In the next in our series of interviews, we are talking to Kristjan Maruste of coModule. coModule is a platform designed for light electric vehicle manufacturers. It monitors battery characteristics, displays them to the end-user’s smartphone and collects usage data.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your team-mates?
So we are four guys from Estonia, we all studied at the same University. I studied Mechatronics, one guy studied Electronics and Programming, and we have one guy who studied Thermal Engineering, but he is our Android programmer, and finally we have one guy who studied business and production management. So we all have engineering backgrounds, but we also have a lot of experience with administration and the business side. We came together in a project called Formula Student, where we built racing cars for the university, and competed all around the world. The last car we built was fully electric, and we wanted to commercialise this technology after we graduated. We started a company that did engineering services for electric vehicles, and from the client’s feedback we came to the product we have at the moment.
So you came together with the building of this racing car, were there others also in the team at this point?
Actually, just three of our team were in the racing car team, we found the fourth member of our team in Barcelona. We got an opportunity to go to Barcelona Mobile World Congress to compete at a challenge called University Mobile Challenge, but this meant we had to have an app. At this point we were just developing technology for batteries so we didn’t have an app, but we had an idea that we could connect our technology to an app. We had two weeks to build an app and a demo vehicle, so I wrote on Facebook “does anybody know anyone who can build apps?”. A guy who was a friend of a friend responded, and we met up two hours later. After determining that he could build the app I asked him when he could start, he said “tonight”. He said it would take less than two weeks, and when I told him that we don’t have any money his response was, “no problem”. This is how we got the app guy. We got the first prototype finished in time for Barcelona. There were about 300 teams competing and we made it to the final 16, and from there we made it to the top 6.
Is this the first startup you have been involved in?
I would say this is the first startup, I have had two other companies registered for engineering services and things like that. I even had a company where we bought foosball tables and rented them out at university, which was my first entrepreneurial adventure.
How did you hear about SBC and what made you apply to this program?
Nine months ago I gave up my work at the University to focus on the company, so I haven’t had a salary since then. Then our business developer gave up his job about four months ago, but then we still had the problem that the electronics guy he had a job and the software developer had a job, so it was really hard to get them focussed on the company. We thought that if we went to an accelerator we would have to be there and we would have to focus – plus we would get some seed money to stay alive. We actually applied for an accelerator in China, but that didn’t work out. Then we applied for SBC and also for an Estonian accelerator and we got accepted to both. We decided to come to Bootcamp because it was focussed on Transportation and Energy.
What is the best piece of advice you have received so far?
We have gotten so much great advice, I would even say that the best thing that has happened is that we have actually got a really good cooperation going on with a German company. We gained this opportunity through the first day of mentoring.
We have also gotten feedback on all aspects of our business, and I think one very important part has been financing, how to get it and in what form. Before Bootcamp we didn’t know much about convertible loans, we thought you always have to give equity the moment you want to get financing, which is actually not the case. So it turns out a convertible loan is a very good option for us because it enables you to move a lot faster.
What do you enjoy most about living in Berlin?
Bootcamp. I come here at 8am or 9am and I leave at 9pm or 10pm.
So you haven’t seen anything of the city?
No. And I am not sad about that, because Bootcamp is what I am here to do.
What do you miss most about home?
My girlfriend, because I got engaged just after we had the selection days. I left from the stage and I ran to the plane and the next day we got engaged. Before the Bootcamp started we were planning our wedding. So I miss my family, and my girlfriend most of all.
If you had to be stranded on an island with one other team, who would it be and why?
That is a good question! It is difficult because you have to look at who you get along best with, but also look at who has the greatest potential, because I would say Counterest, but if you were on an island, there is no-one to count! So you would need a team who could build a ship or a helicopter, but I am not sure we have any of them!
If you enjoyed this interview and want to find out more about about them you can visit their website, http://comodule.com/, to find out more.