Hanhaa, Ltd. is a London-based Internet of Things innovator dedicated to connecting customers and service providers to real-time information about the location, condition, and security of their assets, wherever they are in the world. The company's current products and services include Symbisa, a data-capture device that transmits data to Excel spreadsheets in real-time; Parcelive, a live parcel-tracking service; and Hanhaa Mobile, the first mobile network dedicated to the unique needs of the Internet of Things.
The following is an abridged transcript of an April 23, 2018 interview between Azhar Hussain, Founder and CEO of Hanhaa, Ltd., and the element14 Community team.
To begin, can you give a quick overview of Hanhaa and share some of the inspiration that motivated you to develop Symbisa?
So, Hanhaa—we're about twenty people now—based in London. We have a lot of products, but Symbisa is one of our founding products. What inspired us to really look at this problem was that we discovered that the biggest problem with production isn't money, it isn't tech, it isn't knowledge, it's actually just the practicality of getting something done in synchronization. If you are part of a big company, there're so many moving parts that, even when everyone agrees that they should do something, there's a backlog of work, which could stretch into a year or two, unless you get the team moving, hire everyone, sponsorships to try and get it done—everything becomes a battle. Even when everybody wants to do it, it still seems to be a battle. So, what Symbisa would try to do was see how we get the person with the problem to actually address the problem themselves. And that meant, one, remove any engineering bias, or as many as practically possible; two, make the cost of adoption so low that it doesn't require a really big level of finances in order to get going; and three, it was really to make it so easy, that from the time you could buy it to the time you were actively using it—it would be minutes. So, the first thing, we use Excel as our main front end. The upside of this is, that everybody either knows how to use Excel or is one degree away from somebody who knows how to use Excel, almost anywhere in the world. That was really a big part of our cycle, was to drive that. The second one was to remove any kind of integration issues.
So, what Symbisa does is, for the first time it live-links sensors to a cell in a spreadsheet. In other words, you could take a Symbisa device, deploy it somewhere in the world, you basically would send it out into the world either with an asset or whatever you want to monitor. And then, you could sit there with a spreadsheet, type in the name of the device and the sensor that you want, and that data will appear in your spreadsheet. That's it. There's nothing else for you to do. You don't have to install anything other than a small plugin. You don't need any programming experience, you don't need to configure anything. From the time you open the box to the time you get live data—that time is minutes. And, if you want to share that data with somebody else, you just send them an email attachment with the Excel spreadsheet. And, when they open up Excel, all the data is instantly refreshed, so they get data that's new. And then what it allows you to do is, you can link in other data sources or create your own template and you can send templates out to people and it allows them to fill in the name of the device for the entire template to get populated with all the information that you need.
Let's say you're a rancher. You care a lot about how many head of cattle you have. Now, a cow or a bull, that'll cost you—depending on where you are—about a thousand dollars per head. This is an asset that you really care about. So, what you can do with Symbisa is just attach it to an animal and then go back to your farm, open up a spreadsheet, type in the name of the device, and then suddenly, you get to see the location of that animal. Is the animal moving or not? What's the temperature of the environment? Are they inside or outside? Have they been standing still for a long time? If they're not standing still, if they're moving, which direction are they moving? You have all of that on a spreadsheet. Imagine, if you'd like, having line upon line of every animal that you want to track on a spreadsheet, where the spreadsheet is—in real-time—changing according to what's happening in the world out there on your farm, which could be acres and acres and acres across. What Symbisa does is it allows somebody who's not super technical, but who has a real problem to solve, to solve that problem such that they don't need anybody else to really help them, or the skills that they needed to do so was within their own family or organization; they didn't need somebody special to come in and set anything up.
Can you talk about your market? Do you envision this as a product for corporations as an alternate way to collect data, or is it more for personal use, or both?
I think it's both. We see the ease of adoption to be the main selling point. It means that if you're a small company or an individual, you can easily create your own cases and try new things out. But, even if you're a large company, other ways of collecting data usually require you to do something where you have to install stuff, you have to configure stuff, you have to get people special software, you have to train them, all this kind of stuff. Where, what they could do with Symbisa is they could buy a bunch of devices and just set up spreadsheets. You can have a spreadsheet out, and suddenly those spreadsheets come alive. And, everybody has Excel.
I can give you another example of that. We're talking to a big car company. One of the challenges they have is that they can't keep track of their cars between the factory and the dealer. They're a car company; it's not a lack of money that's stopping them, it's just the complexity of how many people are involved with the process. Secondly, a lot of these people don't work for the car company. The dealer has people of their own. What they can do with Symbisa is they can put the device into the document wallet of the car. And, now they can just email a spreadsheet to the dealer on the other side and he can look up on the spreadsheet where the cars are that are supposed to be coming to him. Easy. Didn't require anything elaborate, didn't require any special software.
As you've been developing this product, have there been any notable challenges that you've had to overcome as you work to make this a very intuitive and easy-to-understand product for others to use?
A problem we wanted to solve was connectivity and security. Each device actually ships with its own mobile connection. That was a lot of work to get done. Hanhaa is its own mobile operator now. What this means for our customers is that, one, on the security side, we've taken the devices off the public IP network, so these devices are not publicly accessible, and that really helps the security and hacking—it makes it much tougher to do that. The second thing we wanted to do was to remove the concept of roaming from our devices. That’s a big thing that we've done away with. The way you pay for the device is, you pay per data read. Every time the data comes back to you, you pay a micro fee. If your device is in Boston or Brazil or Belgium, it wouldn't matter—you're charged the same. Those are some of the big challenges we had to work at. How do you make it so easy, that when you open it up and power up, it just works? The device does not connect to Wi-Fi, it doesn't connect to anything online; it only works in a licensed environment. That allows Symbisa to have global coverage without you having to mess around with anything, really. Another challenge we've tried to overcome is compliance. Everything from the battery, the plastics, the radio, aviation, yeah, it's just a whole load of things that we had to make sure were compliant. And, we've made all of that publicly available as well. You can download documents and reports and whatever else you need to verify that it complies with the standards that've been set.
Looking ahead, what excites you about the future of your company and your product that you're developing here?
I'm looking forward to growing my relationship with Avnet and Microsoft. In the future, we'll be migrating the devices to 5G cellular technology. But, as an immediate next step, we're looking forward to launching this product not just in the U.S., but across the Avnet global—or Farnell—global reach. We're bringing up new technology around our Parcelive product, which is another product that we have around parcel tracking. We're quite excited about that, including new proof of delivery technology, which allows you to track your parcel with your credit card. That's some new tech we've got coming next year.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a company or develop a product?
If you need advice to be an entrepreneur, it's probably not for you. Don't get into it because it's hard and it's absolutely not the road you should travel down. And, if advice from a total stranger is going to sway your decision, it's clearly not a thing for you.
For more information about Hanhaa, Ltd., read our in-depth case study highlighting the Symbisa product.