We may lead busy lives, but taking a few seconds to check yourself out in the mirror is something we all have time for. Indeed, few members and visitors of Garage Collective will fail to notice the striking mirrors we have around our space, not succumbing to the fascination of gazing at our own profiles at least once.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that actiMirror is much more than a mirror with a series of mind-blowing features but an IoT platform delivering Retail Data Analytics Insights and Personalized Consumer Experiences in Real-Time. Originally from Spain and starting his own enterprise over three years ago, Victor Ruiz is one of our most beloved Garagers and one who never hesitate to give our members a hearty birthday hug. We finally had the chance to sit down with Victor and disentangle the myth behind the great team behind this magic mirrors. Check out the recap of the podcast to find out more on big data, the exhilarating context of Hong Kong, and the three-year journey of this tech-savvy startup towards "The Technology Company of the Year" (2016 Computer World Awards).
HY: It’s great to catch up with you today. Thanks for joining us on Startup Roast. My name is Hei-yue and I am here at Garage Collective with Victor from actiMirror. As you know, I have been fascinated by the actiMirrors we have around Garage Collective. So I am really pleased to talk to you more about it. The first thing I want to as you is: why mirrors?
Victor: Thank you for the opportunity to showcase our products and showcase our name to the community. Why mirrors? Mirrors are fascinating objects to which we are naturally attracted to. Something most people never stop thinking about is how many times do they look everyday into mirrors. I am going to give you some interesting insight here: Ladies look or glance, on average, 70 times per day to a mirror. Gentlemen look or glance even more times! It may come as a surprise, but we do 80 times per day. However, we look shorter as ladies have sophisticated make-ups and hairdos. Those 70 to 80 times per day are gold opportunities for us to get your attention and offer you personalised consumer experiences according to the object you are trying and/or your anonymous biometric profile (in full compliance with the Data Protection Act). From an aggregated data stand-point, we mine the data to understand how customers behave in retail or hospitality environments delivering very granular data analytics insights to our B2B customers.
HY: Could you tell me more about the personal journey that lands you to the specific product that you have now.
Victor: For over 15 years I worked for American manufacturers in frontline sales and product development roles in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I went fast through the corporate ranks at different corporations but there was always a commonality to all my roles: they were the corporate entrepreneur type. Career took us to HK when I was 36, and I decided to start my Executive MBA at Kellogg-HKUST when I was 37 to join the financial, legal, and HR roles that I had not being exposed to during corporate life. After finishing my EMBA, I felt I had the necessary knowledge and network to start my own business. My co-founder, Fulvio Riva, already had advanced smart mirror prototypes back in his native Italy. I proposed Fulvio to integrate his sleek hardware into an IoT data analytics platform for retail and hospitality. We raised to the challenge, and partnered in 2014. During the first half of 2015, I raised 7 figures USD through my network of accomplished entrepreneurs and senior corporates, and we formally launched actiMirror. By the end of June 2015, we attracted two key members to the actiMirror Core Team: Tim Duckworth, co-founder & CTO; and Derek Zhang, Business Development Director developing all together the company to where we are today.
HY: How does the context of being in Hong Kong accelerate that? Was it in combination with the MBA programme? Or was it perhaps about the economy or the market here?
Victor: It was a mix of different factors aligning in a manner that made sense for me. From a personal point of view, the last years I worked for corporations I knew that something was wrong. Think about Neo in the Matrix where he cannot pinpoint what is not working, but I knew that I could do more than operating under the boundaries of corporations. My two mentors also kept telling me: “You are a natural entrepreneur. What are you doing in the corporate environment? Yes, you are making good money here, but you are not squeezing your true value”. From a company stand-point, we considered a number of places. But Hong Kong enjoys several advantages that other Asian cities do not have: 1. close proximity to Shenzhen and - generally - the Pearl River Delta to do rapid hardware 2. prototyping and access to the best manufacturing in the world. 3. reliable rule of law 4. a competitive tax regime 5. well-known efficiency combined with economic freedom and 6. a can-do mindset with people hungry for success
HY: What is your next stage and what are the economics for actiMirrorr specifically?
Victor: Hong Kong is a great launching pad. You can launch your business with support from different institutions. The size of the city, the taxes, the globalness make it very efficient. We are expanding very fast and actiMirror is becoming truly glo-cal present either directly or via distribution partners in Asia, Europe and North America. In addition to our own HQ in HK, we have commercial offices in Canada, Italy, and China. The next step is to open another office in Sunnyvale, at the heart of Silicon Valley. The US fully understands the value of data and is a natural market for us. I think that in 2 years of time, our company main operations will still be here but our sales will continue expanding to other parts of the world.
HY: Sounds like from my knowledge, Hong Kong is a global connector. HK is still serving business. How does it connect actiMirror to other markets in the world?
Victor: Let’s start stating that actiMirror won’t be what it is today if we would have done it in Milan or the UK. Hong Kong is fast-paced. It is great to be here and from here we will continue expanding to other key markets.
HY: To wrap up, please share with us a little bit about some of your proudest moments with actiMirror and few of the hardest lessons you have learned along the journey. What are some of the key transition points for you guys?
Victor: Aside of working all hours in the day, none of the Core Team members struggled much with anything. In the entrepreneurial world everybody has to do everything. What one gets done gets noticed, and what one does not do also gets noticed. Three Core Team members are in their 40s and one in his 30s, so we have been around the block and know what we are doing. We certainly do not live in ‘la-la’ land. I have seen young entrepreneurs getting fundraising, renting funky offices, splashing the money and: “Oh god! We have no money…”. At actiMirror we do not have such situations. We understand the limitations of cash flow and run the show in a frugal manner. I guess where I saw two of my colleagues struggling was with the concept of being available 24 hours. We have operations in Europe and North America, and they will call us at all times, ie. midnight. But very quickly they adapted to it as it became the nature of the business.
HY: Thanks you so much. It’s great that we are part of this journey with you at this stage and we are so excited to see how you continues to grow and actiMirror is going to in the future. We will always be here to support you.
Victor: We are very glad to be with this family. Garage is a very human team. I am glad that you call this Humans of Garage Society because you guys inspired the humanity. It has felt like home from the very first day. So thank YOU very much!