On this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, InnerSpace’s CEO, James Wu, joins Ryan Chacon to discuss how you can maximize the potential of your indoor spaces with asset tracking. James and Ryan open the podcast by talking about the background of InnerSpace and some of the specific use cases the company focuses on. James then discusses the impact he’s seen COVID have on the IoT industry. He then talks about what indoorology is and the importance it has for customer education and adoption. Ryan and James wrap up the podcast with a high-level conversation around challenges in adoption and advice for companies beginning their IoT journey.
James Wu has dedicated the last 20 years to building award-winning products for notable technology startups, including Platform Computing, Rypple and Kobo. Playing a pivotal role at each company, James made and led product development while honing his understanding of what it takes to develop a team, product, and company from early days to global success. At Kobo, the primary competitor to Amazon Kindle, James was the conceptual visionary for the company’s unique and award-winning tablet user experience and the primary inventor of more than 30 patents related to user experience design. He was responsible for setting the strategic direction for Kobo’s complete portfolio of products, including websites, mobile apps, and award-winning eReading devices. Managing large teams of exceptionally talented experience designers, interaction architects, industrial and mechanical designers, researchers and prototypers, James stewarded their abilities to deliver the world-class Kobo eReading experience across all platforms and with a localized experience in 22 countries. Before beginning his professional career, James earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Queen’s University.
Interested in connecting with James? Reach out on Linkedin!
InnerSpace helps people better use a finite and costly resource, the indoors. Their technology brings reliable and insightful data about human behavior to people who can implement solutions to enhance indoor experiences. Using existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to track anonymous signals from smart devices and translate them into actionable and easy-to-understand insights about how and where we spend our time indoors. InnerSpace was founded in 2016 out of a trip to the Met, which, as it turns out, is challenging to navigate without a paper map. Founder, James Wu, wondered why so many location-based services and solutions were available for the great outdoors yet so few for the indoors? Today their clients are some of the world’s largest, most forward-thinking companies. Due to the pandemic’s impact on workplaces, they’re looking for data to guide decisions about return-to-work plans and hybrid transformation strategies and rationalize and optimize their real estate portfolios.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(2:00) Introduction to James and InnerSpace
(5:55) Solving problems in corporate real estate
(7:44) COVID’s impact
(10:14) What is indoorology?
(14:44) Challenges in adoption
(17:36) Advice for companies looking to adopt
– [Voice Over] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast. The number one resource and publication for IoT. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. Before I give you a quick overview about this episode. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please be sure to like this video and subscribe to our channel. If you’re listening to this episode on a podcast directory, please be sure to subscribe to the directory to ensure you get the latest episode as soon as they become available. But today’s episode, we have James Wu, the CEO of InnerSpace. They are a technology company that brings reliable and insightful data about human behavior to people who can implement solutions that enhance indoor experiences. So it’s really kind of cool. They use existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to track anonymous signals from smart devices and translate them into actionable and easy-to-understand insights about how and where people are spending their time indoors. So we talk a lot about kind of indoor technology, the benefits of it, the value that it provides, and how it all kind of connects together to create a very seamless and valuable experience. We talk about kinda how things have been done to collect that data prior to these new technologies being available, different use cases, advice for implementation, advice for adoption, and challenges that they’re seeing in the market. A lot of that is around the educational components, of people moving from kind of outdated, older technology into new data or new technology that does this a lot better at a more affordable cost. Just in an overall kind of more successful manner for them so all in all, great conversation, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of this. But before we get into this episode. If any of you out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market, but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform, provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more go to iotchangeseverything.com, that’s iotchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast. Welcome James, say hi to IoT For All podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [James] Thanks for having me, Ryan.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I’d love it if you could just start off by introducing yourself to our audience, background experience, anything you think could be relevant.
– [James] Sure. I’m James Wu. I started InnerSpace about six years ago now. Prior to that, I have a long history in tech space. Studied computer science for many, many years at school, became increasingly interested in smaller and smaller tech companies. Joined many startup prior to setting out on my own journey with this one.
– [Ryan] And nice, and tell us a little bit more about InnerSpace. What do you all do?
– [James] So, I mean, InnerSpace from a technology perspective is an indoor location platform, but from a business perspective, we are out there helping helping people make better use of their available indoor spaces. The indoors is a sort of finite and very costly resource, depending on, you know, particularly for commercials, and we’re helping people make better use of it.
– [Ryan] Nice. And I love it if you could tell us a little bit more about the founding of the company. So, what’s interesting always to hear is is kind of what you saw as an opportunity before the company was started, and kind of the journey that you took to solve that problem and build a company around it.
