It was the first week in January of 2019 when Dutch startup Th3rd arrived in Las Vegas for the world's biggest technology conference. Joined by 49 other Dutch innovators the Th3rd team was apart of the CES Holland Pavillion. A showcase of the best in Dutch tech where for 4 days they built out their address book and accelerated their business.
We sat down with co-founder Rudo Bisschop to find out how he ended up there, the impact it had on his business and his top tips for CES success.
Since a young age, Rudo had always wanted to build companies:
“I always knew I wanted to start different companies, my dad told me recently when I was 13 I used to say it to him all the time, so you could say i’m living the dream”
Whilst studying at Rotterdam School of Management Rudo began thinking of business ideas he could invest his time in. The entrepreneurship bug stuck with Rudo as he went through various jobs in business eventually culminating in him quitting his job and starting Th3rd with Tristan Bethe in 2014.
Th3rd began life-solving a simple problem. Architectural visualizations needed models of humans to bring them to life. Previously beautiful renders would be made in 3D to then be ruined with 2D images of people attempting to bring the building to life. People are hard to replicate as they are an organic form so Th3rd was born to solve this problem. So using the knowledge of his highly experienced co-founder Tristan, they created a high-quality people scanner. The scanner using 130 DSLR cameras converts real people into usable 3D models which Th3rd would then sell to the market via their website.
The unintentional pivot
After creating a successful platform brands began seeing the high-quality scans that Th3rd provided and began getting in touch with their own ideas for the technology. Rudo ended up receiving pitches from major sports and fashion brands for pilots to turn their stock into the same high-quality 3D models. Moving from digitizing people to digitizing everything with a focus on e-commerce.
This was then accelerated even further when they moved into the working space B.Amsterdam. With large companies getting tours of the new office space having 130 cameras in a room drew a lot of attention and interest. This helped Rudo perfect his pitch as he continually explained what he did, tweaking it each time as he gauged different reactions whilst also listening to potential customer ideas on what they would do with his setup.
These tours helped me to learn my pitch quickly as so many people would come by. People would say oh you should do this, look at this, and my pitch adapted. For example, a Nike or Adidas would talk about the possibilities of scanning shoes. Then through this, we rapidly gained contacts and word of mouth helped a lot getting our first pilots.
With 3D models of products to brand the advantages are obvious you can turn one asset into all kinds of media formats. By creating a 3D counterpart of a product you have one easy building block to use for your media-assets since a good 3D model can be used for product photos, animations, commercials, 360 degrees photo’s or animations. Also, customers' e-commerce channels are ready for all the latest innovations, since VR/AR, holograms and all other new applications all use 3D content as their building blocks:
You basically have your store in a customer's pocket. You can really see that it can boost sales greatly. And we want to be the ones that help everybody see and access technology. Giving that “Oh wow” moment. This is a really big change that’s coming for e-commerce. But not everyone sees it due to the barriers of having to create so much content something we can help people overcome. And that’s basically where the what’s lagging to really push it forward. And we want to help bridge that gap by creating the next step in rapid scanning technology.
Another Tech Conference
So after all this attention from major brands on their business model and technology Th3rd began developing pilots. Focused mainly on niche content the pilots would be a way in which they could see if there was a good product-market fit with their new e-commerce audience. Whilst also developing their new idea for a rapid 3D Scanner that could quickly and easily create large batches of content for e-commerce sites.
As they began to get the traction they wanted to test with the market more and more to see what feedback they could get to help shape their offering. Conferences acted as a great way to get in front of their audience to talk about their ideas, hear new insights and to meet people that could make it a reality.
They headed out also to every conference they could find and naturally found out about the mission to CES for 2019 through their interactions with other Dutch Startups and StartupDelta (Techleap.nl’s predecessor). It made sense to go to the world's biggest tech conference where they could get even more key insights into their technology and offering.
Why did you apply?
It was an easy decision for Rudo and the Th3rd team to make:
We were already doing the pilots with these large organizations but always hit a floor or a wall where we couldn’t go any further. At the same time, we began getting more assignments from America, so we needed to get a foot in the door to figure out how to expand there. CES was it, a big tech conference and access to a huge developing market for us. Also it was on my bucket list.
