On this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Ryan Chacon is joined by DevicePilot’s CEO Pilgrim Beart to discuss the current landscape of scaling IoT. Pilgrim begins the podcast by introducing himself and the company before discussing the current IoT landscape and challenges with scaling. He then talks about popular industries and new use cases in the market before wrapping up the conversation with challenges he’s seen in consumer IoT.
Pilgrim Beart is CEO of DevicePilot, which enables companies deploying smart devices at scale to deliver high-quality service at low cost, including smart energy, electric vehicle, and consumer electronics brands. Previously, Pilgrim co-founded the smart home platform AlertMe, which sold to British Gas in 2015 for $100m. Before that, he founded the antenna technology company Antenova, which has shipped billions of antenna systems into smartphones globally. Pilgrim began his career at startups in Cambridge and Oxford, then led technology teams in three startups in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. As a senior business director with a proven track record in scaling connected devices, Pilgrim’s expertise is of value to companies aiming to achieve business growth objectives in IoT.
Interested in connecting with Pilgrim? Reach out on Linkedin!
DevicePilot enables companies deploying smart devices at scale to deliver high-quality service at low cost, including smart energy, electric vehicle, and consumer electronics brands. DevicePilot Core is a new offering from DevicePilot. It enables smart device estates to be managed at scale from just 1p per device per month. See here for details.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:38) Introduction to Pilgrim and DevicePilot
(04:49) Current IoT landscape
(08:10) Challenges in IoT scaling
(11:24) Most popular industries in IoT
(14:03) IoT’s role in climate change
(18:40) Challenges in consumer IoT
– [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 publication and resource for the Internet of Things, I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. If you’re watching this on YouTube, we would truly appreciate it if you would give this video a thumbs up and subscribe if you haven’t already done so. If you’re listening to this on a podcast directory, please subscribe to the channel as well see at the latest episodes as soon as they are out. All right, on today’s episode we have Pilgrim Beart to the CEO and co-founder of DevicePilot. So DevicePilot enables companies developing and deploying smart devices at scale to deliver high quality service at low-cost, including smart energy, electric vehicle and consumer electronic brands. Very awesome company program is a fantastic guest. We spend a lot of time talking about the current landscape of the industry consumer IoT challenges faced when it comes to bringing a product to market, evolution of the services kind of business in the space, challenges IoT businesses are facing when they’re trying to scale and other types of conversations around the role IoT is playing in energy and climate change. So it’s really interesting conversation cause we hit on a lot of different topics and I think we get a lot of value out of it. But before we get into it, if 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 an 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 Pilgrim to the for All podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Pilgrim] It’s great to be with you Ryan.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s absolutely a pleasure to have you. I wanna kick this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself to our audience.
– [Pilgrim] Well, my background is I’m a computer scientist, worked in startups in the UK and the US and got more and more interested in the internship of things. Over the last 20 years I’ve started a number of companies in that space. My previous company AlertMe, created what became Hive, which is like Nest, it’s the biggest UK utilities sort of major thing. So most people in the UK have heard of Hive, and that was my first experience in sort of consumer IoT at scale and I’m now running a company called DevicePilot.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Tell us about DevicePilot. So what do you all do, what’s the role in the space? And if you wouldn’t mind kind of also going into kind of the story behind the company’s creation, you know, what opportunity did you see in the market, that kind of thing?
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, well, taking a step back to actually to my last company AlertMe, we spent a lot of time, several years in sort of R&D mode, building our devices, building our network. It was basically a smart home platform. And as we started to get traction with large customers like British Gas, we, we suddenly realized we were going through that inflection point that you go through when you are a successful startup where things suddenly go into tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and so on. And we really weren’t ready for it because we’d been so focused on R&D, you know, on building it that we hadn’t really thought what would happen when we had succeeded with that. And we now had lots of devices to run. And so we found that we had an exponentially growing set of devices deployed into the field. They didn’t always work properly because they were very complicated and they were new and the customers were new to using them, and that problem of sort of running them, you know, the operational challenge is actually threatened to, to drown us and, and sort of strangle us at birth as it were, as we started to grow in the market. So that, that problem really was the inspiration for starting my current company DevicePilot.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, yeah, tell us a little bit more about kind of what the company does, what the role you play in space, kinda what you offer to the world, that kind of thing.
