Cogent Conversations: Episode 10
Matt Lickwar, Co-Founder of Ynomia
Episode 10: Ynomia
“We’ve all been flexible to change, and I think having that flexibility, means we’re different… focusing on different roles and making sure that communication is important is a key to success, especially when you’re working to build a global business from the start ”
– Matt Lickwar, Ynomia
The construction industry has risk pretty much built in, from safety risks to budgetary risks and risks that appear years after the building has been finished. In an industry with such tight margins and such big upfront costs, even small improvements can have a large impact.
Ynomia is an Internet of Things start-up that is working with construction companies to help them make one such improvement, specifically around gaining clarity on where their building materials are at any given moment of a construction project.
To enable this vision they are immersed in a highly complex environment, bringing together partnerships with industry and research organisations, developing their hardware and software, and working out how to enable the tracking of materials on an ever changing construction site.
We are impress by how they are going about it. They’re understanding the key areas of learning to focus on, building a cohesive team and seeking to enable a better construction industry.
We spoke with Matthew Lickwar, one of the co-founders of Ynomia, who brings his experience in engineering, international business and startups.
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Meet the host: Adam Murray
Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).
Full Episode Transcript
Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations podcast, made by the people at Cogent. Cogent Conversation is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best. We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer, so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at cogent.co.
Matt Lickwar: The challenge that we’re going to continue to face as a business, at least from a technical standpoint, is more about connecting the physical and the digital world. As IoT and these kinds of concepts develop and people become aware of them, and people become educated about the benefits of what that can do, the challenge then is in terms of connecting to information and data that previously was inaccessible.
Adam Murray: Hello, it’s Adam Murray here and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. This week we talk to a guest who is tackling the question of what it takes to enable their business to thrive in an environment of increased complexity and uncertainty. Ynomia is a start-up that brings together partnerships with industry and research organisations, hardware and software development, and the tracking of materials from source to implementation on a construction site.
Adam Murray: There are a lot of factors for them to consider and to optimise while still keeping the bigger picture in mind of creating something that will scale across geographies and customers. We are impressed by how they’re going about it: understanding the key areas of learning what to focus on, building a cohesive team, and seeking to enable a better construction industry. We spoke with Matthew Lickwar, one of the co-founders of Ynomia, who brings his experience in engineering, international business and start-ups together and what he enables within the organisation. Let’s get into it. Hey Matt, great to be chatting with you today. Thanks for coming into the Cogent office.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, thanks for the invite. This is a great opportunity.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Cheers. We were just talking before we started recording about your morning ritual, which I thought might be interesting to have as part of the conversation, too. Tell us about what you’ve done this morning.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, I suppose you hear a lot often now about morning rituals. I think going along the start-up journey for me, I’ve found that planning days, or weeks, or months ahead because everything’s so different because you’re wearing so many hats, because you’re into so many different roles, it becomes really hard to create or find a level and stable and consistent schedule. And so, I think that that’s probably where a lot of that concept of morning routine, because at least for me, I’m a morning person, waking up with first signs of light. That’s usually the best time as well I think for clarity of thoughts, subconscious. It does kind of ring true. Putting yourself a problem even before you go to bed and having… you wake up with either a conscious thought or at least some kind of process that’s going on.
Matt Lickwar: And so more recently I’ve found that that’s a really great time for me to do some reading, catch up on some just personal reading or whatever’s of interest. And then journaling as well is helpful I think, to sort a lot of the information in your mind, going back to that piece around trying to build a business and be in the pace of a start-up. Every day is different; you’re probably taking on a lot more challenges than you might normally in a role where you’re aiming at the job of this start-up, always seems like you get to a point where you want to have things automated or repetitive. Getting to that point is obviously a part of going through that process and then the experience you need to follow, but it doesn’t make the process of the day to day any easier. So, finding ways to sort through that becomes … yeah, I’ve found it quite helpful, I suppose, just organising. Focus. Focus is big.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Do you find yourself going back through what you wrote or is it more just at the start of the day to get it out and then that helps you?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, no, it’s probably more of a tool of processing, maybe occasionally going back. I think it’s also good, from a personal perspective, emotionally those … you go through the day in a start-up environment, maybe there’s not a lot of colleagues or employees around or maybe you don’t have a lot of friends or people in the business. You end up holding a lot of different stresses and different parts to yourself. Hopefully you have a group of people that you can communicate with or have an outlet to, I suppose, in terms of facing those challenges. That’s why I think it’s definitely in that grind of starting a business. The ownership you take on, it does become a mental challenge and I think it’s also helpful from an emotional standpoint to process emotions and write that down, what you’re feeling. Yeah. It’s helpful. I think it crystallises, right? What’s in your mind – at least for me.
