Interview with Poikos founder Nell Watson
We met Nell Watson, founder of Poikos, in Amsterdam and interviewed her about her business model, her future ambitions, the market development and her advice for entrepreneurs.
She gave interesting insights into how to overcome the emotional rollercoaster that makes live hard for most entrepreneurs. If you want to become a more productive entrepreneur, then you should definetely follow her advice.
Poikos is basically taking 2D pictures and creates a 3D simulation of them to be applied to different industries like Healthcare.
Martin: Hi. Today we are in Amsterdam with Poikos. Hi, who are you and what do you do?
Nell: I’m Nell Watson, I’m Founder and CEO of Poikos. We enable the 3D body measurement of people, just using 2D camera hardware, like I’m talking to you now, but typically more on a webcam, or smartphone, or tablet camera.
Martin: Tell us a little bit more about how your business model works?
Nell: We are a SaaS – software as a service – model. We provide subscriptions, typically B2B, for other companies to be able to embed our technology within their own services.
Martin: So you’re basically targeting their websites so they can help measure their customers in order to individualize the product more?
Nell: Yeah, I created the technology originally for mass customization. This idea of being able to have personalized goods made for one, just the way you want and just in your size to fit you like a glove.
Martin: Your customers are more coming from the e-commerce or, like you said, from the gym part?
Nell: I’ve very strong ambitions for the health market, having used the technology myself to create an idealized version of myself and to track how my weight changes as I get towards that goal.
Martin: How does the technology work, because it sounds quite funny, from 2D to having a 3D model?
Nell: Yeah, it’s a funny technology, I’ll admit that. It’s funny because I set out to solve the problem of how do you capture 3D data? And I decided to take six months out, and traveled all over the world, and I talked to very interesting professors, so many different nations, and I gradually gathered little bits of data, like playing detective. And after about six months we were able to start making a prototype and I put together a team and away we went. So it was very problem-focused. And we found the solution with just two pictures. We can do a technique called Auto- photogrammetry or Stereo-photogrammetry, which enables you to have a front and side of an image, and if you have those two pictures you can reconstruct 3D out of it. There’s a lot of algorithms and image processing in there, but that’s basically how it works. Two pictures can reconstruct 3D.
Martin: Is this some kind of technology where you have the intellectual property for it?
Nell: Yes, we do have patents filed in the UK and US, and those will be pending soon.
Martin: What other applications could I imagine from this kind of technology, because right now you’re targeting this e-commerce and maybe health or gym companies, what other applications could you think of?
Nell: Customer fit is one, suits, customer fit bicycles even. As far as I understand, getting a good fit for a bike can cost $150 to $200 for the enthusiasts’ market. But those were high-value, high-margin, but low-volume markets. I think the greatest disruptive potential is within health, not just in terms of helping people to manage their weight, which is a huge problem all over the world, but we can also do things like create censuses, epidemiology, we can look at whether people in one area of a country have certain health problems or not. And we can begin to look for changes in the shape of the body, which may manifest conditions like Diabetes type 2 or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome before they are actually detectable by the person themselves or by a doctor.
Martin: So if you want to target a different industry segment, do you think of different pricing schemes for this or even setting up different websites so they are not mixed with user base or so?
Nell: Pricing has actually been one of the most complex areas of the business to get straight. To be honest, we’re still working that out. It’s not just about different sectors, but also different sizes of companies, different companies have different needs, different volumes of scans, but also different markets. We have some early adapters in India, we’ve some early adapters. Obviously the same pricing scheme is unlikely to work well in both markets, so trying to stratify things by geography adds even more complication. So we are still experimenting with how to crack the best pricing model that suits everyone.
Martin: Let’s talk a little bit about the corporate strategy of Poikos. I know a company in Germany that is doing a little bit something that is similar, they’re doing something like taking the picture from Skype or a camera or so and then setting up some kind of 3D model, and they provide this size data, etc., to e-commerce stores. My question would be what is your competitive advantage, if you assume this to be a competitor? And how do you think you can perform better?
Nell: Sure. I believe the company you’re talking about is UPcload . Great company, great company, I had the pleasure of meeting Sebastian Schulze, one of the co-founders, a couple of weeks ago at MIT, JSW in Morocco. Great guy, we were on a panel together. And it was very interesting to see the commonalities between the two companies, and yet how we took different philosophical perspective on certain things. As I understand it, UPcload has largely begun to move away from computer vision and into a statistical model. So they collect hundreds of thousands of different body measurements, mostly 2D rather than 3D data, and then from a couple of small, manually input measurements they can reconstruct with a good estimate what that body should be and the relevant sizes. And that is a fantastic application for e-commerce. I think they’re probably going to be very disruptive in that space. We focus on a different area. We are all about capturing snapshots of history, so it’s about this person and what they looked like at that time. I think that has many more applications for the custom fit where you need more measurements and, ideally, 3D body data to go with it, particularly for health, because obviously taking snapshots over time is how we understand how our health is today and where it’s going tomorrow.
Martin: As I understand it, you are looking through the historical data, and they are only at one point in time?
