In 2017, we got started as a bunch of people who loved tech, studied all things that had to do with numbers and code and were deeply involved with software. We had all worked in different jobs before but felt like — deep learning being on the brink of becoming incredibly powerful — we wanted to venture out on our own and build software on our pace with our principles in mind. We were looking to create an environment in which engineers and uppers management would operate on the same level. Signatrix was supposed to be a holistically run company from the get-go. We sort-of chose who was going to do the CEO job by determining who of us was the worst software engineer and could be persuaded to go out and talk to a lot of people.
After a lot of market research and thinking about verticals, problems and how technology could be leveraged to create something that was either 10X what it is today or solving something that couldn’t have been solved altogether, our ideas started to take shape. Having heard of Peter Thiel, we decided to stay clear of overcrowded markets with lots of competition and instead chose to focus on a market that we felt was deeply disregarded by most serious technologists: retail.
Although we did not only receive love for this decision in return, be it from our beachhead market or early-stage investors, we think it was the right choice nonetheless. It allowed us to literally take software into the physical world and solve problems that are intangible, if you “stop, where the internet stops”.
Back to 2017. With the help of our alma mater, we received an EXIST grant that would finance our first year of research and development. We had just moved to Berlin, found a co-working space and got to work. We started building our first MVPs for problems in the loss prevention domain. This was our plan: We wanted to first build something that was super tangible, with a provable value proposition for customers with blatantly obvious problems. We thought that would help us stay credible in a world, where everybody started screaming ever louder that they were doing AI and machine learning, often forgetting what for actually. We were thinking bigger back then already, finding new ways to do retail, automating processes, understanding entire physical environments, but first things first.
Nailing our first products proved a lot more challenging than we’d hoped. We had initial success showing off pilots at industry conventions and getting to know our first customer contacts that helped steer us in the right direction of product development. But we had greatly underestimated what it took to go from minimum viable product to rollout- and market-readiness. Being vulnerable towards your customer and being honest with them regarding what’s working and what’s not and providing realistic timelines doesn’t always feel right but is necessary to achieve great mutual outcomes. We were lucky enough that many stakeholders were supportive when we extended and overextended a promised timeline here and there. Engineers tend to be optimists, which is good — but in order to achieve trust, you need to deliver on your promises. We learned realism the hard way.
Turns out, you need a ton of software infrastructure, deployment mechanics, quality control assurance, retraining capabilities, data storage, versioning and annotation capabilities and so much more. Next to that, although we had some early traction with incredibly large customers, our marketing was practically non-existent (think a pitch deck and a video) and our sales efforts, although well intended and successful at the time, lacked the structure and professionalism to scale.
Fast forward, we had the pleasure of welcoming Alfred Bauer, Gerhard Berger, Gunter Deppner and Bastian Halecker to the company as first investors in 2018. They helped us tremendously in professionalising the first aspects of the company, teaching us about go-to-market, controlling mechanisms, sales pipelines and allowed us to pay out our first payroll ever. Not soon after, we welcomed Lennard Wolf and Salome Apkhazava on board, our first employees who are contributing like crazy until today. With first revenues booked and more great people joining our team, we were now selling 2 products that, while being more and more stable, still did not always meet customer expectations, mainly because we struggled scaling our onboarding, annotation and model retraining process. It involved some heavy lifting by Felix and the entire team to get these issues straightened out, but they did and still do. We raised our first seed round with Daniel Höpfner and Henri Kühnert from B10 in September 2019, who are some of the greatest advisors I’ve met to this day and continue to support us extensively. An extension in early 2020 with Jörn-Carlos Kuntze and Oliver Schwarzer from BTH, days after the second public market dip (fun times, thanks for pulling through with us) followed suit and we are now preparing our biggest rollouts in company history, spanning almost the entire globe. Our products are live all over Europe and even in California. With Indyme, we’ve found a great partner in the US that helps us with distribution and support over there.
We’re just getting started. These are amazing times to be working with retailers and thinking about what the future will look like. Our vision is to build the systems and software that will power the future of retail in partnership with those that make sure we can buy everything we want and need, everywhere, almost any time.
Let’s keep pushing,