Adam Murray: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the purposes of doing this podcast actually, is so that people like yourself and other people working in start-ups, but also other digital businesses or digital teams within organisations can feel a little bit less of that, “Is this just me?” Or that isolation. So yeah, thanks for being willing to share some of that.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s definitely… I think one of the things I find is you’re constantly looking for people that share that experience, or know what you’re going through, or have seen it, so it’s much about mapping that journey as possible and trying to say like, “Am I questioning the right things? Am I asking the right questions? Am I spending my time … ” Because in a start-up, really you realise your single limitation is obviously time or one of them, right? Costs, money’s probably one, but what you do with your time is all about productivity. When you don’t have a big organisation or you’re still trying to find your business model, your decisions around productivity and how you spend your time become all that more valuable, right? Opportunity cost is a huge part of your daily decision making.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Yeah. You touched around emotions as well, managing emotions and that’s certainly, I imagine, a big part of the journey as a co-founder like you are and the start-up journey and maybe something that’s not talked about all that much. Yeah. Can you share about some of the range of emotions and the processing of those emotions that you go through?
Matt Lickwar: Oh man, how much time do we have? I think I’m drawn personally to different experiences and new experiences. My path has been probably one where I realised quite early that I enjoy being exposed to as many opportunities and experiences as possible. So, living in different countries, taking on maybe more unusual jobs, doing things that were maybe a little bit a different experiences – that gives perspective, I suppose. So, I think going through the start-up process, for me, what’s attracted me to that, probably is the option or the ability to create and to try to create from essentially an idea and take that through that process. I think that from a professional or career standpoint is probably the ultimate and it’s why people are attracted to that challenge. For me, it probably associates with that – a concept of new experiences or those challenges.
Matt Lickwar: And so, yeah, the range of emotions is everything. I think you get so focused on trying to find success and again, you could talk about what is success and I think that’s probably another rabbit hole we could go down. But I think the concept of presence, of being aware of what’s actually happening on a day to day basis, going back to that emotion. If you’re not taking time to sit back and say, “Well, what’s going on inside? How do I really feel about that? Am I acting on emotions or is this a logical decision?” – and going back. I think journaling helps out, or writing through those things, what’s happening – because often the personal and the career or the business world, it gets mixed.
Matt Lickwar: You’ve got a lot of things, especially when you’re a small team. So, there were three of us that started Ynomia principally, and that communication and staying in touch is very important. We all play very different roles and I think that often being able to share perhaps your emotions or self is not always what transcends or transpires in day to day work. So, having a way to process that becomes really good.
Matt Lickwar: And I guess your original question, really, was the range of emotions. It’s really hard because again I think we’re taught to look for single points, or you’re taught about a static world, but really there’s so many variables and everything’s dynamic and everything’s constantly changing. So, if you’re not thinking that it’s okay, taking a day by day approach and that things will change and things will evolve and that you’re not going to be able to control as much of the things that are going on, but to be able to process and adjust. I think that that becomes the nature of probably how to survive or live in a start-up. Does that make sense?
Adam Murray: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. We’ve had a little bit of a chat before this, so you’ve got a background in automotive in different countries, like you were saying, exploring different countries and you spent a bit of time in Shanghai. I’m interested in a couple of things, like the genesis story of Ynomia and the expertise that you brought and the role that you’re playing as well.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, like I said before, my experiences have been broad. I started as a mechanical engineer, so my background is probably somewhat technical and I’ve always been interested in how things work and that was what led me there. I’ve never been somebody that knew exactly what they wanted to do and that was it. But I knew what interested me, and I knew that that was probably something that would lead me down a path, or at least it provided a basis for a lot of job opportunities, I suppose. And then I’m originally from the US and then started working in Detroit and working for a German automotive company.
Matt Lickwar: And very quickly I had an opportunity to travel and work in Germany and live in Germany. And that sounded exciting, so I spent almost five years in Germany, living in Germany, which was amazing living and working in Europe. And that job in that company provided an opportunity to go to Asia and expand the business there. So, I spent six years in Shanghai working throughout Asia, predominantly in China. Kind of at that point it was like 11 years into the automotive industry, and I just didn’t feel the challenge and I kind of was like, “All right, time to maybe do something else.” I moved into working in fashion textile business with a friend of mine.
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Matt Lickwar: It was wholesale – that was also based in China, designing and producing fabrics for fashion, predominantly for South America. That’s kind of a different story. That was a shorter chapter, but it was an area where I found that being involved in new and growing businesses was probably more what I was interested or attracted to, and through another kind of circuitous path, I found myself in Australia about three years ago. And through some personal connections I had met Matt, who’s one of my other co-founders, and we had looked for some opportunities. At that time, he was in logistics, pretty successful logistics, business logistics and technology. And they had developed some interesting technology, and he was looking for new challenges as well.
Matt Lickwar: He was certainly acutely aware of the environment and had some conversations and knew some issues around supply chain and things that were happening in construction, and had seen some technology as well, tracking and localisation technology that the CSIRO was developing. And it was kind of a more of a moment that was like, there’s this existential problem going on in construction in general, and there’s an opportunity here with being able to solve those problems with this technology.
