After raising $1 million, a Sydney startup is diving into unchartered territory by rolling out its big data-powered robotics systems to the US, UK, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.
Abyss Solutions, founded by scientists Masood Naqshbandi, Hina Ahsan, Dr Nasir Ahsan and Abraham Kazzaz, combines expertise in marine robotics, machine learning, civil engineering and data analytics to build solutions that enable its clients to manage a wide range of underwater assets including Australian navy ships.
“We want to be the most reputable asset management company in the world, with technology [and] cooperative forms of robots building infrastructure underwater,” Naqshbandi tells StartupSmart.
Since launching in 2014, the startup has grown to a team of 18 with its customer base predominantly in Australia. But with $1 million in funding from Follow [the] Seed, which it secured in February, that’s about to change.
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“Over the next six to 12 months, we want to have paying customers overseas,” says Naqshbandi.
Abyss Solutions will specifically target the UK’s water industry, shipping in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and all key markets — water, shipping, environmental — in the US, he says.
Naqshbandi says Abyss Solutions aims to help clients make smarter, data-driven decisions by providing them with a more “comprehensive” view of their underwater assets and the environment these are in.
“We’re making inspections safer by using robots instead of divers [and] using data analysis that is much more efficient and accurate,” Naqshbandi says.
Shifting gears to investor money
Naqshbandi says Abyss Solutions turned over more than $400,000 in the last financial year and had been able to sustain itself without external funding.
But to expand globally and accelerate its tech capability, it was time to shift gears.
“The technology we’re developing is so tech heavy and capital intensive because we need to find the equipment, robot parts and [highly skilled] engineers,” he says
Through its global expansion, Naqshbandi and his co-founders will continue to explore the “final frontier” of discovery on earth.
“We were really passionate about the underwater area and saw a lot of technology being developed in the research space that could have been used commercially … 90 percent of the underwater world has not even be explored,” he says.
While Naqshbandi and his team have had some pitching experience from completing muru-D and Incubate programs, the $1 million raise is the first major round they’ve closed.
“There’s the cookie cutter version of VC pitching and then there’s the more personal approach,” says Naqshbandi.
Despite receiving offers from other investors, Naqshbandi says he felt a “personal connection” with Follow [the] Seed’s Andrey Shirben because the discussion wasn’t simply about “market size” and “financials”.
“He was mainly interested in the technology, he saw the potential of where this could go … he knew us as founders were capable of delivering on the vision,” says Naqshbandi.
The difference between good and bad investors
Before choosing an investor, Naqshbandi says it’s critical that founders look for people who will stick with the startup when things get tough.
“A good investor is always an investor that shares your vision and your passion,” he says.
“They’re not there to make a quick buck off you — they believe in you.”
In line with this, founders should aim to partner with investors who have been or are entrepreneurs themselves, says Naqshbandi.
“A good investor will understand your business, its challenges and back you when the time comes,” he says.
“A bad investor will be someone who gives you a very complicated term sheet [and] unrealistic deadlines in terms of revenue and product features.”
To find good investors, partners or team members, it all starts with an unwavering belief in “your vision”, says Naqshbandi.
“Surround yourself with the right people,” he says.
“You know you’re going to be down during this journey [but] every time you’re down get back up. Don’t let the small failures [rob] you of the big win.”