The First Wave of IoT—Blood in the Water: An Interview with Kevin Rohling

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Mobile Dev + Test keynote speaker Kevin Rohling digs deeply into the Internet of Things. He explains how companies need to improve their UX, the security risks with becoming connected, and what devices he's excited to see in the future.

Josiah Renaudin: Today, I'm joined by the VP of product at Emberlight, Kevin Rohling, who will be delivering a keynote titled, "The First Wave of IoT: Blood in the Water" at our upcoming IOT Dev + Test Conference. Kevin, thank you very much for joining us.

Kevin Rohling: No problem. Excited to be here. Thanks for doing the interview, Josiah.

Josiah Renaudin: I appreciate it. First, can you tell me just a bit about your experience in the industry?

Kevin Rohling: Yeah. My background is mostly in the mobile space, so I come from a mobile developer and mobile product background. I've worked at a handful of startups in the mobile space, and I guess the way I ended up getting into IoT is I ended up meeting up with a buddy of mine. It's the way I think a lot of startups end up getting started—I had a buddy of mine who was ... He had a hardware background. I had a mobile background. We just ended up meeting over coffee and kind of talking about different hardware ideas.

I was really interested in the hardware space, because there was all this buzz around hardware startups being the next big thing, and I just generally think hardware is kind of cool and interesting from just a geeky perspective, so I kind of wanted to get involved in it. We ended up hanging out, talking enough, and we decided join forces on Emberlight.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, and when you talk about buzz around hardware, there's not much more buzz ... The Internet of Things is some of the biggest buzz we've had in a while. For the longest time, it seemed like this far-off idea, like in the future everything will be connected, but more and more, it's becoming a modern reality. When was really the first moment where you realized that the Internet of Things was no longer five, ten years down the road and more something that we are dealing with right now?

Kevin Rohling: I think there's going to be—like everything else—there's going to be different phases to IoT. I think there are some really amazing things that we probably won't see until five to ten years down the road, unfortunately, that we wish that we could see now, but I think the other side is we're seeing some things that we didn't expect this early.

It's kind of mixed expectations there, but I think kind of when I decided it was something exciting and worth pursuing is, you know I live in San Francisco, and so we're just surrounded by startups. You can't help but hear about the hardware scene here, so coming from a software background, I ended up meeting a lot of people who were hardware engineers. I kind of sought them out because I thought it was an interesting space, and it was probably about three years ago, I ended up just kind of meeting up with some folks that were former Intel and doing some really interesting things in the hardware space, developing a wearable platform.

I just talked to those guys for a while and kind of got involved and started teaching myself how to build my own PCBs and building little hardware hobby projects. Then you started hearing about the funding—you hear about a lot of companies that are getting well-funded to go and build these hardware devices, and obviously Nest was probably one of the first notable exits in the IoT space. I think a lot of times, though, there are a couple of things that are necessary in order to kind of build a startup ecosystem around things. Like one of those is obviously the capital.

You've got a lot more incubators now that are just focused on hardware. You've got venture capital firms that are just focused on hardware as well. It's still a minority, like a drastic minority compared to what's available for software, but there are a lot of resources now that weren't available even three or four years ago. I think for me, it was kind of a combination of seeing the capital availability, seeing at least one notable exit, and just kind of hearing the buzz from folks here.

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