He wants to become the standard for quality control: Santiago Droll, founder and CEO of Eleven Dynamics. Read here how he has paved the way to make his vision come true.
February 2020: Santiago Droll quits his well-paid job as head of the research department at Hexagon and founds the software provider Eleven Dynamics.
He has come a long way since then: As the first open platform for automated measurement technology, Eleven Dynamics helps companies to implement a smart factory. The Who's Who of the German automotive industry already relies on the automation software for their quality inspection. Interest is also growing internationally. Read on to find out how Santiago went from zero to one hundred and why no one else could have invented this solution:
Even at a young age, Santiago Droll dreamed of becoming an inventor and creating something new. He saw great potential in the interaction between software and machines in particular. Until four years ago, however, there was nothing to suggest that he would become self-employed.
Shortly after graduating in mechanical engineering, the young ETH graduate was drawn to industry. Santiago started at Leica as an application engineer and shortly afterwards moved to New River Kinematics as a project manager and software engineer for three and a half years. There he designed RoboDyn, a software that helps to calibrate industrial robots according to all the rules of the art. The company was already part of Hexagon at the time. So it wasn't a long step for Santiago to take over the management of the R&D team in the software automation division at Hexagon.
S: My move into self-employment developed over a long period of time. To cut a long story short: over the years, I was given more and more responsibility, but with less and less influence. At some point it escalated. I didn't agree with the way my research and development area was being developed. I also came up against granite with my product ideas. I had always wanted to move in the direction of a hardware-independent platform for controlling quality inspections - a vision that was not well received in the company at thetime. So I decided to go my own way.
S: It just so happened that my decision coincided with the pandemic. So it was a special situation anyway. The first thing I did was to lock myself away in my little room, so to speak, and start developing a demonstrator from scratch. I wanted to build a plug & play software platform that could be used to fully automate quality control in production plants. It should work independently of other hardware and software components, save time and require less programming in the field. I was firmly convinced that the demonstrator would be my ticket to getting other people interested in my project.
S: Yes, indeed. After around six months, I had a product that I could use to show what was possible. I got together with Michael Fischer, our current CFO and sales manager, whom I knew from my Hexagon days. He is a gifted marketer and salesman and has an impressive network. Together with him and Marc Cayula (CTO), we eventually founded Eleven Dynamics.
S: Exactly, we did our first project with the Audi sports factory in Neckarsulm. The Etron GT, the Lamborghini hurrican and the R8 are produced in Neckarsulm. The team there had been looking for years for an automation solution that could be adapted to their specific needs independently of sensors, robotics and cells. But they had no concept and encountered the usual problems, such as the lack of integrated software. When we introduced them to our Nexos software platform, they were thrilled. Because they save as much as 85% of processing time for measurement. With Audi as our reference, we were able to approach suppliers from the automotive industry and ultimately land projects at BMW.
"When we presented our Nexos 4.0 software platform to Audi, they were thrilled. Because it saves them 85% of processing time."
S: Our software is absolutely scalable and can also be used in other industries. This is because the analysis methods are standardized and our software platform is so flexible that you can do practically anything, just like with CAD software. We currently have projects in the research and aviation sector. However, the software is also suitable for the automation of testing processes in injection molded parts production or in the field of additive manufacturing. This is because there are always problems with shrinking. But the software is not limited to measurement technology, it can do much more. We are only starting from here because we know this market best.
"Our software is absolutely scalable and can also be
used in other sectors."
S: There are basically two things. Firstly, we have a platform architecture that is absolutely independent of other hardware and software providers - no one else is doing that at the moment. This is because larger companies generally want to bind their customers to their own hardware and software. The second point is that we are a steering platform. You can use it to program offline, but the idea is that our software directly controls and steers all other devices in the production line. In other words, our software connects directly to the robots and is the linchpin that manages and monitors everything. The advantage of this is that you always work in the same software and can implement everything at the touch of a button. So you don't need a robot programmer, an engineer or a measurement technician to make the process work. This gives our customers a lot of freedom.
S: Exactly. Setting up an automated system used to take about a year. You had to work with CAD and blueprints that didn't move. Today, everything can be simulated with our software and takes just a few weeks.
"It used to take a year to set up an automated system.
With our software, it now only takes a few weeks."
S: Yes, when I look at our product - no, when I look back at the first few months of my self-
S: As I said, I withdrew into a quiet little room to develop our product. I definitely wouldn't do that today. If I had shared my ideas earlier, we would have received important input sooner and would certainly have made faster progress. That's how we lost time. That's a lesson I've learned - the importance of collaboration right from the idea generation and development phase. Today I know that I'm better off discussing a less than perfect product with the customer more quickly.
"Almost half a year of quietly building the platform up
to a functional demonstrator - I wouldn't do that today anymore."
S: We are well organized and have clearly assigned tasks and responsibilities. We work with agile processes and have regular meetings. We see our distributed team structure as an advantage. This is because we can look practically anywhere in the world for exactly the talent that suits us and can therefore utilize the skills in different countries. At the same time, we keep our rental costs low - because most people work from home. We also have our Ouroboros process.
"Our weekly Ouroboros ritual helps us to strengthen team
cohesion across countries."
S: Ouroboros is the snake that bites its own tail. In Scandinavian mythology, it stands for continuous renewal. We use it to describe our weekly ritual. It works like this: every week, employees are randomly paired up with a different colleague. Almost like a blind date. The idea is that you spend fifteen minutes talking to someone with whom you might not have a meeting due to your role. That way, you stay open, learn from each other and understand each other. That creates a bond. But it also generates new ideas and innovation - almost incidentally. Because they usually come when you don't plan them.
S: I'm actually looking more towards the future. Of course we've achieved a lot. But we still have a long way to go! In order to scale, we have to continue developing our company. This includes internal work that does not generate revenue: writing down processes, obtaining ISO certifications, setting up structures - in other words, everything that is necessary to ramp up a company. We want to get our functionalities to the market faster and monetize them more quickly. And we shouldn't forget the cash flow either!
Our not entirely modest goal is to become the standard for automated quality control. We are equipping ourselves for this at all levels: Product, organization, processes, locations and soon. Partnerships play a very important role for us on this path; we now have more than 50
worldwide. An annual turnover of 35 million Swiss francs should soon be within reach, with
three to four locations in Asia and the USA and more than 100 employees at our
"We want to become the standard for automated quality control."
I'm a real fan of talking directly to other founders and hearing how they cope with the
rollercoaster of startup life. It puts everything you experience yourself into perspective - and
you know you're not alone with these experiences.