From Nov 4th through 17th of 2022, Gristle King Inc conducted the Helium In The Wild tour on behalf of the Helium Foundation. This idea was conceived, developed, and supported by Nik Hawks, Joey Hiller and Scott Sigel to help get boots on the ground off US soil and demonstrate the Helium Foundation’s commitment to building the IoT network.
The tour started in Lisbon with Solana Breakpoint, included coverage of the Hackathon Train event, moved to London where we held a larger event, then on to Paris where we held a small meetup. We finished in Barcelona where we attended the Smart Cities Expo and organized another meetup.
During that time we met Helium enthusiasts, took the pulse of the community, shared as much content as we could through formal presentations and informal conversations, and gathered video to be developed into a 5 part series of short videos to be released on the GK YouTube documenting the tour.
Lisbon — Solana Breakpoint
In Solana we attempted to meet devs building on the Helium Network but, frankly, failed. I’m not saying they weren’t there, but in moving through the crowds and talking to many folks at the booths, I met very few people who had done anything more than “heard of” Helium. There were major presentations by Amir Haleem (CEO of NOVA), Abhay Kumar (CEO of Helium Foundation), Joey Hiller (Technical Director at Helium) as well as others, and all were reasonably well attended. Still, the general public I met just walking through the crowds wasn’t, in general, familiar with Helium.
Lisbon — Hackathon train
On the Hackathon train we obviously had a different crowd. Two things stood out: First, just getting Helium to work is still a struggle, even for geeks. While everyone seemed to eventually sort out getting their sensor onto the network and passing data, the event highlighted that Helium as a useable network is still in its infancy.
Second, some people have been in the LoRaWAN field for a long time. The expertise to build on this network is there, though concentrated in just a few experts. These people should be cultivated and supported as public educational resources. More on that later.
London — Here Be Dragons & Building an IoT Business
In London we had our largest gathering. 35-ish people showed up at a great venue and participated in two separate events.
First, a mapping game in the morning called Here Be Dragons. Participants were given mappers provided by RAK Wireless or Trackpac and then instructed to map locations throughout London selected by Dave Akers (Helium Analytics). Each location was assigned points, and the team who collected the most points won two Hotspots provided by Linxdot.
Second, a series of presentations and panels on building a IoT business. These ranged from Neil talking about Trackpac, Rob talking about the challenges of building a backend, Dave Akers walking through using Analytics to guide business decisions, a panel of Adrian (Waveform for Helium Foundation), Adrian (Linxdot), and Skye (RAK) discussing the next 6 months to a year of development in their respective systems, and finishing up with a presentation from a locally successful IoT business owner (Bill Clee at Novacene) talking about how to save the world and build a business with LoRaWAN.
This meetup was generally well received, and feedback included thanks for making industry connects for participants as well as excitement for people who had their first exposure to Helium here.
Paris — Meetup
We ran a small meetup with university students on a financial track who were interested in DeFi/CeFi and the intersection with Helium as well as YouTuber SMOKLM. The students knew very little about Helium, but were curious about it and very interested to learn how it worked and how including a blockchain aspect into the project made it more useful. I had planned a trip down to visit with Paul (disk91), but the logistics turned out to be too much to be worth the effort. It basically added 2 days of traveling for about 4 useable hours with Paul.
Barcelona — Meetup
Marc Pous from Balena has a local IoT meetup group who came out. Heavy on telecom engineers, we also had folks from Ibiza very interested in building a Helium based business.
Barcelona — Smart Cities Expo
We attended the Smart Cities Expo and talked with many businesses about Helium. Sophi Kravitz and Alex Coffman from Helium Foundation were also there. Almost all businesses I talked to were familiar with LoRaWAN. Very few had heard of Helium.
A good example of this was business owner Ed Robinson at ParkHelp, a San Francisco based parking management company. They’re using LoRa for their sensors but are convinced that LoRaWAN isn’t a good solution because good coverage for parking lot sensors (with a car or truck over them) doesn’t exist.
COMMUNITY QUESTIONS (2)
These were questions I heard over and over, and are worth exploring as they give insight into current opinion, understanding, and perspective.
Is Helium dead?
This appears to be at the intersection of 5 beliefs. I strongly caution against arguing whether or not these are actually true; these are just perceptions from the general public:
1) The public perception that Helium/Nova is abandoning IoT in favor of 5G.
2) The Solana/FTX meltdown and connection with MultiCoin and Helium investors
3) The network isn’t yet reliable. Blockchain halts, data credit issues.
4) PoC & data credits “temporarily” not earning enough. While those of us who understand it know that PoC & DC will never again pay our mortgage (or anything close), there’s still a hope that one day we’ll rewind the earning clock to, say, January of 2021. If Hotspots don’t earn money, most people don’t see how the network can survive. They don’t care about building an IoT business; they just want free money. A common question they ask is, “If PoC and Data Credits don’t make money, why will people leave their miners plugged in?”
5) HF/N isn’t doing enough to fix gaming, and most HNT on the network is going to gamers.
How do I make money on Helium?
