INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Coping with the Pandemic in An AI-Startup
We talked to Ben Simon about how VAY is a State-of-the-art AI that understands human motion and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ben Simon: Luckily, my family and I have been spared from the COVID-19, and everybody in my closer circle is healthy. But I also know that many other families are suffering a lot under the current situation. Christmas will be different this year.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded VAY?
Ben Simon: Initially, I started my career on the “corporate-track” as its typical for graduates of the University of St. Gallen. After graduating from high school, I started working in banking and launched my model career in Milano to pay for my studies. While finishing my studies, I gathered experience in different financial sector for different brands in different positions. I quickly came to understand that this path wasn’t right for me. I wanted to have an actual footprint and work on something relevant that I am passionate about. At the same time, I got to know my Co-founder Joel, and we realized that our different skills and combined passion for health would allow us to start something meaningful together.
I’ve always been very passionate about sports in general. I actively played football, acting as a referee, participated in athletics, and trained in the gym, which all resulted in great shape and many physiotherapy sessions. This realization also led to our shift from a fitness product to a broader health focus, which is the perfect application possibility for our motion analysis technology.
How does VAY innovate?
Ben Simon: Through our state-of-the-art motion capture technology and expert knowledge in biomechanics/movement science, we create a unique value for our clients. Our pose estimation has the unique qualities that can provide professional-grade motion analysis in a hardware-agnostic manner. The magic lies in everyone’s pocket. Meaning that it works with any RGB camera, no matter what system, being iOS or Android. It can also be used for operating systems on a laptop and in a machine. The only thing required is a simple RGB camera to capture the movements. Thus, we do not need intrusive sensors or markers to track a person and their movement; this is all done via computer vision. Our movement expertise then performs the analysis, based on the extensive exercise library we have built up, to provide real-time feedback on whether movements are correctly performed and, if not, providing corrective feedback.
But the real innovation comes from our team-culture, where we continuously look for new ways to increase our product’s value by making it better, faster, more precise, or more suitable for our clients. The methods we created are unique and allow us to operate in a more scalable fashion than anybody else in the market.
The following innovations are just the tip of the iceberg, while there is much more to come: We can create new exercises without any tech know-how, which allows our clients to create their libraries. Our camera position is flexible, allowing for it to work in any position and not putting the device in a particular position and particular place. All in all, our solution is unintrusive and highly scalable, therefore much more cost-effective than anything comparable on the market. This is probably why we win many new clients every week without actively going to market.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ben Simon: As with everything in life, there are two sides to it. The pandemic is causing much sadness and is very dangerous, and the lockdowns are not fun. Especially in the beginning, we interacted with investors that were much more hesitant to take risks and make investments. This caused us a lot of trouble and finally led to the decision to move our next priced financing round to the next year.
Optimistic about the pandemic is that it accelerated existing trends as digitization, growth of digital & home fitness or therapy solutions, in which we already actively participate. Everything goes digital, and users don’t want to give up on expert feedback and guidance during their training sessions, which they usually had in their gym or fitness class. Therefore, we experienced a huge boost in demand for our solution, especially at the start of the second wave in fall 2020, as businesses experienced changing something.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ben Simon: Difficulties were indeed the constant insecurity, which occurs if you decide to delay your investment round and create a more resourcefulness approach throughout the company.
The biggest lesson overall is undoubted that you can’t push something. In the end, it is all about customer demand, and things take much longer than expected, especially if there are costs involved.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and VAY in the future?
Ben Simon: In my opinion, the best way to cope with stress and anxiety is to be one step ahead and but more importantly, not taking yourself too seriously. The difference between people is just what some are going to do something about it. Improve and put in the work. Putting in the position helped me understand that much more is possible if you work and prepare better.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ben Simon: With VAY, we are going up against established systems for motion analysis: multi-camera motion analysis labs, IMU suits, motion capture markers. Other than that, our solution is unique on the market.
Compared to them, we reduce the hardware price tag to zero and will, thanks to the much better scalability, catch up in precision and robustness quickly. We bring motion and gait analysis laboratories to your pockets, allowing collecting the same data in all prevention, diagnostics, and rehabilitation stages.
In the B2B space, not much competition exists; most players focus on the B2C sector. Our strengths lie in tech. We aim to become the default partner for everyone who wants to incorporate professional-grade motion analysis into their solution at a comparatively low price point and for companies who do not have the resources or capabilities to develop such a solution themselves.
Your final thoughts?
Ben Simon: Openness is one of the best traits that you can have in a startup. Growing a business does not work without putting in the extra hours. Everything takes longer and will be alright; just put in the extra work.
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