Our growing team at NBT is jam-packed full of interesting people with unique stories and backgrounds. Our CTO, Jasmin Skenderi is one of these people. Discover all about Jasmin, his background and his take on the future of IoT and hardware startups...
For those that don't know, could you tell us a bit about your background?
I started my hardware and device development career about 12 years ago and since then I’ve dealt with hardware development, device development, firmware development and leading teams and companies building devices in different industry areas. I started my career in telecoms projects - building solutions for optical cables for 3rd world countries during my time in Bosnia. In 2005 I moved to Germany to work on several telecoms projects but on hardware development: DVB-S2 to IP gateways. After that, I worked on some military and airspace projects where we developed electronics and controlling boards for flying and explosive devices and space flying devices like satellites on several projects with DLR with TU Berlin. Several years after that I worked on some projects with classical german industries; siemens, AVB, controlling electronics and sensors and in the last few years, more and more startups that required creation of concept, development of whole devices and whole solutions and it ended up with leading the hardware and device development for the last 2 startup companies, and now I’m here at NBT leading the technology and the development of the technical solutions we’re building here.
What do you see as the greatest technological challenges for IoT in the coming years, and why?
I think if we don’t focus on 3 main things; price, security, and zero-configuration - the IoT world is going to have problems reaching its full potential. One example I often give to explain why zero-configuration is so important is the smart cup...We take a normal cup and put a chip into it, connect it to the internet, create an app, create a web app and now we have a smart cup. The consumer buys it and now they have to create an account, register through the portal, send an email, click on the link activate, go back to the portal, log in, by this point you’ve forgotten your password. Eventually, you’re ready to configure your device, now you have to say how warm you want the cup, you have to tell it what time you like to drink, you have to tell it how strong you want your coffee - the whole process is just too complicated. People just want to drink coffee and don’t want to be dealing with this complicated world of smart cups. That’s not how it should work. It should be simple. It should be easier than normal. And it must be cheap. If you sold this device for €99 you wouldn’t buy it because it causes more problems and it’s just too expensive. So the IoT devices must solve the problems and not create new ones. If a normal coffee cup is €5 and you have a smart cup for €8 you might buy it, but if it costs €99 or even €49 you would probably never buy it. That’s what we think about price. In terms of security, if the smart cup is connected to the internet as it is and the security level is low, someone can potentially access your home network through this smart cup. That’s the point when it’s no fun anymore. So that’s why security is so important.
When do you think we will begin to see true zero-configuration for IoT devices, why?
We have begun to see the beginnings of zero-configuration, nexus devices from google for example. When you start the device it just works, it’s been preconfigured. Amazon is doing some similar stuff - if you buy devices from amazon they are pre-configured, if you buy a dash button, it does one thing, and it’s preconfigured. The final challenge for these devices is connectivity - if they would also have the connectivity - they would have true zero-configuration so you would get a device like a dash button and you would just use it - press a button and it works. I think Amazon is getting there with this last hurdle of connectivity - I imagine it’s their agile approach and it will come in the next few years. And this is something we want to include in our products at NBT also… for some products, it’s just not going to be possible but as much as possible we will try to reach that goal. But I think in the next few years we will see more and more products come to market that will require zero-configuration.
Could you share your thoughts on the importance of modular design in hardware?
Modular design in hardware is closely related to the agile way of thinking. Modular design has been in the world of software development, but since the agile approach is becoming implemented into hardware development, modular design is becoming more popular for hardware. Modular design can be achieved only by introducing agile methodologies in the development of hardware. It means that the devices are not being created or designed in such a way that they have only 1 functionality for 1 application but the design is built upon separate modules on one board making the creation of new devices kind of simple by merging different modules. It provides flexibility and faster development of new devices but modular design is not there to be ‘future-proof’. In the world of IoT we have different technologies, different protocols and different devices and none knows which ones are going to become standard - we are not creating for standards.
What do you think it takes for a hardware startup to thrive?
For sure hardware startups should not be technology driven. Hardware startups must have a clear use-case, a clear problem definition and a clear partner ready to use this piece of hardware. You often hear that startups are creating great technologies and great devices. They develop for 2,3,4 years and only then ask the question who is going to buy it, who’s going to use it and what problem does it solve. This is definitely the wrong approach. The technologies could be great, they mostly have some brilliant ideas but for me as a technical person, it’s sometimes hard to admit but it is how it is - the technology is only a small part of the whole system.The business case, market introduction, the customer approach, the sales funnels, the partnerships, the reliability, the user interfaces and user experiences and so on are all equally important if not more so. I think a use-case driven approach is of the utmost importance so you can focus on solving this problem rather than merely creating a great piece of hardware. Try to create great solutions for problems.
What are you currently working on that you're most excited about?
I’m currently building technical solutions for our startups at NBT, seeing these projects grow from the ground up and being part of the creation process is the most exciting part. Also having the possibility to work on the innovations and being part of the whole process not only part of it. In some bigger companies you are only a small cog in a big machine, here you are part of the whole machine, and even better you are creating the machine and that’s the exciting part.