The IACBOX turns 20 – that’s quite an achievement for a start-up.
Even today, 80% of all start-ups fail in the first three years after their foundation. Not so the two open source enthusiasts Anton Strobl and Andreas Eckhart. They started in 2002 – a time when start-up culture was just beginning to spill over from the USA to Europe. Today, they can proudly look back on 20 years of company history, a mature product and a globally active company.
Idea out of a box
Let’s start at the beginning. In 2002, portable computers were still quite heavy, and the smartest devices among this generation of cell phones allowed you to listen to the radio besides making phone calls. The province of Tyrol was the destination of many vacationers in summer and winter. WiFi had been around for a while, but it was only with these devices that the demand among guests developed. At that time, the two native Oberlanders Anton Strobl and Andreas Eckhart were sailing along on the open source wave with their business server LXPro and also counted hoteliers among their customers. This was the environment from which the brilliant idea was to come.
On a Friday evening in May, a handful of network engineers were sitting in a bar in Landeck, winding down the end of a long working week with a few beers. While talking shop, the main topic was one central problem: hotels, administrators and providers of guest WiFi networks were confronted with new problems on an almost daily basis – the massive data consumption by hotel guests and the growing cost resulting from it for the hotel industry. In addition, bandwidth bottlenecks and access problems with fixed IP addresses were making life difficult for both providers and users of the networks.
Probably the most brilliant mind of the Friday round, Asteas mastermind Anton Strobl was obsessed with an idea: A very simple software solution for limiting data traffic in terms of time and volume, without any installations on the guest device. The discussions were heated, Anton sketched his ideas again and again on various beer coasters, but the panel of experts smiled at him coldly: “You’ll never get THAT to work!”
But the idea never left Anton Strobl’s mind. On Saturday at 8 a.m. he sat down in front of his computer, closed the door and did not open it again until Sunday at 04.00 a.m., when he had finished programming the plug & play engine. The IACBOX was born. Finally, the hotel industry – and also other businesses – had a new possibility to grant guests a regulated access to the Internet, to measure time and quantities and, if desired, to provide them with a price.
Business model put to the test
Did you actually know that 80% of all start-ups fail within the first 3 years after their foundation? The main reason for this is the lack of necessity of the product on the market. The second reason is an unclear business model and underestimated costs for customer acquisition. Another reason is the weak management team. And last but not least, there are a whole lot of start-ups that simply run out of money. A lot of challenges, which the founding team had to face with their IACBOX. But there was still no proof that their product development actually worked on the market.
But unlike many other start-ups, the IACBOX founding team was successful right from the start. Barely two months after the aforementioned evening in the Landeck bar, a well-known hotel in Ischgl was acquired as the first customer. Quickly it became clear: the IACBOX was a real problem solver, and quickly found its way into more and more hotels.
Andreas Eckhart did not only have profound marketing and sales knowledge, but also an outstanding communicative nature. Thanks to him, the company soon had customers outside the hotel and restaurant industry to look forward to. New customers, entire industries, far beyond the country’s borders followed.
And the winner is…
In addition to market recognition, it was also early awards that gave IACBOX rapid growth and awareness.
May 14, 2004 was the deadline for 10 young companies to enter the LANTECH Awards. Business plans were still being quickly refined and figures added, as a top-class team of jurors from the worlds of business and science were to judge and select the best. The founders of IACBOX were also among the entrants. On June 04 the three best business plans were awarded. Anton Strobl and Andreas Eckart could hardly believe it when they received the main prize for the IACBOX.
One year later the Adventure X took place. Anton and Andreas tried their luck again and submitted. But this time they didn’t have much hope. No requests from the jury for additional documents, no information by phone in advance. In the press releases before the premiere, one read about a particularly large number of submissions this year. In the end, only 11 of them were included in the final selection, from which the jury chose the winner. When the invitation to the award ceremony fluttered into the office, Anton and Andreas did not miss the opportunity to travel to Innsbruck to watch the spectacle, despite their low hopes of winning.
The award ceremony took place in the ÖBB-Remise. Hundreds of spectators were present when the best three were chosen. 3rd place and 2nd place went to another start-up. The tension was rising, the hall was shaking, resounding applause was breaking through the room, and all eyes were wandering in their direction. Nevertheless, it took a while until Anton and Andreas understood: The name “IACBOX” had just rung out over the loudspeakers and they had been named the winning team. So they actually ended up in first place, ahead of all the other top-class candidates. Incredible. Their joy was huge, the after-party immense and the pride quite big
Years of growth
They rode on on the wave of success, which caried them through several years of rapid growth. From 17 licenses in 2003, license sales kept growing, and in 2015, 571 new IACBOXes were sold. Today, the team around the IACBOX can be proud of best sales figures, loyal customers, permanent employees and a healthy company that finances itself without any investors or loans.
Although some voices have often predicted the death of the WiFi – and thus the IACBOX – both continue to enjoy great popularity. First with DSL, then with 2G, then 3, 4 and now 5G, it was thought that mobile communication would replace WiFi – but nothing of the sort has happened. Both technologies will probably continue to complement each other for a very long time, which is clear at the latest when WhatsApp once again waits for WiFi to create a backup.
The mobile communications network may have the range, but WiFi scores with throughput, and connectivity inside buildings. And with the increase in global mobility in all sectors, be it vacation and business trips, study or work stays, in the future more rather than fewer people will be using a handheld device or wearable in a country that is not currently covered by their mobile network provider. And while it used to be the ability to regulate data volumes, now the focus is on other things, such as communication with the guest, efficient distribution of the available bandwidth, security aspects, compliance with legal requirements or different authorizations for different user groups.
In any case, the founders have every reason to stick with the product and remain true to their former line. At Asteas Technologies, this down-to-earth attitude can be clearly felt in all corners and ends of the company, from its beginnings to the present day.
So to all our users, resellers, users and operators out there, we can say with a clear conscience – the IACBOX has come to stay!
We are #iacboxfamily