SigFox: A Near-Failure Example
SigFox is a French company that provides LPWAN infrastructure for IoT connectivity. Essentially, they’re like a cellular service provider but for IoT networks; they handle all the back-end, and anybody can pay a monthly subscription fee to hook their own devices up to the network.
The company had a promising start. In 2016, SigFox raised $160M in venture capital, making it one of the best-funded French startups and a rising star in the nascent IoT industry. They rapidly set out to expand their network into 60 countries, touting their service as the perfect networking solution for each and every IoT device.
It didn’t work out. France’s Les Echos business newspaper ran a story headlined “SigFox turns a painful corner”, as the company was forced to sell off several of its networks and lay off over 10% of employees. The company had tried to be too many things for too many people.
In an interview with VentureBeat, Ajay Rane, SigFox VP of business development, said that,
“One of the difficult lessons SigFox learned in recent years is that it is not the best solution for many use cases. For instance, things like electric metering require continuous data transfer, so utilities are better off using cellular-based transmission. On the other hand, water and gas meters work well with SigFox devices.”
By realizing that they needed to target specific use cases and markets, SigFox was able to bounce back from the brink. The company was able to reinvent itself by narrowing its scope.
“Rather than trying to take a piece of the other people’s pie, we’ve actually expanded the pie itself so that everybody can have a more enriched market access and be able to be successful,” said Rane. “And we’ve done that by focusing on areas where we are strong, and also by learning to say no to other opportunities, where we kind-of-sort-of work but we are not the best solution.”
The Takeaway: The Power of No
It may be tempting to always want to say yes—to new technologies, to emerging opportunities, and to executives who want to expand the scope of their company’s IoT initiatives—but companies need to learn to say no. By saying no to anything that’s not directly serving your purpose, you can stay on track to accomplish your biggest goals.
This doesn’t mean that you should revert to a waterfall methodology. At Very, for example, we practice agile IoT development in our daily work. Agile lets us stay flexible in our choice of technologies, feature priorities, and iterations. Agile excels at enabling a long-term vision because it lets us fill in the blanks more effectively.
That doesn’t mean we should be flexible in our use cases or target market, though. Our long-term goals should remain fixed, and we’ll use agile to find the best path to get there.
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