Smart Device Entrepreneurs Must Do Their Homework
MTEC 2016 Recap featured on multifamilytech.org
For entrepreneurs looking to service the multifamily industry with Internet-connected appliances and devices, the message was loud and clear: look before you leap.
Only those who take the time to learn the nuances of the apartment sector and tailor their products accordingly will succeed, said panelists in the “Transferring Hardware Technology into Multifamily” session at the 2016 Multifamily Technology and Entrepreneurship Conference (MTEC).
“I’ve seen people taking hardware off the shelf at Best Buy – single-family door locks, thermostats – and trying to shoehorn it into multifamily,” said Felicite Moorman, CEO of STRATIS and of BuLogics. “It doesn’t work. This is a unique industry.”
Georgianna Oliver, founder and CEO of Package Concierge, urged smart-device entrepreneurs to realize how much they will need to immerse themselves in data about the communities and residents they serve. “Outsiders underestimate the data when they come into this industry,” she said, later adding that understanding the data “will make you or break you.”
Smart-device startups also will have to do a deep dive into local codes and regulations to make sure their products adhere to those requirements, Oliver added. “You often have to think like an attorney in your business,” she said.
Furthermore, providers of smart hardware must be prepared to work virtually non-stop to ensure that their products are secure. “Security needs to be the first thing you think about in the morning, the last thing in the evening and every moment in between,” Moorman cautioned.
Every bit as important as those other considerations: offering a product that delivers an actual return on investment (ROI) for apartment owners and operators. Some devices, such as smart door locks, provide a more obvious ROI than others, such as thermostats.
When asked about future opportunities in the apartment sector for smart-device entrepreneurs, David Taylor, senior vice president and chief of operations for WaterSignal, mentioned the monitoring of water and electricity usage in community common areas.
Products that increase the automation of a community’s operations and decrease its reliance on staff members will always hold potential, Oliver added.
Smart-device technology will almost certainly expand rapidly in the future, meaning entrepreneurs will have to be ready to keep pace with competitors and grow with the demands of their customers, said Ron Reed, senior vice president of utility management at RealPage, Inc. “What you’re working on now will be outdated in 36 months,” he said.
Taylor also emphasized the need for flexibility and the ability to change with the marketplace. “Be prepared to pivot at any one point,” he said. “You may go in with one business plan and come out with an entirely other.”
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