Mujin Story #2: first customer and first funding

Japan is famous for its highly integrated manufacturing process and automation. The long history of high manufacturing standards also produced strong Japanese robot manufacturers known in the global market for producing high-quality robot arms (Japan has a 50% share of the global market). As for the software, let’s say a robot brain, each manufacturer has developed an operation system based on their separate standards and specifications, which is not a very efficient method. Thus in these 40 years, although industrial giants have invested enormous amounts of money to develop this technology, robots have yet to achieve autonomy, and humans are still required to calculate their movements. The range of use for robots is limited.

Mujin has invented cutting-edge technology that gives industrial robots, which were originally good at repeating preprogrammed functions, the power to reason about their surrounding environment. 

In order to better understand and see Mujin one should plunge into its history.

Please find another blog articles about Mujin, Inc.’s story here: Mujin Story

Mujin first customer, who was it?

“We didn’t have a product yet at that time, we didn’t even have a company name, and both Rosen and I still had our jobs. The salary was enough to cover our life, of course, but believed that we had to concentrate Mujin’s research and development to accelerate our dream with funding from outside. We established Mujin in 2011, 2-3 years after the Lehman Shock, and since most venture capitals had stopped their operation, there were not many places to go.”

It took almost one and a half years to acquire Mujin's first customer
In the beginning, Issei didn’t know yet how the technology works for industry or what the application will look like. Rosen was widely known in academia in robotics, but not in the business area. Issei was known in the metalworking industry, but he could not tell in what field the new robotics technology fits the best.

Source www.kigyoka.com

“We visited head offices of many companies having to do with the robotics industry, but back then it was difficult for 2 unknown, unaccomplished young men to see the top management, and even if we did, they paid no attention to us, sometimes even telling us that “i can hardly believe you young two guys can actually make robots completely teachless”.

When they had a chance, Issei and Rosen asked about what kind of application customers need or what kind of problems they have. Japanese companies were skeptical about Mujin's automation technology and safety due to the lack of a proven track record. As Japanese manufacturers attach importance to technological safety and credibility, many of them were unwilling to try out Mujin's technology. "Of course, safety is important. I have learned an important lesson," Rosen said.

Rosen Diankov 

“We thought that there might be a better chance to see top management by going to their most important overseas branch offices, and 2011 Rosen and I traveled to America,” reminds Issei.

Mujin founders decided to go to the USA during the Obon holiday and made appointments with managers and the presidents of Japanese major robot manufacturer's US branch offices, who were much more open to listening about some interesting technology. Robotics is a field where growth happens only after doing a lot of investment, but American investors only want what they can sell quickly. Mujin founders wanted to make not trends or entertainment, but a new industry supporting society for the next 100 years.

America trip

The USA trip was very productive, Issei and Rosen got very good ideas from them and understood weak points and areas for improvement for their business, and went back to Japan. Some US branch presidents even made introductions to the top executives at their headquarters in Japan. 

With this information, Issei and Rosen worked on their demo. Both of them had other jobs at that time, after finishing their work every day after 11 pm, they would start on the work for Mujin. Most days founders stayed up till 3 a.m. or more. They continued working like this for about half a year, at some point Issei and Rosen concluded that: "If we keep working like this for another 6 months, we will both die." The first capital was 1 million yen, gathered by our founders themselves.

Rosen Diankov

Never give up, never surrender

Issei and Rosen got a chance to show a demo to robot manufacturer executives from Denso Wave. Even though they sped up development, their demo just did not work. Explaining the situation, Issei and Rosen got a 2 weeks extension.

At the end of the 2 weeks deadline period the demo was still not working. There was no way Mujin founders could request the industry heavyweights to postpone the demo a second time. On demo day, Issei drove a car to the venue, while Rosen sat in the passenger seat and continued programming.

“I need just 20 minutes, engage them in small talk, buy me some time” Rosen begged Issei.

Issei was making a presentation about Mujin potentiality, talking a lot, and sometimes glanced in Rosen’s direction but Rosen did not appear to be ready...

Issei started preparing to apologize to the executives when Rosen pressed the start button. It was only one UI page with many buttons, Miraculously, it worked!

Issei Takino 

 “From this experience, the culture of never giving up until the last moment took place,” Issei says about the future company’s culture.

At the end of 2011, Denso Wave suggested Issei and Rosen run a reference booth at the International Robot Exhibition with one table. Because of this expo, Issei and Rosen decided on registering a name for our company (not just Issei&Rosen, Inc. 😀), and they chose Mujin (Mujin LOGO: the hidden meaning). Also, 2 days before the exhibition, they decided that it will be better to have a uniform. So, Issei bought 2 white shirts and asked to stitch “mujin” on them. 

Mujin booth at one of the first expo

At the exhibition, Issei and Rosen attracted their first customer - Canon

Canon’s robot integration manager knew Mujin was just a startup, but they were open to the use of cutting-edge technology, believed in us, and wanted to do a little project. At that moment Canon tried to automate their factories and they asked Mujin to make software to optimize robot trajectories and positions for the best cycle time. Mujin secured an order from our very first customer in 2012. 

Canon project

First financing 

To run a robotics company is an expensive business. Issei contacted many investors to obtain funding. After the Lehman shock, the financial industry was devastated and companies were reducing personnel. Forget about doing automation, many factories were closing down. Almost all venture capitals that Issei had visited, who had decades of experience in robot manufacturing, told him, ‘Your business does not seem to be a homerun business’. Most venture capitals want businesses that can earn huge sums of money with a single shot, such as games or apps. Therefore, they find heavy industrial start-ups, such as Mujin, unattractive.

“I was completely dismayed,” Issei recalled. When the founders drove back from these meetings, the atmosphere in the car was like a funeral.

Despite that, Rosen kept saying to Issei: “I think it was a very good meeting, I think my technology was recognized.”

Rosen was confident in his technical skills. Issei was also determined that once he made a decision he would see it till the end. “I was prepared to go to Hell and back with Rosen,” Issei reminds.

It was around that time when Rosen heard about UTEC (the University of Tokyo Edge Capital) and the founders went there to make a presentation. UTEC was overwhelmingly speedy compared to the other companies. It determined everything, including the due diligence, in a short time, where others would need at least a month to decide. It wasn’t that we wanted the money as soon as possible, but we felt that matching levels of speediness was important to work together

Source: UTEC

Finally, Mujin procured 75 million yen in series A funding from the University of Tokyo Edge Capital. Thus, Mujin’s journey began. 

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