– [James] Yeah. For me, this whole thing started in New York City. I was there for on a business trip. I had the opportunity to go to one of their you know one of the large museums, The Met and it struck me as this strange dichotomy. You know, outdoors I could use my phone to get you know cabs and food, and I’d learn about all of the learn about all of the you know, the points of interest in the city. But as soon as I went into this iconic and famous space, they handed me a paper map and I had to sort of struggle to get around, and I couldn’t use my phone. And it made me start thinking about what you know, the inevitability that the kind of infrastructure, the kind of experiences you could get outdoors with the GPS. The inevitability of it being available indoors and enabling all of these really interesting human experiences, but also business opportunities, and what would it take to you know, what would it take to get there? And what’s preventing it from us from being there now? And that was 2014, kinda took me two years to formulate a reasonable hypothesis about what the technology needed to look like, and what the opportunities from a business perspective looked like, and kicked off the company in early 2016.
– [Ryan] Very nice. So since 2016 until now, kind of what’s the journey been like? What’s what have been the biggest learnings, any problems you’ve overcome, and to get you where you are now?
– [James] Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest learning for the company has really been around I mean, there’s you’re at startup there, you know, there’s all kinds of different learnings, but the biggest thing has really been around finding where the most urgent or the most immediate value proposition, like what is the market that this kind of technology can serve first? In the early days of the company, everybody was thinking about the value of this kind of platform, to say retail spaces, and we were looking at them as well. And, you know, retail wasn’t really where we found our sweet spot. We tried you know, entertainment and sports venues, and there we do have value there and we have some customers there, but that you know that journey of finding, you know, where’s the real pull for this kind of product and capability today has taken us to you know, into the corporate space, and into corporate real estate, helping companies that operate some of the most expensive real estate in the world get more value out of it.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s fantastic and talk about how as you kind of were figuring out that the corporate real estate space is a pretty big opportunity for you. What was being done in that space prior to you entering it and bringing your solution to that market? What was it kind of like for them to be able to solve some of these problems? What were those problems they were looking to solve? And talk to us a little bit more about that.
– [James] Yeah I mean, the problem, it’s interesting. So this problem that corporate real estate has been trying to solve, for they’ve been doing it for a while. If you think about you know, decades ago, you know, white collar workers would have their own office, they’d go into the office and then go to their office. And then that kind of you know, that kind of changed to people going into the office and sitting in their cubicle. And from there, we went from cubicles to you know open desks, you know, open spaces where they were just rows of desks. And now offices, or corporations are trying, well let’s try hoteling, and let’s try all of these different models for how people will use an office space. And the motivation behind all of that has been the recognition that it’s really expensive to give an individual employee say a 200 square foot office, when you know, in places like New York or San Francisco, each of those square feet can cost them a hundred dollars a year. Right so if for each cut for each employee, they’ve gone from trying to, you know, allocating say 150 or 200, or 150 or 120 square feet, and are trying to, you know, compress more people into less space without impacting their productivity. That motivation changed a little, you know, over the past two years with COVID and the pandemic, right. And people are recognizing a very, very different value proposition for the office space and they want slotted help.
– [Ryan] Yeah that was actually my next question. I was gonna ask you about how the pandemic’s influenced it. ‘Cause I’ve had a number of guests on here who have been, who are in kind of the smart city space and the smart building space and the pandemic has made a pretty big impact on the priorities for their company and the companies that they work with. Just kind of from a what’s important to them and what problems maybe, were made on the horizon for them to be thinking about, but not really a priority until the pandemic happened. And I’d love if you could kind of expand on how the pandemic sort of influenced things or affected your customers to the point of what it’s kind of transitioned you into now.
– [James] Yeah I mean, prior to the pandemic, this use case, the application of this kind of data to the the corporate real estate world was sort of a nice to have and moving into a the kind of capability that really forward thinking companies were starting to onboard, starting to look at. So, you know, in 2019, the earliest customers we had in this space were of the leading edge of technology and really sort of advanced thinkers about how their they wanted their their offices to function. So when we were thinking about it then, we saw the market as taking a few more years, you know, our goal there was to educate customers and to really make them think about how they how the office was functioning for them. And you know, what the costs of that that resource were, and how they might be able to capitalize on some on opportunities in that space. With the pandemic, offices were all empty. Everybody worked from home you know, for I mean at least a year or more depending on where you were, and companies started to realize like, hold on my light stayed on the office, the business continued and so they started to question what was the function? They started to actively question the function of their office space. Did they need it? Did it serve the purpose that they thought it did? Because even with no one in the office, life continued. Business continued, I should say.