Matt Lickwar: So, that was probably the first real concept or idea. And then, of course, I think with all ideas, it becomes a conversation: How do you make that work? Where’s the value in that? And you start going on a discovery process and reaching out and trying to connect and start having … I think that’s the toughest part, right? Who do you start talking to? And finding people within industry and knowledge, and so, our third co-founder, Adam, happens to be a construction expert, a project manager who’s worked in industry and abroad most recently for Multiplex in Dubai.
Matt Lickwar: And so, it was really the three of us then that stuck with that idea and that concept and pushed that forward and continued, and developed a relationship with CSIRO, to the point where we have gone into a collaboration to design and process this technology specifically for construction environment, taking on the challenges of construction, because it’s a really unique environment, if you will. Maybe a little bit of a final frontier, sort of. It’s difficult, it’s disconnected in terms of network connectivity, it’s large construction sites, very dynamic. There’s a lot of safety and efficiency, and there’s a lot of activity happening, right? And a lot of different people adding value at different stages. And so, for a general contractor, it’s a lot around orchestrating this movement of logistics and making that in a continuous and repeatable way without error. And that’s what they’re trying to do.
Matt Lickwar: That’s kind of the genesis of Ynomia and we kept building on that idea, and we were fortunate to be connected to some really engaged and interested construction professionals, specifically at ProBuild, where they’re really into innovation and lean manufacturing. So, it was a really good mix and an opportunity for us to come together and explore that idea. And I guess for a start-up, especially a construction technology start-up, having a first customer or client, but also somebody that’s going down a journey at the same time, it creates a great opportunity to make, and to build solutions, I suppose.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Just as a little aside, we’ve got a couple of common connections.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah.
Adam Murray: With this podcast, two actually. In the first season we got Andrew Ritchie who is the co-founder of EstimateOne and works in construction tech as well, who you know, and Robert Postel of course as well, who we interviewed during his time at GreenSync and now he’s your CTO. Is that right? Yeah.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, exactly right. Yeah, it’s a small world, I guess in that.
Adam Murray: Right.
Matt Lickwar: It’s a small room we’re in.
Adam Murray: Yeah, while you were talking then, you talked about the existential crisis that construction is facing and there’s two things that sort of happened. Its existential crisis, which I’ll ask you to elaborate on, but also this technology that CSIRO had developed. I suppose it developed it in isolation perhaps with a question: how do we commercialise this? Can you talk about those two things and how you’ve been able to bring them together?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, well perhaps I should caveat, I’m not a construction professional. I’ve just kind of play one, day to day. Yeah, I think construction, first of all, construction is a really interesting industry. It’s amazing how difficult construction is when you get into the day to day operation of building a 80-storey tower inside the CBD area and the manpower labour that’s required, the timing of materials, all those pieces coming together so that everyone can build on a daily basis and build in a safe environment, too. That’s such a massive challenge. That is such a hard industry. I’m just impressed day by day, by the amount when I am on sites that just the energy and effort it takes by the professionals in that industry, from subcontractors to contractors. There’s a joke that the construction industry is unencumbered by innovation for 10,000 years.
Matt Lickwar: But I think there’s reasons for that, too. It’s such a hard environment. That kind of sets the condition really for what we saw and the potential was that there was this really disconnected environment. You’ve got to imagine again this 80-storey building going up, you’re on the 50th level, you’re pouring concrete at 50, maybe seven floors below. You’re putting in facade, in between you have some exposed safety areas you need to constantly maintain going up. You could have three or four hundred labourers on site during the peak from maybe 50 different subcontractors. Then there’s deliveries, maybe 50 deliveries a day or more. And that’s day in and day out. And most of those jobs go on for a year and a half or two years. You think just about the efficiencies and things that take place in that environment.
Matt Lickwar: So, that’s the space with which we try to aim and to try to connect. And fundamentally what we do is take and provide data in real time. Accurate locational data for the movement of materials or people or equipment on a job site, so that people involved in that environment can make better, more timely decisions. Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is capture the information, the day to day information of construction and give that to the participants so that they can make smarter and safer decisions. And so yeah, there’s safety applications and then there’s also kind of efficiency applications for this. But the technology itself, and so moving onto your question around CSIRO, is really around a Bluetooth localisation and making that. GPS doesn’t work indoors, right? Your phone is not able to really tell you what level you’re on so much. Now that has advancements obviously with Google and Wi-Fi systems and all the things they do, but for a normal building, you can’t really see where you are within that building.
Matt Lickwar: And so that’s the area that we do. We create an embedded sensor network, so in common parlance that would maybe be IoT, so internet of things, but we deploy a distributed network of Bluetooth waypoints and then we have tracking tags as well that move in that environment. And you can put those tracking tags on things of interest that you want to know for instance, at what point was this delivered to a floor, perhaps, or where in the supply chain are these particular items? And so those are the kinds of questions that we’re trying to answer. And CSIRO had developed a technology that for indoor localisation was geared towards low power, efficient embedded use and that was what kind of attracted us to that. So yeah, they designed it really kind of for a different environment and we said, “Well look, we’ve got this something else. It’s a bit more challenging. What can we do about that?”
