IOT Startup Interview: CEO/co-founder Dror Sharon of Consumer Physics–maker of SCiO

Consumer Physics is an Israel-based IoT startup developing a molecular sensor called the SCiO that allows anyone to find out the chemical composition of physical objects around them (food, plants, medication, etc.). It is one of the most successful crowd funding campaign*  that has raised more than $2.7 million on kickstarter.

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SCiO is based on a technology called Near IR (Infra Red) Spectrometry (see here for more details). Such spectrometers have existed in the past for industrial and laboratory applications but those devices were very big and cost tens of thousands of dollars. I think SCiO is a great example of an IoT product that exposes such expensive device to the consumers by nicely combining a cheap hardware limited to sensors and a cloud backend to take on the database and analytical tasks.

I was introduced to Dror by Nader (CEO of VentureScanner) a few weeks back when they met at a mutual friend’s wedding.  Dror kindly agreed to a 30 minute phone interview between Israel and Japan. Let’s hear how SCiO was born, what the current status is, and what he envisions for the future.

Q: SCiO is a very unique product that’s in a league of its own. How did you come up with the idea and what compelled you to go forward with it?

The idea came to life when I was living in the US during my MBA years at MIT. I always had an interest in the environment and the materials around me, especially food and its composition. Also New England was like a supply-chain central with lots of things coming from all over the world.  The region was also very savvy for good food–for example every town has an Italian market, farmers market, etc. The combination of my original interest and the uniqueness of the region planted a seed in my mind which became the SCiO concept.

I thought similar products had to be already out there so I searched on amazon to no avail. When I was discussing the matter with my ex-Technion (Israel institute of Technology) friend who also has a PhD in optics, it just clicked! He joined as co-founder and we decided to go for it.

Q: SCiO is one of the most successful campaigns on kickstarter raising $2.7 million on a $200K goal. Did you expect this level of success?

I truly believed in the idea and knew there was going to be demand for the SCiO. However the expectation was to get the early adopters and make a small developer community–say 1000 customers and 100 developers. I also did not want to over promise and stay as transparent and conservative to the backer community to not blow the campaign out of proportion. So when the demand turned out to be much more than expected, it was very professionally rewarding for me.

Q: How are the backers responding to the campaign?

The biggest thing I wanted to get out of the backer community is ideas for new applications we cannot possibly come up with on our own. We want developers to create unthinkable new solutions by accessing our database. I thought this was going to take a few years, but it’s turning out that it’s happening very quickly.

Q: I need to ask you this because a lot of IoT startups fail to deliver on time. How is your manufacturing process going? Will you make the January 2015 delivery date?

Following my earlier comment about being conservative, we have built-in enough buffer and things are pretty much on schedule. There will be a big risk event in October when we gather all of our components to see whether they all work to specifications. If we clear that, we’ll be integrating them into products in the following months.

I think our team has lots of experience from our past lives in manufacturing. We also had our manufacturing partner lined up months before the kickstarter campaign.

So I think we did all we could do to think ahead and plan for manufacturing. But this is real life so if we face unexpected bumps ahead, we’ll just need to solve the problem and re-schedule accordingly.

Q: What are your future plans beyond the first SCiO?

We’re totally focused on delivering our first product now, but I envision three things in the future.

First is to deliver SCiO to our backers so that they can begin exploring items. Once SCiO is delivered we will offer users the ability to learn more about the food they are about to eat, medications and the well-being of their plants

Second is to create a big developer community that can create killer apps on our platform. As I said earlier, this is happening much quicker than we expected so I’m very excited to see what comes out of it.

Third is to seek major industry partners. With them we will seek geographical expansion–China, Japan, etc. We have been receiving a lot of interest from Japan, for example – as a culture that more readily adopts new cutting-edge technologies.

It seems like the notion of using SCiO as a tool to learn more about the food, medication and plants has a great value in these geographical locations. We are looking forward to work with developers on localized apps for these markets.

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Dror, thank you for sharing your experience with us and best of luck going forward!

*SCiO is #4 in the top 50 list of most funded IoT campaigns from my past blog post.

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