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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