Many in Montreal’s tech community heard about Vention’s huge $17 million series A raise back in January. It was the very first investment in a Montreal company by global powerhouse Bain Capital. The next step in Vention’s journey is the onboarding of their new Chief Marketing Officer, Guillaume Mercier, who joins the company after a stint as VP of Marketing at SSENSE.
Those of you who know Vention are aware this is a design and manufacturing company supplying custom industrial equipment. If you’re wondering how that aligns with working at a luxury and streetwear retailer, great question! MTLinTech sat down with Mercier and his new boss, CEO Etienne Lacroix, to find out why that’s a fit and where the company is going next.
“The B2B marketing we do here is very similar to B2C” says Mercier. “The way we strike a deal is not at the executive level, it’s about actually reaching individuals. Our main acquisition channels are through SEM & SEO, You Tube, social media and PPC. We’re not targeting companies, but individuals.”
“We have selected a CMO who doesn’t come from our industry.” points out Lacroix. “We care about serving engineers, we want to make them happy. There is a huge B2C element here. If you think about manufacturing, a lot of the industrial players cover a small niche in the market. We are one of the only equipment makers that is selling to people in any industrial sector. We’re about simplicity and speed. We deliver a very strong product and have the opportunity to get people passionate about what we’re doing. We’ve selected a CMO who can do that for us.”
For background, Vention sources hundreds of parts from about 70 different vendors all over the world. These parts fit together in a tongue & grove system, with standard bolts for all parts. The parts combinations are just about endless, and allow customers to assemble their custom machines quickly and easily. However, before the machinery can be put together, it must first be designed. For this, Vention has developed its own no-code CAD software, in-house. Lacroix says his 7-year old can operate it, and this reporter was told it would take him about 15 minutes to design a simple piece of equipment with the tool.
Naturally as more complexity is added to the machine being designed, the longer the design process. Well it turns out many of those who turn to Vention for custom equipment don’t have such unique requirements after all. Enter Vention’s design publishing feature. Once a customer has designed their custom machine, they can elect to publish it on the Vention website. Customers can browse and select from designs published by others. If another customer comes along and orders from the already published designs, Vention rewards the designing customer with a credit worth 2.5% of the sales of their design.
All the equipment this St-Henri based startup supplies is a shade of dark, metallic blue or “Vention Blue”. This was done deliberately to make it pop on the shop floor when it gets to a customer, and for others working in the same facility to come over and ask about their colleague’s new machine. “We think there’s an opportunity to create a lot of value around our brand.” said Mercier. “Typically, industrial companies have not invested much in the whole customer experience, from website to unboxing. But since we have more of a B2C approach, focussed on the individual, we think customer experience is important. We want people talking about ‘Vention Blue’ all the time. It’s a custom machine, it’s for you and people put care into making it.”
The company has 500 clients on 3 continents at this stage, generating millions in revenue. Mercier was so impressed that his former McKinsey colleague and fellow Harvard Alum was able to overcome what would be major hurdles for most startups, he decided to look into working together again.
“Building a CAD is hard, and anything related to hardware is very tough for a startup. Plus our customer base is not always made up of early adopters”. He later added that he finally decided to join Vention for two reasons “First, we have a world-class leadership team. I’ve known the CEO, CFO, COO and VP of business development. They are a really high caliber of the leadership team. Second, the problem Vention solves, it’s something very real and can have meaningful impact. It empowers SMEs to evolve and to compete through automation. The products are real and tangible and used to create real things.”
Yes, that’s right. Vention can also offer built-in automation on its machines. This is optional because all machines are custom designed by the customer themselves, and according to the new CMO, this option has brought the company a whole new customer segment.
“Smaller shops, 2 people in a garage up to 50-person shop, they realize they can have automation through Vention. They don’t need to buy a $200,000 robot. They can design it themselves without hiring an engineer. This saves them a lot on the machine and procurement and makes automation accessible.”
Their other main customer segment, corporations, is interested primarily in the speed with which Vention can deliver these machines. In most cases the entire process, website to delivery, takes just 3 days instead of 4–6 months according to Mercier:
“We are providing an extremely broad solution. We have some major international companies like Tesla, Facebook and Bombardier, massive companies that need to move faster. They need a solution and they need it now. Or they may be using us for R&D work as well. This type of client is interested in speed.”
Vention creates significant time savings by owning the whole process end to end. In a sense, they don’t have any competitors. Yes, there are other CAD softwares out there which can be used to design equipment, and there are other companies that build custom industrial machines. But there is not single company on the market today which can take a customer through the entire process, end to end, the way Vention does.
Lacroix, who came from the industrial sector, says this is an incredible time saver for customers. “Before the first step was coming up with an idea. Then you’d have to look at all the different part suppliers and bring those models in a CAD that you need to use to design he machine. You’d also have to buy a software licence for the CAD. Then you have to put the parts, design and all the rest into a package and send it to procurement. Procurement goes out and get bids, and then they take the lowest bid. This can take several months, especially when everyone is so busy.”
Vention lets customers design in 3D, program the machine and add automation. The product ships in pieces the next day. No other company offers this kind of vertical integration, which helps Vention overcome any objections from technology laggards out there.
“We’re not just improving by 10%, we’re completely changing the paradigm. 3 days instead of 3 months is a big change and people find it hard to resist.” according to Mercier
The company is still in a growth phase (600% growth in 2018 to be exact) and has swelled to 45 employees already, with engineering and software development making up the bulk of the staff today. As the company continues to onboard new talent, culture will play an increasingly important role in the business.
“Culture is a key ingredient for a company to be successful. Especially after a large raise. It’s less about the horsepower of the founders. We want people to move the company forward but we want it to feel rewarding so talent will stay with us and maybe even bring their talented friends.” Explains Mercier. “The way we talk about it is a ‘performance-based culture’. We have targets and high expectations. We push eachother and work had, but it’s backed by a very caring attitude. We can practice ‘radical candor’ at times here, very real conversations, and a lot of feedback.”
Lacroix also explained that it’s not only industrial manufacturers that are looking for this kind of custom gear. “A lot of big tech companies are experimenting with technologies, whether it’s robots, AI or AR. It turns out a lot of those labs need equipment. So, we can help them with that as well.”