Discovering as You Go

As we advanced on our journey we discovered new, initially invisible markets to serve, where our product was a better fit. The hardest part though was acknowledging that our initial product ideas were not optimal.

Two years ago we — accidentally — built a technology we thought we could turn into a product. By that time, we didn’t know some of the basic stuff, such as great products are all about identifying real problems. More important, that you have to really understand the problem before you even write the first line of code.

Curiously, iomando was — unintentionally — designed the other way around.

Our first approach to the market was directed to solve a problem that turned out nobody had. The fact of being wrong was a tough lesson at the time, but it wasn’t a defeat in itself. The process helped us become “experts” in the field, which unveiled new opportunities we would exploit later on. Such opportunities were simply not available before, because we didn’t understand the market well enough.

As I see it, the process of industry or field discovery is like visiting a new country for the first time. It makes sense over time, as you go. Stepping onto small things, friction, little details, that surprises and changes you in ways you couldn’t expect. Then they start compounding. They ignite a chain reaction that builds upon and connects previously acquired knowledge, forming a new paradigm.

This is exactly how I think about our journey with iomando, as an Age Of Empires map. Initially black, full of unknowns, slowly but surely revealing itself as you advance, at the right time.

As we advanced we became more self-aware of the implications our technology truly had. Tiny details we didn’t notice before but soon articulated really powerful ideas. I put it better in an interview last week for a local radio when asked about “how we decide what to build next”.

iomando provides an access solution based on mobile technologies. The same things you do with keys or remotes — like opening doors or fences — but instead, using your smartphone. It is that simple. Since iomando is the first company I’ve found, I’m not very well suited to answer questions about long-term success, but I clearly see the path forward as a never-ending iteration, constantly refining and adjusting. This process is what has worked for us so far and showed us where to go next.

When we started, we thought of iomando as a plain replacement for keys and remotes. We acknowledged several problems with them — as we noted in the release of iomando 1.0 — and we set out to deliver a better solution leveraging mobile technologies.

We started out under the hypothesis that keys had four major flaws:

  • You needed one for each door or place you wanted to open.
  • Expensive replacement.
  • Security weaknesses.
  • Static management, they couldn’t be safely shared, they weren’t “smart”.

Somebody smarter than me, once said that if “the only thing you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail”.

Our thinking of iomando “as a plain replacement for keys and remotes” blinded us to opportunities beyond the domestic market. Because at the time, we didn’t know such market existed, thus we were offering a better and more convenient alternative to traditional access systems in a market we did know.

As we started to understand more and more why our service was enabling these opportunities, the foundation of our technology, we put ourselves in a position to truly unravel the full potential of our vision.

Don’t get me wrong though, replacing household remotes with our service was a great start. We were successfully solving a problem we knew. But as we dived deeper — as we unraveled the AOE’s map — we discovered people facing hard problems where iomando could really offer a lot more value.

We just discovered the access control market.

We discovered there were individuals solely dedicated to access management. True specialists in the field that were working — as we perceived them — with “sticks and stones”. They were trying to organize and recreate the access experience for thousands of persons in places such as industrial areas with keys and remotes.

These tools were simply not meant to do that. Yet these professionals never asked questions because they had taken the tools for granted, they had always thought “this is how it is” and moved on. When you reach this point, you become hopeless.

After endless talks with building managers, mobility administrators, people in charge of maintenance in large industrial facilities… we realized that access management was a mess, an unmitigated disaster where iomando could deliver an unprecedented solution.

Under the hood, iomando had two fundamental traits that made our value proposition unique for those use cases in a way that competitors simply couldn’t match:

  • Adding additional units of capacity came without an associated cost. In terms of traditional access systems, if you wanted to deploy a new key or a remote to a customer, you had to actually make and pay for the thing. This a perfectly reasonable thing to do — pay for your cost of goods that you’ll later sell, but something that didn’t occur with iomando. Creating more permissions was freed from a manufacturing point of view since the key itself was composed of 1s and 0s. From a cost basis perspective, it was virtually the same to serve a little shop or a huge city council with three million users.
  • Putting the service in the hands of our users was also free of charge. Not only adding new units of capacity was virtually free, but the distribution of those new units themselves was also free. Since we are changing the plastic for bits, the permissions were also distributed through the air. A huge competitive advantage in places with a larger user base, because not only the owner saved a lot of money by not purchasing the key itself, but it also removed the need for the distribution afterward.

This realization made us rethink our business model. We were allocating almost all our resources and efforts chasing small communities and houses because they were far easier deals and we “understood” the consumer market. But our nature, our ability to reap the scale that came from being software based, made us a better fit for larger organizations and places where access control was a matter of thousands, even millions.

The takeaway of all this is that in order to seamlessly integrate your product to the right market, two things need to happen — which coincidentally or not, at iomando happened almost at once.

The first thing is to undercover potential market opportunities that can be hidden at the beginning. We didn’t know someone had a problem managing the access of thousands of people. We didn’t know that an industrial area had a problem when a cargo was coming at three in the morning. We didn’t know that was someone’s problem or that there was somebody employed to do that. We had to keep at it, immerse ourselves into the market and stay curious in order to understand it.

The second is to acknowledge the true nature of your product. Our technology solved all of those problems out of the box, but we’d never thought of iomando in these terms. Sometimes is hard to get off your blinkers and realize that the use case you envisioned for your product was wrong. The hammer and nail thing over again. If you’ve already predefined a use case for your product, it is sometimes difficult to move beyond.

First published on January 23, 2014