Prior to speaking at the Re.Work event in Boston May 29, 2015, Soofa CEO Sandra Richter described some of the background on Soofa, smart cities, and the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT). Her responses are reposted below.
Re.Work: What was the motivation behind founding Soofa?
Sandra Richter: There was so much talk about smart cities that it was obnoxious! This coupled with a lack of diversity and disruption in the beginnings of the smart cities industry. There was a need for something beyond male-run large corporations trying to make a play into the hot new field. Companies like IBM and Cicso placing a ton of money into large “smart” infrastructure projects is a waste when a smaller company and team can make a small intervention with equally large impacts. So, generally, we saw a market need and felt it wasn’t being fulfilled in the best way possible.
How have recent IoT developments aided the progress of Soofa?
The early commoditization of IoT products has really helped to increase the availability and diversity of items and usable components. Similar to the explosion of software in the open source ecosystem, the diversity of products allows you to create a patchwork of devices to suit your needs rather than building a system from the ground up. It’s made it a lot easier to develop a product with less resources and cost. Interestingly, though, there isn’t a “best-in-class” for any technical components yet. It feels very early-web circa 2001.
What do you feel has been essential to the success of Soofa so far?
A “Dream big but keep your feet on the ground” type of ethos.
What challenges have you met with the development and integration of Soofa?
The entire ecosystem of smart cities is just forming so everyone is rather afraid of this new market and using their city as a proverbial test kitchen, taking that risk. It feels as though no mistakes can be made with such high stakes, but governments have actually been very excited about bringing in an icon for social, sustainable and smart cities.
What are the practical applications of your work and what sectors are most likely to be affected?
Soofa is going to change the way that people interact with their environments and urban spaces. The implications reach into so many different industries from commerce to design and real estate development.
Which areas do you feel could benefit from cross-industry collaboration?
A general IoT platform will eventually need to form. Management of different devices requires collaboration and central planning. Urban planning is often overlooked, but it influences commerce, advertising, and every facet of city life. Soofa aims to bring these areas and more together by looking towards a city-centric world. 85% of the developed world will live in urbanized areas in 2015. There will be huge strains on infrastructure, transportation, on cities as a whole. Cities need to be smart to optimize and find solutions that are scalable. Beyond just management of human needs, how can we make our cities fun, enjoyable, and beautiful? It’s a delicate balance between macro, city-wide, concerns and micro, individual-level considerations.
What do you see in the future for Soofa?
Soofa is going to be the platform for smart cities - not just governed by the government, but a platforms that urban dwellers can interact with. Citizens are consumers of the city and need to be able to govern them - after all, they live in them. It’s the democratization of cities in a sense. Soofa wants cities to look like an on demand playground. Our team has a combination of far-reaching visionaries and pragmatic German females. Governmental support has also been essential. Not taking no for an answer and pursuing the people we have wanted to work with has allowed us to achieve success in our initial target markets.