– [James] Yep, yeah, absolutely. We kind of went through the same thing. Just as a occupant of the business is trying to figure out how we’re gonna use them, how we make them safe, that kind of thing. So it’s been very interesting to kind of learn what’s come out of the pandemic, as it relates to the IoT space and the technology space in general. One of the, in kind of the discussions that are prior to our chat here, one of the terms, from your all’s side that it was thrown out was called, or was indoorology. What is that exactly? And how do you, like, I’m sure it seems like maybe an internal kind of term. What does that mean exactly? And kind of, what’s the value that that kind of term allows you to be able to bring to the market?
– [James] It is, I mean, it’s a word we sort of throw around just as a way of helping. You know, internally we were just talking about like what do we really do for customers? How do we think about what value we you know, what we are trying to do for customers. And we’ve always talked about like helping people scientifically. You know, apply more science to their understand to how they understand how their spaces are used right? So it’s one thing for someone to sit and observe, or one thing for you to go and ask, you know, hey, you know, Mr. VP of sales, do you need all the desks you’ve got? Or how are your meeting spaces? How much are you using your meeting spaces? And another thing to, you know, really measure. And so when we thought about that idea of being scientific and rigorous about how you collect data and understand your space, in neurology it just seemed like too encapsulated so it’s a bit playful, but it’s I think it carries a lot of the meaning in that one word that we that we are trying to tell customers we do for them. We help you apply more rigor to how you understand and measure space usage.
– [Ryan] Yeah. I think it’s interesting because the educational component, when it comes to almost a majority of IoT solutions across very different industries is always a challenge for companies to get a customer to understand not just what the technology is but and not just how it works, but the value it provides. And being able to articulate that in a way that allows them to kind of understand what they’re gonna see from the implementation of this technology is you know, how we’ve seen adoption grow and see more success is when you have that, when you’re able to unite both sides in a clear understanding of okay, we’re gonna implement this technology to do X, it’s gonna give you this data. And now you can be able to make better decisions and do things you were not able to do to achieve these goals that you have, or have been thinking about, or competitors of yours have that you probably should be thinking about how to solve. So it’s very interesting when companies you can tell a company puts a lot of emphasis on the educational component by coming up with you know, terms like indoorology and things like that so. It seems like like have you noticed much of a difference since, I guess over the last I’d say six, 12 months in the educational side of things with companies, or is that still kind of something that we’re you’re is it an uphill battle depending on who the customer is?
– [James] So there’s been a like a market difference between a post pre-pandemic and post-pandemic in the edu- in the level of education, the level of understanding. I think where there’s still more education to do is in helping customers understand, you know, the breadth of indoorology as an example right so, people in people today are, they’re at the point where they fully understand why they want to measure utilization and understand utilization so that they can provide better facilities and make sure you know, people are productive when they come into the office, but also long term capitalize on on opportunities to reduce their cost structure. But where their education is still where they still have more to go is really understanding the difference between what are all of the tools? You know, what are the breadth of tools that are available for them to measure their spaces? People who they think about occupancy counting a lot right? How many people are here right? And that’s that is a super important part of understanding usage, but it’s not the only part. You know, there are a lot of tools that can be brought to bear to understand not just how many people, but where they go, and how long they stay and how do different groups of people use different spaces? ‘Cause that’s a really important piece. You may have a you know, if you have two different teams who are trying to share the same space, they may work in very, very different manners and that therefore need very, very different kinds of resources.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it seems like like we mentioned, or a second ago is that, that challenge of the education of what’s available, what it does, you know, getting people to understand there’s more than like you’ve mentioned here, but just occupancy sensors for them to be able to achieve goals. There’s ton the capabilities are much more vast than they ever were before. And I think that’s a super interesting thing to kind of think about. What other challenges have you kind of seen in dealing with customers, or maybe just in the adoption of the technology for this particular industry? And as you’ve already said is, this has definitely changed a lot in the last two years, but just to kind of taking a higher level look at things over, let’s say the last five years to now, and maybe where they’re going, where do you think the biggest challenges are in adopting this technology for indoor spaces?
– [James] I think there, I mean, so a constant challenge for us and for any technology that is sort of looking at behavior and looking at people is privacy. People are very concerned and rightly so about privacy and the you know, the kind of data that can be collected and interpreted and you know, what does that data, what does that data mean on the surface and what could be inferred from it and all those kinds of things so You know, we constantly are talking to customers and helping customers understand how what we do is done, how everything we do, I should say, is done in the context of, you know, being protective of people’s individual privacy, to make sure that the data can’t be used for things that it was never intended to be used for. The other is, and then this is ironic on an IoT podcast, but the other is the challenge of actually deploying infrastructure, right? Deploying infrastructure at scale is a difficult thing to do. You know, whether it’s cables or batteries things, infrastructure needs to get powered somehow. And when you talk to really large corporations who may operate office space in the millions of square feet, that’s a really challenging conversation to have.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Yeah totally, I think it’s you know, across the board, the infrastructure piece is always a challenge. I mean, regardless of if it’s indoor, even outdoor at times. It’s just, it’s a unique problem for each person. And I think trying to build that infrastructure that makes sense from a cost perspective and ROI perspective it’s just, it’s not always the easiest thing to do.
