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Corentin Guillo, founder and CEO of Bird.i, decided to move his company to Scotland where he could hire the best talent to build the company. After raising private equity funding in 2016 and 2017 the company now has 15 employees and will grow to 20 by the end of the year.
In a slightly unusual description of his role Corentin says he is “not creating the business but building the team that will create the business”. Read more about Bird.i in the following interview.
What does your company do?
Bird.i collates and disseminates the best of the world’s satellite, airborne and drone imagery, in order to provide insights and data to businesses globally. The high quality, frequency and accuracy of Bird.i’s images are superior even to the likes of Google Maps, meaning that clients can efficiently monitor changes and trends on the ground, helping companies solve problems, make important decisions, gain competitive advantage and plan for the future.
What do you do there / what is your role?
As the founder, I see my role as not creating the business, but building the team that will create the business, therefore I’m primarily responsible for three key things, recruiting the best talent, defining the right strategy and culture so that the teams work well together and ensuring the business doesn’t run out of money!
What is your background?
I have over 12 years’ experience working with cutting-edge earth observation satellite technology and have always had a drive to bring its value and insights to all; individuals and businesses alike.
I began my career in the space industry in France before moving to England in 2009, and then Scotland in 2016. I have always wanted to impact our world and quickly developed his vision into a business with focus to innovate and disrupt downstream satellite technology applications and create a mass market for the world’s most incredible images.
What was the aha moment that led to the company founding?
The only aha moment I remember is when Google Maps first launched, I tried to look up my house, and I couldn’t find it! I’d managed to view it in many other satellite imagery platforms I had access to as part of my job, so I wondered ‘How is it possible that Google Maps can be so out of date when we have so many satellites mapping our world every day?!
The idea then progressed into a vision, strategy and execution. Over time, I became aware of relevant market trends and new technology we could utilise and made the bold career decision to make it happen.
Why did you launch the company?
I had the original idea of creating Bird.i a bit more than a decade ago when I started to work in the space sector. I saw that this type of Earth observation imagery was only at the disposal of industries such as defense, security or governmental bodies. I understood very quickly that the real value contained in this imagery was underexploited and if I could lower the barrier to access it, a new, much bigger market could be created from it: the mass market.
Where did you get assistance when you started?
The various forms of assistance I received, have collectively played a major role in getting Bird.i started, but the only unconditional and limitless support I’ve had is from my family and most importantly from my wife. She has been here from the outset, supporting, challenging, encouraging, comforting, disagreeing, celebrating… and this has been truly priceless.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
The Bird.i story really started in May 2016 with the first investment round. It was at this time I decided to move the company to Scotland where I could hire the best talent to build the company.
By the end of 2016, we had five employees; two software engineers, two big data engineers and one business person. At this point, we secured a unique agreement with the world’s leading satellite operators and built a platform to disseminate their imagery.
Early in 2017, we secured our first customers in the financial intelligence sector, including Thomson Reuters which led us to the next investment round in June 2017. This grew our team to ten, allowing us to start developing our product offering by the end of last year.
We now have 15 employees and will grow to 20 by the end of the year and our commercial efforts are focused strongly towards the construction market.
Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when?
Yes, two investment rounds, £0.5m in May 2016 from grants and private investors (angels and VC) and £2m in June 2017 from private investors only.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
In terms of team growth, we’ve been roughly doubling the size of the team every year.
Turnover is a bit more difficult to discuss since we’re still in the discovery phase; all I can say is that we’re starting to see great traction from the construction and financial services sectors.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
As a first mover, we’re having to lower barriers, raise awareness and educate the market, it’s tricky and is taking time, but we know it will be worth it.
Recent development in the space sector, although it is more on the hardware side, exposes the mass market to the future trends and how they might be impacted by them; either it is SpaceX with cheaper and more frequent launches, Planet Labs with smaller and a higher number of satellites or free satellite imagery from agencies like NASA and ESA.
What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?
Our target market is mostly within the construction sector, where key uses include:
- Developers who want to view high quality, up-to-date imagery to show potential development sites and their current status.
- Project managers who want to be automatically notified when their construction sites are progressing and operations managers when a specific location needs attention for a maintenance task (clearing up vegetation, identifying a leaking roof or building maintenance for instance)
- Construction intelligence teams: using micro or macro insights to make more informed decisions for one specific project or at a global scale
What are your goals for your business?
The long-term goal for Bird.i is to build a solution that will index the world and track its evolution by extracting information from satellite, airborne and drone data. We aim at making this global index available to individuals and businesses alike so that they can make better, timelier and more informed decisions for their personal and professional lives.
In a simple way, we want to make the best of the world’s satellite, airborne and drone imagery, and the insight it contains, available to everyone.
What are your biggest current challenges?
Channelling our focus into one industry. We are lucky to have so many opportunities and ways to address real life problems by exploiting this imagery, but we must be selective and maintain focus in one area for now while we are still in the development stages.
We have previously done some work around predicting grain commodity exports from a country, tracking the volume of crude oil stored in another, looking at wind turbine orientation for power prediction, monitoring vegetation health for farming… so many opportunities we can go after but for now we are focusing on the detection of new construction and the tracking of existing ones.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Recruitment has certainly been one of the biggest for us. Scotland, and moreover Glasgow is a great place to start a business, there are great universities with a small area to tap in, for instance, more than 60% of our staff are coming from local universities. However, the recruitment of more senior employees to bring them to Scotland can be challenging, even more with the BREXIT and all the uncertainty it creates around immigration and talent retention.
What do you do outside work?
When you start your own business, this is a 24/7 job. I still try to keep some quality time with my family to visit places around Scotland and enjoy every single day of good weather, which we’ve thankfully had a lot this summer!
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
So many things! The entrepreneurial journey is made of experimentation and mistakes, because we are doing something innovative that nobody has done before. It’s inevitable that it’s hard, but as I say so often, if it was easy, somebody else would have done it before. Rather than thinking back what I wished I had known earlier, I’d say to aspiring entrepreneurs to get ready for a roller coaster journey that will be super intense on an emotional level, but of course, very rewarding.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
From my own experience, it is about leading by example, giving clear direction and building trusted relationships.
Where do you see the company in five years?
I would like to see Bird.i meeting the following goals in the next five years
- Becoming the best global Earth observation distribution service: I see Bird.i creating new markets for satellite, airborne and drone data.
- Enabling innovative applications: After raising awareness and educating a new market, I see Bird.i’s platform moving towards integration, where any individuals and businesses can use our platform to develop new types of applications, leveraging our suppliers’ data and maximizing their value
- Being an Employer of Choice: One of our goals is to be a desirable workplace people where people actively seek out opportunities, not purely for our exciting tech-space sector involvement, or our great employee perks, but because of the people and culture we have created.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
The primary area that can be improved is around the attraction and retention of talent. We are already attracting talent from all around the world to study in our best universities which are recognised worldwide. We need to be bolder and punch above our weight, Scotland is an amazing place to create and grow businesses and we need to attract senior staffs now. We also feel that the buzz is focused heavily around Edinburgh, so we’re passionate about helping to get Glasgow to a similar position. We’ve recently started a monthly roundtable with other like-minded start-ups in the city to help improve the landscape.
Corentin Guillo is founder and CEO of satellite imagery company Bird.i
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