Secrets of Success: Appu Shaji, CEO and Chief Scientist, Mobius Labs

We all know that AI is crucial and the future of the internet for smart marketing within businesses. Appu Shaji predicted this early on and shares his journey with Business Matters.

With over 100 years of research experience, three Best PhD awards and global patents offering solutions, Mobius has got their sector seriously dialled …

What products or services do you provide?

Mobius Labs makes cutting edge, no-code AI computer vision solutions. A number of extremely critical applications that would promote revenue growth and cut down operational costs are using computer vision technology already. The technology is being widely explored in several industries. But in order to set this up, businesses still usually require a huge investment and effort to find the right talent, the right data-set, and the efficient training of computer vision models. To make all these processes simple and accessible, we  sell software that anyone in the world can use in their applications without the need for any AI expertise. Our software has two parts: the first is a built-in algorithm that carries out image and video analyses and additionally, has the ability for end-users to actually train these models using a no-code AI. So instead of having to go through a tech team, anyone, starting from a product manager to a designer, can train these AI models. 

What type of businesses do you work with?

We work with companies that handle large amounts of visual content, ranging from press agencies, content licensing companies, internet to print service providers to earth observation experts. It’s a wide range of industries that need to better utilise their visual content, either on premise, on edge devices or even in the cloud. 

What problem does your company solve?

We help companies better understand their content by providing deep visual analytics that help drive better decisioning. We help them reduce operational costs and increase processing speeds. 

Once companies have understood their content better, we can help them improve their content search capabilities, content recommendation solutions and identify new potential sources of revenue. 

What is your USP?

What makes us different is that we continue to push the boundaries of the technology by focusing on accessibility, efficiency and on giving our clients full control of their data. 

Typically, AI companies build their product with a developer crowd in mind. In contrast, we are building our software to address non-technical users. We created a no-code AI solution which actually makes the technology accessible to non-technical users. This is really important on many levels. For instance, a media organisation that is sitting on millions of images and wants to build a next-generation visual search automation tool, has to make a number of decisions in order to successfully adopt AI systems. These decisions are best made by the people who understand their users and know their business well: product and business owners for example. So making a computer vision software that is accessible to them will allow better products and applications to come in. By targeting a wider audience, we improve accessibility and use of this technology.

Efficiency is also a key differentiating factor for us. Our next-generation algorithms can be deployed in any possible device. From powerful servers to extremely low-power devices. They can all benefit from our powerful computer vision solution.

What are your company values? Have you ever had them challenged and if so how have you dealt with it?

Our company values are to be scientific, human, daring, empowering and authentic. Mobius Labs started off as a pure technology company, with some of the best scientific researchers being part of the initial team. Unlike many other AI companies, we explore new technology very early on in a pure scientific manner. This involves making a commitment for the future while often forsaking immediate payoff. Developing a set of key stakeholders who are appreciative of the mission is our number one priority. 

We build technology to create a positive impact in humanity. We constantly evaluate the use of our technology, and consider the value that it creates in people’s life as a yardstick while committing to our product development. We also want to democratise AI for everybody, so that it is not limited to only data scientists or AI experts. Our aim is to empower companies and businesses around the world to build their own applications with our solutions.
Building cutting edge technology requires us to be courageous, and explore technical and product avenues which have not been tried out before. I believe that having daringness as a value allows us to make some decisions which may seem a bit erratic at first, but end up having significant payoff in the long run. 

It’s an interesting period for computer vision in general, since it’s creating new forms of value in various industries. One thing that gives it colour and life is when we approach it from various perspectives. We have a team that hails from various cultures and backgrounds, all of whom are contributing towards a shared journey. In order to have a successful startup, on one hand you need to have strong alignment within team members, and on the other hand you need to have people who are unique and challenge ideas. To create an environment which facilitates both is super hard; we have ups and downs but make sure we learn from all of them.

