Shooting for the moon



January 31, 2016

Much has been written about companies needing to go digital and borrowing a page or two from Silicon Valley’s playbook. This is especially true for traditional industrial companies now that the Internet of Things, a concept that has been around for over 30 years but now is on everybody’s radar every since the term IoT was coined almost a decade ago, is affecting the value and role of manufacturing and hardware and will change our world in a thousand ways many yet unimaginable.

Plain and simple, hardware alone will (and in many cases is already) become a commodity, a means to end for businesses built on top of it via software and tapping into the potential of data generated by billions of connected devices driven by plummeting prices of sensors.

So if you’re such an industrial company you essentially have two options: you can either continue to do what you’re great at and accept your company’s inevitable fate to become a commodity player and provider of components with no additional value OR you can take a leap of faith and turn your company into a digital player that offers value built on top and beyond your traditional hardware.

The latter option is by far the more daring, scary, and potentially rewarding option. Digital transformation or self-disruption are just two of many names for this option. The commonalty among all of them is the reinforced focus on innovation. However, doing radically new things is almost impossible to achieve in your existing structure and old ways of thinking. And that is exactly where we at WATTx come into play.

Shooting for the moon at WATTx

Wifi-balloons shot into the stratosphere (image credit: Project Loon)

WATTx is an independent, external innovation vehicle focused on generating groundbreaking ideas in the broader IoT space with an implicit focus on smart climate solutions, based in the heart of Berlin, Germany. Our main partner is the Viessmann Group, an almost 100-year-old family business and a top global player in the heating and cooling industries. However, both of those industries exemplify the difficulties described above — intensified competition from new and existing players, a pressing need for access to the end customer, or undiscovered value from big data.

Our mission at WATTx is to look 2, 3 steps ahead and focus on the next big thing — something you simply cannot do effectively when you’re busy and focused on executing the daily business. Inspired by Larry Page and Alphabet’s innovation vehicle X (previously GoogleX), we call these projects moonshots.

Page firmly believes in continuously doing non-incremental, breakthrough innovation across Alphabet’s (Google’s) entire business, as strongly illustrated by Project Loon (shooting Wifi balloons to the stratosphere), self-driving cars, or Google Glass.

Putting experiments into thermodynamics

WATTx exemplifies the two core principles we believe in — performance (WATT) and experimentation (X).WATT also pays tribute to the scientific core of our partner Viessmann, as its business is deeply rooted in thermodynamics. X is what we’re all about: building prototypes and building them fast — experimentation. Inevitably, we act and think like a startup: build it fast, test it, refine it, test it again, pivot or turn it into a product.

For everyone wanting to geek out a bit, our logo does contain a lambda and a pi sign, as well as a mathematical formula X.

20 people looking to hit a home run

The analogy of GoogleX/Google and WATTx/Viessmann works well, yet we’re more humble and leaner in our approach and a bit less crazy in our ambitions (I doubt we’ll send things or people to space, but you never know). We will play with hardware, build some software, dive into piles of data, and think about business models. That’s why we put together a team of 20 people that work across four main domains — big data and software engineering, IoT engineering, digital marketing and sales, and business development.

Internally, we do not work within those silos, but in cross-functional teams on a specific project to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange.

As the entire team has been active for just four weeks now, the first prototype or product we’ll release remains as much a surprise as it is simply an unknown. We are working on amazing topics and potentially powerful solutions, but we could strike out nine times before we hit a home run. We do need patience. But with a team like ours, it’s only a matter of time until we hit it out of the park.

And as CEO of WATTx, whose main job until now was to turn it from an idea into reality, I cannot wait to see that ball clear the fences.

This article was originally published here.