May 13, 2020 · 5 min read
Starting a hardware startup is - you guessed right: hard. Running a hardware startup during COVID19 is even harder. Our co-founder Matthias gives some first-hand insights into how the situation is impacting AiSight in the following interview with the Hardware Club.
Update to the article on 11.11.2020: As we head to the third week of light lockdown here in Berlin and the rest of Germany, we find ourselves going back to this article to see how this second wave compares to March. The ways we are reacting are the same, but we’re happy to acknowledge that this time we were more prepared in the face of the emergency.
Already in September, as growth in infection rates started accelerating, we reintroduced turns. We limited the maximum number of people allowed in the office to 10, and we established that each of us had to smart work for a minimum of three days—and that these days had to be adjacent to the weekend and constantly updated and monitored in Personio.
Once again, priority was given to the members of the hardware team, due to their need to constantly access the lab and tools. At the same time, the maximum number of people allowed in each room of the office was limited to three. As we felt that masks started to become a necessity in the office, too, we ordered two new masks for each employee. This made adjusting to the new rules issued on September 30th, including the obligation to wear masks in the office, extremely easy. Finally, as we went back into lockdown, we established that only people with an urgent need to access the office are allowed. Meanwhile, we simply restored all the practices and habits we mentioned in the article below. We hope that once again, everyone is staying safe and healthy!
Remote Machine Monitoring, Remote Work
These are unprecedented times. Technology connects us like never before. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things are causing a revolutionary digital transformation to manufacturing, changing the fundamental processes of productivity.
And now, for our own health and safety, we’re forced to isolate ourselves from each other and our workplaces.
As the global pandemic deepens and hastens the ongoing changes to work, we have to leverage all available technology to keep ourselves working, even while we can’t be at work.
This affects us at AiSight too. It’s poignant. We make a predictive maintenance solution for industry that issues alerts of future machine breakdowns. Our solution enables fully remote machine monitoring—maintenance technicians can get a complete picture of any monitored machine’s health without even stepping into their factory. This is an asset in the days of social distancing—and yet as a digital manufacturing tech company developing a hardware solution, we have been forced to manage the same challenges as any company producing material products.
Running a Digital Manufacturing Tech Company Under Lockdown
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. Apart from this, I want everybody to stay safe.
As 20% of the global population is forced under lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus, building an alternative to in-person work while maintaining strong sense of community is more important than ever. As a digital manufacturing tech company, AiSight has been able to take some changes in stride, been challenged by others, and stands prepared to advance the digital transformation in manufacturing.
For any young startup, there is a lot at stake with respect to building community. Startups are renowned as entities that disrupt the market and bring forth innovation. Other than winning business models, this is attributable to two factors: our ability to establish strong relationships, and our cultures, deeply rooted in smooth communication flows. Is it possible for startups to preserve these characteristics at a time when isolation reigns supreme? If yes, how?
The Hardware Club, a well-known community for hardware startups and venture capital firms tried answering these questions by interviewing startups’ founders, including Matthias Auf der Mauer, co-founder and CEO of AiSight.
The Hardware Club Interview: How a Digital Manufacturing Startup Handles Remote Work
Hi Matthias, what is your background and what is your startup working on?
My background is in Mechanical Engineering. I studied at ETH Zurich. My interest in technology and the Internet of Things really grew, especially while I was doing my master’s thesis at UC Berkeley, and my subsequent work at Clarity, a young sensor startup in Berkeley. While I was working at the Porsche Digital Lab, I got the chance to expand my knowledge about the manufacturing industry. Meanwhile, Industry 4.0 kept gaining a foothold and discussions on how AI can bring forward the digitalization of the factory grew dramatically. That became the main idea behind AiSight: we prevent machine breakdowns in the manufacturing industry with our vibration-based sensor kit, that is easily plugged into production machines. It analyzes their vibrations, identifies anomalies, predicts breakdowns and optimizes production processes in real time.
How is your business being impacted by Covid-19?
The current crisis impacts our business in many different ways. The biggest challenge is the one that every business is going through: reorganizing everything in order to work from home. On the other hand, not all things can be carried out remotely. For example, we are facing many problems related to our hardware development unit. We are having supply chain issues, as delivery times are longer for almost all of our components. Moreover, hardware development requires a lot of equipment and, thus, access to our lab. Regarding software, our customers in the manufacturing industry have shut down, which has prevented us from doing as much data collection as usual. Finally, industry fairs and events in general are a great chance for us to connect with other innovators and potential customers but, of course, everything has been suspended.
How are you managing remote working with your team?
We are extremely happy with how the remote work situation turned out. AiSight is all about teamwork, so we are used to meeting and discussing everything together very often. We managed to replicate our normal workflow by transforming all of our normal meetings into online calls and everything is working efficiently, even in events such as the All Hands, where many people are involved. In order to keep our hardware development going, usually one person that needs access to the lab is present in the office, and delivers equipment like sensors to others at home, so that everyone can proceed with the development tasks that can be carried out from home.
Can you describe a typical day at AiSight since Covid-19?
We have managed to preserve our usual routines like Scrum sessions and All Hands, and even conducted our entire quarterly planning some weeks ago. Our typical day starts with the Dailies, in which each team member gives an update on their current tasks. If someone needs more detailed feedback or help on some issue, we schedule additional calls. In the afternoon, we sometimes try to replicate the usual perks that come from being in the office, such as coffee breaks, mostly via online calls too. The rest of the time is not so different from normality: everyone works on their usual tasks.
Do you have positive news to share with us?
Like every other business, we were scared that the current situation would lead to a loss of customers and projects in general. We took immediate measures and contacted all of our clients right away, expecting the worst. We were extremely happy to hear that all of them are still very keen on pursuing the projects and some are even willing to roll out the projects to larger installation sizes. These clients realize now more than ever how boosting digitalization in their firms is vital to save on production costs. And then, of course, making the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list together with my cofounder Max was another great highlight.
If you could broadcast a message to the whole world right now, what would it be?
I believe that although we are going through difficult times, resilience can make good things come out of everything: if faced with the right attitude, change can be a great initiator for improvements. As Winston Churchill used to say “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. Apart from this, I want everybody to stay safe.
If you want to know more about how AiSight is supporting our clients and teams during the COVID crisis, drop us an email, stay up to date on our social media, or subscribe to our newsletter.
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