An interview with co-founder Eric Pasma by 53°N. A story about sound and vibrations in vehicle engineering and beyond
Quick nerd alert! This article might be tech heavy to digest. Nonetheless, it is a very interesting story about a niche player in the world of mechanical engineering and manufacturing. We meet Eric at VIBES’ office, currently in the building of incubator Yes!Delft in -yes, you got this- Delft. Walking around their building is fascinating; you can see the innovation around you (airplane and rocket prototypes, lasers) and smell the welding of steel and metal. Eric, down-to-earth and not nerdy himself at all, tells us about what VIBES is doing and how he experiences his entrepreneurial journey as co-founder and Head of Business Development.
The right sound and feeling, but then better and faster…
What is VIBES exactly solving? In short: they help OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), for instance in the automotive industry, to get the sound and vibrations of an in-development vehicle right in a much faster and more cost-efficient way. “Predicting how a vehicle will sound in an early stage, is extremely hard. For example, if you take a sound system and put it in the living room, that will sound completely different than putting it in the bathroom. The same counts for vehicles, in which you have many sound systems in one small room at the same time”, Eric explains to us. At the same time, how a vehicle sounds and how it feels (vibrations) is increasingly important. An electric vehicle should be soundless, where the sound of a Ferrari should be like your grumpy dad.
Obviously, it would be great if you can just build the vehicle entirely and measure, but this is impossible in an early development stage. What VIBES provides is an alternative to the current way of working: an iterative design-build-measure process, often in collaboration with multiple tier 2/3 component suppliers. Obviously, this is a very complex and time-consuming process including many stakeholders. With VIBES’ approach, software technology, now automotive clients can shorten their development-cycle by combining test-data and numerical models of individual components in a modular way, such that sound and vibration levels can be predicted on a vehicle level. You can say that they developed a hybrid method that is much quicker and accurate, plus it improves the target setting for suppliers on a component level.
You are still with me?!
From expertise to start-up opportunity
“We started with consultancy services in the automotive industry, since most of our founding team has the connections and extensive experience in this industry.” Eric himself has a background in mechanical engineering and did a graduation internship at BMW in this field. At the time, one of the other founders was his supervisor from TU Delft, with whom Eric kept in close contact during a short career in the offshore industry.
Clearly this is not an idea you come up within an ideation exercise at INSEAD. Nevertheless, it is a typical example of ‘problem first, solution second’ in a pretty significant market. “We are focusing on the automotive industry for now, since this is where we have our clients and expertise. But clearly, our software can be used in many different industries as well. Basically, every product that has rotating elements is in scope, where you can think of airplanes, high tech machinery, windmills, etc..”
A very challenging go-to-market model
VIBES started off selling consulting skills. Now they moved towards software development, partnering up with measuring equipment manufacturers and simulation software parties to have a seamless integration with existing hardware. However, while talking to Eric we started to see a whole different layer of service opportunities. “One of the hardest things we encounter is how to interact with our clients, who are often part of giant corporate organizations with a lot of power within the industry. To get the benefits from our software, our clients must change their current way of working to some extent. It is challenging to get the right people at the table and convince them of what we see as a much easier and cost-efficient method.” At the same time, they are trying to convince the suppliers of the OEMs to test/measure their vehicle components in a ‘VIBES-certified’ way.
At this point in time, VIBES is primarily making money true their consulting projects, which is a good way of creating a cash flow and learning on the job at the same time. When the software package is launched in the second half of this year, this is probably going to change. “We are still in the process of updating our revenue model; whether this should be a software one-off sale, a subscription model, or a service fee”.
Personal challenges and advise
Eric finds himself exactly in the spot he likes. “I can think about the strategy, work on maturing the company and put structure in place, while also being able to work on the technology and walk around on the manufacturing floor.”
Most challenging is probably that you work together with other people, on which you depend quite a bit. If somebody wants to leave then that is of course perfectly fine for that person, but VIBES then also has to cope with it, which is not always easy in a small company. Moreover, “you have to keep reminding yourself that you have to allow yourself and others to make mistakes, learn from it and implement this in a good way.” According to Eric, you can read a lot of books (like Lean Startup), but in the end you can only learn it on the job, picking out the things that really work for your company.
And finally, our two wacky questions…
…If VIBES.technology was an animal what would it be? “A snake, since we have to find each whole to sneak through in order to get in contact with the right people at the right level in our clients’ organization”
…And if you can hire anyone in the world for VIBES.technology who would it be? “N-1 executive within one of our clients, with an engineering background and a great network”