Jonathan Tan is leading a revolution into the disruption and change of industry. Jon stands on the edge of the digital movement ushering in a new era in which the world will benefit from IoT.
UnaBiz’s Managing Director has a long history in sales, business development, and management. But rather than sit back and let things take place without change, Jon wants to help create the future. That is why he joined UnaBiz after working with top Singapore companies such as Singtel, NCS, and EdgeMatrix. Jon has a desire to create and push the boundaries, and UnaBiz is doing just that with IoT.
Recently, UnaBiz secured over $10 million US in their Series A funding. Thanks to strategic investments from KDDI/SORACOM and ENGIE, UnaBiz will continue on its mission to empower massive IoT.
Jon sat down with Totalprestige Magazine to talk about his career, UnaBiz’s incredible work, and to explain just what IoT really is.
Jonathan, UnaBiz is an Internet of Things (IoT) solutions company. What does that mean exactly and what can new clients expect when working with UnaBiz?
JONATHAN TAN- Today, we are at the beginning of the age of digital transformation. We have seen digital disrupting our way of lives and business, and companies are looking at how we might exploit it. We see technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, analytics, big data, robotics, augmented reality, and Internet of Things (IoT) promising major disruption. So, what is IoT? It is connecting the “things” to the digital systems, and these “things” can be sensors, machines, and any of our everyday objects and gadgets. Or simply, IoT brings data from the physical world to the digital world, and with that new solutions can emerge.
You have over 24 years of ICT experience. How did your career start?
JONATHAN TAN- My career has always been in technology. As a fresh graduate, I started in the Singapore National Computer Board back in 1993, where we worked on the computerization of the country. Back in those old days, the Internet was an unknown mystery to most people, and we met the government and industry to educate and help them get online. While evangelizing the Internet, I got to see its vast potential, and began to wonder how I should get into the action myself.
You moved to EdgeMatrix and later to Singtel’s Global Fixed Satellite Business. What led you to UnaBiz?
JONATHAN TAN- Sensing the dawn of a new revolution, I then join a small start-up called EdgeMatrix, where we pioneered many new Internet and mobile solutions. In my seven years there, we grew the company 36 times in size. We had a lot of fun dreaming and developing many leading-edge solutions, like the first e-commerce site in Singapore, SMS gateway, web and SMS apps, video servers (today we have Youtube), mobile chat (which today we have Whatsapp), mobile WAP browsers, multi-channel delivery. It was the dotcom era, and we were pushing boundaries and ahead of our times. Then the dotcom bubble came and world economy took a downturn. I had to move to the NCS solution team. Post-September 11, it was gloomy everywhere, but we see a bright light in the Middle East where Dubai started to develop. I ventured into it, creating and selling Intelligent Buildings. Once again, we were ahead of our times, selling Smart Buildings and City Solutions before it become popular. Many large projects were won. Then, I was offered a position in Singtel as head of satellite sales. It was a good position with a nice package. After a few years, the innovation bug bit me again and I was bored with the technology as it was a bit too old-school for me. Again, I saw the immerse potential in IoT, and so, I joined UnaBiz.
You joined UnaBiz in 2016, which was the same year the company launched. What was it like to start with the company at the same time it was finding its feet in the business world?
JONATHAN TAN- Yes, I joined UnaBiz as employee number No. 1. I was already fascinated with IoT when it was still an unknown term to many even in the ICT industry. Henri Bong, UnaBiz CEO and founder, was just starting the company, and he asked if I wanted to join him. I saw that it has the right leadership, technology, timing, and work culture. We wanted to work together and contribute in driving the digital economy. We wanted to connect millions of objects online. We wanted to change the world. The choice was clear. With that, I moved from a head of sales in Singapore’s largest company to a small tech startup. It has been two years since, and no regrets, and every day is an exciting day.
Jonathan, you have a diverse business background. How is your current role different from anything you have done previously?
JONATHAN TAN- Certain fundamental business functions are the same. But the key difference working in UnaBiz is that we focus a lot on chasing and doing real business work. In large corporations, considerable resources are spent on functions like management, business planning, reporting, and interdepartmental relationships. While these are still needed, now I spend a lot more time focusing on direct customer service, business development and projects. In a smaller company, the objectives are more aligned, and less worry on individual stakeholders’ interest. This is much more fulfilling.
