An in-depth education with a lot of personal attention
Aakash Ravi is a Co-Founder of company called Spaceti and successful alumnus of Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, who was selected as the best international alumnus of the Czech Republic by the Centre for International Cooperation in Education. Here we bring you an interview with him and another Co-Founder of Spaceti and fellow alumnus of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Max Huk.
You are Co-Founders of Spaceti – one of the market leaders in building digitization, Internet of things (IoT), and real estate technology solutions. Why did you decide to start a business in this area?
Aakash: Both me and Max, when we were working at IBM worked a lot with Internet of things and sensors, and one of the largest markets where this technology can be applied is the real estate industry. We did some small projects in other industries, but this is the industry where we really thought that it could have a great impact by improving the experience for people inside buildings, collecting data from buildings to help manage them better. So we decided that this could be a great application of the knowledge we gained in our studies as well as during our internships at IBM and we started to conceptualize the idea for our business in this space.
How difficult is it to start and grow a new project in a relatively dynamic market?
Aakash: I would say it is really difficult, especially coming from the Czech Republic, which is not like the USA, UK, France or Germany where there is a lot of support for younger companies. In the Czech Republic, you have to do a lot of the work by yourself as a young company. Especially coming straight from university, me and Max didn't have a lot of experience. So it was really hard for us to be recognized for our products in the international markets. On the other hand, one of the greatest things we can accomplish is to make a really great example for other entrepreneurs or future entrepreneurs from this region, and prove to them, that we can really build globally successful company coming from one of the smaller countries in the world. That's our dream and our ambition.
How your company has developed in time? Could you tell us about its expansion to current international level?
Max: We started in a small coworking space in Palác Adria in Prague, where we had a really small room. We were six or seven of us, all guys from IBM and we hired one or two guys more to improve some of our technical capacities, before expanding to two rooms in Adria, then to three rooms, and then finally moving to larger offices and hiring more people as our business started to grow.
Aakash: It was a constant growth both in terms of number of people, but as well in terms of the number of markets. We started with just a few projects in Czech Republic, one in London, one in Slovakia. Now, our solutions are being used in 15 countries. We are in all of major countries in Europe: UK, France, Germany, Czech Republic of course and so on. We also have our first projects in the USA with large multinationals. We have also developed business partnerships with really large companies like Sodexo and Vodafone. So the business has grown very well in terms of both the side of the company as well as the size of the business. We also took an investment from Venture capital funds here in Central Europe, who share our dream of building a global company who is in every major country in the world, all coming from the Czech Republic.
Which applications specifically are most wanted by your clients (those for companies, households, ..?)
Aakash: We have a system that collects data in buildings: that data includes occupancy and utilization rates of the office space and of the parking garage, levels of air quality inside the buildings, and comfort inside the buildings. Our clients are using this data to restructure their space and manage it better. So I would say that space analytics, real estate analytics, and a data collection platform is really viable and a lot of our clients use it to save several millions of dollars in costs by decreasing the space they occupy and making it more efficient. So, the data collection platform is probably our number one product right now.
Technology certainly offers unlimited possibilities in specific applications. But how do you deal with ethical limits, such as possible abuse for privacy or unwanted leaks?
Aakash: That's a very good question; of course a lot of things we learned at Matfyz helped us to think about these security issues. Starting with the first year course “Introduction to Networking”, which I think was the first course we took on Computer networks, and the Internet of things obviously is one big computer network. Using this knowledge, we have built encryption on every single level of our platform and the product. We also have to prove that we have these security standards, so we obtained the ISO 27001 Information Security and Privacy Certificate, and we are one of the few companies in our space that have this certification, as it requires a lot of work to get – e.g. optimizing your processes, your product – everything in your company is validated for its privacy and security. We've taken a lot of steps to be compliant with that, to be sure that the data is not stolen, the data is not read by anyone who shouldn't read it, and so on.
You both lived in several countries, why did you decide to found a company in Prague?
Aakash: If you want a really honest answer, we were a little bit lucky that we found each other: me, Max and the rest of the co-founders. We were at IBM and we liked working with each other, but in a big corporation we didn't feel that all of our ideas could be implemented very fast, so we decided to all leave together and start Spaceti – it was a decision made from the fact that we just wanted to work on cool things with cool people. In the Czech Republic one of the great things is that there is a lot of smart technical talents, and we developed our initial product and brought it to the market with no external funding. We managed to do it by selling custom development projects for clients, and using the money to invest to the product.
Does the Czech Republic have any advantages over other countries, whether from the student's point of view or entrepreneur's?
Aakash: The Czech Republic has the advantage of a very strong technical talent base. I think to find the level of talent you have here, you would have to pay, for example in San Francisco or New York, at least three or four times the price, and that's not including all the benefits they would get on top of salary. So I would say in terms of pure talent, the Czech republic is an amazing place to set up a company or maybe an engineering base, R&D center, or something similar, and I think a lot of companies do have R&D headquarters here in Czech Republic. So I would say that's one of the biggest benefits.
Your company has received several awards, what does it mean to you?
Aakash: To be honest, if you ask me personally, it doesn't
mean too much. Awards are kind of a nice to have, but they are not a necessity.
The biggest motivation for me, is to again change the perception of the country. To come from Czech Republic and get any kind of global award in any field is something not very common, because again it's a small population, a small country, and people don't expect too much from us.
But I am always a believer in the underdog, so the awards prove that we are something to look for in the future, that this country will do a lot of great things in the future, and that this company will do a lot of great things in the future. So that's what the awards really meant, to prove that there is something really powerful here in this country and in this company.
What are your ambitions and future plans with the company? Do you want to expand to more countries?
Aakash: Right now the biggest expansion is plan for the USA, as we already have several clients there, which will be announcing soon.
You both studied Computer science at Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague. How do you rate the Faculty and the quality of your studies compared to your international experience?
Aakash: I think one of the thing I really appreciate about the studies there was that we had a very diverse education from mathematics, to formal logic, to history and theory of programming, and much more. So it's not just learning what the next hot computer programming language is, it's really an in-depth education of the fundamentals and I think that's very important, because it has enabled me to become a better thinker, and it has given me the great ability to learn a new things very quickly, because I have a strong knowledge base.
Max: I also enjoyed the quality, the level of professors, their English, and how they taught; a lot of them have a great practical experience and this is what I really liked because after the lecture the professors could give their experience to us. We had a lot of personal attention, which is normally hard to get in an undergraduate education.
Are you working with some other Math-Phys alumnis or current students at Spaceti?
Aakash: Me and Max have worked together our whole professional careers, and we also have a few students that we hired from Matfyz. When I was working at IBM, I spoke to their recruiter and he mentioned an interesting quote: “We don't hire too many people from Math-Phys, because usually they don't apply as they're usually doing something more focused on academia, but when we do hire them, they are the best hires because they're so smart.”