– [James] Yeah, so I was just gonna say, what we have done is try to find ways to leverage existing infrastructure and that has kind of moved the needle for us.
– [Ryan] A hundred percent. Yeah, I’ve seen that before as well as is, as technology is maturing and it’s able to be used for different things, you’re going to see more infrastructure that’s already in place, that’s applicable and can be used to solve new problems and deploy things on top of, and I think that’s goes a long way in the success of the industry as a whole. So, totally agree with you there. Before we wrap up here
– [James] It helps you get more value from an existing one, right? Like, it just,
– [Ryan] Oh, a 100%, yeah.
– [James] It’s just a value add.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, absolutely, totally. And I think, and maybe this kind of ties to my next question here. When it comes to the adoption of this all, do you have kind of advice for companies out there looking to adopt these types of solutions and kind of what I’m getting at here is I’ve had a couple other guests on who mentioned sort of starting out with more of a modular approach trying to start small, build, and then expand on top of is that kind of an approach you all recommend, or I guess just in general, what is the approach you recommend when it comes for com- comes to companies listening now to to adopt this technology and bring this into their businesses, their buildings, you name it?
– [James] Yeah, I mean, I think I think we are at the early stage of the development of this market, and people’s natural companies or customers natural inclination is to start with something. Try with something small right? I would suggest that starting you know, pilots and you know, those kinds of projects make sense but, they have to be they have to be done at a reasonable scale such that you can actually understand the value of them and how that value would scale to your full operations right So, you know, if you’re thinking about a utilization platform, and you wanna kick the tires, and you deploy it to you know, one corner of one building, you’re never going to actually be able to understand the value that the data can give you because there’s not gonna be enough relevance in that one corner for you to to really understand it right so, starting small is the right thing to do, but you have to kind of figure out what is the right scale of small for you to start with so that you can really understand the value that the that you can get from the data.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Totally agree. So, I appreciate you taking the time to do this today ’cause this has been very, very insightful, and a topic that we talk a little bit about but haven’t had anybody come on and be able to kind of really dive into what’s going on in the space and really how powerful this can be. For our audience out there listening and wants to learn more, kinda stay in touch, kind of stay in the know of what’s going on over at InnerSpace, what’s the best way they can do that?
– [James] Well, I mean, certainly our our website Innerspace.io, but we have you know indoorology if it’s easier to remember, I think that’ll direct us, direct you back to us and we have You know, very active blog that has all kinds of you know, important and valuable resources for people to just understand what you know, what are the opportunities that they can capitalize on by leveraging data like this.
– [Ryan] And as we look kind of out into the future throughout the rest of the year, where do you kind of see things going and anything new and exciting coming out of your company that we should be on the lookout for?
– [James] I mean, we’re always we’re always developing. I mean, what I find amazing is as we dig into our own understanding, our internal understanding of what You know, what can the science of indoors actually reveal. You know, we start bundling up all of these different insights into really easy-to-understand you know actions, really-easy-to-undertake actions to improve space. Whether that’s to improve the the efficiency of how you use it or to improve the you know the experience that people have with that space. So you know, as we started to look beyond just numbers and occupancy or You know, like how long people are there, we started to realize really valuable metrics that we could or insights we could provide about people, like, what team how do teams interact with each other, right? I had no idea that that kind of information was possible To reveal and, so I think as we go through the year, we’re going to find more and more of those really powerful sort of insights that we can provide to companies about how their space and how their teams are functioning.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I think that’s the evolution of it all is very exciting of just what’s possible, learning what problems actually exist and being able to solve them with technology, and discovering new problems that companies may not have realized they’ve had, especially coming back from the pandemic, back into the office, they’re gonna start to see new things and new demand, new issues they need to figure out solutions for. And it seems like what you all have going on to kind of is right up the alley to explore those. So very excited to kind of stay in touch and follow along with what’s going on at InnerSpace and congrats on all the success you guys have been having. And it looks like there’s a lot of exciting times ahead.
– [James] There certainly is. Thank you very much. Appreciate the
– [Ryan] Absolutely.
– [James] Taking the time to speak about it.
– [Ryan] Yeah, thanks, James. We’ll talk soon. I appreciate it. And once we get this out to our audience, we’ll let you all know ’cause we think we’re gonna get a lot of value outta this one.
– [James] Sounds good.
– [Ryan] All right, thank you.
– [James] Thanks, Ryan.
– [Ryan] All right everyone, thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notification so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching, and we’ll see you next time.