Digitalization is a long-term secular growth trend that is directly fueling the rapid growth of photonics products. Many of the technology products that we are using today such as smartphones, tablets as well as advanced technologies such as LIDAR are common applications of photonics products.
In this month’s Startup Conversations, we caught up with Co-Founder & CEO of SIMTRUM, John Yuan. In this interview, John shared with us how he is bridging the gap in the photonics B2B E-Commerce space, how SIMTRUM attracts tech talents, and how he manages conflict within the team. Read on to find out more!
Hi John! Thank you for taking the time to do this sharing! What was the founding moment of SIMTRUM for you?
John: I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and together with my co-founder, we founded SIMTRUM in 2019 with the initial idea of building an ultrafast laser. We identified that the photonics industry is growing at a fast pace and at the same time, we recognized that there is a huge knowledge gap for photonics products in the market. Though there are many photonics products and suppliers in the industry, the high technical knowledge barrier means customers usually find it hard and expensive to get what they want.
While the photonics industry market size in Singapore is not as big as compared to the other regions like the US and China, photonics-related research and technology in Singapore do struggle to expand globally due to a lack of global sales channels. We believe that someone should step up to build a worldwide photonics platform and solve this problem at the same time contributing to growing the photonics market in Singapore.
Hence, we pivoted from our initial idea and embarked on a journey to build an e-commerce platform with visualization software. With this software, it will enhance customer’s purchase experiences and re-invent the way people work with photonics. At SIMTRUM, we aim to be the company to make photonics technology more accessible, affordable and exciting!
For the audience that may not be familiar with the photonics industry, how would you explain the industry and why is the photonics industry important for an increasingly digitized world?
John: The photonics industry plays a crucial factor in innovation over the past few years. Advancement in communications, medical diagnosis, displays, and automation are all centered around photonics. For example, a medical diagnosis that previously required surgery or probing for diagnosis can now be done with endoscopy and spectroscopy – next-generation MedTech then uses artificial intelligence to diagnose the samples and machine learning to categorize them. Additionally, there are labs around the world working on 6G technology using principles grounded in photonics and Opto-physics
Essentially, anything related to light is photonics, it is everywhere in our daily life, Mobile phone, TV, Lightings, Camera, Temperature sensor, Wifi, Lidar, etc. In a more advanced digitized world, our devices are getting more powerful, faster, and smaller and light is the only tool in the world to achieve it. That is why more and more advanced manufacturing techniques are photonics-related.
Traditional B2B sales cycles are long and complex, involving many decision-makers, checks of suppliers, and different payment methods. How is Simtrum bridging the gap between traditional B2B sales and modern B2B e-commerce sales?
John: To give an example, a doctor/post-doc in studying a sample may need a very specific laser system (>100k) to advance his research. The best way to service this customer is for him to make the best choices for his experiment and make the most cost-effective choice as the end-user of the equipment.
At the start, our website is the platform – emphasizing the collection of the most relevant equipment, filled with technical specifications and background info. The second stage is our software platform which would allow the end-user to simulate his setup, confirm the specifications, and get sales and product information. The major benefit is that by using the platform, the customer is assured of integration and project feasibility.
Currently, we are working to integrate more suppliers into our platform, and in the near future, customers can pre-simulate the product performance, get the specifications, price, and lead time all on our platform. This will then result in a shorter sales cycle as the platform will be able to provide technical information to aid the decision-making process for procurers.
A huge part of B2B sales is finding a suitable and reliable supplier with a good track record to supply the products. Does the platform facilitate this process?
John: Yes – in line with our mission statement, we want to make photonic technology more accessible and affordable. When working with a new supplier, we have a team of senior advisors (Ph.D. or industrial specialists with a total of 50 years experience in the field that pre-vets and conduct pre-sale activities.
Our highly specialized and experienced team allows us to vet manufacturers as well as new and up-and-coming startups that can provide state-of-the-art solutions (New methodologies for existing problems).
How do you find suitable talents with the right technical knowledge and convince them to join Simtrum instead of other companies (eg. MNCs in similar technical fields)?
