SLINGSHOT Startup Series: Clobotics
The SLINGSHOT Startup Spotlight series is a collection of stories featuring SLINGSHOT alumni who continue to blaze the trail post-SLINGSHOT. In each instalment, the founders and teams from the SLINGSHOT alumni share their experience in building and growing their companies. To apply for SLINGSHOT 2021, please click here.
The computer vision startup that wants to digitize the physical world and turn sight into insight.
(Caption: Clobotics team. Image courtesy of Clobotics.)
Clobotics is a technology company that combines computer vision, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and data analytics, coupled with various hardware like autonomous drones, and IoT devices, to automate time-intensive and dangerous operational processes. It currently uses its fleet of drones to take photos of wind turbines for inspection, increasing efficiency, safety, and business performance.
Besides wind power industries, Clobotics is also serving enterprise customers in the retail sector through data-driven insights by capturing images and data of the goods in the stores.
In a matter of four years since its launch, Clobotics was able to make significant progress, and received the affirmation of investor and corporate judges to secure a spot as a finalist in SLINGSHOT 2020. For the founders, the startup journey can happen at any stage in life or career, but what is important is that when the time is right and you have the resolve to make your vision a reality, you will still have to take the plunge and see the vision through.
We catch up with Clobotics to discuss their journey thus far, and what else is in store for them.
(Caption: Clobitics founders from L–R: Yan Ke, George Yan, Zhao Li, Claire Chen. Image courtesy of Clobotics.)
Q: We understand that the Founder and CEO, George Yan was a senior executive in a global technology company. Why did he decide to leave and start Clobotics?
A: The first lesson in entrepreneurship that George learned was about taking the leap of faith itself. “I started to recognize that in the startup world, I know nothing”, says George on a GGV podcast interview. “If you’re a large fish in a small pond, you think that you know everything. You can execute and do anything with your eyes closed – and that’s no longer interesting.”
“I looked deep into myself and said, ‘Am I just going to be a person who has a fast track to the C-suite in a large company? Or do I want to do something bigger?’ I felt like I also had a mission and a vision where I could digitize the physical world. I realized that I have the talent, tools, people, support, and world view to make that happen. So why not take the plunge and try?”
The rest of the founding team came together quickly – they were all George’s former coworkers, all ready (or at least talked into being ready) to take that leap with him when the time came.
Q: What were some of the fundraising challenges you encountered in your journey?
A: The biggest fundraising challenges for a tech start-up is how to make sure the investors will be able to understand the “potential” and the “value” of the start-up and its product. It sometimes is not that straightforward and will require some industry insights to get to the bottom of it.
Selecting the right investor is critical and it is a two-way street, you want to make sure the investors have the same long-term view and the appetite to be on your side through this journey.
Programs like SLINGSHOT will provide a good platform for a young company to profile itself to an international audience of investors and industry leaders, demonstrate the value of its product, and catalyse new conversations with interested parties.
(Caption: Wind blade repair. Image courtesy of Clobotics.)
Q: Can you share more about your current funding to date, and how you apply your funding?
A: We have raised our seed, A, and pre-B rounds with top global investors with likes of GGV, KTB, CDIB, CMC, Tiger, SanXia. They are long term investors that are poised to be on our side for the long haul and we have continuous support from them. We have been working on marketing and promoting the business, developing the talents, as well as growing our engineering and sales forces.
Q: Are there any experiences in your business that continue to shape how you do things today?
A: Back in 2017, we were trying to land our retail product concept and find a customer who would be willing to try it out with us, when we got referred to a very large multinational beverage brand.
We always had a vision of what the end-product would be like. But during development, the actual realization (somewhat counter-intuitively) was that the path to success is not linear: we had to NOT build that initial vision from the get-go as it would require too much upfront commitment from the customer. Instead, we started off with an intentionally inferior product, but which had the lowest barrier to entry for the customer to trial.
Even with that “inferior” product, when we saw the lightbulbs go off in our customer’s heads as they realised how it would solve a very painful problem of theirs, and as they started to internally refer us to their other regional teams… that’s when we knew we struck gold.
Since then, they have worked alongside us year after year, iteration after iteration to improve our product towards that early vision, only this time we also have the customer buy-in for it.
(Caption: Aeriel drone. Image courtesy of Clobotics.)
Q: You participated in the Corporate Challenges at SLINGSHOT 2020. How did this benefit your business?
A: We were already working with several corporations both on the wind energy and the retail sides prior to SLINGSHOT 2020. However, through the event we managed to connect to even more of them and received positive feedback about our pitch and product. This boosted our confidence in the product direction decisions that we have made.
Q: What can we look forward from Clobotics in the next two to five years?
A: Having spent our early year doing product development and iterating with our local partners and customers, we now set our sights on getting our product flying high across the world. This is especially true with our wind product, which is starting to get very mature, even best-in-market in many of the product aspects.
Q: We understand that the pre-series B funding you had raised will aid you in expanding to Singapore. Why did you choose to set up a base in Singapore?
A: Singapore has a highly efficient infrastructure, free market economy, a stable socio-political environment, and an attractive tax regime for setting up a company. Singapore’s strategic location, which is in the heart of Asia, enables Clobotics to access the region’s rapidly expanding markets. Singapore’s extensive connectivity to regional and global markets has also solidified its position as the connecting hub for Asia to the world, and the world to Asia.
Q: Do you have any words of encouragement to SLINGSHOT 2021’s applicants?
A: Everybody needs that kick on the back sometimes. As George said on the GGV Podcast, “Get yourself out of that comfort zone into a new space because there’s a bigger world out there.”
Thanks to Clobotics for being part of this series and sharing their experiences!
This article was brought to you by SLINGSHOT 2021. As we gear up towards this year’s edition, don’t miss your chance to apply for Asia’s most exciting deep tech pitching competition! Like Clobotics, your SLINGSHOT journey could open doors to new corporate and investment opportunities!
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