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, so really it’s based on the observation that although connected devices can be quite complicated and could go wrong in lots of ways and you need to manage that well in order to deliver a great service to your customers, you can also use the connection that the device has to help you to do that, I mean, I think that’s the great saving grace of IoT as it were. So, and you must do that, you know, in order to deliver a great customer experience. So in essence, what DevicePilot does, it’s a, a software service that takes in the stream of telemetry that’s coming from your devices that’s coming into the cloud, but instead of using it to run your application, it does it to provide what we call service management. So essentially it turns that into a set of metrics and KPIs and SLAs and so on about how well you are serving your customers and then you can use the output of that to drive all sorts of automation to resolve issues as they happen.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. So tell me from your perspective, I’d love if you could kind of give us an overview of kind of how you view the current IoT market and what the landscape kind of feels like for you, where things are going, what’s, you know, important to kind of note?
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, well anyone who’s been involved in IoT for a long time like me is probably quite frustrated in a way how long it, it seems to have taken to really get somewhere. And obviously within very narrow markets we do see big sort of breakthroughs of certain devices become available and get to scale and so on. But if you take the home, for example, the smart home, we are certainly not in that sort of wonderful world we all thought we would be in by now, where everything just works, everything just works together and you know, we’re into the mainstream. So we’re still kind of in early adopt land I think in it, in IoT, all sorts of IoT, you know, commercial and consumer. But I think there are positive signs and if we look for example at the matter standard that’s now sort of coming out and going to be very widely supported. I think for consumer devices, I think that’s quite hopeful because it builds on, you know, more than 20 years of work from Zigby and others in, in kind of working out what are all the pieces of the stack that you need to deliver a a good experience of interoperability for the user and not just the technical challenges, but even the schema. You know, what is a thermostat? What values does it have, how do you control it? And all of those kind of layers are needed to provide effective sort of interoperability. And of course below that are all the technical standards for doing a mesh reliably and doing security well and all that sort of stuff. So there’s an awful lot of learning that everyone’s been doing to date and hopefully things like Matter will actually start to bring it into a world where it does actually start to just work and consumers can buy products for multiple vendors and have some expectation that they’ll, they’ll work together.
– [Ryan] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Matter’s been a very hot topic lately. I’ve had a number of guests on the show recently kind of bring it up. A lot of them are in the, in the smart home space and excited about what that is going to enable for not just the, their companies and the products that they build, but also for the end user and just creating a whole better experience in their mind for the interoperability side and just the general value a lot of these devices are able to provide for people.
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, and I think interoperability in itself, the sort of openness that standards enable is always a very interesting sign in any market that it’s about to inflect because in the early days there’s no one to be interoperable with. And so vendors can just produce their own closed solutions and they’re kind of good enough doing one job, but then as you get more and more closed solutions arriving in the market and they don’t work together, people start to wonder why they don’t work together. And then very quickly, I think often in a, in a matter of just a very few years, the market suddenly inflates to the point where if you’re not open, people just won’t buy you anymore. We saw that happening, you know, with computer networking and in a number of different areas and I think we may be just about to reach that tipping point with IoT.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, so tell me a little bit about, so when we’re talking about IoT organizations, businesses that are looking to grow and scale, what are some of the biggest challenges that you see IoT businesses face when they’re trying to scale?