Did you have clear goals before you went?
We were still in the concept phase, so I wanted to talk to as many people who could have a stake or interest in our idea. Gauge their reactions and see if it had a big enough market. Asking myself, are the big players interested?
We do want to scan the entire world and franchise out. But we know it will take some big brands to scan everything first to get the ball rolling and CES gives you access to those kind of people. Also joining via invitation of the goverment for me I felt was the best entranc possible (and better than I could imagine)
You were accepted, what was next?
After over 200 applicants Th3rd made it to the final 50 for the delegation showing clearly the impact this trip would have and that they were ready for it. As part of joining a mission or delegation extra support is given to help startups maximize their time at the conference including preparation days with expert sessions:
I found the prep days very helpful, I really thought it was a shame it was so quick next to each other as there was so much information to absorb. The Pitch Training really sharpened our focus as you can never learn enough about your own pitch, it’s something you need to continually iterate. It’s so important.
Being accepted in itself and being apart of the buzz of CES unveiled Amsterdam also added value to Th3rd before they’d even left for Las Vegas:
We really used the announcement that we were joining the mission as an unveiling moment, we went to our current clients and marketed the hell out of it. We also noticed that once we pushed the announcement companies we were discussing pilots with got more interested.
How was the build-up for the event?
Right before we were about to get everything ready to leave, we just landed a huge assignment. I didn’t have any time at all so the 2–3 days before we rushed to get everything ready then we were suddenly there.
You really have to be there to fully understand the opportunity of the event. The people you can speak to, the companies that are present and you really feel like I should have done more preparation regardless if you’ve done infinite amounts.
You can get lost in CES so its good you can start early, and prepare early. You meet a lot of people anyway but if you focus your attention on the people you want to meet, the media you want to me or whatever your goal is then you can get so much more out of it.
A normal day at CES?
You spend the entire day speaking with people, going to existing meetings or meeting with interesting delegations visiting the entire pavilion. It’s also about capturing the people walking around.
We really found it interesting that a lot of people actually came to find us as they were looking for 3D scanning. They wanted to know about us specifically, which was really cool being so far away from our HQ in Amsterdam! Tip: Make sure you really have your profile ready with good pictures, information and using relevant keywords.
The Dutch are really rated very highly by the US market. Whenever we have meetings in the US, the international reputation is so high. A lot of strategic people make a conscious effort to see the dutch area thanks to the reputation of the pavilion.
What kind of people did you meet?
We met a huge variety of people from investors to corporate executives. Tip: Never judge a book by its cover, we met with investors from California and whatever that picture you have in your head think the opposite. Be open to everyone.
What impact did it have on th3rd?
Short-term the biggest impact was getting our name out there with large parts of our target audience. Clients we had previously, saw the trip and selection as a confirmation of us as a respected company so they pushed their projects with us earlier than we had expected.
Long term we now have a huge list of people we are talking to in the US but we are not ready yet for them. As we went with a concept and idea with a foundation of success in our original 3D scanning of people business. We have a full pipeline ready once we have completed our rapid scanning concept and we have a go-to-market strategy laid out for us from the people we met and their feedback. For example, we spoke with Canon about partnering as needing 130 cameras is no small expense and different incubators/accelerators/investors explicitly saying whenever you are ready to come to the US contact us and we want to help you further and those kind of relationships
- Be aware of the people you want to meet
- Prepare properly (give yourself the breathing space not to be completely reactionary)
- Enjoy it, people tend to just focus on X or Y, a smile gets a lot more interest than a pitch crazed founder
- Make sure you have someone ready, 2 of us was too little. We needed an assistant to sort through the contacts, to keep track of conversations and follow up within 24 hours. Need to be efficient and organised.
- Focus on having a nice conversation, find out what they do. Then they will want to know more.
- Get pitch ready and realise its never done
- Some people just want your pitch though, so when you know that just do it. Be ready!