John: At its heart, SIMTRUM is an e-commerce platform for photonics. To set ourselves apart, we focused on solutions that fulfilled two main criteria: 1) cost-effective, innovative products 2) industry-leading products that are not available yet in Singapore.
We made a deliberate decision to build the SIMTRUM team with a strong technical grounding in Physics, Optics, and Engineering. SIMTRUM’s first two hires were Applied Physics graduates from Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore. 2 years on, having built the base of the startup, we attracted similarly talented people that saw our potential and shared our vision. We built a team of PhDs from lasers to spectroscopy and computing as we provide growth in different areas of photonics research.
Our team has the opportunity to work with industry-leading experts, new technology, and emerging fields of research. We groom our talents to be subject matter experts with internal training weekly which is our company effort to promote growth. We now have a multi-disciplinary team from bachelors to Professors and industrial veterans with over decades of experience.
John Yuan, Co-Founder & CEO of SIMTRUM:
“We groom our talents to be subject matter experts with internal trainings weekly which is our company’s effort to promote growth.”
Conflict is unavoidable in a high-performing team. How do you manage conflict within your team?
John: Our management team is well-aligned in terms of key objectives and goals. This allows us to resolve work-related disputes based on identifying needs and prioritization. As a startup, we emphasize open communication and sharing, if he or she is wrong about something (knowledge-based) we would point it out during our weekly knowledge sessions but it’s all in good jest.
In short, we focus on three areas:
- Sharing a common vision and direction,
- Setting up system and standards
In the perfect world, it is ideal to make decisions backed with data and projection models. However, as an early-stage founder, how do you make effective decisions with imperfect data and information?
John: I make decisions by combining data, experience, and feedback from others.
For technical-based questions, we have a team of experts and advisors with decades of combined experience, which is pretty ideal. The other side to it is a very systematic A/B testing, getting to know the customer needs and aligning with our company objectives.
Additionally, in recent years, the startup community in the area has grown and is quite supportive. It is easier to find assistance and collaboration with others. Not to forget, AngelCentral has also provided us some valuable advice for our growth.
How was the experience like to pitch and raise funds through AngelCentral as a Syndicated company?
John: The whole process is quite smooth. AngelCentral is very experienced and helpful, they provided us with a lot of support, especially on some of the investment terms that are new to us.
Looking forward, where do you see Simtrum in the next 2 to 3 years?
John: After working with AngelCentral and getting confirmation from our investors and advisors, we will continue to work towards our plans and goals. At our current stage, I am personally more excited about the new technologies and fields we will be working with and the collective good it can do for the community (communications, medical, education). We think our platform will be able to contribute to speeding up development cycles and efficiency in these communities.
What I see next for SIMTRUM in the next 2 to 3 years is the growth of our team’s knowledge capability and supplier base to expand our platform. This will allow wider adoption in more branches of applications and drive regional or even international interest into SIMTRUM.
We are working to develop a strong team in Singapore with more than 100 suppliers integrated into our platform, setting up our direct sales network with China and India, and develop sales partners globally. We are also working hard on building the visualization software and have plans to launch it together with our e-commerce platform.
SIMTRUM’s mission is to make photonics technology more accessible, affordable, and exciting. Our vision is to reinvent B2B purchases in photonics through E-Commerce, Manufacturing Innovation, and Technological proficiency. We believe that with our team’s combined decades of experience in the field, we will be able to understand our customers and suppliers and aid them in making better purchase decisions.
For more information, please contact us at www.simtrum.com
AngelCentral is the most active and fastest-growing community of angel investors in Southeast Asia. We organize regular pitch sessions, angel education workshops, and provide syndication services. Since Inception, AngelCentral has trained >300 angels and our members have invested >S$16m into the startups.
If you are a startup and would like to raise funds from our members, send in your application here!
If you are an investor and would like to find out more about Angel Investing and what AngelCentral does, we have a coffee session hosted by the AngelCentral team. These informal chat sessions are held twice monthly where we will share about what we do, our membership offers, and/or what Angel Investing is all about. Due to COVID-19, our coffee chats have moved online! Secure your slots here