It’s an amazing time to be involved in manufacturing. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is providing opportunities to transform businesses quicker than ever before and, potentially, at a fraction of the cost. This is exactly what we’re striving to do at my startup company, pointFASE. We aim to provide low-cost software that makes it easy to connect, integrate and control different types of equipment and software systems. When I say low-cost, it will start at just $200 per annum for a development license.
Crazy ideas vs Industry Giants
If there is an easy market to start a company in then I’m quite sure that I haven’t chosen it. Digital Transformation is a market where some of the biggest companies in the world operate. Companies with billions of dollars of turnover, tens of thousands of employees, and brand names with decades of recognition. I’ve had the negative feedback:
‘You’ll fail, startups almost never work’
‘How can you compete with companies like Siemens, Bosch or GE?’
And my favorite, ‘You’re going to do what? That’s a crazy idea’
I have to admit it does sound like a crazy idea. Those are some big companies to compete against, but given our experience to date I’m convinced it’s an idea that can work. I’ve been involved with some of these companies in the past and the IIoT solutions they provide. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and in one particular instance I was quoted over $190,000 for a solution!
At pointFASE our model is different. The development version of our product, pointFASE Builder, will be provided to solution developers for $200 per year. This will let them develop individual automation solutions for their customers where a runtime license is required and this is $2500. So pointFASE is actually an IIoT software company that will enable the small guy (individual consultants, independent system integrators) to deliver digital transformation projects for a few thousand dollars as opposed to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We’ve been working on the pointFASE software for less than a year and are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. I say ‘we’ because I have a Co-Founder, a very good friend of mine for many years, Paul Faulkner. Paul is a software guy - the kind of software guy who writes his own Operating System to see if he can get it to work. He also has a background in automation and integrating machine vision hardware - perfect for IIoT. I’m the business guy.
Competition is for losers
The odds are stacked high against any startup but it’s my job to work out how an IIoT startup can win against the big guys. Not just compete, but win. As part of the Y Combinator series of lectures on startups at Stanford University back in 2014, Peter Thiel gave a presentation titled ‘Competition is for losers’. In this he highlighted the counterintuitive idea that as a startup you should go after small markets and not try to be everything to everyone. This message stuck with me and I’ve pretty much taken it to heart and am working on the right ‘small market’ to target. This and another main theme of that lecture series - get the product right.
Integrators of vision hardware and sensors is an obvious one given our background, and one where we’re working with a couple of partners to help form the product. These partners will hopefully become customers. Feedback that pointFASE is better than anything they have at the moment to connect equipment from different vendors was very pleasing to hear. Pleasing because there is some amazing functionality still to be implemented, based on their feedback of course!
It’s early days for pointFASE and we know that we’re at the beginning of a journey we’ve only taken baby steps into. Along the way I’m sure we will stumble, and perhaps fall over at some points. However, a bit of resilience, faith in a product we know works very well and a dedication to give our partners exactly what they want will hopefully provide a foundation to help us move forward.
Our expansion will only come through the scale of selling software and to do that we need it to be brilliant. Initial feedback is that we’re on a good path. However, we’re always open to new ideas so if you have an interest in what we’re trying to do then please do get in touch and let us know what you think.
Just to note, Paul’s Operating System did work. It booted and even ran some other simple programs he wrote.
This article was written by Brian Reilly, a tech entrepreneur, Co-Founder of pointFASE and a Consultant specializing in digital transformation for small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies. His company pointFASE is a UK based startup developing low-cost drag and drop automation software to help rapidly introduce the benefits of a connected factory.