Reports from the Field — Helium In The Wild, Hackathon Train

The job right now isn’t to make IoT easy. It’s to make it work”. 

As I look across the Heli­um ecosys­tem in ear­ly Decem­ber of 2022, I’m start­ing to see the emer­gence of work­ing busi­ness­es built on Heli­um. Baxus may be the most recent exam­ple; a com­pa­ny track­ing all the con­di­tions of items as they move around, though most­ly focused on their stor­age con­di­tions. They’re start­ing with whiskey casks and wine bar­rels and what they’re demon­strat­ing is what we saw on the Hackathon train: Heli­um still requires tech­ni­cal exper­tise, but it works.

Whether you’re fig­ur­ing out how to use a peo­ple counter, a tem­per­a­ture and humid­i­ty sen­sor, or have an idea that the world has­n’t yet explored, the time to build is now. 

In con­trast, if you’re look­ing for an easy “Apple/Mac” expe­ri­ence, Heli­um isn’t yet the place for you across the board. That’s not to say it does­n’t exist, and the lead­ing exam­ple is Track­pac, built by long­time Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber Neil Skoglund. 

After spend­ing 18 days trav­el­ing around Europe and talk­ing to peo­ple across the Heli­um space, one of the key take­aways is that this is what I think of as “the blind peri­od” in the growth of an indus­try. “Blind” because it’s hard to know what’s going on. We just came through a mas­sive burst bub­ble of unhealthy growth. HNT went from less than $2 up to $55, then back down to $2. The fall­out from that is felt across the Heli­um com­mu­ni­ty as those who rushed into this for “on the couch prof­it” get shak­en out, some­times very vocally. 

Many peo­ple I met had the ques­tion: Is Heli­um dead? I can see why they’d ask that; espe­cial­ly if they came into Heli­um, like many, from the access point of min­ing crypto.

In the graph above (not to scale), at stage 1 we had Heli­um Inc cast­ing about in the wilder­ness for years, try­ing to fig­ure out what it would do. Heli­um was always about IoT, so that was their North Star. Dur­ing that time (2013–2019) nobody real­ly knew about them. They they stum­bled on the idea of hook­ing IoT to a blockchain, birthing an indus­try with exquis­ite (and prob­a­bly com­plete­ly acci­den­tal tim­ing. It still took a year to fire; it was­n’t until some­time around late 2020 that things start­ed to go parabolic. 

That brings us to stage 2, which trans­formed the com­pa­ny and the com­mu­ni­ty from a few engi­neers with a geeky idea to sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand most­ly cryp­tocur­ren­cy enthu­si­asts who were spec­u­lat­ing dur­ing the great boom of ’20-’21. For a while, you could­n’t lose. Like all booms, that went up, a few lucky ones (no one I know, and as far as I can tell, no one at Heli­um Inc) got off at the top, and the rest of us rode the wrong side of the par­a­bol­ic curve back down to where we are now.

That brings us to the begin­ning of stage 3. The begin­ning is the blind peri­od. In the curve above, it’s prob­a­bly the peri­od between the begin­ning of the stage up until where you see the num­ber 3. Now keep in mind, this curve is just a pre­dic­tion. And the time scale is funky. Seri­ous­ly funky. I could be com­plete­ly wrong about it. 

How­ev­er, what I saw on the Hackathon train, and in Lis­bon before that, and Lon­don, Paris, and Barcelona after is a peri­od of growth ahead that goes steadi­ly upward, though not at any kind of “change your life” rate for a while. The whole time we’re stage 3, the only notice­able improve­ment will be mea­sured in months at a min­i­mum. Hours, days, or even weeks aren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly useful.

Of course, stage 4 is when every­one will want to pile in again. I don’t have any pre­dic­tions worth shar­ing about when that will be. 

In the mean­time, the impor­tant take­away from the Hackathon train expe­ri­ence in par­tic­u­lar is that NOW is the time to be head down and building. 

Find a place you can learn, whether that’s a friend, a group of friends, or Heli­um’s #sen­sor-dev chan­nel on Dis­cord. If you want a first project, start with Joey’s IKEA sen­sor project. There’s plen­ty of info online about it and the com­mu­ni­ty in gen­er­al is well versed in it. 

Just by get­ting one sen­sor on board, from soup to nuts, my feel­ing is that you’ll be vault­ing your­self well past the “blind spot” on the graph above and be well on your way to cap­i­tal­ize on the growth when it comes.

Here’s to your ongo­ing suc­cess in this incred­i­ble project, LFG!


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