Answering this got the most positive response, though for many it’s not what they want to do. Fairly obviously, a large percentage of the Helium Network was built by people who wanted to plug, play, and earn. They don’t want to build a business.
Nurturing those who do want to build a business and/or support the community is critical to long term success.
ACTION ITEMS (3)
Manage Information Flow
HF and Nova are not yet doing a good enough job of keeping the community informed on what is happening in the space. This needs to be a concerted, long term effort that will frankly seem to smart engineers like “dumbed down repetitive overkill”. It’s not. Not everyone is searching hard for all the information available. Most people look at what shows up in their feeds and don’t go beyond that. Providing both a consistent data flow as well as a coherent and easily followable story line is important for the long term health of the community.
This should come from insiders and outside influencers on all channels; Discord, Twitter, YouTube, email, Facebook, etc.
Message to Specific Audiences
People fairly neatly matched up into four groups. Addressing each group specifically will help either minimize damage control or maximize opportunities.
Businesses — Support & Promote
Run by tech-savvy people who see the opportunity in a global permissionless LoRaWAN network, these were 1–10 person operations deploying anywhere from 100 to 1,200 sensors. They include Heliotics based out of Slovakia, CM7 Group based out of Lebanon, Trackpac, based out of the UK, and a WISP with coverage throughout Ibiza.
Early Adopters — Invite to help
People who bought miners early on and roughly understand that profitability of PoC/DC will never be what it was. They are curious about IoT business and love meeting up. Generally not motivated to start their own business in Helium, but open to learning about other projects that will deliver “passive income”. For this, I’d recommend using the HF/NOVA marketing channels to make sure anyone who has a Hotspot knows about DIMO, Hivemapper, React Network, and possibly GEODNET. All of those are TIPIN/blockchain + meatspace/PoPW projects that are or will probably use the Helium LoRaWAN.
Recent Adopters — Manage information flow.
People who bought miners recently. They are generally operating on the belief that PoC/DC will pay off their miners within a few months to a year and are disheartened to hear that they’ve missed the “passive income” opportunity.
Skeptics — Provide clear onboard path and “Helium 101” resources.
These are people who are curious but skeptical about Helium and haven’t yet bought a miner. This is a large and untapped market, and a “Helium 101” effort could help bring in many more Hotspot owners and sensor users into the Helium ecosystem.
Build Local — The problem
Supporting local points of contact to build their community isn’t being done well enough yet. The early Discord channels for cities was a good start, but eventually was outgrown.
Building a strategy to target local/regional audiences and help them connect at physical events is important. Email lists are probably the easiest way to do this.
I asked Bobcat, Nebra, Linxdot, Hotspotty, Parley Labs, and the Helium Foundation to send to their email lists regarding the London event and we still only had 35-ish people show up. I don’t think anyone yet has figured out how to identify/activate/manage a strong local community, though there is definite hunger for it.
In London we had organizational help from the Trackpac team (Neil, Rob, and George) Dave Akers, Adrian (Waveform), Liam (Fish), and AP, as well as support from Hotspotty for the Here Be Dragons mapping event. This was a good start, but definitely still short of the mark. There are 6,000 asserted Hotspots in London, of which 2,700 have been active lately (data from Dave at Helium Analytics). Those 2700 Hotspots belong to 2183 wallets. 35 showing up out of 2,100 wallets means there’s room for improvement. Lots of room.
In Paris we had another YouTube, SMOKLM, help identify a place to meet, but due to date restrictions and a lack of market penetration/language ksills on my side, only had 4 people show up.
In Lisbon we managed to rally a few more people, including 2 of the most successful businesses building on Helium, but again, coordination, lack of resources, and lack of a local organizer made the meetup small.
In Barcelona we were helped by Marc Pous from Balena. He’s been running local IoT meetups there for 10 years but said that lately interest has been way down. We had perhaps 10 people attend that.
Build Local — Proposed Solution
A repeatable package for locally based Helium Ambassadors to organize and support ongoing network health should be built and implemented.
An example of this package could include:
-Identify potential local Helium ambassadors, ideally through inbound requests.
-Develop a structure for how to build and activate a local network (enthusiasts, schools, businesses)
-Demonstrate and guide ambassadors on how to structure a monthly meetup (updates, biz opps, Mapping or other games, networking)
-Teach ambassadors as part of the onboarding process how and when to reach out to HF for assistance.
-Instruct ambassadors on how to find and activate local experts who understand LoRaWAN AND can teach others how to use it.
By putting all this together and funding a robust Helium Ambassador program, the Helium Foundation can help decentralize efforts to teach the world about Helium and support those who are willing to learn, use, and build with it.
The Helium In The Wild tour was a success in terms of goals set and achieved. Much remains to be done. Explaining Helium to a larger audience, reassuring the current community regarding the longevity and stability of the ecosystem, and constantly amplifying the efforts of those who are building on the network are all long term works, not one time trips.
Finally, an enormous thanks to my wife & business partner, Lee Selman, who ran cameras, recorders, microphones, took care of hotels, tickets, trains, and baggage, and managed to shoot some of the best footage on the trip. Without her, none of this would have been possible.