– [Pilgrim] I think it depends where they come from. I think, There are startups who are doing new propositions from scratch and they often get a lot of things right because they’re modern technology first companies, and so they understand sort of how to do things in this modern connected world a little bit more intuitively perhaps. So they often manage the first steps quite well, but then they may struggle when it comes to scaling up because the challenge moves from being, as I, as I said before, from being a sort of R&D challenge, a software challenge to being an operational challenge. And so if we could kind of think about the other kind of entrance to IoT, which is the, the legacy company that’s already a big market player, but in the past its products have not been connected and now it’s connecting them, it’s getting into IoT from that perspective I think they sort of come, you know, the issue there is that the whole question about sort of delivering a service and managing a customer and so on, by default they will have done it in an offline way. So they will ship products and then hope to never hear from them again. If something goes wrong, the customer will have to contact them by phone or email and there’ll be a sort of classic customer support relationship. And obviously that’s very expensive and slow and not very satisfactory for any party. So now if we bring these two together, you know, the new startup that’s scaling all the legacy company that’s already at scale but is now connecting devices, I think for both of them the big challenge is, okay, you ship, you ship your first 10 devices for testing and, and friends and family, you ship your first hundred devices, then by the time you get to your first thousand, you’re starting to get into sort of sensible production runs. And you know, by the time you get to 10,000, you’re definitely, you know, in the middle of, of a commercial ramp. And we find that normally it’s at about a thousand devices that the penny drops, that there’s something missing. So you know, if you’ve got a thousand devices deployed, you can manage them manually just with lots of people looking at lots of technical data, spreadsheets, emails, you know, slack, all that sort of stuff is okay for, for running things up to that scale, but it just completely falls apart as you go through the thousand device boundary because, you know, a thousand devices is just sort of more than any anyone can hold in their head at once. If you look at a list of a thousand things on it, you know, you can’t really understand it. And of course after 10, you know, after that comes 10,000, 100,000, so on. So that’s when you suddenly discover that you need a lot of processes to give you sort of observability to actually see what’s going on with your devices in the field. Are they delivering a good experience? If not, why not? But then also the process of automatically identifying the root cause of issues and driving them to resolution and doing that efficiently, which means, you know, generally using technology instead of people, which makes it scalable and using automation, which makes it cheap.
– [Ryan] Do you see any, outta curiosity, is this kind of loosely related, but do you see any particular industry or use cases really kind of bubbling to the top as far as adoption goes or kind of just popularity goes from your perspective?
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, so we started off with a very general hypothesis, which is that everybody hits this problem of service management as they grow and therefore we would build a generic solution to that generic problem. It doesn’t matter what the device does, the management of it is the same really, and devices tend to go wrong in the same kinds of ways. They have connectivity problems, they have power problems, they have software problems and, and so you can manage them in the same kind of way regardless of what they do. And I think we prove that to a certain extent because our early customers were in a whole diverse set of verticals, but over time we’ve got pulled more and more into smart energy possibly because I have a history in that, but also I think, you know, the whole world is changing and you know, energy is such an interesting market because there’s, you know, energy is money and so managing energy, managing energy devices, you know, matters is actually worth money to somebody. And that addresses an issue, which we’ve seen I think with some consumer devices, which is the, the business model for them has been quite flaky. I think people have tried to sell connected devices in a legacy unconnected product, sort of one off sale business model, which doesn’t really work because connected devices will have ongoing costs to support them. You know, you’ll have to upgrade the firmware and all that sort of thing, and if you don’t have a recurring business model to support that, then you’re gonna get into trouble. So I think, you know, one of the interesting things about smart energy is that energy is intrinsically a service. You know, there is intrinsic recurring revenue model and it’s a very, a lot of revenue. Certainly, I mean in the UK we’ve seen energy prices drive up, you know, radically in the last year. And so that just sort of emphasizes the need to, to do an effective job of managing them. So DevicePilot, we found that, you know, our customers have tended to be more and more in that space and that’s the space we focused on. One of our early customers actually who’s grown with us is PodPoint. They’re in EV charging, so they, they’re one of the UK’s biggest EV charging providers commercially and domestically and you know, they’ve grown through orders of magnitude whilst they’ve been a DevicePilot customer since 2017. And it’s been very great learning experience for both of us actually to sort of understand what happens on that journey as you grow.