Matt Lickwar: And so, we came up with some modifications to their original design in some way and then said we needed some more longer-range opportunities, putting up Bluetooth and Gateways and things like that. Power distribution across a tower like that is quite constricted or restricted to certain areas. You’re always trying to manage a different set of variables. And so, it needed to be easy to deploy and it needed to be able to be flexibly deployed in any of those environments and any construction sites ranging from all different vertical to horizontal infrastructure. So, trying to design parameters, take those parameters and build an IoT solution that works in as many of those environments as easily as possible, is an interesting challenge. And that’s what we’ve been doing with the CSIRO.
Adam Murray: Yeah. You were saying you go through parts of the supply chain. I think you were telling me that you go over to China sometimes and make sure in the construction or the manufacturing of the facade, the device gets installed at that point so you can go from there.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, it’s a very… I should say, there’s so many use cases for what we’re trying to do. And of course, being in a start-up, you need to focus your use case and have a product that delivers real value to something that’s of a daily interest perhaps or something within that site. And we’ve focused on what we call high-value material tracking. So, there’s certain … For a large construction site, there’s certain packages that might be manufactured or created offshore: so, for instance, in China or somewhere else where there’s a supply chain or an economy of scale. And often those are … they’re advantageous. It might be lower price or better quality. There might be, or that might just not exist, for instance, in Australia, that production.
Matt Lickwar: And so, for a builder, contracting out that package to somebody that’s offshore, that they might have used before, but it’s a long distance and the cost of those packages is quite high. So, there’s, I guess, there’s high-value materials and the value to the business is also high. So, there’s a critical path activity perhaps. We track, for instance, facade panels often, because not only are the individual units quite expensive, so there’s a value per unit, but I think, more importantly there’s a value to the business on the construction site in that the facade is used to enclose the building, so it provides a safety edge that’s there permanently, but it also provides an environmental barrier to keep out elements, so work behind that can go on to finish work.
Matt Lickwar: And so, construction is very, like I said before, very tightly orchestrated. Ideally, you’ve got a plan or progress and you’re trying to plan out exactly when deliveries happen, exactly when a level is going to be poured, or exactly when a level is going to be enclosed with facade. And then you’re trying to maintain that through the life of the job. And so that’s a huge challenge, especially with all those different pieces coming together. So, there’s an opportunity to provide value to construction teams, to give them a sense of confidence that that critical path activity that’s happening in China, that production, what’s coming out the end of that production line, is happening at a rate that they expect. So, are they producing 25 panels a day? Have they shipped those panels? Are they shipped in time according to the timing plan?
Matt Lickwar: It’s extending that ability to control and give confidence so that they can see ahead that there’s either an issue or that things are working. And that’s really what we’re trying to do is provide a level of confidence on that day to day level that doesn’t exist now. They’re receiving it a weekly in an update email, which is an Excel sheet, or they’ve got a third-party quality control that’s happening on site and they’re sending data as well. But it’s always a snapshot of data and some of it may be subjective or those details are not always clear.
Matt Lickwar: So, moving from this world of static Excel sheets to dynamic and real-time data is a huge benefit. So, I know what’s happening yesterday or today or right now. And that makes a huge difference, especially when you’ve got projects that have so many other timing issues that are critical, like to know and have confidence that a certain package, which means so much to your building and to your site, is working or if it’s not, and have that information in a timely way. So that’s kind of the currency with which we’re trying to trade.
Adam Murray: My understanding of construction, too, is that the margins are very tight and some of the biggest pressure on margins comes from delays. Is that right?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah. There’s a thing often in construction where you’ve got a supply contract and then you’ve got a works contract. So, you’ve got a client that’s expecting a building to be delivered, you’ve got a construction team that’s planning, and then they’re giving that often to subcontractors. So, there’s a kind of a separate timing. So, you’re managing all these different time spaces and ultimately, what matters is the handover to the client. If you’re exceeding the timeline for those, you do run into these liquid damages, which is often a really big issue in construction. And it is one of the fundamental risks, I suppose, is that you get to a point where you’re into that liquidated damages and clawing out of that is even harder.
Adam Murray: Can you tell us about the commercial relationship in as much detail as you can between CSIRO and Ynomia? We’ve done a little bit of work with another organisation called Agersens. I don’t know if you’ve come across them, but they’ve got a similar arrangement with the CSIRO there, but theirs is all about virtual fences for cattle.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah.
Adam Murray: The cattle wear some kind of necklace or band around their neck and that enables somebody to control where they go. But anyway, I’m interested in that licencing model or how that works out between the two entities.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, it’s an interesting relationship, I think, principally. We work with Data 61 in CSIRO, so that’s part of the cyber technology … And there’s many facets to CSIRO, but we work specifically with Data 61, and we work with a team that’s focused on sensor technology, embedded sensor technology, basically embedded systems. They had originally developed this concept or a variation of Bluetooth tracking, which was useful in many ways. And we came down and approached them, and really what … They develop a portfolio of interesting research topics or things and then try to find someone to commercialise or partner with them. And so, we went down that path, and it’s fairly, I think, straightforward in terms of how they try to process or receive expressions of interest around commercialising.
