When we take a look at what is driving the world, electronics is at the heart. But sourcing the proper electronics components is never an easy task. This is why BotFactory created the Squink – a PCB printer that’s your personal desktop circuit factory. Born out of incredible inconvenience, this i the first of many iterations and advancements in the in the electronic arena to make it easily accessible and consumer friendly.
AlleyWatch spoke with the cofounder Nicolas Vansnick about the product, the recent funding round, and how they plan to grow.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised a seed round.
Tell us about your product or service.
BotFactory makes Desktop PCB Printers that allows anyone to fabricated PCBs, or Printed Circuit Boards. It can print traces, as well as dispense solder and pick-and-place components, allowing anyone to create an electronics device quickly
What inspired you to start the company?
I founded BotFactory with Carlos Ospina and Michael Knox in 2013. Carlos and I were grad students at NYU, and Mike was an EE Prof there as well. The genesis of the idea began when Carlos and I were in an Electronic Design class, and the final project for every student was to create an EEG headset. Nearly half of the class failed because it took too long for each group to have their PCB design fabricated by outside vendors in time – iterations took more than a week, sometimes two, to be made.
This lesson was tremendous – if this was a problem that was typical for any project, then the solution would revolutionize how Electronics could be prototyped and fabricated. Working with our professor Mike Knox, we founded BotFactory to take all of the fabrication processes and ‘miniaturize them’ for the first time. Up until then, everybody had been trying to miniaturize electronics and chips, but not the processes that are employed to create PCBs.
How is it different?
To our knowledge, there is no integrated solution for PCB Prototyping that people can buy today. Squink is literally a PCB factory, taking every process that would be seen on large, 100,000+ square foot PCB manufacturing sites in China or elsewhere and condensing it into a small, 18×18 inch footprint!
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
Electronics is a huge industry, with the industry market value for Electronics Manufacturing topping out at $500 billion or more worldwide. Of course, this figure includes mass-produced PCBs, and Squink cannot produce boards at a high-throughput rate. However, a significant slice of revenue comes from prototyping and small batch production runs – an estimated $5 billion of such orders was spent by US-based companies in past years. There are tens of thousands of research labs and private firms in the USA that do PCB prototyping regularly. In addition, there are many electrical engineering courses that require students to create PCBs, using school prototyping facilities or third-party vendors. Making mistakes, and re-iterating boards, is a part of their education.
What’s your business model?
Our business model is very straight-forward; we sell machines, inks and substrates to customers.
How much time are you saving people?
Whole weeks, even months of time. Right now there are 300,000 Electrical Engineers in America, and each one of them will have to wait between one to two weeks for their PCB design to be fabricated for them. With Squink, they can make that design in an hour or two, or two whole magnitudes in time savings over waiting one to two weeks. In the future, we estimate that we can save billions of man-hours in down-time.
What was the funding process like?
Challenging. It took us longer than we expected but we were careful and diligent and very persistent. Ultimately, it was rewarding because we have the right set of Investors that have been and will continue to add more value than just money!
It’s been said that finding investment is like dating – and as they say, true love waits!
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Hardware companies have a different set of risks and reward profiles that not everyone is familiar with, or is even comfortable with. Generally software is what most VCs know, and have profited from. Hardware is becoming more popular, and partly because they understand it better. Separate from that, we were doing what appears on face-value to be a niche market, when in fact the opportunity is bigger than imagined.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Specific factors outside of that like defined growth (more users, more site visits), positive [coverage and reviews, a big lead investor, a big client signs on, etc. all play a role in closing a round. Sales mattered the most. Generally speaking the best sort of business doesn’t need investment – a self-supporting sustainable business earns more than enough to fund itself. So when your startup begins to grow like a runaway train and VCs sense that they may miss their chance to jump on, checks get signed quickly!
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We can’t comment specifically on our milestones – you’ll just have to find out yourself when you see us at CES 2017! We’ll be at The Sands, in Eureka Park at Booth 51512. See you there!
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Sales! Sell sell sell! Cash-flow is the lifeblood of any company. If the market isn’t buying then maybe you need to take a different tack, look for different markets or go lean as possible.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Up, up and away! We just hired some more people to grow sales and accelerate product development. Again, you’ll have the opportunity to see something very special at CES 2017 in January.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
Well, we all have different opinions about that. Contentious topic! However, by sheer number of visits, we’d have to say that the cafeteria at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City is quite good and very reasonably priced. We have our office at NYDesigns in one of their buildings and always have lunch there.