– [Ryan] Right, right. Yeah. So I actually, I wanted to ask you about, given your background and experience, tell me about kind of at a high level for audience IoT’s kind of role relevance to kind of the current state that we’re in when it comes to energy, climate change, things like that. How is it playing a role? What can it do maybe that’s not doing kind of, where do you see it really fitting in as we continue to move forward in these, you know, some will call it crisis kind of these situations and environments that are definitely changing day to day?
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, I mean I think what’s exciting but also scary about all of this is that the driving factors are the laws of physics. You know, we’re sitting on this little closed globe floating, floating in the middle space, right? And we’ve been pouring out carbon dioxide and we’ve, we’re suffering the consequences. So there’s some sort of strong drivers that will only get stronger over time. And so obviously what this is doing is it’s, it means we need to stop burning things and we are moving our whole energy system from a centralized one where we, we had people controlling power stations in the middle of the grid as it were, and they would respond to demand. So, you know, if, if lots of people turned on their kettles in the UK that’s a classic thing to do when TV programs end is everyone puts the kettle on for a cup of tea. People in the power stations would anticipate that and they’d react to it and, and deliver more power when needed by, by putting more coal in or, or pulling the rods out of the reactor or whatever. And we are now moving to a world which is completely different where the supply comes from renewables, from wind, from solar and so on. And the problem with those things is they’re not dispatchable. The wind blows when it blows and this turns the whole equation round because it means that instead of having the supply be controlled, you’ve got to have the consumption be controlled instead to match the supply. ‘Cuz obviously in electricity, the supply and the demand have to match all the time. So what this means is that instead of having a few centralized generators to control, you’ve now got millions of edge devices to control. So how are you going to do that? And I think that’s the great opportunity for IoT, is that, I mean, intelligence, adding smarts to those edge devices is actually incredibly cheap relative to the value of those devices in most cases. And there’s almost no end to how useful intelligence can be at the edge in controlling energy devices. So, you know, real time reaction to supply, but also anticipating what’s going on. It’s going to be a sunny day to day, I can charge up my batteries or I can charge up the heat store or whatever. There’s all sorts of sort of planning and reaction and intelligent management that can go on within the device, within the home, between the devices and then across, you know, the whole grid in coordination and aggregation. So there’s lots and lots of exciting things sort of to be done and it’s all going to be mediated by IoT.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s very exciting space. It’s not one that we’ve had a lot of conversations around. I think a lot of the experts are that I’ve had on the show haven’t necessarily been, it hasn’t been their focus area. Not for any other reason, just for more coincidence, but it’s a very interesting space just to see how IoT technologies is going to be able to, or how it already is, but also what the future holds for how it will be able to better be applied to help us monitor, track and solve really global problems, especially on the energy and the climate side. Because I don’t necessarily think a lot of people that, at least I speak to, are talking about these things. They’re bringing it up, but they’re not really talking about solutions. And I think IoTs a really big key to allowing us to start seeing movement in, in solving a lot of these issues.
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, and I think we’ve seen, you know, smarts being added to energy devices for several years and things like smart meters are fairly well deployed now, but they’ve all sort of stood on their own. And so I think back to the conversation about standards and interoperability, I think the magic happens when things start to talk to each other, but you can’t have, you can’t make that happen unless you have the pieces there, right? So I think we’ve seen years about a decade of investment into things like smart meters, which hasn’t really delivered a lot of value to the end consumer yet. But I think the fact that those things are now there allows us to deliver a lot more value quite quickly in a, in a sort of reactive, you know, supply led world, you know, where the demand has to react.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Before we wrap up here, I did wanna shift topics a bit because I wanted to ask you about your experience on when it comes to building products and devices for the consumer space. And I wanted to ask, we don’t talk about consumer IoT all that much, but I think it’s really interesting to talk about how or what challenges those kinds of organizations face when bringing a product to market. A lot of them have kind of evolved from just being a product business to a services business also. And I just wanted to kind of see if you wouldn’t mind kind of sharing some insights on those challenges and maybe also kind of how, I feel like a lot of it is relatable to more of the enterprise and commercial side of IoT, those types of businesses. But just outta curiosity, how things maybe differ a bit when it comes to the challenge that those companies face bringing a product market for, you know, a consumer.