Matt Lickwar: And we had approached them; I think at the time they had tried a couple other avenues, and that in particular they had gone down one other avenue with another business in a completely unrelated field and that hadn’t been successful. And we came and saw an opportunity and started working on the relationship and understanding that environment. It’s complex just in terms of the solution, the space, what’s involved, and then, where do you take that? You have a different use case; you have different things. So, working through the logistics and the shaping of what that collaboration could be and what that commercialisation really means.
Matt Lickwar: Often, CSIRO takes these types of technologies to what they call a technology readiness level, and that’s a scale of kind of one to 10. Ten would be being kind of commercialised. I think generally, CSIRO goes to kind of an eight or nine, and then it’s our job to take that further. So, the particular technology had been maybe like a four or five. Again, I think it’s somewhat of a subjective scale. And so, we signed up to do essentially a collaboration agreement with them, which would be over the course of a year. And that was, I guess, in exchange for that around the commercial arrangements. I won’t go into kind of the financial pieces of that, but it was around an exclusive worldwide licence to use that technology BLEAT. So, Bluetooth Low Energy Aware Tracking is what it’s called, and to be able to commercialise that in kind of the fields that we see of interest.
Matt Lickwar: And we focused on construction, because that was one kind of knowledge within the group we had, also a clear and present need, and it’s a massive global industry, with so many applicable use cases to what we’re doing. It’s amazing the commercial interest we have. I think it’s a matter of timing sometimes, too. The construction technology, we’ve been very fortunate that there’s an uptick not only in investment and businesses and ideas like ours, but also in general. I think the interest from the construction industry, you can see it; people are looking for new ways to do business. Business models are changing.
Matt Lickwar: Construction is moving to more prefabricated, off-site manufacturing and trying to take more kind of pages out of standardisation and automotive and lean models. It’s a really exciting time to be in construction, and that’s often for a start-up; kind of timing from market is such a critical thing. So, we’ve been very fortunate in that sense that, yeah, we’ve got a great team from CSIRO that we’ve been working with and we do a lot of on-site deployment and engagement.
Matt Lickwar: And it’s been a difficult journey because you start out kind of having a concept and that concept evolves, right? So, you’re constantly trying to change. But when you’re building hardware and software, that becomes a hard thing to change as quickly. You’re juggling this concept of trying to come up with this design and see what the big picture, high-level things are that aren’t going to change, and make sure that those are the ones that you’re capturing and getting into the design or to the capability of the system.
Adam Murray: There’s a lot of complexity in what you’re doing, right?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah.
Adam Murray: There’s hardware, software, there’s construction.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah. I hope I’m being specific enough, because it’s a really hard topic to describe, sometimes.
Adam Murray: No, no.
Matt Lickwar: But then you go down a rabbit hole and people are like, “What?”
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Matt Lickwar: And that’s probably in my role. So, you asked about my role. My role has probably been more as the technical person in the three of us. Matt’s business development, commercial and finance and a lot of relationship management. Adam’s construction expert and much more of a customer-facing role, or has played for us in understanding use cases and trying to engage with teams. And my role has probably been on the CSIRO and technology side and making the use case work from a single sensor type thing deployed, and how do you make that easy to deploy? How do you make that last two years or the life of a job site, so you’re not changing batteries or something like that? How do you design casings and things that are robust enough for the construction environment, and really figuring out how to execute on that?
Matt Lickwar: So, yeah, that’s probably been the area that I’ve focused the most on, project execution. So those trips to China, deploying those networks, getting those first projects up at factories, facade factories in China. And guiding the use case and the knowledge that we capture as we go and trying to feed that back into the work that we do with CSIRO.
Adam Murray: Yeah. You’re partnering with Probuild at the moment. There’s a couple of things that I’m interested in about that around product development in particular, and how are you making sure that you’re testing that technology but you’re not doing so in a way that’s just specific to one customer or one type of job? How are you thinking about that?
Matt Lickwar: I think it’s a conscious thing more than anything else. We’ve been super-fortunate with the relationship we’ve had with Probuild. Like I said before, the team and the people involved in that business have been just so helpful to our business and to support. In some ways they’re a first client and customer, but they’re also part of a collaboration and an interest in our business and moving forward. So, we have a very special relationship that, like I said, we’ve been super-fortunate to have. I think that’s always a struggle for a start-up wherever you are. You need to get real use cases. For us, getting real use cases on construction sites, it’s difficult.
Matt Lickwar: Getting access to that, you need to be able to have somebody that sees the value in what you’re trying to do and says, “You know what? Yep, I’m willing to kind of accept that there’s some grey areas around what we’re doing right now, but we can see that and we’ll go down that journey together,” and being able to create a story together. And a story that obviously has meaning, but that journey, yeah, it needs to be that win-win. So, the conditions set up for, as you mentioned, an area where you’re just focused on one customer. But for us it’s more of a conscious thing, saying, what about this? Is it distinctly this business? Or what about this is probably more of a general rule? And focusing on those general rules to say this is a process. And that’s where having Adam who’s been in the construction industry is kind of the voice of reason in those kinds of conversations.
