Last week LiveMap, a Russian startup that has created a system that makes GPS navigation safer and more accessible to motorcyclists, was among 14 startups to pitch their project at TechCrunch’s CES Hardware Battlefield in Las Vegas.
The system works by beaming information onto the helmet’s visor in such a way that it does not obstruct the rider’s vision.The technology is similar to that used in helmets for fighter pilots, and LiveMap’s optics experts have previously built helmet systems for leading Russian military aviation companies Sukhoi, MiG, Kamov and Mil Helicopters.
In order to keep the rider’s hands free, the system, which is based on Android, is voice operated. If you want to get a better idea how it works, check out this video.
The company claim not to have any direct competitors - GPS companies like Garmin and TomTom are focusing on waterproof, shock resistant devices to be mounted on motorbikes. Google Glass is a more likely competitor, but LiveMap’s team claim that they offer better image quality and they use the field of view in a more biker-friendly way.
The tech is impressive - it had to be to make it to the last 14 out of hundreds of applicants at TechCrunch CES. We talked to CEO Andrew Artishchev about the project so far, his time in Las Vegas and his plans for the future.
Nothing comes easily! And if that’s what you expect you’re going to be disappointed. The state provided seed money for the project which we used to create a prototype. There is very little venture funding available for seed-projects and without this support from the state our project probably wouldn’t have got off the ground.
I want to draw particular attention to fasie.ru. Although it is relatively unknown in the media and among other market players, it’s probably the main source of seed funding for tech R&D startups and is willing to provide money at the idea stage.
Another thing I would like to emphasise is that I never had to pay anything to anyone in order to obtain grants from seed funds. Indeed, I was never given the impression that bribes of any kind were expected.
As for pros and cons, there’s no such thing as ideal money. There are good and bad things about working with the state, just as venture funding has its plusses and minuses.
TechCrunch reported that you are looking to raise VC in the US. Why? Is it easier to raise money in the States? Have you given up on raising funding in Russia?
In the USA there is, simply, more money, and there is also a greater willingness to invest in innovation and hardware projects, while Russian investors tend to prefer software and internet startups that clone already-successful Western projects.
In Russia we were in negotiations with a couple of business angels willing to invest $1 million each, but in the end we weren’t able to agree on a contract.
If it was easy to raise money in the States, we would have done so already. When we were at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco last September we got a lot of attention from the press and other market players, but local investors are reluctant to fund startups that are based outside the US.
Introductions are particularly important in the States. Without them you’ve no chance of getting through to an investor - emails don’t get answered.
TechCrunch also reported that you’re planning to open an office and launch sales in the US and Canada. How is that going? Is it difficult?
At some point in 2014 we will open a marketing and sales office. It’s certainly challenging - it’s the first time that I’ve tried to set up a fully-fledged office in a foreign country and mistakes are inevitably made.
We plan to launch our product in Europe and Russia in 2015.
But will your R&D remain in Russia?
Yes - it’s much easier to find quality staff in Russia than in Silicon Valley.
Can you tell us a bit more about CES 2014? How did it go?
The organisation of the conference was on another level - I have never experienced anything like it. Things work very differently in America when they need something from you, and not vice versa. As finalists at their big show, TechCrunch needed us to get everything right.
Once we had been selected for the final we had more than seven rehearsals. In December we rehearsed online and then there was more practice on site once we arrived in Las Vegas in January. There were ten TechCrunch staff working with us, answering our questions and connecting us with the press on an hourly basis. Our actual pitch was just 12 minutes, but in total we spent more than 7 working days preparing for it.
As I’m sure you’re aware, possibly the most famous hardware project to come out of Russia in the last few years is Displair. The team impressed everyone with their air touch screen and raised significant investment but they seem to have run into difficulties. What do you think has gone wrong?
The project was certainly an interesting one - there aren’t many new hardware products in Russia at the moment.
I think that their main problem is the speed with which they’ve spent all their money. It’s a mystery to me how they’ve spent $6 million and what they found for 70 people to do. To compare - in five years our project has employed 10 people and spent around $1 million.
I think that they priced their product too high. Their machine isn’t particularly complex and yet they were charging over $13,000 for it. I think that if they’d charged $2000-3000 they would have had more success on the Buy to Let market, which would have allowed them to start batch production. Setting a price isn’t as simple as people think, and I think that this mistake might have proved fatal for the project.
They also made mistakes with their business model. From what I gathered from press reports they placed too much emphasis on renting out their product. If Ford decided to launch a taxi service, their main source of income would still come from production, not services, and this is how it is with any device manufacturer. The business model has to be based on sales.
To summarise, there are three stages to launching a successful hardware startup. Creating a product and convincing consumers that they want it, establishing stable production and creating a distribution and sales network. Displair managed about 70% of the first stage, but then started to lose their way.
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