Our Honey-Bee-Tracker – failing in public

One of our first endeavors was a bee-IoT-tracker named aproneX. We pitched the tracker to investors with a big vision of using bees as biosensors to monitor the environment. They asked for a big market, and we wanted to give them exactly that. Behind the scenes, the story was different, though! For about a year ago, we put everything on one card and failed. No more bees, everything that remains is the experience.

So grab a snack, lean back, and enjoy our origin story!

How the journey began

“Let’s quit!” Our adventure starts with Daniel and Nils quitting jobs. They worked for the same software company. But they wanted to build their own business together. This was the initial ignition for everything to come! The first step was made and our team grew around the two. But that is material for another article. Don’t miss this, and subscribe with your e-mail below!

Back to topic: We were playing around with different ideas for a few months. Nothing worked out well. So we decided to look for industries where Artificial Intelligence wasn’t widely applied. Agriculture caught our attention.  

But we had to dig deeper. There were already smart drones for watering and observations in place. Nils grandfather was formerly a beekeeper. Hence, Nils got some exposure to beekeeping in his childhood. So we came up with beekeeping as a potential target industry. Despite knowing very little about it, we landed on this vertical!

The fellowship of the bees!

We started looking out for problems & concepts that combine bees and AI. We found a few research groups that were looking into using bees as “biosensors” to monitor biodiversity and pollution in the surrounding. The basic concept is the following: Bees fly around their hive to collect pollen in a radius of up to 5 km. Once the pollen is collected, they return to their colony. A camera monitored the entry of the beehive. It takes images of incoming bees. An AI analysis the pictures to find out what kind of pollen or pollution there is. With the amount of up to 50 thousand bees per hive, you might be able to conclude on the biodiversity of the 5 km radius around the beehive.

Bees as biosensors

We found our vision, but the question was:

… how to conquer beehives

On the one hand, we liked the idea of bees as biosensors as it had a technical challenge and an environmental component in it. On the other hand, we already had some builders’ mindset back then. So we decided not to follow this research-heavy endeavor for a long time. We aimed at early customers to solve their problems. With that in mind, we camped up with the idea of building the infrastructure layer for the biosensor vision. The idea: Building some useful tools for beekeepers to bring the technology in as many hives as possible. And once the biosensor innovation is ready, we would be the guys to roll it out because our technology is already in all the hives.

The birth of the bee-IoT-tracker

Enough of planning. It was time to get into action. We talked to the target audience to identify their biggest problems. So we messaged dozens of beekeepers. We’ve got quite a lot of replies. One thing a few people mentioned was a cheaper hive scale. In retrospect, this information alone should have rung much more bells. Most of these guys weren’t looking for anything new. They mainly wanted to spend less money on things. We will come back to this at an upcoming part of the story. 

After connecting with one well-known beekeeper, we decided to build a hive scale prototype. Therefore, an electrical engineering friend helped to create an MVP in a few days. It consists of a wooden plate from the DIY store, a load cell, a Raspberry Pi, a power bank, and a basic Web App. The beekeeper wasn’t convinced.

DIY hive scale

In retrospect, we didn’t ask ourselves what the MVP wants to validate. Hive scales were already quite common among beekeepers, so we wanted to validate the utility with our DIY copy. At best, we could have tested the customers’ acceptance of a low-quality version.

The beekeeper mentioned another issue: Bee theft. Again we trusted his experience. We started working on a theft tracker that is particularly good for the needs of beekeepers. That’s how aproneX was born.

The bee-IoT-tracker’s journey continues

  • How we dived into the beekeeping market
  • Building a complex software & hardware product (soldering, 3d, C language, Web App)
  • Offline Sales to a tough target audience (fairs, associations, etc)
  • Launching and Operating a Hardware Business
  • Sourcing in China (Alibaba, Chinese Factories and Uzbek Electrical Engineers)
  • Starting a Shopify Store (be(e)hind the scenes, SEO, blog)
  • Building a team (friends as first hires and hybrid office/flat)
  • Creating an Instagram account (one sale right after launch, then failed) 
  • More about the biosensor vision