Permasense case study

Background

  • Rapid Innovation Group worked with Permasense Limited 2010 – 2015.
  • Permasense is a provider of differentiated corrosion monitoring technology aimed at the Oil & Gas market.
  • The company grew out of Imperial College with the R&D being funded by one of the Oil & Gas supermajors.

 

Rapid Innovation Group’s brief

  • To work hand-in-hand with the CEO from 2010 in taking the company from a single customer entity to one with customers across the world in different segments of the Oil & Gas market.
  • Year 1: Negotiate out of exclusivity with the supermajor. Embed the technology with 6 other “early adopters” in the market.
  • Year 2: Demonstrate significant growth and repeat orders both from within existing sites and with other sites within groups.
  • Year 3: Further demonstrate growth and move towards upstream.
  • Year 4: Grow revenues in emerging markets through establishing channel partners in these markets.
  • Year 5: Grow revenues through channel partnerships in the Asian and Australian markets as they set up new offices and hired new personnel to cover the Americas and Europe.

 

Achievements

Year 1:

  • Exclusivity relaxation negotiated without surrendering any equity or significant royalty payments.
  • 8 new customers proving that the technology had application across the industry, not just for a single customer.

Year 2:

  • Revenues of $3.6m.
  • Repeat orders from all but 2 of the Year 1 customers.
  • 15 New sites.
  • Penetration across all the supermajors.

Year 3:

  • Revenues of $5.4m.
  • 20% of revenues from upstream.
  • Customers across 20 countries in all 6 major continents.
  • Strategic partnership creating significant value / revenues for the company.

Year 4:

  • Revenues of $7.2m.
  • Emerging markets constituted a third of revenues.
  • Channel partnerships set up in all the major Asian markets.

Year 5:

  • Revenues > $10m (40% growth in a down market in Oil and Gas).
  • Asia and Australasia expected to comprise more than 30% of yearly revenues.
  • Significant new orders in three major Asian markets.
  • 6 of 7 channel partnerships delivering revenue.

 

By the time Rapid Innovation Group stopped working with Permasense, they had a Chief Revenue Officer, a Chief Marketing Officer, 3 additional sales offices (US, Asia-Pacific and Aberdeen) and a team of 10 people in the sales and marketing functions to drive growth across the business across both upstream and downstream.

GTS Story

There is an old saying that failure is part of innovation, and perhaps the most important part. The birth of GTS certainly reflects this. Like a lot of success stories, it started with a failure. In fact, it started with two failures.

Back in 2009, RIG had looked at the traceability space. We started working with the Germany-based COO of a Norwegian traceability firm. The project ran into the hedge early on and we realised that the company’s business model was simply never going to work. We learnt a lot and became more interested in traceability. The company withdrew from the German market and invited their COO to become a reseller for them in Germany. The COO was knowledgeable and capable. We liked him. We sat in Frankfurt Airport and reviewed the situation. Not much value in being a reseller we concurred. Why don’t we start a traceability company and reinvent the traceability business model? And so we did and Global Traceability Solutions was born. And that is the truth about how you start a company. You start. There is great momentum in the start.

And that is where the second failure played its part. That failure played out in the boardroom of a client company, the place where strategy should be honed and debated with rigour. It was our failure too as we had representation on that board. Take a great little SaaS company that had niched the top end of its market and add a stellar client list and a fast growing recurring revenue base and you should have the makings of a £50m+ exit. Except that didn’t happen. The exit was less than £20m but more than £10m. Pay back the VCs, add in their rolled up quarterly fees, and their slice of the exit, and don’t forget those loans. If it wasn’t a failure, it was certainly a sub-optimal outcome. And it didn’t have to be that way. What attracted the VCs was that client list. The company got a million and then a few more. And that arguably is where it all started to go wrong.

We could have capitalised on our position, built out that client list further and secured our market position by investing in the product that had taken us to this point. But we didn’t. There was a new product vision that consumed a large part of the funds. Meanwhile the original product was starved of investment. It kept selling and though we got better, the selling got harder. The new product was late but that didn’t matter because it was going to sell for £100k per client, per year. Only it didn’t. The sales team, now charged with selling two products, didn’t want to sell it because they knew it was an overpriced lemon that the customers wouldn’t buy. And so all of that money got spent and the company headed to the exit door. But that wasn’t really the failure. The failure was at the point of inception, in not going to talk to the market with a piece paper and a pencil and a drawing of what we were proposing to build and then asking the question: Would you buy that? The answer would have been no. That reconnaissance might have cost £10k all in and would have saved several million.

This saga was being played out as GTS was being born and with it a determination to do things differently. So from the beginning, we sought to bring the customer into the room and to address the market and distribution challenge even before we started building product. Once we had a product we would avoid descending into that deep valley where costs exceed revenues from which many startups never emerge. From the moment we had product, we would have customers and distribution in place. That was lesson of that second failure.

