Welcome to the next in the “Founders series”. Today we have Jonas Gyalokay, the chairman of Airtame. Welcome, Jonas.
Thanks a lot, Terkel, happy to be here.
So Jonas, tell us a bit about Airtame. How does the product work? And what do you actually do?
Yeah, so Airtame is a company that creates hardware and software to get bigger displays, bigger projectors, installed with a piece of hardware that you physically plug into a display, or projector. And then you from your own computer or phone — It’s software, so you can wirelessly present and it’s in our cloud platform. Just yeah, browser-based and you can go in login and then control tenths, hundreds, thousands of screens that you have associated to that Cloud account.
Sounds very interesting. But so you’re in a space where you’re competing against some of the tech giants such as Apple or Google with their Chromecast — how have you approached this challenge of taking on tech giants many times your size?
The huge difference is that a Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku and those kinds of products and , big companies that have them, they focus on the living room. They focus on the TV, at home, the entertainment, the future of television, being a platform for the connected home, so the refrigerator, or the lamps or whatever can be controlled via the TV at home. So they have their kind of their eyes on the living room and the b2c space, that’s the dominant focus for them.
Whereas for us, we’re a professional product, we’re a professional solution. So it’s companies and schools, and educational institutions that rely on Airtame. So to give you a concrete example: at home, a lot of us have one, two TVs or something, right? So it’s one piece of hardware, and then it’s mainly casting, or streaming, whatever kind of service and film. So it’s one or two pieces of hardware per home.
Whereas in companies and the educational settings, it’s hundreds or thousands of physical devices that you have to install, maintain, administer, decide what kind of conscience to run on it, and you have a lot of different uses, using the basic screen sharing feature, where you can mirror this play wirelessly.
Something we have taken care of, since we started out was that, you know, it’s not only Apple computers that should work. It’s not only windows, it’s not only Linux, Android or iOS, it should be for everyone. And we have invested a lot in these different platforms can work easily and also no matter the configuration of the computer operating system, but also network complexity is also vastly different to a personal, you know, WiFi at home. So the context is very different. And we have said that, if you know Lord of the Rings, then Sauron’s Eye is on the home. So we can, you know, focus on the workplace and the schools instead. So that is why we have been here. You know, part of why we have been here for eight years now.
That’s a great analogy for us Tolkien nerds out there! So you started the Airtame journey by breaking crowdfunding records in Denmark — in what way did it shape Airtame’s journey? And would you recommend this form of funding versus other forms?
I mean, it depends. It depends on what you set out to do. And if that fits your crowdfunding setting or not. So crowdfunding was for us a way to prove that there’s something here, you know, no, Apple TV is not going to cut it. No Chromecast that just came out just before we launched, a crowdfunding campaign is not going to cut it, there’s still room for us in the market. And we have some real proof of people putting money down to actually say, “I want this” even though the other things to actually exist. So we got our chance really to get started, because probably we wouldn’t have gotten that from investors, traditional investors because they were like:” Well, yeah, an Apple TV Chromecast?”. So I don’t think we would be here, if it wasn’t for the crowdfunding campaign. We got real proof. We’ve got real customers, and so we’ve got a chance to get started.
We also found out crucially that we’re not for the home we’re for the business and for the schools. We thought we were going to be initially at least a wireless HDMI cable. We can just mirror whatever you have on your laptop or phone to the bigger screen. So if you stream a film or, you know, something on Netflix at home, or you need to show a PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheet, whatever, doesn’t really matter. Well, we were very wrong about that, because it was way too broad of a focus.
All the small, little, feature dilemmas like, what should we prioritize? What should we communicate? What should be displayed on the website? Is that, you know, home setting? is that a professional setting? is this about to entertainment or is this about collaboration? You know, it is, it is very different. So we learned from the crowdfunding campaign that our, reason for, like systems was within the professional space, we wanted to build something that was more like, we in a work setting a lot of time, and a lot of other solutions.
And big companies, they focus on the home, we’re going to solve the meeting room and the classroom, because it’s even back then it was a well known joke that something always doesn’t work, from a technical standpoint, when you’re in a meeting, or class, and it’s still true, right? So we still have a lot to do.
The last thing I want to mention is that we found out how crucial customer contact but also support is. So we had a kind of ‘leave-no-customer-behind-strategy’ where everyone got help, as much help as we could give them, feature requests, trying to solve their issues, trying to just be responsible, and you know, answer to their whatever accusations, or praises or feature requests, or whatever it is. I think that is part of the DNA now that we’re as close to our customers as we can, we really listen to what they have to say, and we try to do everything we can to solve their problems. We’re not perfect, of course, but we’ll try that as much as we can. And I think that came all the way back from the crowdfunding campaign.
Now you’ve already spoken almost a bit about this, but what is it that you love about the Airtame team? And why is you’ve been the ones to find this gap in the market and be a successful company?
