Hatem Oueslati, co-founder of IoTeropThe leading French Internet of Things (IoT) company that continues to innovate and challenge itself.
What was your background before IoTerop?
We are three partners, formerly Intel, and have been working together for 20 years. We started our joint career in 1999 at Palm Computing, which at that time made absolutely offline regulators, and there we gained real experience in the field of communications and embedded systems, which is essential today in these two areas and even worked there the first smartphones. We have replaced connected calendars with new phones. We then approached standardization organizations and built the bridge with Palm in the technology innovation hub, leading us through successive Intel acquisitions.
How did you come up with this idea?
Since we were already experts in embedded systems and telecommunications, we saw the amazing opportunity that was the Internet of Things. Jack was in the W3C, David was in the Open Mobile Alliance and I’m in the GENEVI Alliance, which is ultimately concerned with standardization. We told ourselves that there would be billions of connected objects and that they would need what we know how to deliver, i.e. security and remote management techniques that would allow us to automate the lifecycle of devices and keep them in operation while ensuring maximum safety. From these observations and with our legitimacy, we decided to leave Intel and create IoTerop. We saw the birth of what was called the Internet to a Machine (now the Internet of Things, editor’s note) around 2011-2013 and the first standards for interoperability management. So we took the first step in 2016.
What are the first big steps?
We had to first design our first products and thus put great efforts into research and development. We had the knowledge but we had to develop it. The first steps were in the incubation process, in particular, inside the Montpellier Center for Business Innovation, which was considered the fourth best incubator in the world. We’re still there even though we’re no longer in the nursery stage. We are still with them and continue to exchange with our ecosystem at that time. What was also very structured was our first innovation competition that we won, which allowed us to get funding to hire our first engineers. One thing leads to another, we put together our first products and were able to do a “proof of concept” with our first major customers. At the end of 2019, we raised 1.5 million euros which allowed us to really accelerate our growth.
Was it easy to convince customers?
We created our first products and they were launched a year after their creation. We also had the opportunity to get clients at short notice with nuclear or smart city projects, particularly with Montpellier. Next, we tackled a massive market for all restricted connected objects especially smart meters. We were able to get international references that we continue to work with today, such as Altrom in the US. We are currently working on a smart connected general lighting solution to deliver economies of scale.
Why did you do this fundraising?
True, it is a good lift for the first time. This is a pre-A series for us. You helped us speed up. We already have our first built-in product, a software we make available to our Connected Object Reseller customers to integrate remote management and software update functions. We worked on a cloud platform that makes it possible to manage the lifecycle of IOT devices (Internet of Objects, Editor’s Notes) at a large scale, even the most restrictive ones. This has also enabled us to accelerate our business development worldwide, particularly through the recruitment of sales representatives. We have also greatly accelerated our R&D capability as well as the cloud platform to include interesting functions. Thanks to this, we announced a partnership with Amazon web service at the end of last year and removed a technology lock on 5G. I would also like certain large French groups to have the same view as theirs and see this as an opportunity rather than a risk.
What are your next challenges?
We’re still in that acceleration process and in 2019 we were barely 8-9 people. Today we are more than twenty years old, and despite the health crisis, we have more than doubled our workforce, which is no small feat for a startup. We also became a Board Member of the Open Mobile Alliance 2020, knowing that 7 companies are part of it. For us, this entry was synonymous with real thinking because it is a large global consortium that brings together all the major global operators. This is where we define the guidelines and all standards for securing connected objects. We are one of the leaders of the standard. There are world famous companies and because of our technical expertise we are legit.
We want to continue to lead in technology from a global point of view, and that means that we are leaders in device management or in the security aspects. We have technological innovations for constraints that are unparalleled in performance. There are 10 to 20 times higher rates compared to the competition in this field. So the challenge will be to continually accelerate our R&D and marketing in order to gain more market share. Our ultimate goal is to insert ourselves into the billions of connected things. This year, despite the booking, we were able to sign a contract with EDMI, which is one of the largest suppliers of connected meters, especially water meters, in Australia. So we are creating a smart meter that makes it possible in particular to detect water leaks, which is very important there because it is an essential resource for one of the driest countries on the planet. This also allows each person to be more aware of their consumption. You have to imagine that the deployments are on a city scale and therefore in huge volumes and that you have to be able to deliver.
What are the biggest difficulties you have faced?
The big challenges were that no one initially knew about IoTerop, and obviously no one expected us. How do you create a place? It was complicated but at the same time within our reach because we “simply” had to make ourselves visible to these key players. The strategy to take the lead on standardization has paid off. When you have a great product and know-how, you have to make it known and herein lies the real difficulty. Through our presence and participation, we have been able to establish our legitimacy and be highly visible to those key players who consider us as technical leaders. Finally, this insight passed through our networks as a first step. It also takes financial resources to implement and hire the right profiles and you have an amazing team of competent people with exceptional knowledge. We are able to implement very quickly, which is one of the advantages of a startup because there are fewer questions that arise for example about budgeting or the like.
Did the health crisis have an effect?
Yes, sure, because a health crisis lengthens decision times. It’s hard to get from certain major players slowing down their operations. That is why we focused on the geographical areas that were least affected by the crisis. When we were confined to Europe, we were able to focus on deals with Australia and Japan, for example. So the difficulty is to find a way to help them make decisions in a context that does not help them to decide quickly, especially since the decision-making processes are already long in the usual way. Again, we feel there is a recovery today in these geographies, but Europe has also accelerated.
What are your main success factors?
Vision and will I believe. It seems relevant to me because we’re in an astronomical market where there are going to be billions of connected beings and I think we’ve understood what we can offer them in terms of value propositions and success in their challenges. Then the fact of exposure quickly and finally the immediate targeting of an international strategy. We are not in a French or European market but all over the world and we had to position ourselves in this market. This affects communication tools that, for example, have been translated into English from the start with an international team that can also manage clients around the world.
Has your business model remained the same?
We question it all the time actually. It is very good to define a business model initially because it allows you to make your predictions or even organize the project. However, in reality, it must be modified to meet customer demand. You have to face the market to do that and those who do a better job are those who bend backwards to meet customer demand.
A health crisis prolongs decision-making times. It’s hard to get from some of the major players who are experiencing a slowdown in their operations. That is why we focused on the geographical areas least affected by the crisis. »
Hatem Oueslati, co-founder of IoTerop