Recently, we sat down with Alexander Marten, Founder and CEO of Augmentation Industries, to gain insight into their entrepreneurial journey, their victory at SmartCamp Berlin, and what they expect to accomplish at the SmartCamp Europe regional final in Vienna. The following is from our interview with Alexander:
Q: In one sentence, tell us what your company solution/mission is. What problem are you trying to solve?
A: mad is fitting brains into cars – extracting and analyzing car data and providing it over an open platform to car centric service providers like insurance companies, automobile clubs, repair centers, emergency centers, etc.
Q: Tell us how your company came to be. What is the background and history?
A: It all started with buying an Ariel Atom sports car in the UK. In order to be allowed to drive such a car in Germany, I had to fit an OBD-II interface into it which was really expensive and in my view absolutely unnecessary. In order to understand why I had to pay over 3,500 euros for the fitting, I got deeper into the technology and learned that all cars manufactured after 2000 are required by law to have such an interface and that all car data is accessible by this interface. That’s when the lightning struck – if you could come up with a system that accesses all this data and relays it to a device like a smartphone, endless business possibilities open up.
I talked to Stephan, my co-founder, who was a colleague and had worked for several car manufacturers. He loved the idea. That’s when everything got rolling – market research, patent application, first incorporation, etc.
Q: Was here a moment when you realized you had a “big idea”?
A: Well, kind of – after you realize that there is a way to extract pretty much all car data out of any car you think about the application side – how many cars could be affected by this technology and what companies would be interested in that kind of data. And that is when you realize that there are over 1 billion cars in the world and pretty much any service provider that is offering a service relating to cars would be interested: insurance companies, gas stations, reselling platforms, automobile clubs, emergency centers, the government, infrastructure builders, police, parking lots, etc.
The “bigness” or scalability comes from the multiplication of people using cars and that most of the existing cars worldwide are compatible with our technology. Add to that the use cases you can think of – that is when you sit back, think a second time about it and say to yourself “This is something that could disrupt quite a huge market as it will change all processes attached to cars…”
Q: What brought you here to IBM SmartCamp, and what is the main thing your company hopes to accomplish by working with IBM and being a part of the competition?
A: We got in touch with a lawyer from DLA Piper, Matthias Lupp, who is also a mentor for IBM SmartCamp. He listened to our idea and said in the first sentence “Have you ever thought of applying for IBM SmartCamp with this?” To be honest we didn’t know about SmartCamp at that point. I did some research and was overwhelmed by the idea and the people behind it. After that it was a no-brainer to apply.
We have two goals with being part of IBM SmartCamp. First, IBM is THE company when it comes to intelligent machines (Deep Blue, Watson, etc.) and real time analysis on big data (e.g. IBM MessageSight). By being part of IBM SmartCamp, we hope to draw the attention of IBM decision makers to our solution and get better access to such leading edge technology. The other goal is to start generating public attention and buzz about our technology since we will enter the market in 2014 and we are looking to raise a new capital round. The VCs we are in contact with regarded our winning of the German IBM SmartCamp title highly, as this shows that one of the leading technology corporations believes that this is something worth keeping track of.
Q: How have the mentoring sessions been for you? Are there any major takeaways you’d like to share, or are there any changes you are planning to make in your presentation?
A: Totally! The mentoring was intense – make no mistake. We met over 30 coaches and, of course, there was a lot of feedback. It helped especially in a way that we sharpened our position more and realized that there was info missing that was really obvious to us but not to an innocent bystander. Therefore, we changed some slides and put more focus on those areas the majority of the coaches questioned us in.
Q: What are the biggest challenges your company faces?
A: As a founder I learned that the “biggest challenge” is always the next one next you are facing. And most of the times you have to face challenges today you didn’t know about yesterday. I once heard a quote I believe is very true: “Founders are like sky divers – only they assemble the parachute after they jump on the way down.”
However if you ask me today, I would say it is the raising of our A-Series. Being a startup that also has to manufacture hardware, we have more cash demand than the regular startup with a pure online model. If you are looking for cash north of 2 million euros, the number of VCs you can go to in Germany becomes quite limited.
Q: What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made personally to be an entrepreneur?
A: My private life. At the moment it is non-existent – a fact my wife really hates, but she understands that it is required at the moment. Even though people think it is horrible to work every day and usually until most people are in bed, I enjoy building this company. Never in my life have I been so happy with my work even though it cost me a lot. I believe that in the end everything will come to terms and that there will be a time I can easily take a week off and not think about the company.
Q: How do you feel as the winner of your local SmartCamp?
A: It is a great feeling when you present your idea to over 30 coaches who are renowned in their industry. And that they all agree that our idea was something worth promoting… There is no better feeling – people believing in your ideas. In a word: awesome.
Q: What does this win mean to your company?
A: A lot. As I mentioned earlier, this award shows that IBM believes in our idea. It also helps when you talk to others: investors, customers, suppliers, etc. They see that there was a process from IBM and they decided that this was the smartest German idea for the year, they take you more serious. As a startup, you always have to prove that you are worth the time to talk to. Winning IBM SmartCamp Germany helps to get people to the discussion table faster.
Q: What do you expect of the SmartCamp Finals in Vienna?
A: As always, when it comes to competing among winners, the competition will get harder. The smartest country winners will be present and therefore we expect tougher questions and more in-depth review of our idea. On the other hand, we also expect new feedback as we will be pitching to coaches who haven’t heard about the idea before and who come from other countries and industries. Therefore, we hope to get feedback on facets that haven’t been mentioned before.
Q: Why do you think you should win this SmartCamp final?
A: To be honest, I haven’t looked at the other ideas yet. Therefore, I cannot tell whether we are really in the position to win this SmartCamp. Just looking at our technology, I am convinced that it is really sound and fits in with IBM’s approach. TO make a planet smarter, you have to get the basis right – you have to know how things work right now. Then you can come up with a solution to improve the status quo. That is exactly where mad approaches the problem. Travel and traffic are huge problems , especially with the exploding figures of people living in cities. But we still don’t know how travel and traffic exactly work. mad makes it transparent and offers a way to get directly in touch with the people who are participating in travel. That is how you can implement a solution to improve travel, traffic and cities – I think that this is a smart way to improve our planet.
You can watch Alexander and Augmentation Industries compete for the IBM SmartCamp Europe regionals on Nov. 8th. Register now to attend!