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From Lego Bricks to Modular Machine Design

Founder and CEO, Etienne Lacroix, tells the story of taking Vention from business idea through to Round A completion

Etienne Lacroix CEO & Founder / Jan 16th, 2019

 

When I left my job as a management consultant and reignited my lifelong interest in industrial product development, the change—even though it had been thoughtfully planned and analyzed—was primarily fuelled by passion.
 
I had been convinced of Vention’s value-creation potential since 2014, but it wasn’t until mid-2016 that the first line of code was written, and I committed myself to realizing the idea full-time. 
 
Today, with Bain Capital Ventures joining in as an investor in Vention, our team and I couldn't be prouder of what we’ve accomplished in such a short time. We also couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead. So how did Vention get to where it is today? Read on for the full story.
 

An Inventor at Heart

I got my start in designing new products when I was a boy, building a full-sized plane propelled by a lawnmower engine and high-end downhill bikes. By age 22, I had designed and commissioned several pieces of tooling and robotics equipment for the aerospace and automobile industries. 
 
As you’d expect, I was a CAD addict: every type of design software I could get my hands on was installed on my computer, and I could navigate between Mechanical Desktop, Catia, Pro-Engineer, or SolidWorks in a cinch. My passion for CAD software led me to implement a CAD and PDM project with 50+ seats at General Electric, automating hundreds of workflows, from 2D drawing creation to revision schemes, to ERP integrations and beyond. Those experiences gave me a deep understanding of the problem Vention is solving today. 
 
CAD software has improved significantly since the early 2000s. In fact, it’s improved so much that the biggest source of waste in machine design is no longer related to the design step, but rather to the time needed to find vendors for each part, validate compatibility with other vendors, and procure the parts.  
 
In my early days as a tooling designer, seated at a Catia workstation, I could spend up to three months designing aerospace tooling, issuing a 2D drawing, and waiting for the manufacturing of custom parts. This had to change. 
 
It was obvious to me that solving this problem was the only way to achieve a major change in the pace at which we can design and commission industrial equipment.
 

The Initial Spark

In 2014,  WebGL became “good enough” for engineering-grade 3D design in a browser and changed everything. From that moment on, the hardware and software workflow of machine design could be fully united into a single digital environment and user interface, which automatically made the design process much faster.
 
I was on vacation in Italy when the initial spark of an idea arrived. I started designing every modular component I could think of to see whether the machines I’d created with custom parts could actually have been built with modular parts. Could “industrial LEGO” really be possible?
 
As part of the Product Development Practice at McKinsey, I also began testing out the idea of Vention with every other skilled design engineer at the firm. I quickly realized that the business model we envisioned was too great a leap of faith for many individuals. Could CAD software really run in the cloud? Could we create industrial equipment with modular parts? Would assembly be too complex for most users? Would users even want to try working outside the CAD software they know and trust? These were all valid questions. The only way to answer them was to leave the firm and see for myself. 
 

Building our Team

One of the biggest advantages a startup has over established players is the talent it hires. Not only is this initial group of highly-talented individuals committed to working extremely long hours for a very long time, but they also all work at solving the same problem. This is a context that is extremely hard to replicate in a larger organization.
 
We owe our success to people like Jimmy, our first full-stack developer, who started work in parallel to his day job; Max, our CTO, who naturally followed my habit of working 17+ hours per day on his first day; Francois, our head of automation, who committed to an unrealistically short product launch schedule of just three months – and made it happen; Bre and Maxime, amazing team players who took their role-adjustments in stride while we built the next phase of the business; and Simon, who set up our entire warehouse operations system, while operating the warehouse himself. Getting so many highly committed individuals under the same roof is still the main reason for our progress. 
 

Building a Business

Every founder remembers their first client. In our case, it was Trigonix, a document scanning service company looking to automate their scanning operations. They believed in Vention so much that they purchased their equipment before the closed-beta version of Vention was even released. 
 
Today, we are privileged to work with several hundred clients, the majority of which are flagship industrial companies in the robotics, aerospace, automobile, and technology industries. And this is only the beginning. With the completion of our Round A, we will be able to accelerate our hardware and software roadmap, expand our distribution operations, hire more committed individuals, and further position Vention as the go-to tool for any machine design project. To some extent, this new capital represents a scaling-up of not just our business, but also our passion.

 

 

Welcome to the Future of Machine Design

 

 

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