The entrepreneurial journey is a tough one, fraught with all sorts of challenges and pitfalls. Here number 2 in a series of fantasy inventions I wish I was reading about some time soon, to help us entrepreneurs along the way.
(All names, company names and organisation names mentioned in the future technews report below are fictitious) Marvin Draper Reporting for Technews
Berlin – According to startup advisory company Gruenden, a new business is started every 20 minutes in Berlin. The Berlin startup scene is often referred to as Europe’s Silicon Valley, just hipper. The startup ecosystem is well established with vast amounts of tech startup’s, accelerators, angel funders, venture capitalists, advisers, funky properties and everything else that the fantasy of a buzzing tech startup city requires.
One of those startups is DPS. DPS was launched in 2017 by two MIT graduates Hans Brandt and Klaus von Bechtolsheim. “Our initial idea. on reflection, was quite weak.” says Brandt. “We were working on a pool service drone that analyses your pool water chemistry and then administers the appropriate quantities of chlorine, acid etc.”
von Bechtolsheim added “We went from one pitch to the next trying to sell the idea to venture capitalists, angel funders, bankers, hell anyone who would listen. We even pitched the idea to the board of a startup chemical company.”
DPS initially stood for Drone Pool Systems. The two spent 8 months searching for funding for their idea. Bechtolsheim is a drone specialist and Brandt completed his Doctorate in Sensor Technology, a relatively new field that MIT introduced to its PHD programmes. The two met at MIT and would meet regularly for lunch at the famous Cuchi Cuchi restaurant in Kendall Square.
“Many of the waiters were students looking to make extra cash.” recalls von Bechtolsheim. “As regulars we knew most of the waiters, many had second jobs. Our waiter was lamenting about his weekend job which was working for a pool maintenance company. “Can’t you just make a drone that I can sit and control and it does all the dirty work?”. Hans and I looked at each other. That was the idea. Or so we thought.”
Brandt and von Bechtolsheim worked for 12 months on the design and prototypes. “We used up all our savings and had to borrow money from Klaus’s uncle.” recalls Brandt. “No more Cuchi Cuchi restaurant for us, we simply could not afford it.”
The two were forced to try find additional funding. They went from one potential funder to the next without any luck. “We got very despondent. No one believed in our idea, or us. By then we had both completed our Doctorates and were needing desperately to find funding or to find a job. We were desperate.” said Brandt
“Ya, we were desperate. And then my uncle sent me an article about the startup scene in Berlin.” von Bechtolsheim blurted out as he pointed to Brandt. “Then Hans says to me, that we should go to Berlin and give this one more shot. We are both German and perhaps that might make it easier to raise the finance required. 15 days later we were in Berlin.”
The two found an apartment and then started the process of looking for funding again. After 4 months and 33 pitches they decided it might be time to throw in the towel. “The hardest part for us was the call back pitches. Sometimes we would go back to the same investor team 3 or 4 times.” Brandt said. “”They give you hope. You prepare, you don’t sleep, you dress up, you smile, you pitch , you answer the same questions, and then they just tell you “sorry, this is not what we invest in. Bring it back to us if you find other investors.” ”
von Bechtolsheim interjects “Why the hell did they call us back if they “don’t invest in this sort of thing?”, why tell us to “bring it back to them” if they “don’t invest in this sort of thing?”
“Then I said in absolute frustration “It would be great if we knew that upfront, it would save us so much time. Would it not be cool if we could have a scanner in the room that could tell us if they were going to invest or not, at the first meeting. That would have saved us so much time and effort. No recall meetings.”” Brandt says with a bitter look on his face
“”Then I said “Why don’t we make that device, that scanner? If we are having that problem then hundreds of thousands of other startups must be having the same issues. And of course there are all the millions of sales people out there that have the same issues.”” said von Bechtolsheim
With additional funding from von Bechtolsheim’s uncle, the two spend another 18 months building the first prototype. “It was quite weird when we used the prototype to raise funding. It was like a circular reference error. We knew straight away if they were interested or not, and they knew we knew. It made them very uncomfortable.” laughed Brandt “We loved the process and raised money on the second pitch.”
The initial prototype was a conspicuous black block that was placed on the table and faced the prospective funders. The scanning technology would scan for a combination of body language, facial movements, voice clues, and body heat. The technology recorded the meeting and could give you a probability score of each individuals interest in your proposal. You could tell which individuals were pro your pitch and anti your pitch. You could even analyse which parts of your pitch were best received and worse received. This helped prospective startups to hone their pitch.
With the additional funding the technology was finessed further and converted into an app that works on both IOS and Android platforms. The latest version requires a special attachment for your phone or tablet that allows the camera to “see” horizontally whilst lying on a table top, with the ability to scan 180 degrees. This is only a lite version of the technology as the cell phone and tablet manufacturers have not as yet included all the requisite scanning hardware.
3 letters can mean 2 things
“We originally registered the company name and URL as DPS, Drone Pool Systems, so we simply changed DPS to Deal Probability Scanner.” laughed von Bechtolsheim. The company IPO’ed in 2022 and has over 2600 employees across 7 geographies. DPS is working with various military organisations and police forces across the globe, using the technology for highly classified purposes. The biggest market has been the SME market who are using the technology or its original intent; to help streamline the sales process. DPS has 78 million downloads thus far and counting. 72 million cell phone/tablet attachments have also been sold. The advanced version of the product, appropriately named Intuition, has sold 756,000 units. Intuition is a standalone unit that does not make use of cellphone or tablet technology.
Scanning the long term
Prominent Sociologist, Dr Vanessa Blundel says that the DPS technology is changing the dynamic in the VC board room. Some VC’s have outright banned the use of DPS in their meetings. “”The “mask” is one of human’s most important socialogical tools. It is the oil of our interpersonal relationships. A technology that voluntarily de-masks us is unlikely to become successful in the long term. Society will simply kill it.” she added.
DPS are not taking Blundel’s views lightly. The result is the drive for miniaturization of the technology and housing so that the technology can be hidden in the tiniest of devices. The current prototype, called Sixth Sense, is hidden in a reading glasses frame and uses pinhole technology to scan. DPS believes that the technology will continue to miniturise akin to Moore’s Law. “The future looks tiny.” jokes Brandt
We asked the duo about DPS’s original funder, von Bechtolsheim’s uncle. “He is a very happy man” von Bechtolsheim responded “His original $675,000 investments is worth $84 million today and
I still get invited to Christmas lunch every year.”