Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Roy Chikballapur

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Roy Chikballapur is an experienced technologist in the digital manufacturing industry. He is the founder & CEO of MachIQ Software, a Swiss company that offers cloud-based software for the digital MRO and industrial asset management industry.

Prior to MachIQ, Roy spent over a decade at industrial leaders such as Schneider Electric and Schlumberger.

Roy is an engineer by education and an alumnus of Stanford University. He grew up in India and has lived and worked across the globe from China to Europe and speaks 8 languages.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

With: Roy Chikballapur

Tell us more about MachIQ.

MachIQ Software is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company that enables manufacturers to make the most of their machines and allows machinery OEMs to sell more services to a significantly larger part of their installed base. On one side, there are companies (with factories) in process manufacturing, typically in food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and in some cases, cement and steel mills. On the other side, there are companies that build and supply machinery for those factories.   

We offer a digital ecosystem where, on one side, factories are able to maintain their equipment at a high level of productivity with fewer failure rates, and on the other side, allow them to connect with their suppliers in a seamless manner to buy spare parts, get maintenance advice, and allow service technicians to intervene remotely when they have issues, etc.  

If you are a pharmaceutical company, you can’t afford to have your machines fail when your batch of medicines are being manufactured as it also means that all the raw material being used will typically have to be thrown away, and that is very expensive.

The way companies have managed this risk so far is to say ok, this is a critical equipment for me. If it fails, my losses are big. I’ll just make sure that I’m over-provisioned in terms of spare parts, so that should anything happen, I can bring it back up in a matter of minutes.

While that may have been the only way to deal with things in the past, with digital technology, there are much more cost-efficient and sustainable ways of achieving this outcome.  

There is a trillion dollars’ worth of obsolete spare parts sitting in factories across the world. One trillion dollars. And that’s simply because companies cannot afford to have their machines fail and what’s worse, when I say it’s obsolete, it means that these parts will never be used because the data about what these parts are, for which machines they have been bought, whether those are machines still in use or if they have been mothballed – these are things that are not managed effectively by most companies.   

That’s where we come in.  

MachIQ Software is a young and dynamic company working with some very big brands

MachIQ Software has two products APM and Seva that have been well received by customers

What made you decide to found MachIQ?

I was working at Schneider Electric, a cutting-edge company in energy management and automation technology. In 2012 we were already talking about things like connected machines and how we can improve sustainability among other things.   

Although connected machines are common now, eight years ago, the machine building companies that we spoke with basically said, “You know, when a customer calls us, we don’t even know who they are and what machines they have. Forget about connecting machines; we have more basic issues that we want to solve.”

I dug deeper and realized that what we are building now at MachIQ would become necessary for Industry 4.0, would succeed at scale. If every machine builder would enable their customers to connect their machines, thus harvesting data and being more efficient while solving the problems that they spoke of – then there would be another problem that is only apparent at scale.  

Imagine you are in a factory of a pharmaceutical company with machines from 300 different suppliers. You can’t have 300 different portals where you go to figure out what’s happening with your plant. Since most of these suppliers compete with each other, they will not collaborate to share data between their systems, for good reasons.

There was a need for a neutral, agnostic company that doesn’t supply any hardware, rather a pure software company, whose only goal is to bring together suppliers on one side and customers on the other side, to make that entirely feasible technically, and financially also profitable for both sides.

That was when I decided to leave, in 2016, when I had my a-ha moment. 

Have you always known you would become an entrepreneur?

I have always pushed myself to do innovative, more advanced stuff, wanting to make a dent in the universe. When you are in a large company, there are opportunities to do that at scale, but they are limited. You’re always dependent on other interlocutors in the company in order to move things forward.  

There’s a saying – if you want to be fast, go it alone, but if you want to go far, go together. I think that’s true. When you work in a big company, you can go far, but you can’t go fast. I knew I had to do this in a smaller team, by building my own company. Now that we have momentum, we are strategically building our team because we plan to go the distance and serve our customers for many decades to come.  

Can you share some challenges you have faced?  

In the beginning, it was what is termed product-market fit. You have this idea, you believe it’s good, you believe it’s really solving the problem, but you need to validate that with different people and that’s never easy.  

As soon as you put it in the hands of a customer, you see it in his or her eyes, and it becomes something else. That it will do, relate to one million other things that they face on a daily basis to this problem, and they suddenly drive you in a direction that’s sometimes different from where you initially started to want to go. So that’s definitely the first part to solve.   

Then we required financing to start solving the problem, and so fundraising became the focus. Once the fund was raised, I needed to make sure that I was spending money in the right way on the right things as I have a responsibility to my investors.  

The journey since then has been fantastic but it has been incredibly hard. You’re constantly juggling different problems.  

Tell us more about your team.  

My co-founder Antonin Pevrol is the CTO of the company. We were two people when we entered the MassChallenge accelerator in Lausanne and were staying at the student housing of a university there. It was basically one room with a single bed that we both had to share. We got a sleeping bag and our deal was, one guy sleeps on the floor, one guy sleeps on the bed. But the guy who sleeps on the floor gets a pillow – and the guy who sleeps on the bed gets a blanket. *Laughs*

There was a competition at the end of the accelerator. We won it and this gave us the seed fund, the first step of the company which was incredibly helpful.  

Surprisingly, now that I look at my team, I think we are one of the most female-friendly startups around in Swiss High Tech. This is a problem that the entire Tech/STEM industry needs to address and we are proud to have taken the lead on that issue.  

Company culture is extremely important to us and we are very fortunate to have a fantastic Board of Directors and very supportive Angel investors backing us.    

How have you been impacted by Coronavirus?

We’ve actually had our best year – we’ve grown our top-line by more than 40 percent this year and at a lower cost pace than we’ve had in the last few years. So, we’ve actually done more with less.  

Our solution is even more relevant in a post COVID-19 world which I think it is down to the relevance of what we are trying to build. As an industry, it’s a lot easier to convince people to at least talk to us. When things are going well, there is no impetus to change.  

Why fix something that isn’t broken – was the mentality of people we encountered when we tried to tell them that there was a better way to get things done. But suddenly when things went south, it made people realize just how fragile some of their businesses are.  

The positive effect of the current lockdown situation from a business development perspective is, since people don’t meet physically anymore, it’s much easier to go from a 45-minute meeting to another 45-minute meeting with two people who are thousands of kilometers away.   

 Take MachIQ for a spin by requesting a demo – just email roy.chikballapur@machiq.com  

What is your hope for MachIQ?

2021 is going to be interesting. We’ve discovered our product-market fit and now the second part is finding a way to scale.  

I think we have found our equation for scaling. We now need to test that equation in a market that is going to continue to have a lot of uncertainty, making it a very interesting time for us.  

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