I was reading the great post from HTXL on the ambitious pivot plan they announced last week, moving from “cute tech” to “deep tech”. Although I might not have the correct definition, “deep tech” here is most likely referring to technologies that take time and require lots of brain-power to develop. Often, these technologies do not exist yet and everything must be created from scratch: scientific models, equipment and tooling, vocabulary and buzz words: the full corpus to make it serious enough to get VC’s and corporates pour in lots of money for the long-required development. HTXL is based in Eindhoven, surrounded by the greatest high-tech corporates in the Netherlands hiring thousands of top scientists and engineers. Med tech, silicon tech, telecom…you have them in walking distance on the fascinating HighTech Campus. This pivot makes complete sense.
We know that at AirBliss+ we are NOT deep tech. We do not have any PhDs and we are definitely not willing to develop a medical device for 10 years, to maybe discover that nobody wants it after 15 years of hard work – this requires a completely different mindset. Although one could perceive cute tech as pejorative, we do not. We are proud to be a cute tech because a cute tech is not about adding Bluetooth functionality to a water glass and say, “Look I have a smart glass”. One should not confuse invention with innovation. Cute techs are innovative as they use existing technologies to serve a group of people who are suffering from poor or lack of solutions. Jony Ive from Apple said: “Technology serves a way to get the job done for a product, but the product must serve a customer problem and delighting them.” Delight is closer to “cute” than to “deep”.
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A cute tech that respects itself starts with the customers’ pains – understanding clearly why the current solutions are not adequate and why mass adoption never occurred. Cute tech develops the appropriate solution after numerous iterations validated by real customers, not years of lab validation like for deep tech, but months in the streets digesting harsh critics from people who might purchase the product eventually.
Developing a hardware start-up is HARD. Everybody who is nuts enough to not have focussed upon the very hyped AI, machine learning, blockchain, VR/AR sectors, for instance, knows that. But if you are a bit more masochist than other entrepreneurs, you go for “hardware for B2C” start-up…just to feel the pain. At AirBliss+ we went for the full blend: cute tech, b2c, non-European market. We did not make the choice because we like the pain but because we believe we are solving a real problem with the appropriate solution to enable mass adoption. The job of an entrepreneur is to figure out the PIN-code of an unknown credit card in an ATM. He gets a couple of tries before being blocked. Tech – deep or cute – is just one of many elements orchestrated by the entrepreneur that need to be figured out.
Did we raise funds with angels or VC’s? Well, of course not. It is easy to understand that we do not fit well in their models. Smart money is an extremely risk-averse source of funding. When one good idea – mostly B2B, deep tech – is well FOMO’ed by one or two good names, all the VC’s and corporates of the space jump into it. It is not good to be a contrarian in this business, risks are already high enough. Cute techs were able to FOMO 10 years ago, now this is almost impossible. As a good cute tech, you need to learn the essence of bootstrapping. Having too much money is a curse that often leads to bad decisions. Bootstrapping is a cool word to replace a longer expression “Scarcity makes you very creative in everything you do”. At AirBliss+, we do not only bootstrap our product development but also the way we approach our collaborators or business partners. Less is better.
On a good final note, we are happy that we have convinced Gelderland Provincie of the good quality of our project and we are so excited to have raise non-dilutive funds with the MIT grant. We are confident that we will eventually create local employment and deliver the long-overdue solution with our proud cute tech AirBliss+ to address the burning consumer pains in the market today!