We have “the itch” that we needed to “scratch”. Like initially, that’s how we got started, like, this is really annoying, and we felt the annoyances ourselves, which meant that like this should exist, you know, and right now, it doesn’t exist. And it seems that no one else is trying to solve this. And it’s really annoying for us personally. So let’s try to solve it. It’s really awesome to start something that we thought should be there, it should exist, and then have other people say, “Okay, we bet- we think you’re the people, we’re the people that can do this”, and then have the… Again, stupidity sometimes to keep on going and belief and kind of unity around something that in the beginning was like, no cables. It’s not, it’s not saving lives. You know, it’s- we think, we think it’s cool. And it has turned out to be more but initially was like no cables, and people actually joined and helped us out and now it’s eight years later. So that’s really humbling to reflect on.
So now in these eight years, you’ve spent with Airtame, can you perhaps share some of the most rewarding parts and maybe also some of the most challenging parts of your time at Airtame and Airtame’s journey?
There are a lot of memories, but and sometimes the rewarding and challenging moments are one of the same. For example, the crowdfunding campaign has mentioned. We took a very tough decision back then. We have promised a lot of people that you could also stream Netflix or whatever, we had promised a lot of people, too, that this is going to work for you guys as well. And we said, we need to survive, we need to actually exist. And so we need to prioritize ‘this’. And we can’t prioritize, won’t prioritize ‘this’ over here. That was very tough. That was a very challenging situation we stood in, but that’s part of why we are here. So right now looking back, it’s very rewarding.
Some rewarding moments the ability for people to have a drink, take a walk, you know, do something that is out of context, and then get to know each other. So when they’re on Slack or Zoom or whatever, afterwards, they have some kind of relationship. So I think that has been very rewarding. And it has also turned out, you know, when we went through the corona crisis, like a lot of other companies, all that face to face time and all the investment in those relationships and trust that kind of trust account was strong, going into COVID, but then we used a lot of that. Not, only because of us, but just because of the state of the world and we couldn’t be together. So it was not until many years after we, you know, we did some of these trips that we could see, okay, this is paying off.
There are a lot of challenging parts, of course, I think it’s hard to pick one. But all the times where we looked at, okay, maybe, maybe this is not going to work, we’re running out of money, something is, you know, supposedly knocking us out. And this could be the end of the road. To me, that has been the closeness of the journey being over with, I think that has been very, very challenging.
You know, we don’t feel done at all, we think we can use the screens and projectors, these common surfaces much, much, much better even, than what we have today. So there’s so much more to do, and having that chance of continuing to strive for something better. That is, that is key. Corona obviously was very, very challenging. Every cost- all our customers pretty much was sent home. And when everyone is studying or working from home, you don’t really think about the screens, in your workplace or at school. So that was very, very challenging. And we had to navigate extremely flexibly.
‘Okay, Germany is opening up a little bit, okay, West Coast of the US is opening up a little bit are closing down’. And so we had to kind of really navigate and really be very, very close to our customers like, what is happening with your budget? What about your priorities? When do you think you will come back? And no one knew anything, of course, we all went through that. So that forced and extreme flexibility on our part.
We also have a challenging supply chain crisis, basically, where there’s so much delay, and so much inflation when it comes to electronic components. And obviously, Airtame is a physical product, so we were also hit by delays, and all these things like a lot of other hardware manufacturers. So that is also challenging, that is also forcing us to be very flexible, and trying to adjust and modify the hardware, and the hardware is supposed to be fixed.
When when we create a product, Airtame 1, this piece of hardware, and then we can continue to update the software. So the overall solution is better and better. But in this situation, we also need to say okay, can we do something with the hardware so we can continue to deliver and supply people who have ordered? So we need to kind of make some modifications to the hardware, not only the software as well. And that is, that is very challenging right now in this climate. I think those are, those are some of the memories.
Those are some great insights as well for other future entrepreneurs in this field, both in hardware and in other fields as well. So Jonas, at Airtame, you’re one of the few Danish startups that have successfully gained significant customer traction in the US. Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs in Denmark or across the Nordics that are looking to take that same journey?
What my advice could be is test the temperature. There’s ways, there’s crowdfunding campaigns, there’s just marketing experiments, funnel experiments, there’s calling, just call people like, where is the temperature the hottest for your thing? And consider maybe to start there. If you want to be in the US, I think the earlier the better. But you know, but it that, of course, that very much depends on your strategy. But if you can, if you can build that up from the get go, it’s part of the DNA, it’s part of the culture, it’s, you know, of course, we should invest in the US, and we should have colleagues there. And we should go to trade shows there. And we should all, all these things, right. And it has also then given us a unique, you know, insight into how the US market has developed the past eight years. I think that’s the best I can give. There are a lot of other learnings, but that is also very, industry-dependent, how you work with, for example, channel partners in the US, in the b2b industry, moving hardware around moving software around, sell to schools, and K12 In the US, but that’s more specific learnings. So I don’t think that necessarily is for everyone, but they can reach out.
That sounds great, but thank you for taking your time to do this interview, Jonas. It was great having you and have a great day.
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for the time.
Jonas Gyalokay is a co-founder of Airtame, having served as both CEO and Chairman of the company. Before founding Airtame, Jonas founded IT consultancy BIT BLUEPRINT.
Airtame produces an HDMI hardware product of the same name. This wireless presentation solution has been chosen by more than 18,000 businesses and educational institutions all over the world.
The Airtame 2 allows presenters to share their screen wirelessly, from a computer or mobile device to a TV, projector or monitor.