2018 SVP Startup Profile: Waec
Brett Wagner MS‘18
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and your company Waec?
Waec’s mission is to make things more accessible for everybody and to do it in a way that minimizes disturbances in urban environments. We make small, safe, secure, and autonomous ground drones that travel on sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver packages within a 2-mile radius. Waec cuts the cost of delivery down by 50% – 80% of its original delivery cost.
After getting my (Brett) undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, I worked in the financial services sector specifically with higher net worth individuals. I then went on to study entrepreneurial leadership in Babson’s MS program. Through Babson, I’ve been able to develop Waec and have also had some amazing people join the team.
I am Neal, the head of hardware and design here at Waec. Currently I am studying mechatronics and robotics at Kennesaw State University.
I am Sarvesh, originally from India but I got my masters from the University of Maryland James Clark School of Engineering. While studying, I focused on e-communications, signal, and processes. I was brought onto Waec as a machine perception engineer. I help the bot understand and create images/video feed.
What is the story behind Waec?
We are just a passionate group of people who love both robotics and engineering. Out of college, I (Brett) was living with my roommate and we were just thinking of ways to integrate air drones into our society. As you can tell, I have passion for drones, so it is something I like to talk about a lot. Turns out, there are an abundance of issues about the safety, surveillance, noise, etc. of air drones. However, ground drones are much less concerning in today’s society so we decided to initially focus there. Our dream would be to create a delivery system that uses both air drones and ground drones together.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve gained from the Summer Venture Program?
I (Neal) was not as knowledgeable in the business world, being that I study robotics, so the Summer Venture Program (SVP) has really opened my mind to this space. I’ve developed my abilities to communicate with people and talk to them on a networking level. Through SVP, so many people have been able to help us grow Waec and I as well have also helped them expand their own companies. It’s been a very worthwhile experience.
I (Sarvesh) come from an engineering background, so creating products has always been fun for me, but SVP has taught me that the products I create really need to serve someone. I’ve focused a lot on product-market fit throughout SVP; how can I make Waec affordable and accessible to our end user. It is so important to get the timing right and to know your customer segment.
The networking has been extremely valuable for me (Brett). Everyone is looking for ways to help each other out and it has been an amazing community to be a part of. Along the lines of Sarvesh’s point about product-market fit, we’ve really seen how much testing goes behind proving that our product is needed. As much as we can point to competitors and think that people want our product, investors really want to see you out there doing the research and tests yourself.
What’s been a milestone/accomplishment you’ve made since the Summer Venture Program started?
On the business side, we have really built a network with so many valuable individuals like people from iRobot among others. On the engineering front, It’s been a slower progression but we are hitting milestones here and there which has been fantastic.
What’s been an obstacle/surprise you’ve faced?
We are looking to raise money pretty soon which is a huge animal to tackle in-of-itself. Previously we came into this program trying to hit the ground running with fundraising. Once we got here though, we started to reevaluate our focus and take a step back. We did some research and built our product further, so when we do decide to raise we will have a much stronger start. This was difficult for us to grasp at first, but it seems much worthwhile looking back.
What is your favorite memories or moments from the Summer Venture Program?
Halfway through the program we had a Saturday BBQ with a few people from SVP. It was really fun just hanging out with each other. We love meeting people from such different walks of life, from all over the world, and with such different businesses than ours.
Some of my (Sarvesh) favorite moments in SVP has been commuting to Workbar together and just having such fun and interesting conversations.
If you could run any company in the world, existing or not, what would it be and why?
There are a billion things I (Brett) want to do in the drone world, but other than that, I would love to create a company about education and teacher appreciation. I am so grateful for the amazing teacher’s I’ve had throughout my schooling journey. I think there should be a way to incentivize teachers by connecting them with former students who might donate every time they remember something valuable they once learned.
I (Neal) would love to start a research company focused on alternative energy. I have a feeling this is going to be the most lucrative field in the future and it’s so meaningful and important especially now. I definitely see myself doing something in energy storage.
I (Sarvesh) am huge on marine robotics. I hope to start my own oceanographic institute back in India one day.
Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs that you want to share?
At the end of the day, you are going to be talking to a bunch of different people about your company and idea. You need to be a good filter. Everyone is going to give you feedback and advice, sometimes these tips could be conflicting. Try to find the things that overlap and ultimately trust your own gut and don’t give up.
Also, be ready to learn and be ready to fail. Learn from your own failures and those of others. When you do fail, embrace it and don’t let that same mistake trip you up again.
I (Neal) would also suggest to take other people’s perspectives into consideration, at the end of the day, you are selling to others not yourself. Most importantly, find what motivates you and then find the right people to help you. You are going to be spending a lot of time with your team, you are going to be working harder than you’ve ever worked before. It’s a difficult journey, but enjoy the ride. Whatever you are doing should be fun.