Matt Lickwar: We’ve got a really great team that we’ve been able to build from the three of us. We’ve got a few different other construction professionals now that have been on that journey. So, creating a team with as many experiences as possible to make questions. But I think it goes down to questioning that design into that product. This use case – is this specific to this particular job site or to this particular client or is this broader? And just remaining conscious of that and being vigilant that you’re not just solving for a single use case for someone, is a balancing act like everything.
Adam Murray: Given that, how do you describe the stage that the business is at the moment?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, it’s really interesting. We’ve recently received funding in the middle of 2019. So that was a huge milestone for us, and it’s meant that a lot of different things, but it’s meant that we have, yeah, the capability to expand the technical team that we need to develop the product that we’ve had in vision or that we want. I think again, the complexity of hardware and software together, that distributed network, that managing those things adds just a completely different layer of complexity to just what we’re trying to do. That’s a great, great challenge at the same time. So, we’re at a place where we’re realising the first… about to realise and test and deploy the first pieces of that CSIRO collaboration agreement and see that software and that firmware that we’ve created actually within devices working on a site and build that into a product. But at the same time, we’ve obviously been going down a commercial pathway to test the concepts and the ideas.
Matt Lickwar: So, we’re at a very interesting nexus of taking an older version of the technology and migrating that to a newer. And that’s kind of happening across platforms, across the hardware platform and across the middleware platform as well. And then the application layer. So, it’s a constant evolution I would say. It’s really hard to describe, but I think if I look back, what we’ve kind of always had is a consistent two to maybe four month kind of window where we say, these are the things that we’re shooting for and targeting and it’s been a constant evolution from middleware setting up, when you’re trying to create value for customers at the same time as develop your product.
Matt Lickwar: It will never be that you have a product and it’s ready to go and then you just turn that on. You wouldn’t be able to manage a business like that. It’s kind of two parallel work-streams and you need to be pushing those together as much as possible. For us, that’s a journey that’s going to continue and we have a lot of exciting things that are coming out with this collaboration with CSIRO. Some really interesting stuff that’s, I think, going to be the future of the way that industry 4.0 or IoT is evolving. So smaller devices, low power, doing smarter things, and that’s the direction that we’ve been heading with CSIRO, and the collaboration work that we’ve been doing. And it’s really exciting to be at a phase where we’re starting to see that being tested in the environment and then to be able to transform that into product. And that’s still a process we’re going down and through, but it’s happening and it’s exciting.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Let’s shift a little bit and start to think about… I’ll ask you about the way you’re going about building your team, internally. And so my question is, what’s been most important is you’ve started, you’ve got that funding and you started to build out the team. What sort of things you’d be mindful of in building the culture of your organisation?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah. It’s a really good question and I think it’s one that, it’s not as if you build a team and then culture happens. I think that obviously culture comes from the people leading that business and from the people that have started it. So that’s kind of understood, and that’s the challenge. I think finding talented people is obviously the challenge of any business, whether you’re starting out or you’re large and keeping people engaged. And so, I think in that at the same time you want to have the diversity of… not only diversity from making a diverse team from experiences as well as people that have technical experience, people that have construction experience for us, people that have business experience, it’s a challenge. I think it goes probably back to knowing what’s important to the business and the type of profile of the people that you’re interested in. And I would say that that’s probably fairly common for a lot of people.
Matt Lickwar: But every business has maybe a different subset of needs or skills or experiences. And finding the right mix of people is probably maybe the difference. But yeah, I think it goes back to the values of what you’re looking to create and being able to see that people identify with those values. We have a lot of interesting challenges from that kind of … I think that the challenge that we’re going to continue to face as a business, at least from a technical standpoint, is more about connecting the physical and the digital world. As IoT and these kinds of concepts develop and people become aware of them, and people become educated about the benefits of what that can do, the challenge then is in terms of connecting to information and data that previously was inaccessible. Going through those challenges, it’s a lot about being able to test and create and deploy and monitor an environment. So, we have a lot of hands on activities getting out into the field. And that’s really interesting.
Matt Lickwar: So I think for us, it’s finding people that are not only willing to wear many different hats, which is kind of always a need of a start-up, but people that are interested in that particular challenge, which is figuring out how to connect the physical and digital world in a new way.
Adam Murray: Yeah. That’s cool. Another little aside about the business, but we talked about it before we started recording as well, but the name of the organisation is not Ynomia necessarily. Or that may be what people generally call it, but can you give us the correct pronunciation?
