple

For product-oriented people, it is easy to get lured into the feature trap. Stay out of this trap.

This trap is especially vicious if it comes from early customer feedback. The problem is when a potential customer says “we like it, but we would need feature X and Y before we could commit to buying”. For many product people, this is a signal to start adding additional features.

You should instead take this type of feedback as an indication that you may not be presenting a solution to a valuable enough problem for this potential customer. If your solution obviously solved an important problem, the customer would immediately commit, not ask for random features.

Simplicity is a sign of a solid solution.

Simplicity is a sign of a solid solution.

4. Build to Validate, not Illustrate

In the IoT market, every product needs a physical demo. The demo will measure something in the physical world, or control something in the physical world. Often both.

For product-oriented people, the temptation is to build a complete demo that illustrates all the fantastic features of your product. Resist this temptation. It is costly and may not get people excited to invest anyway.

Instead, build the demo to validate the problem and the solution. Use the demo as an opportunity to show how much money your solution is saving for your customer.

Specifically, this means:

  • In the backend AI, compute how much money your solution has saved thus far.
  • Approximate how much money that will be saved in the future.
  • Do not be afraid to boldly display the monetary amounts on the screen that you show to your customer, and update this in real time as more data is flowing in. After all, this should be the most interesting item for your customer to see.

To make this step easy, you should build as little as necessary in terms of hardware and software. Use existing hardware as much as possible, because custom hardware is difficult to build and error-prone to demo.

Focus your development efforts on the quantified effects of your solution instead of showing off features. If you feel the need to show off features, you may need to rethink the problem you are solving.

Do not be afraid to highlight the most appetizing aspect of your product: how much money your customer will save.

5. Make it Beautiful

Even if the purpose of the demo is to validate your solution and the problem, you must still make it look good.

And when we say look good, we mean the user-visible software, not the hardware. Making the hardware look good is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Making the software look good is easy, quick, and does not need to be expensive.

Our experience is that customers are very forgiving when it comes to the look of the hardware, as long as the product solves their valuable problem. But the software must look good: customers are much less forgiving about that.

The first version of your IoT hardware may look like naked electronics

The first version of the hardware always looks horrible, so focus on making the software look fantastic

3D-printing helps IoT prototype hardware look better

3D printing, even with a really simple model, can go a long way to hide the ugliness of the initial hardware

A few simple tricks to make the software look better:

  • Use a single-page web app to show your demo
  • Use an existing design framework for your demo
  • Do not overdo it with graphs. Instead focus on a single metric – usually the amount of money your customers will save
  • Pick a nice photo as a background: Unsplash is a great resource!

Additional Photo Credits

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Adam Dunkels

Adam Dunkels


Fredrik Rosendal

Fredrik Rosendal


Marcus Linderoth

Marcus Linderoth

VP Engineering

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