Henri Bong, CEO & Co-founder of UnaBiz tells us about providing affordable, well-designed solutions that are energy-efficient, scalable, and simple.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Henri Bong: I am currently back in France with my family, and they are all well, thankfully.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded UnaBiz.
Henri Bong: I am a French-Chinese born in South East Asia. I migrated to France when I was 2 and was raised and educated in France. Prior to founding UnaBiz and working at SIGFOX Asia, I had 10 years of experience exporting French Technologies to Asia as a Senior Trade Advisor in the French Trade Commission in China and Singapore. This experience has given me great insights and a strong network into the industry. I am fluent in 3 languages English, French, and Chinese, plus a little bit of Teochew, which is my dialect group.
During my time at the French Trade Commission, IoT was becoming the new buzzword. While cellular, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are common network options, they are also coming with their downsides: high energy consumption, low battery life, expensive to adopt and maintain. As the global need for data collection expands, the market demands alternative technologies that are simple, energy and cost-efficient so that they can be adopted massively globally. Upon identifying these key barriers of scaling IoT, my co-founder Philippe Chiu and I created UnaBiz.
How does UnaBiz innovate in the IoT Industry?
Henri Bong: We live in a time where “bigger and faster is better.” However, before we go into consumption overdrive, perhaps we can take a step back and ask ourselves, is that the most efficient way? Not all technologies need to be high power and high bandwidth. You don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. That’s what we’re about.
At UnaBiz, we believe in “Less is More.”
UnaBiz offers network connectivity as a telecom operator, but our main business lies in custom-designed IoT solutions for enterprises who want to transform their business digitally. These solutions are communicating wirelessly using Low Power Wide Area Networks, noticeably the 0G network, an ultra-lightweight network that is more energy and cost-efficient compared to the existing network options I mentioned.
5 years ago, UnaBiz entered the market with a groundbreaking offer – a network plan at $1 per device per year – forcing the industry to relook at their business model. 2 years later, upon raising our Series A Funding, we decided to build up our hardware capability in custom-designed IoT solutions for massive IoT projects, a service that was perceived as “low-value” but in shortage. As a result, we became specialized in designing and producing high-quality data and energy-efficient hardware for our customers at unthinkable prices and breakneck speed.
At the end of 2019, UnaBiz was selected by NICIGAS, the largest LP Gas player in Japan, to digitalize its gas consumption data collection. Despite the pandemic last year, UnaBiz has successfully completed the project and has, to date, deployed over 1 million smart devices in the field.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect UnaBiz, and how did you cope with it? Did your business model or customer relationship evolve to respond to the pandemic?
Henri Bong: The pandemic has challenged us on all fronts; it has tested the strength of our supply chain and the relationship between UnaBiz and our vendors and our customers. They say, “A friend in need, is a friend indeed.” We are glad to say that we definitely chose the right partners and customers who worked closely with us to overcome the challenges of the pandemic. The successful completion of the Nicigas project is a testament to that. Also, our decision to build a resilient supply chain from earlier was reaffirmed by the current challenges facing the global supply chain industry.
The year also pushed us to venture into new areas, such as developing cellular LTE-M-based sensors and a highly scalable middleware cloud platform in order to expand our service offerings. Our cloud platform now services over 1 million devices on a daily basis. These changes have allowed UnaBiz to evolve into a truly tech-agnostic IoT service provider that ensures that our partners get the best of each IoT technology.
As the pandemic continues, we remain on our toes as we now face a bigger global issue – the shortage of components globally.
Did you benefit from any government grants that help keep UnaBiz afloat?
Henri Bong: Last year, the Singapore government rolled out a series of budgets and fiscal plans to help Singaporeans and local businesses tied over the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Singaporean company, UnaBiz benefitted from the various job support schemes and wage subsidies that were introduced, especially since a few projects of ours in the aviation sector suffered a setback due to the lockdown worldwide. On top of that, our work-from-home policy was also supported by the government through various grants that help companies purchase new gadgets and IT equipment.
Your final words?
Henri Bong: The motivation for digitalization has never been more meaningful until now. While the pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to both businesses and our lives. In the face of mounting odds, we witnessed unexpected acts of kindness and an outpour of solidarity from the global tech community – Innovators and financial institutions coming together to fund solutions that will address the challenges facing COVID-19. We are proud and humbled to be a part of this community, and we welcome innovators to speak to us if they need help in supporting and funding their solutions. We can achieve more when we come together and work towards a common goal.