Scandit to Date: A Story of Evolution, Innovation and Determination
| People & Culture | by Samuel Mueller, CEO and Co-founder, Christof Roduner, CIO, VP Engineering and Co-founder, and Christian Floerkemeier, CTO, VP Product and Co-founder
Imagine a world where you have the superpower to point a smart device at an object, capture data accurately and do all kinds of intelligent things at speed – track it, learn from it, get instructions, check IDs and expiration dates, find similar products, and so much more. This was the futuristic concept we had in mind when we embarked on our journey with Scandit over a decade ago.
This week we shared the news that Scandit has secured Series D funding of $150m led by Warburg Pincus, putting the company’s valuation at over $1 billion. As we celebrate this milestone, we look back on a business that has grown from the roots up through innovation, unwavering determination and a strong, vibrant team culture.
A vision as clear today as it was yesterday
The three of us met at ETH Zurich in 2009, and founded Scandit later that year, with all of us remaining as active in the business today as we were back then. Our vision remains as steadfast as it did from the start. Fundamentally, our ambition is to transform the daily lives of customers, workers and businesses in all walks of life. From delivering better customer service, to a faster airport check-in, to receiving the right parcel on time, to reducing repetitive tasks for frontline workers; we want our software to change the way we can interact with everyday objects by blending the physical and digital worlds.
Originally, we thought that RFID technology was the way to do that. However, it soon became apparent that there was a better way – leveraging the technical advances of smartphone cameras with their ability to connect to familiar objects by reading a barcode, text, ID or the object itself.
We could effectively extend the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm to everyday objects by developing a highly specialized computer vision platform for camera-equipped smart devices.
A steady yet challenging start
As with most start-ups, our formative years were long and sometimes slow, but at that time, we made some critical strategic decisions that shaped the business we see today. As we validated and iterated through different minimum viable products (MVPs), we won several entrepreneurship competitions, three in our native Switzerland with Venture Kick and a further one from Nokia’s ‘Calling for Innovators’ competition in 2011 to help fund the first few years.
We set out to build our own barcode scanning software and make it available under a licensing model. In parallel, we built a price comparison app to ‘Shop, Share & Compare’, which integrated our own scanning software. On our promotional materials for this app, a small footnote stated that also third-party apps could integrate the software via a Software Development Kit (SDK).
It proved to be a trigger point for the future direction of our business. As our app grew in popularity and users, so did the number of third-party developers looking to license our SDK. With a growing number of licensing requests for an increasingly broad number of use cases from companies worldwide, this became the foundation of our business today.
By 2012, we’d secured some notable customers – such as Ahold Delhaize and Coop in Europe. It’s a testament to the technology and their loyalty that they remain valued customers today.
With the growing success of our evolving licensing platform business, we started to build out our offerings and teams, catering to the specific needs of our customers from different industries.
Overcoming early technical hurdles to win the race
Barcodes haven’t changed in over four decades. And despite their widespread use, we ran into some roadblocks early on while trying to perfect our barcode scanning software.
For example, in the very early versions, our barcode decoding algorithms that overcame the camera limitations of early smartphones were limited to product catalogues with just 10,000 items, which wasn’t an option for retailers who stocked significantly more. Also, a barcode reading error rate in early R&D prototypes was as high as 10% which wasn’t practical in real-world use and would be a major barrier to large scale adoption. It was a hurdle we could only overcome by improving our technology. So we did.
Despite smartphones growing in popularity, cameras on early smartphones did not have autofocus and were simply not good enough. Similarly, smartphones – even today – don’t benefit from a laser beam, which allows the user to aim like a traditional dedicated scanner does.
This challenge led us to think differently and innovate – so we built algorithms that were able to reliably recognize barcodes in blurry images (such as those produced by cameras with no or a slow autofocus) or to recognize a barcode’s location without the user needing a laser to aim. This early innovation went on to lead to the development of MatrixScan, which can instantly read multiple barcodes in a single scan.
Making the most of lessons learnt
Along our journey, we’ve had our fair share of failures and rejections. But, in line with our core Scandit values of dedication and pioneer spirit, we learnt from those experiences and used them to our advantage.
Early on, the CIO of one of Europe’s largest grocers told us that our technology would never be good enough. This made us focus more on how and where we could win, and how we could create value for customers. We went on to improve our solutions with that mindset and now count 7 out of the top 10 European retailers as clients.
On another occasion, we were excited at the prospect of supporting one of the largest companies in the world to help improve the scanning performance of a consumer product they’d launched, only for it then to be removed from the market just a few weeks later. Months later, they re-engaged us to support another product and have since grown into one of our biggest customers today. Where one door closes, another one opens.
Imagine the What. Build the How
Our progress to date doesn’t just come from our technology, but also the growing global team we’ve built around us.
Early on, we recognized the importance of nurturing an inclusive space where our people feel safe to stretch their brains, to experiment and step out of their comfort zone. What we do makes a real difference to real businesses and millions of people, which is hugely rewarding. We also like to focus on how we’ve done it though – it’s the detail that matters.
It’s taken determination, grit and hard work to get this far. We look forward to building on this foundation and growing together, so we can harness our potential today to achieve incredible things tomorrow.
Scandit today and tomorrow
Today, Scandit is the leader in smart data capture, giving superpowers to workers, customers and business with unmatched speed, accuracy and intelligence. We partner with and support customers globally across retail, transportation and logistics, healthcare, and manufacturing to transform the daily lives of their employees, customers and their own operations.
Tomorrow, we continue to evolve and grow. We are increasingly moving beyond the smartphone and applying our technology to autonomous data capture solutions and increasing the use of artificial Intelligence and machine Learning (AI/ML) to make the lives of workers easier and more enjoyable. We will unlock new value for our customers in the industries we support today and expand into new ones.
We will stay true to the values which got us where we are today: dedication, team spirit, pioneer spirit, innovation, having fun and getting things done. They are the bedrock of the culture we look for in our employees. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
We have an ambition of enabling 100 million daily superheroes with Scandit Smart Data Capture superpowers to be the best version of themselves everyday. We look forward to making that happen.