How will the world change in terms of the way we communicate thanks to companies like UnaBiz?
JONATHAN TAN- Today, we have 7.6 billion people and more than half are connected. The Internet has revolutionized our lives. Imagine, what if the trillions of objects in the world are also connected to make our lives better? Imagine the building has many tiny sensors to make our living more comfortable and energy efficient. The temperature and air quality are fresh, pests are controlled, energy and water are conserved, workspace optimized, and tenants and assets safe. The elderly are kept at home without constant human supervision. The farms produce greater output monitored with sensors. Bikes and cars are kept safe with motion sensors and trackers. In the industrial and supply chain, we can see assets maintained proactively, and process streamlined with sensors and trackers. Clever use of IoT data, with AI and analytics, can totally disrupt the business and consumer process as businesses can see the bigger pictures with trends and interacted data points.
One of the main products developed by UnaBiz is SIGFOX’s low-power wide-area network. Can you tell us more about this product and how it can benefit a company?
JONATHAN TAN- We are all familiar with our smart phone connections. But most IoT applications do not need such heavy-duty gadgets. If we want 1 million sensors to track the door, we need a lightweight, easy to deploy, low-cost device. This is where SIGFOX is so good. It is low-powered, meaning it does not power through wire, and the battery can last many years. It is easy to install, and the network cost can be as low as US $1 per device per year. Currently, it operates in 45 countries and is set to grow to 60 next year. With this, we can easily deploy massive IoT of tiny, lightweight devices globally.
What are some of the products UnaBiz is currently working on that will revolutionize communication?
JONATHAN TAN- Earlier, UnaBiz developed an IoT button called UnaBell. It’s a simple, ultra low-cost IoT button which a user can use to trigger an event. It can be used anywhere where there is a SIGFOX network. With its success, we are moving on to develop many other lightweight, mass-use sensors for temperature, motions, trackers, and contact. We have seen a lot of interest and companies are already pre-ordering as they need robust and low-cost sensors to collect data quickly. With the data collection over a vast area, our customers can then develop solutions with analytics to deliver useful functions.
Do you see Asia on the cutting-edge of IoT and other communication technologies?
JONATHAN TAN- Europe leads the IoT wave in the early stages, and we learn a lot from their innovations. Asia can complement that with cost-effective designs and manufacturing of devices, new use cases, and mass deployment with its vast population. The beauty is that different capabilities are harnessed. UnaBiz is headquartered in a smart city, Singapore, and our Taiwan office has strong hardware design capability. Our investors are Engie from France, KDDI Soracom from Japan, SKS from Taiwan. This partnership brings the vast capability of both East and West to deliver solutions to our customers.
What has been the highlight of your career at UnaBiz thus far?
JONATHAN TAN- There are many. I am delighted to be part of the IoT revolution to bring it from a small unknown technology to some place today. One big highlight on working in UnaBiz is this interview with the esteemed Total Prestige Magazine! The road ahead is still long, and there is still a lot to be done together.
What makes you smile?
JONATHAN TAN- Work-wise, delivering an IoT solution which can positively help society. On a personal level, family is the most important.
What are you never without?
JONATHAN TAN- Like most others, my iPhone.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with use?
“No matter how tough the chase is, you should always have the dream you saw on the first day. It’ll keep you motivated and rescue you (from any weak thoughts).” – Jack Ma. As we move along in life, there will be many highs and many more lows. Important to keep our focus and big picture.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” – Proverbs 3:6. As a Christian, the Bible is a guide to me and we look up to God for direction and help.
Instinct versus expertise. Which is more important and why?
JONATHAN TAN- This is a nature versus nurture question. I believe instinct is more important. This is what is the real stuff inside the person, and what defines him or her. You can’t train a Steve Jobs from a classroom. Expertise is a knowledge, and anyone can be taught. Of course, we can’t take one side absolutely. Where instinct is lacking, we have to groom the person with more expertise to do the job.
For more information on UnaBiz and Jonathan Tan:
In addition, you can find out more about UnaBiz’s $10m US funding round by visiting https://www.reuters.com/brandfeatures/venture-capital/article?id=48822
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