The Internet of Things is here to stay. IoT devices are everywhere: in cars, trains, delivery devices, airport kiosks, ATMs, and vending machines.
According to McKinsey, the number of businesses that use IoT technologies has increased from 13 percent in 2014 to about 25 percent today. The worldwide number of IoT-connected devices is projected to increase to 43 billion by 2023, an almost threefold increase from 2018.
In an era of multiple devices on multiple architectures, it’s important to manage all applications. Enter Esper, a DevOps platform that claims to be the “most powerful cloud tool for Android device deployment and application management”.
Founded two years ago by Shiv Sundar and Yadhu Gopalan, Esper creates a complete tool chain and allows enterprises to deploy and manage touch-enabled Android device applications without worrying about the device infrastructure.
“We deliver operational excellence and a stable, scalable infrastructure to help you quickly deploy your experiences at scale. Our tools enable developers to tackle the big challenges of devices such as identifying, debugging, and resolving issues with their apps and devices in the field,” says Shiv, Co-founder and COO of Esper.
The startup also helps streamline the process for building, deploying, and managing apps on devices for POS, restaurants, kiosks, logistics, and transportation at scale.
How it all started
Yadhu, based in Seattle, worked in Microsoft for two decades and then moved on to Amazon. He met Shiv, who had worked in companies like Huawei, Cyngn, and Quixley for 15 years, through common friends.
The onset of digitisation in India, especially after the growth of smartphones and the rollout of Jio in 2016, led to an influx of enterprise device deployments. The increased need for interoperability and cost-effectiveness led to the emergence of Android as the enterprise platform of choice.
Shiv, who is based in Bengaluru, says: “Seeing the plethora of Android devices and the scope for managing these devices, I was inspired to build a management and security platform. In October 2017, we launched Esper,” he says.
“Esper is a horizontal platform that assists in IoT deployment across industries such as retail, restaurants, logistics, and the supply chain. We focus on the B2B sector, and sell to solutions providers and direct customers,” Shiv says.
Enterprise customers enroll their devices on to the Esper platform for cloud lifecycle management, including app installation, settings configurations, and rebooting devices.
Esper’s first customer was an Android kiosk solution provider deploying retail kiosks to big box stores like CVS, Target, and 7-Eleven in the US market. Two days before launch, in 2018, the hardware vendor asked them to step in for the deployment as all current solutions had failed.
“We worked as a team for two days straight to achieve a successful deployment. This was our first customer win. A majority of our early customers came through our inbound marketing efforts. We worked with major hardware vendors to validate our platform across various device form factors and Android versions,” he says.
The platform helps enterprises respond in real time to device state changes, including the health and performance of apps, configurations, OS, firmware, and more.
Esper raised $7.6 million in Series A funding in February 2020. The round was led by US-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group and saw participation from existing seed investors Root Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures, Haystack Ventures, and Pathbreaker Ventures.
How Esper helps enterprises
The entrepreneurial journey has taught the co-founders many valuable lessons. “We quickly learnt that as an entrepreneur one needs to be committed to the vision for the company and the product. Initially, we started off with features of an MDM solution,” Shiv says.
During the process, the team understood the pain points of customers and revealed the need for a solution that went beyond mobile device management. The team then went back to the drawing board and strategised for a differentiated approach.
“Once we reworked our product offering with customer empathy, we saw a spike in adoption. Our main takeaway from this process was: don’t compete with market leaders on features; focus on creating a truly differentiated product offering that addresses the pain point of customers using offerings from market leaders,” he says.
The company charges annually for Android device management, based on the number of devices on boarded to the platform.
The co-founders say getting the first five customers to believe in their product and pay for a subscription was the most challenging part of building the startup. But their features helped them win over customers.
“Esper already has feature parity with market leaders; we also have easy-to-use UX and customer support. This is helping us win more customers. Over the next 18 months, Esper will build a DevOps platform focused on developers to enable seamless deployment of connected Android devices and apps,” Shiv says.
The company has over 50 customers in India and the US market with over 50,000 devices deployed globally.
The market and the future
According to Markets and Markets, the MDM market is worth $2.81 billion and is expected to be $10 billion by the end of the year. Esper, which aims to double its customers in the next two years, competes with mobile device management companies like Addigy, FleetSmith, and Rippling.
But their key value proposition – automated device deployments that save enterprises IoT operational costs– stands them in good stead.
Traditionally, deploying Android devices has had significant interoperability challenges related to hardware, operating systems, applications, and the cloud. Esper is working to build developer tools and a robust platform powered by APIs for a seamless deployment process.
COVID-19 has accelerated their go-to market and shifted customer focus. Many businesses have moved away from human interaction to focus on deploying contactless solutions, such as self-serve kiosks for ordering, check-in, or vital signs.
Esper has seen significant demand in the healthcare, restaurant, and education sectors. The company recently launched a pro-bono telehealth update on their platform. This lets healthcare organisations and solutions providers remotely connect with patients on Esper-managed Android devices to perform an initial triage before asking them to visit a hospital.
“We have had great success with this update, particularly with Birdsong, one of our clients in the US that makes affordable, easy-to-use tablets for senior citizens to build confidence and stay connected,” Shiv says.
The co-founders did not want to disclose its revenues. The team size is about 50. “We will continue to expand and aim to double our client list to more than a 100 in one year’s time,” Shiv says.