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, I think in essence the thing that makes consumer difference is just the scale. You know, the fact that you’ll be making millions of things, which creates lots of opportunities for economies of scale, but it can also create a lot of headaches and, and certainly, you know, my last company AlertMe, we, you know, the thing that kept us awake at night was the fact that we could be front page headline news if we got it wrong. I mean literally so, and getting it wrong as in, you know, people’s houses being cold in the morning or, you know, a big security breach causing people’s CCTV you know, images to become publicly visible or whatever. And so I think the, you know, the opportunity is great, but also the, the risks are quite great as well. And I think for legacy companies coming into the IoT space, you know, they may already have some embedded microcontrollers to do, you know, if they make heaters for example, then they they probably use a microcontroller now instead of, you know, discretransistors to do simple functions like timing and, and some safety things and so on. But there’s a really big difference between the amount of software you need and the software practices you need to make that work to having a full IoT device, you know, connected to the cloud and so on. There’s just so many, so many issues of, of sort of interoperability and reliability and standards and so on that you, you know, make it just a much, much bigger problem. And it’s a much more dynamic world as well, so much more fast moving, you know, the consumer world moves extremely fast and new products can be introduced and succeed, you know, in a year and then other people have to play catch up and so on, but also the stack, because it’s such a big market, the whole stack is constantly changing as well. So I mean, we talked about Matter, but there’s all sorts of parts of the, the stack that are constantly being made available because it’s a big market. It’s worth people delivering solutions, you know, at the module level or the chip level or software components that can plug in. And I think the trouble, you know, if you’re a CTO in one of these organizations, I think the problem is that you can make a plan, but by the time you get your product to market, the whole world will have changed a lot. And so you need to be able to plan and execute in a world where you can guarantee that everything’s gonna change. And of course that’s just the technical challenge. The other big challenge of course is consumers, you know, how will they react and so on. So, you know, often people want to launch products very quickly, get them to market and then iterate if you think how, you know, Tesla works or whatever. And that’s a great way to work, but it again means you have to be extremely agile and be prepared to constantly sort of modify how your product works even after it’s been launched.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah, consumer space is super interesting. We’ve started to talk to some consumer companies in a very different video series to get behind the scenes, look at like a similar conversation to this, which is like the challenges they face the story of them bringing something to market, the learnings that they’ve kind of experienced, things like that, and it’s, but there’s so a lot of crossover to it when you think about kind of more of our focus, which is the commercial and enterprise side of IoT. So it’s just the end user kind of changes a bit. So, but it’s still like the same thought process, technologies and everything, so it’s super fascinating.
– [Pilgrim] Yeah, and I think actually a number of, a number of technologies that are being driven by the scale of the consumer markets are, are now affecting the commercial and industrial markets as well. So, you know, we sort, we’ve seen with wifi and all this sort of thing.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, absolutely. Well, Pilgrim, thanks so much for, for taking the time to be on the show today. I really appreciate it. I wanted to finish up and have you just share with our audience, share with our audience where they can follow up, where they can maybe ask questions, learn more about the company, anything that may be valuable for them to know before we kind of sign off here.
– [Pilgrim] Great. Well if you look DevicePilot.com, you can sort of see what we are all about. And one thing I do every month actually is I publish a newsletter just to
– [Ryan] Oh wow.
– [Pilgrim] Kind of summarize my thoughts. It’s mainly focused on sort of smart energy, so IoT and energy and I love feedback on that. I love, you know, I have a network of people who tell me all sorts of interesting things that are going on that I can share with my readers. And yeah, I love people to follow that and, and to give me any feedback.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah, we’ll make sure we share that out and link that in all the write ups that we do for the episode. But thanks again so much for, for taking the time and hopefully we can have you back at some point to continue our conversation.
– [Pilgrim] Thanks, Ryan. It’s been great.
– [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 notifications so you get the latest episodes as soon as to become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.