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, the name came from the Greek goddess of law and good order. ‘Ev-no-mia’ would be the connect pronunciation of a different spelling by the way. So, we dropped the EU at the beginning and put a Y on the front. So, it’s Y-N-O-M-I-A. I think people see that and the Y-N pronunciation is often not a letter combination that you see. So, I say, ‘You-nomia’ too, and a lot of people see it and say ‘Why-nomia’, but it’s an interesting conversational piece. I don’t think there’s really a correct or incorrect way, it’s whatever anyone prefers. But most people say, ‘Why-nomia’.
Adam Murray: The impact that you think, let’s say that things go as you expect, or they won’t. I guess they’ll go in many different ways, but if they go in the way that you hope and the impact that you imagine you could have, what is the impact that you imagine you could have on the construction industry?
Matt Lickwar: I think if you boil down the problem to what we’ve realised when we went down the discovery path and construction was that, like I said before, there’s a lot of super-smart people working really hard in construction from subcontractors and people on site to engineers and management of teams. And one of the ‘bigs’ we talked more, the existential question for construction, is often what’s the status, what’s going on? That kind of question is what’s really happening in the business. What is down to the level? What is the percentage complete for that particular supplier? That’s a kind of a daily challenge for construction teams, I think. And so, trying to answer that question, if we can simplify that, we can give them that information, because often it’s: what is the status of that? All right, well let me go look or let me call or find somebody that may know that.
Matt Lickwar: And often that leads to multiple conversations or multiple spreadsheets or multiple things that are out of date, trying to capture a picture of what is the correct answer. And it comes down to what we’ve called management by intuition, which is really just, you try to do the best with what you have. And if we can give construction teams better data, more reliable, accurate, trustworthy, and real time, I think that changes completely the nature of construction. And so, what you see happening in construction is a move towards better information, better platforms to do that.
Matt Lickwar: And so ultimately I think the impact we will have is to provide construction teams with the confidence that they know that they’re connected to the things that are going on and matter to their business, and to feed them that information in a way that they can make decisions on a daily basis, with confidence.
Adam Murray: I’ve got a couple of isolated questions for you and you talked a bit about values of the organisation. Cogent is a values-led organisation, so they’re kind of … Values are very important to us in the way we do business; we’re very interested in how other organisations go about their values and the values that they have. For us, some of our values are wellbeing and transparency and inclusion, evolution and meaning. Can you talk a bit about – have you got enunciated values? Can you talk about, well maybe they’re implied more than anything else, but yeah, what are your values?
Matt Lickwar: It’s a really good question and it’s one I think we’re still trying to formulate. So I don’t think we’ve got enunciated values as much as we probably have kind of the terms with which that means from a business or customer facing, but in March of this year, there were three of us or four of us actually; Nicholas was our first employee, he came on about a year ago, so there were four of us. And then Rob, our CTO came on around March. So really in the last six or seven months, we’ve now grown to about 15 people, around that, so I’d have to count with my fingers, but we won’t do that.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, and I think that that’s probably an area that we’re still developing, I think, from a kind of enunciated, but to give you a more coherent answer, I think transparency and honesty is often something that we provide to our customers and it’s something that we try to find in values within our organisation. I feel like this is one of those things where I’m going to go back and look and be like, oh yeah, I missed that, and that and that. You said all these important things, and of course you’re describing your business and what’s important. And then often, yeah, that’s obviously not a day to day conversation. It takes a lot of thinking. You boil that stuff down over time, you kind of condense it and you realise kind of … Because it’s important, you don’t want just … You’re not just writing out and going through an exercise. I think that that comes through a collective thinking and a collective process and trying to distil as you go.
Matt Lickwar: You start out as a start-up, as a business with a few people and you talk enough and you know what you’re shooting for and you know, kind of, your mission and everybody knows what’s being presented and everybody’s kind of involved, and then as a team grows, you go through those growing pains of trying to be able to say, well, okay, we just start needing to have these types of organisational things and organisational communication and tying people in, and having retro or these types of activities that cause feedback to grow an organisation.
Matt Lickwar: And it’s a super important aspect I think, of building a business, because what we find is that communication has been, as we grow, obviously becomes the number one thing that we need to do. We have a colleague, Peter, who’s now based in the UK, focusing on projects and activities there. That’s changed the dynamic of how we need to communicate and incorporate and you just go through those pains. So, the things that kind of come out of that, become honesty, transparency … and communication is obviously a value. But finding the operational rhythm that works for us, communication takes a different form. Yeah, I don’t really feel like I’m answering that question as solidly. That’s one of the ones where I’d want to go back and say here’s a footnote.
Adam Murray: No, it’s kind of good to hear even that though, because I think sometimes maybe there’s maybe an expectation of some businesses that these are concrete things right from the start and it’s a true, real experience that you’re sharing there that there are some kind of implicit things that seem to be emerging there, but it’s kind of something that’s going to change and evolve.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah, and I think the other thing, too, is going back to the first part of our conversation – perspective, journaling or doing things that try to help you gain perspective – as you add more team members and people to your organisation, it becomes a dynamic change. You add the knowledge and the content and experiences of other people and they bring more insight, they bring a new perspective and I think that that’s a super valuable thing to be able to harness and not just say this is how we do it, but this is also how we can do it together or this is how you can bring your expertise.
