[Interview] locateit by shrd. brings the Connected Car to everyone

Aug 13, 2014
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Throughout the July / August vacation period, the Rude Baguette will be running a series of interviews with some of France’s top and rising startups, where their founders give us more insight into their business, their future plans and what sets them apart from the rest. In this installment, we talk with shrd. Founder Michel Luczak CEO to talk more about their new product locateit, which was introduced at last month’s Paris Founders Event, and talk about what’s next for the burgeoning multi-faceted, engineering services startup.

I understand that at shrd. you offer various IT services and solutions. Tell me a bit about what you do?

shrd. provides engineering services in the areas of electronics and IT. Our typical client is a company requiring some technological solution for their activity and having no clue as what to do and how to do it. The best example of this is one of our clients who needed a “WiFi server”. After a call we understood that what he actually meant was to be able to deploy a dedicated WiFi network for events, with a local (and mobile) server running an app for 500+ users (iPads or other tablets). This is how the “Box” was born: a server in a flight case, optimized for being moved and sent over by trucks and airplanes, with a wireless network controller, PoE switches and access points. We then expanded this service into an online shop selling the hardware we’re using and a service of providing wireless network for events with many participants.

We also own and operate a hosting platform for clients who want to be hosted by us. However, we are happy to engineer a hosting solution based on other companies infrastructure such as Amazon or Online for example. Being self-hosted and french is sometimes an advantage in an NSA-paranoid world (believe it or not, that question pops up pretty often when talking with new clients)!

You’ve opted at shrd. to offer various IT services. Why have you decided to over a range of services rather than focus on a few?

We tried many times to focus on only a subset of the services we provide but we figured out that’s the opposite of why we founded shrd. shrd. was born because we were getting easily bored doing only one (or a few) things and we needed a way to express ourselves and to do whatever was needed in a given moment. If you look at the big picture, all the services we provide make us better for what our end game is which is to develop connected objects, for us and for others. For this you need electronics, software, platforms capable of handling millions of data items, … and our cumulative experience represents more than 40 years in those areas (we all started early and went through various different companies/experiences). When a service grows too big or simply is not interesting for us (because of low added value) such as corporate IT maintenance, we outsource it to one of our local partners.

You’ve just launched locateit, a GPS tracking service (currently in beta). Tell me a bit about what it is and why you’ve decided to launch it?

locateit was in alpha stage for almost two years before we finally decided to go public. A few months ago we noticed several companies started to occupy the market of OBD2-connected GPS trackers such as TomTom and we got pretty upset. That gave us a big kick in the a… to accelerate the development of the service and show something to the public fast. That was about two weeks before the deadline to apply for the Paris Founders Event… you know what happened next.

How is locateit different? How does it compare to other GPS services?

Most of the services available today use the OBD2 port as a power supply but don’t leverage the data provided. Instead of doing only after-thief, we decided to provide some value to the data which is anyway collected by the platform. I would hate paying a monthly subscription for a tracking service and not be able to do something with this data.

We also decided to use as much as possible the data provided by the OBD2 (which other companies don’t). Oil pressure, water temperature, RPMs, engine load, fuel level, you name it. We also have the diagnostic codes and their translation in human readable format so we can pop a notification on your mobile phone when your car lights up the orange “engine” lamp. Add some social sharing on top of that. And tax return forms… In France, if you’re self-employed you can report your business kilometers to the tax office, we can automatically provide you a list of trips and you flag what is personal and what is business and you get your report precise to the meter. Or simply find your car when you parked in a huge parking lot at a shopping center and forgot where it was. No need to “mark” the location as with some apps, simply connect to my.locateit.fr and you get the position of your car in your Maps app with the touch of a button on the homepage. We also provide notifications when you reach (or leave) a place. This way your children can me notified that they should start cleaning up the party when you’re 1 hour from arriving home.

Think of locateit. as the connected self for your car.

What are your next big steps in terms of developing locateit (technical, product and commercial)? Do you plan on launching it outside of France?

As far as I’m concerned I believe we gotten 20% of the way on the technical side of things. We have a lot of work on the diagnostic codes, better data export mechanisms, migration to Bootstrap 3, dedicated mobile app (currently we use pushover for the notifications and it’s not free for the user), … and we would love to interface with services such as IFTTT to turn on your heating when you’re 30 minutes from arriving home.

We also have a not-yet released pedestrian tracker for children (parents can get notified when children arrived home or when they didn’t arrive somewhere at the time they should),which also can be called, acts as a speakerphone and has an SOS button for emergency situations. It can also be used for the sick and elderly. Another model in development can be used for pets.

The commercial ramp up will go through partnerships. We got an email from a guy starting a luxury vehicles renting company and he would like to use our service to provide additional services to his clients. Thanks to the Paris Founders Event we also got a contact with one of the major french cellcos with a meeting in a few weeks… I don’t believe the B2C market is ready for paying for our car device so we need a few big B2B clients to make the B2C prices lower.

We are expecting to launch outside of France in the coming months, reasonably beginning of 2015. It’s a 10% legal, 90% cellco problem. In theory we need one cellco per country but we know some of them can provide a (cheap and) global solution (at least for Europe + USA). We are using very little data (3MB / month maximum) so it’s possible to keep the costs low. We also need to get rid of the 24 months contract to propose a monthly subscription to our clients instead of a 2 years subscription sold with the device.

What is your long-term vision for both locateit and shrd.?

locateit is a proof-of-concept project. We wanted to know if we’re able to release something interesting enough to get some attention. I think this part is a (relative) success and we’re ready for something much, much bigger (literally). We want shrd. to produce 1-2 connected hardware projects per year, internally, and sell them a third party or release them as a standalone company. We don’t know yet which path locateit will follow but one thing about us is that we are very patient and have other resources so we don’t need our R&D projects to be profitable fast. End of August we are also launching a service offering aimed at accountants to secure the cashflow for funding our development projects (currently we are totally self-funded but that may change in a not so distant future).