We believe in inclusivity not only when it comes to the people working in the company, but also in the technology that we build. We keep reevaluating our machine learning models to see whether it is propagating any bias or discrimination. This is an ongoing process, and we keep an open feedback channel where any team member can comment on how we could possibly improve our technology.

How do you ensure that you recruit a team that reflects your company values?

Recruitment is a pretty important step for us. As a CEO, alignment of team members towards the vision and mission of the company is the biggest asset you can have. So it is significant that we identify this early on, directly from the recruitment period. In general, before you make a hire, you need to keep two key things in mind: firstly, that your company itself has an environment where the candidate will be super motivated to work in, and secondly that you yourself will be eager to work on a daily basis with the candidate you’re hiring. If you see that bi-lateral symbiosis, then it will be a perfect fit.  

Are you happy to offer a hybrid working model of home/office post-covid?

Mobius Labs was one of the first companies in Berlin to become a fully virtual organisation as early as March 2020. The pandemic has made it evident to us that the 9-5 work culture that existed pre-COVID is not necessarily the only healthy or productive one. Moving forward, we want to become a digitally native, fully-remote company. We would still go to the office at times, but it would be solely for social interaction with each other. We are determined to bring remote working to the forefront of our HR values. This means finding a way to become global citizens, accessing the best talents in the world and bringing in different perspectives to challenge the norm. We believe in giving everyone the chance to prove that we can work together and innovate even from different locations, proven by how effective this was over the pandemic.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?

For any sale, it is a two-way relationship and a successful sale should be a win-win for both parties. There are cases where you see this isn’t the case, for instance, with a very big client, the cost of doing business, which includes legal costs, negotiation costs or cost of custom projects that we have to do for them, might be too high. In that case, we should weigh up the opportunity and see if this would turn out to be a lose-win situation for us. At the other end of the spectrum, a company might want to buy our software not as a necessity for their processes but simply to try out the technology. In that case, the probability of the deal actually closing is pretty low. If we can’t, as a company, decide what sort of value we can bring to the potential customer, it is better to disqualify that lead. This can prove to be a good product learning experience because ultimately, if you can build a software that can find use-cases for multiple companies and can be resold many times over, you win as a company. Sometimes when you try to convince people to buy your software even though the value-add is not explicit, you waste both your own and your customer’s time. Here it is better to walk away, and instead use it as a learning experience and come back after a few months with a better feature. 

Any finance or cash-flow tips for new businesses starting out?

Securing cash flow is your number one priority as a CEO. One thing that you need to make up your mind about very early on is the kind of business you want to build. You need to consider whether you want it to be a growth based business or an organic business. If it is growth based, get into fundraising mode as early as possible, and start building connections. At the same time, do not forget you are building a business, so that should be your number one priority. I personally had a few frustrating periods where I was talking to many people, some of whom were on the fence. But in that time going back and improving the business and giving proof that we can hit the numbers was a critical part of raising funds and being successful. Also as a tech founder, treat commercialisation as quite important in your agenda. The exercise is the most important and honest feedback you can get from the market. So do not postpone it too much.

If you could ask one thing of the government to change for businesses what would it be?

In Germany, a lot of official documentation is still in paper. Post-Covid a lot of processes have improved, but it can be much better, and be regulated by stricter rules. An easier and faster operational and regulatory field for companies until they acquire a particular size can really help entrepreneurs. 

What is your attitude towards your competitors?

Competition is inevitable and important. We keep an eye at what our competitors are doing and create benchmarks based on the analysis. We treat our competitors with respect and try to do our best, so that it’s the most attractive product for our customers in the market. 

Any thoughts on the future of your company and your dreams?

Computer vision will be mass-adopted across industries in the next few years. Our dream is to make ‘Mobius Inside’ a reality: like the slogan of Intel Inside in the software sector, we will see ‘Mobius Inside’ in all artificial visual eyes of different applications and processes around the world.

Cherry Martin

Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.
Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.