Nell: I think they have a very elegant solution for fitting of clothing. We find out what the measurements are today in order to better understand the best way of going forward form that point in health, or producing more complex measurements for mass customization.
Martin: What do you think are the main drivers for your business model in order to, let’s say, conquer the world.
Nell: It’s interesting, it’s a nice problem to have, but Poikos can be applied in so many different sectors. And choosing an initial market as a beachhead has been an interesting decision. Mass customization is a reasonably small but growing sector, and that’s where – as I mentioned – we have so many companies screaming at us for our technology. However, I wonder if health might be a very interesting place for our technology. As I said, it’s unique the ability to capture a snapshot of a person, this holistic idea of the body. And health is also very sticky in that people will come back every few weeks to check in and scan themselves and see what’s changed. I think that being able to make a different, a true difference to people’s life and health, will give us a distinct competitive advantage going forward.
Martin: One thing that I was wondering right now about is if you have all this data, let’s say of one million people or so over a time of two or three years, wouldn’t data privacy be an issue?
Nell: Absolutely. The privacy of that data and making sure that it doesn’t fall into bad hands, and that the user themselves is respected, is incredibly important. And insuring the privacy, the security and the integrity of that date and its use is something that is extremely important to me on a personal level. And I want to make that clear to our customers and our clients that we’re one of the good guys and they can count on us. I think that is another competitive advantage if we can clearly convey that message to our customers.
Martin: And this custom fit market, how do you perceive the historical development in different countries, or maybe there are sub-segments, and how do you think these segments will perform over the next five years?
Nell: Great question. As a businessman yourself, I am sure you’re familiar with this idea of traveling to the Far East for business trip and getting yourself measured for a suit, and then in three weeks’ time it arrives at your doorstep. I think that we have an opportunity to change the idea of how custom fit goods are made. Being able to serve a global market where you don’t actually have to have the person in the store getting themselves measured, I think that is a really deal changer for the market itself. And I think that it’s going to unlock a new wave of mass customization. We’ve seen companies like Style Shake and United Styles come out with the promise of creating something you can have it your way in terms of the garment. You design it and it fits you like a glove. And they’ve all faced a lot of trouble. It’s my hope that technologies like Poikos will enable a turn in the road for mass customization to really take off before the end of this decade.
Martin: So basically every tailor should be afraid of you?
Nell: No, not afraid. We are out to celebrate custom fit, and we’re out to empower people. We’re not out to destroy, we’re out to cooperate, we’re out to make a real difference and a real benefit to the world.
Martin: As you have a blog yourself about psychology and all this emotional stuff, we would like to share some insights with our readers about the emotional rollercoaster, and do you have psychological tips that you’re going to give first-time entrepreneurs?
Nell: Absolutely. I’ve had a real roller-coaster on this startup and former startups. As an entrepreneur you know how it is. I realize that I felt better being able to share that journey. When I was just keeping it into myself it was getting me down a lot. It was difficult to shake off certain emotions, not just bad stuff but also the happy stuff, like you make a sale or somebody is really interested in what you’re doing. So I started sharing it. About six or nine months ago I started a blog and I started talking about the psychology of running a venture and the important of self-knowledge. This idea of understanding how one’s mind works and beings able to hack one’s thinking to approach things in stoic, straightforward way, instead of being swept away by emotions. I have learnt techniques that mean that now if I have a bad day things will wash over me instead of knocking me back. And I decided that I really wanted to share that, and so I’m working on a book at the moment, I’ve created a little game you can play that helps to teach these kinds of habits of entrepreneurship, because entrepreneurship is a discipline, it’s something that needs to be worked upon and can be learnt.
Martin: Are there one or two techniques that you could share with our readers?
Nell: Sure. I think the first is being able to break down a gigantic, big, hairy, scary situation, and being able to focus, Okay, forget about the big picture, what do you need to work on now, and what is going to give you the biggest benefit today? Okay, sit down and do it. Begin. And something else is that it’s easy to get burned out, you just spend too much energy and you put too much emotion into things, and then you can get overawed by stuff. I found that sometimes even just getting up and doing the dishes and making your bed, if you’re really in a bad way, call it a success and then move on, and then the next day you do it a little bit more. I think that that is the best way of regaining one’s motivation and one’s energies after flirting with burnout. And those kinds of techniques enable you to keep going when otherwise other entrepreneurs might just have given up.
Martin: I totally agree on the first point, because when we wrote a blog post about this emotional rollercoaster we learnt also that a lot of people are super-happy when looking at the long-term and thinking we could sell the company for billions of Euros if we continue to grow like this. But actually in maybe one week the biggest customer says we don’t want to buy your product anymore, and they they’re super down. So just focus on the big picture, but then keep on moving in small steps to what’s the goal.
Nell: Absolutely. And this rollercoaster it’s something that isn’t often talked about. I’d like to change that. Let’s change that. Let’s get people talking about this stuff and supporting each other. I think that’s so important.
Martin: Thank you very much Nelly.
Nell: Thank you.