The first big challenge was to identify a market in which we could carve out a position. We wanted a market with a specific emerging problem. That problem had to be one that companies had no choice but to address. It had to be a challenge that no other vendor had yet comprehensively addressed. We settled on the timber market where European timber importers and retailers would be required to comply with the requirement of the new European Timber Regulations (EUTR) which were due to come into force in March 2013. Having a compliance driver suited our home market as German companies are quicker to adopt new regulations than many of their EU partners.

The second challenge was to build a solution that was fit-for-purpose and to test out our thinking around a platform approach that would make on-boarding companies in a supply chain as easy as signing up for Facebook. What we grasped from the start was that compliance was a common problem shared by companies that were otherwise competitive. This insight made it possible for us to build a consortium of large timber retailers. The quid pro quo was simple enough: They would inform our development and ensure we built a product that was fit-for-purpose. In return, they would get free use of the platform as long as they pushed adoption of the platform down their large and overlapping supply-chains. This experience created what was to become our basic ‘thesis’. Forthwith, though with some profitably notable exceptions, we would be most attracted to markets that had an emerging data problem in their supply-chain, which no vendor had yet addressed, which industry players (with GTS acting as the catalyst) were willing to collaborate to resolve.

Alongside this initiative, we looked for an indirect distribution channel that could give us some early scale. We entered discussions with one of the large European certification service companies that we anticipated would become a monitoring organisation for the EUTR. While ultimately this collaboration was fruitless and we ended up partnering instead with a forestry certification body, we reached the point of signing a Letter of Intent (LOI) which lent support to our fundraising efforts.

We knew that our approach to solving the distribution challenge from the outset would help us raise funds and so it proved. Smart investors accept that technology risk is part of the deal. What really worries them is market risk. Our business plan sketched out our approach to nullifying this risk without mentioning how far down the road we already were to enacting it. Our business logic was favourably received and funding became contingent on formalising the commitment of our consortium members and an LOI from the certification services firm. These materialised shortly afterwards, and that is how we raised over €1m of seed capital before one line of code had been written.

Since its launch GTS has on-boarded more than 65,000 companies onto its platform.

Advanced Materials case study

It is always our objective to work with truly disruptive and fundamental technologies, and back in 2014 we were fortunate enough to start working with a company whose technology has the potential to change every metal surface in use in industry. Ostensibly, it’s a coating process technology, though in actual fact it is far more ingenious and, more importantly, effective – the process allows its user to change by design the fundamental chemical make-up of a metal surface.

As we all know, metals are highly reactive materials and they react with oxygen in the atmosphere to form metal oxides – the relatively inert ceramic surfaces that we see when we look at anything from a tin can, to a gold wedding ring, to a steel drill-bit. Our client has developed atechnology which is able to induce a chemical bond between a metal and another material, in permanent replacement of nature’s arbitrary oxide layer. The options for what material to use to bond to the metal are very broad indeed and include methacrylate (super-glue), PTFE (Teflon), epoxy (ubiquitous coating material) – and many more. The significance here is that the technology means the user no longer need put a material on the oxide layer, but to design an alternative layer that is just as integral to the metal as the oxide used to be, and to use that as the foundation for subsequent materials.

We came across this client when it already had a fully-fledged application developed and in use. They were working with the European Space Agency to produce the heatshield for their 2017 mission to orbit and image the sun. Our client’s technology, and in particular the coating of titanium with a black calcium phosphate, had been genuinely enabling – no other technology was able to survive the simulation testing – and thus had been hurtled through the technology readiness levels to achieve mission sign-off within 3 years. This is largely unheard of in the ultra-conservative space industry.

Space may be vast but its economy is still relatively tiny, and so our mission is to commercialise the technology in terrestrial industry. This of course means building product-market fit, validate demand, and funding to allow for industry/ application specific R&D as well as ongoing commitment and validation of commitment to the ‘product’. In this case, the product is the result of substantial development – the solar application is a great exemplar but has only limited adjacent markets (Mercury?), and given the truly platform nature of the technology, the process equipment, the specific use cases, the appropriate materials and materials systems and economic value cases all needed to be started again from scratch.

Amongst the first things we did was to understand the true expertise that exists within our client company, and the synergistic expertise that exists in industry. We also conducted a cursory assessment of various industries and markets which led us to the conclusion that rapid commercial uptake of the disruptive technology would require a strategy that would not disrupt the existing supply chains active in industry. We used these basic tenets to model and subsequently to build the appropriate partnerships that feed into a business model that maximises value and mitigates risk.

We established the focal point of a wide variety use cases (i.e. problems in need of solutions) covering a number of different industries. We did this with end users such as oil companies, refinery companies, automotive, electronics companies etc, and validated demand and established relationships which we are then able to use as leverage throughout the value chain, to ensure that the partners that we want to work with have the business case and impetus to work with us.

As a result of the above, we now have established relationships and JDAs with a number of multinational OEMs, end users, coating and materials companies, and equipment manufacturers. Through these relationships we have firmly established the IP protection model that will see long-term IP capture and evolution. We have agreements in place that clearly demarcate the IP ‘realms’ of our client and its partner companies. This allows partners to commercialise their own proprietary products built on the technology platform, while also building out our client’s IP portfolio and giving access to established routes and relationships into the adopting end-user communities.