Matt Lickwar: I think that the one thing that we’ve been incredibly fortunate in is we’re all quite open. We’ve all been flexible to change, and I think having that flexibility, wearing different… focusing on different roles and making sure that communication is important is a key to success, especially when you’re working to build a global business from the start. And a lot of us kind of spend a lot of time travelling, and making sure we have consistent contact points is really important.
Matt Lickwar: But yeah, the operator rhythm and the things that happen, you need to make time for those things; I think you’re right. There’s a huge piece to step back and kind of say collectively, where are we, and what’s changed, what about our hypothesis has changed and reflect back, and think about where were you.
Matt Lickwar: I think another one of the things that I find, and I wish I did more and hopefully me saying this now will kind of spur me to action, but I think charting decisions. I try to keep notes, but I find myself in this situation where I’m taking notes on my computer or taking notes or my notebook, and so kind of condensing that. But I think decision making, charting decisions, especially important ones, and you make a lot of decisions every day, but being able to accurately go back through and kind of remember why you did that.
Matt Lickwar: Because there’s so many things that change so quickly and I think that’s probably taking time to take a perspective and take a step back. But those are things that I think become really important to, like what you said before, it’s not as if you come out, you say these are operational values and these are the things that we, from a business culture… We’ve gone through some amazing programs early in our journey and probably have been … So, focus is probably a good reminder, a good time to do that again.
Matt Lickwar: But that actually came up in a board meeting recently. So, we are kind of taking that on again. And it’s probably a really actually a good time, we’re almost two years into our journey and we’ve grown to a number of new people and have two more people coming on in the next two weeks. So, I think taking time to pause, taking time to reflect, not just celebrate where you get, but to acknowledge kind of the changes in the dynamic nature of the evolution of the business and the entity and the people is a good reminder. Thank you.
Adam Murray: My final question is about Melbourne actually and what you notice, given the breadth of experience that you’ve had working in different industries and across different countries as well, and you found yourself in Melbourne now. What do you notice or what characterises, I guess the start-up scene or the technology scene in Melbourne that enables your organisation to do what it’s doing?
Matt Lickwar: Looking at this crack down here and I’m kind of like, there’s a lot of answers coming from me for that. Yeah, what makes Melbourne great? I think, one of the things that for Melbourne is noticeable for me is that it has a very small town feel even though it’s a big city, and it has a very welcoming environment. I think one of the things I noticed when I first moved here was that there’s a lot of really engaged and interesting and super talented people that are here in Melbourne and obviously there’s a lot of competition for not only that talent, but in general to be seen, to be recognised.
Matt Lickwar: But there’s a lot of amazing stuff happening in this ecosystem and one of the things that I’ve also noticed, at least in Victoria, is there’s a lot of engagement between government and private. There’s a lot of stuff happening to focus and build that sector and a lot of people are really intense. And there’s a lot of people within the community, especially start-up community, that play a huge role, just being advocates and trying to be supportive, and you can really kind of immerse yourself into that environment.
Matt Lickwar: So, I think that there’s definitely a level of interest in activity and really smart and interesting people doing a lot of really cool things. It’s been really helpful as well. There’s a lot of activity on the university level and different … Not only in Victoria, but I think just more broadly in Australia, there’s a lot of activities we’ve interfaced with a lot of, and that’s probably through the CSIRO connection. But yeah, a lot of research and student interest. We’re doing some really interesting things with UNSW and trying to do some engagement with the University of Melbourne on some things, different areas of … So, yeah, there’s probably activity on every level, which is probably something that … And maybe that’s just a fact of you make yourself aware, you didn’t know what you didn’t know, I suppose. So, it’s really a hard question to answer and say specifically. But, compared, for instance, to China … China is such an interesting place.
Matt Lickwar: The speed with which things change there, the evolution of business and how quickly you can get things done and how quickly things move there. There’s often no comparison to China in that sense. I think that what Australia does really well as well, is there’s a lot of multiculturalism, the diversity in the mix. That’s something I really enjoy, just the breadth of international exposure and people from different backgrounds coming here. That creates, I think, that just creates a topical conversation of diversity and inclusion and things are never perfect. They’re not perfect anywhere. But I think that that’s one of the things that I enjoy is the active communication on things that are happening.
Adam Murray: Mat, thank you so much for coming and sharing.
Matt Lickwar: Thank you so much.
Adam Murray: Been really enjoyable to talk to you. Appreciate your time.
Matt Lickwar: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Adam Murray: Thank you very much for listening. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what Cogent is up to, including when new episodes of this podcast come out, you can do that by subscribing to our blog updates at cogent.co/blog. And of course, to help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite podcast platform. And finally, if you want to tell us about how your business is thriving, or you know of another digital business that is thriving that you think we should hear about, the best way to do that is through emailing us at email@example.com. I’m Adam Murray, and I do look forward to hearing about how your business is thriving.