- January 8, 2019
- Posted by: Web Team
- Category: Uncategorized
The aim of these interviews is – given the context of tech ventures and my manifesto – to determine what works and doesn’t work with respect to:
- Strategy and tech strategy
- The importance of domain and expertise , which leads to
- The importance of differentiation
- The importance of focus
- The importance of societal supporting structures
Up until recently Ulf was primarily engaged as a creative director here in Manly – now he is also Head of Design and Marketing of the German company Zeemio (zeem.io – the zeem standing for zero emissions). He still spends most of his time here in Manly.
I wanted to talk to Ulf about the building tech ventures and his opinions on the differences between how innovation is approached in Australia and Germany.
J: Hi Ulf: What does Zeemio do?
U: Zeemio (http://zeem.io) have created an emission free platform for electric utility vehicles. One example of the use of the platform would be for street cleaners.
J: What do you do for Zeemio?
U: I am the Head of Design and Marketing for Zeemio.
J: Who is your customer?
U: We don’t intend to ship vehicles shipped under the Zeemio brand – we are hoping to white label Zeemio products, so our customers are companies that would do that.
J: What are the potential customers or products?
U: Well, some examples of use are street cleaners (for example pedestrian zones like the Darling Harbour precincts), those would be often be government customers. Actually there are many potential uses for the product, where it is important to have utility vehicles which are quiet and emission free. For example some of the older towns in Europe have restrictions to the type of traffic, be that traffic for goods, services or cleaning vehicles, some mountain villages need delivery trucks that don’t require the constant delivery of petrol up the mountain, some large indoor spaces might be better cleaned with such a utility vehicle, with no concern of fumes and emissions, some university campuses need vehicles that are more utilitarian than golf carts.
J: How is the tech different from competitors? Are there any competitors?
U: In some ways the tech isn’t differentiated, some of the parts can be purchased off the shelf, however its the integration of those parts into a vehicle platform which is special. The platform itself is different from other similar products in that:
- it has electrical engines rather than traditional petrol or gas powered
- it has 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel steering (allowing smaller turning circles of the vehicles)
- it has two different driving modes – one being on-premise/working mode and the other one ‘getting-to-the-premises’ which allows faster speeds
- The position of the driver-cabin is variable, which allows for a wide range of application
- It has a new service concepts: self-service, over-the-air upgrades, community service
- There is a single level direct distribution
The team has decades of experience in this sort of product. The product falls under the area of MaschinenBau in Germany, which is not simply building machines as the name suggests, but high quality mechanical engineering and manufacturing – which is what Germany has been known for, for decades. So the differentiation is not just the integration of the various parts and the knowledge of how to build vehicle prototypes but it is also the knowledge on regulation around components, how to build the service networks associated with managing individual vehicles and many other aspects of the prototyping and construction. The team (http://zeem.io/the-team/) has a wealth of experience in the area of vehicle construction – but one of the most important focus for me is the zero emissions, being involved in a project that makes the world a better place is very gratifying.
J: How did Zeemio raise the funds to do the initial development?
U: So far we’re self-funding the project – the majority of this comes in investing time (for example: around 350-400 hours over the last 10/11 month just for me), then there are actual expenses such as – traveling coats, software purchases, some marketing materials (print, website ect), 3D auto-cad drawings of the the drive-train and so on.
J: Why do you think that someone in German has developed this and not someone here?
U: As I said, Germany has a relatively long history in high quality mechanical engineering, it is somehow expected of Germans to do this sort of thing well. I can’t give an expert opinion on the quality of Australian manufacturing, but certainly Australia doesn’t have the same sort of reputation and tradition that Germany has, or for that matter Japan or Sweden have when it comes to mechanical engineering. However I can say when approaching the VCs here , the same issue came back so far (apart from it being overseas), the VC’s all had experience funding digital technologies but no experience in this sort of precision manufacturing product. So the irony is that, in comparison to half a dozen years ago I have the feeling that there is a lot of VC money around – but it seems to primarily focused on IT entrepreneurship particularly fintech.
Getting back to Germany I’d also say that its interesting that there hasn’t been nearly the same focus on agile, lean methodologies there and yet despite that the country seems to be doing pretty well from of its technology scene.
J: What else do you think might make it easier in Germany to innovate?
U: Well not everything is easy – you have to have exactly the right qualification before anyone will take notice of you – whereas here its not nearly as important if you want to start something up – though there are some peculiarities in the VC scene here.
Back to Germany, it just seems easier to get the education in what you want. Education isn’t as expensive as in Australia and your are not barred from entering education based on school marks. With poor marks you may be further back in the queue but you can still enter into institutions to study subjects that you would never be allowed to study here based on those same marks. The other aspect of education fees is that there is no interest applied – and no expectation to pay back if you don’t earn enough. There is still the expectation that a highly educated public is good for the country as a whole and putting financial barriers in the way of that will not help the country.
J: You mentioned VC peculiarities.
U: Yes the one obvious driver here to get funding seems to be how well one can present – how good a story you can sell or tell. The rationale for this is that the leader has to lead and present and be a hero to make it a success, to tell a story – because “ people follow people”. Success in getting funded seems to be a lot about how good you can deliver a TED talk – I can imagine there are lot of great ideas that are not taken up simply because the people trying to create these innovations don’t look good on stage.
My other concern about the VC industry is their focus on short term money – of course this is understandable as this is the nature of their business – but then they might not be the best partner for a startup since their incentives are to make money no matter what – not to actually create any innovation. We for example were advised to remove any mention of a preference for a VC partnership who had experience in vehicle production – because that could be seen as insulting. Which seems contrary to my experience.
J: Thats contrary to my experience too, I know a few people working in VCs in Switzerland and its their expertise in biotech, and how they can add value (other than money) that helps differentiate them as VCs, and drive the success of what they invest in.
J: What else has been interesting in this whole experience?
U: VR. You hear it mentioned but this is the first time I’ve experienced VR as part of the creation and development process, VR integrated with Autocad, Being able to walk around the vehicle in a virtual world and see your design decisions makes a huge difference – and its not just design from graphic sense – but from an engineering sense – without having to go to real prototypes you can get a much better feeling and understanding whether things will work (in the tradition of fail fast and fail cheap) – I was blown away how much better that engagement with the prototype was via VR and how it improved that iterative process of creation. I can’t wait to get my own kit – hopefully the new iMac Pro will deliver ;-).
J. Thanks Ulf!
Does the behaviour of local VCs indicate that they have no other way to measure how good venture is other than how engaging the CEO is?
Is the focus on IT by VCs because they 1) require less capital investment and therefore have shorter turn arounds, or 2) are more common in Australia (for various reasons including “low hanging fruit”, “low risk appetite”, “no particular technology tradition”).
How sustainable is the competitive differentiation caused by the reputation and the tradition of high quality manufacturing/mechanical engineering in Germany vs lack of any traditional differentiation (apart from arguably a good education system) here in Australia?
What structures are missing in Australia that might help catalyse successful technology ventures?
note: This was republished from r1xlabs.com – originally posted 4/12/2017