19. 03. 2021

Inspirational Mondays with Tomas Kovacovsky (Photoneo)

Tomas Kovacovsky is a young Slovak entrepreneur who’s managed to grow his business Photoneo across four different countries and win a long list of Awards since being included in the Forbes 30 under 30 brightest young entrepreneurs in 2017.

He told more about his experiences and business story in the interview by Mary McPherson, a woman who’s dedicated her career to supporting the establishment and growth of various early-stage startups across US and Slovakia. Mary is currently the President of the Slovak-American Foundation and serves on the Boards of Directors of MindShare, the Slovak American Fund, the Path Forward Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Read more about a business success of Photoneo and Tomas Kovacovsky and look a little bit at their business – kitchen.

Mary MacPherson: Why don’t we start for those who might not know Photoneo just tell a little bit about company, what you do and where you are today.

Tomas Kovacovsky: Photoneo is a deep-tech company, we started in 2013. As a cornerstone Photoneo is that we are bringing eyes and brain to the world of robotics. So when you’re thinking about that, we are building sensory tools that become an inevitable part of artificial intelligence, machine learning to understand the world around machines and act accordingly. We’re mostly focusing on B2B which means robotics, logistics and so on.

We are producers of the best 3D camera in the world. It’s the camera that can capture very high quality 3D data which you can then process and feed it into neuron-network and to really recognize objects and structures in the real world and according to that moved the robot. We’ve done work with robotic arms but also with mobile robotics so we are not limited to a place we can go anywhere the robot goes and do the job.

Mary MacPherson: Do you think it’s a good choice when the CEO is running sales? I know that for a lot of companies the CEO as you grow is always going to be the best person but that is also a scalability issue.

Tomas Kovacovsky: I think the CEO would be typically the best sales person but it depends on what kind of company it is and the type of a CEO – if it is a person who prefers to be behind all of the processes or the person who is able to talk and has interesting thoughts to say. In our case Jan is extremely energetic and is able to explain customers our product, its future and how it can help you.

In many cases the CEO is the best salesman and in the beginning it is probably the only one and as the company gets bigger and bigger the way how to deal with the sales has to change and when the company is big enough the CEO needs to think more strategic, he/she needs to think what are the market opportunities, what kind of shift the company needs to take so it would be flexible to react to the market and to focus on specific customers that much because that will took too much of attention.

Mary MacPherson: So what is the structure of the sales organization within Photoneo?

Tomas Kovacovsky: In the structure we have several branches, we have branch for the US, we have branch for Europe, for the Central European region and Asia. Each of the branch has its director who manages the activities in that specific region and besides that we have our feasibility and technical support experts that are able to help customers globally

Mary MacPherson: Out of 150 employees in Photoneo, how many of them are focused on sales and marketing and how many of them are focused on operations and technical stuff?

Tomas Kovacovsky: I would say we are still more of a technological company so there is not enough people focusing on sales. Currently one third of a company is dedicated to sales and marketing but we do really focus on increasing this number as we scale up. I think it is crucial to have sales power to be able to scale besides having a really good business fit and business strategy.

Mary MacPherson: I think one of the challenges in any company in a sales area is how sales and marketing work together. Sometimes they work well, sometimes they don’t but it looks to me that you have very active marketing organization. I see that you recently won the Inspect 2021 award for your Universal Depalletizater as one of the best products in category of automation and control.

These kinds of competitions, somebody has to find them, somebody has to do the application. Can you talk a little bit about how you have used competitions to generate interest?

Tomas Kovacovsky: We have a marketing team that works really really hard. As you said someone needs to do all of that work to apply for the competition, having technology is not enough so I’m really happy that we have a lot of support from our marketing department. As for the competitions, I believe that’s one of the way how we market that we try to keep the edge in several categories and basically that’s some kind of approval that our technology is really on the edge.

Sometimes it was quite easy for us to win awards for the 3D camera several years ago because it is the best 3D camera in the world and I’m happy that we are able to apply the same energy to other products as the Universal Depalletizater which is a solution that helps automatically decompose the palette into individual boxes. We were competing for example with Boston Dynamics so I’m very happy we were able to win it and deliver this value to our customers.

Mary MacPherson: And I guess alongside this you should not wait till the product is finished before you start thinking about the channel strategy. Do those things in parallel.

Could you tell us more about your sales cycle?

Tomas Kovacovsky: As we have B2B products our sale cycle takes always months. Currently, with the pandemic, it’s even more.

Mary MacPherson: What if a customer wants a special feature in your product. How do you decide in such a situation?

Tomas Kovacovsky: Well you need to think strategic. You do not want to say no to a customer but you should always keep in mind whether the feature that the customer is asking for will add traction to your value and to your strategy. Otherwise it could slow you down and it’s not worth it.

Mary MacPherson: What do you see as your biggest opportunities and biggest challenges in 2021?

Tomas Kovacovsky: I believe that the biggest opportunity is the growing e-commerce industry and we believe we have a product with a great value and traction for this industry. I’m really looking forward to seeing the adaption of the product by its first customers and its scale. We spent so much time developing it and from the first feedbacks I can say it looks really promising.

Well for the challenges, it is figuring out how to operate during these times. But besides that the challenge will be also how to keep up with the demand and to scale up our products.

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