Last month I attended the Leaders in Technology conference in Cambridge, UK, which is organised by FM Brooks who are the folks behind the InPrint and Pure Digital shows. Tradeshows by their nature are about sales opportunities and this annual conference largely deals with how to sell industrial printing.
The event consisted of a number of diverse presentations and it wasn’t immediately clear how they would fit together. Yet I felt by the end that they did gel into a coherent overview on how to start and run a technology development company, and how to sell that technology, which ultimately made for a worthwhile day out.
Marcus Timson, co-founder of FM Brooks, set the tone for the day with an introduction in which he talked about how inkjet was becoming a mature technology capable of solving industrial manufacturing applications but that sometimes people took a conservative view in doing things the way they’ve always been done, arguing that industrial inkjet needed to tell a better story.
Simon Burton, who bills himself as an event industry entrepreneur*, delivered a keynote presentation that elaborated on this, talking about how to tell a good story, analysing popular films including StarWars.
Rob Karsten, EMEA regional director for Phoseon, told the story of Phoseon, which develops LED-based solutions. Initially the company found success working with companies manufacturing CDs but as the market for buying music changed and people switched from CDs to streaming services so Phoseon ran into trouble. Karsten described how the company refocused its technology into producing UV inkjet curing systems after a chance conversation with a customer. More recently Phoseon has adapted the technology to set up a life sciences division developing decontamination solutions for medical equipment.
Speaker and writer Richard Askam talked about the power of personalised print. Askam himself came from the wine trade but found himself personalising labels to sell champagne and later helped devise the Share a Coke campaign. He pointed out that the Internet has changed how people shop and that therefore brands need to use personalisation to engage with their individual customers. He said that the print industry is no different to any other manufacturing industry in that people tend to do things the way that they’ve always been done, noting: “People invested in digital technology but they didn’t change the way they behaved.” He said that printers have become stuck in their own little islands but need to use their imaginations to break out. He asked why hasn’t digital print gone further in packaging, before saying: “The only thing printed on boxes is the word ‘fragile’ but the technology allows it to be personalised.”
After lunch Simon Biltcliffe, managing director of print management company Webmart, spelt out his business philosophy of treating his employees, suppliers and customers fairly, explaining: “We are trying to show that you can be successful without screwing people over. You can’t win if you don’t create value for everyone.”
He was followed by Clayton Sampson, CEO of Cyan Tec who talked about what it takes to establish a successful company and whether or not success was down to skill or just luck. He concluded that it’s a bit of both – “developing the skill to recognise luck and then being in the right place at the right time” – and added that “most tech entrepreneurs are driven by making the best technical solutions.”
Cyan Tec uses a number of different technologies including inkjet, robotics and high-powered lasers. He explained: “We are an industrial company and industrial print is one of the things that we use to make advanced manufacturing systems.” The customers are mostly high-tech blue chip companies that want to be at the leading edge of technology spread across different markets so that Cyan Tec is not tied to the fortunes of one sector. He also pointed out that it’s important to build a team and to recognise that some people may be better at things than you are.
Next, Kevin Goeminne, CEO of Chili Publish, talked about Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store in the US. He pointed out that Amazon basically works on the same principle but on a large scale over the Internet and said that it was important to enable people to do things themselves, noting: “You have to make sure that your organisation and your customers can do everything for themselves because it will be impossible to do everything with a centralised team. He added: “You want to automate the self-service with a layer of personalisation. This will be the key thing over the next few years.”
He went on to talk about how Chili Publish has evolved from an online document editor to a wider self-service model through the use of templates. He said: “We think that you can leverage any data points you have in any organisation and output them to any channel and all that could be done with a central template which is why we created Chili Publish. You can import anything you like. We add an editing component so that your customers can template whatever they were doing. We let them create really flexible templates with rules and variable data so that they can enable their organisation to do their own self service. Then we let them output in whatever format they like.”
The final speaker, Mike Grehan, CEO of LifeArt, talked about industrial manufacturing with a twist – LifeArt is in the death business making coffins. Apparently, more people are opting for cremation, due to rising land prices. He pointed out that funeral directors make an enormous mark-up on coffins and that some coffins are more effective than others at ensuring the body burns through properly.
LifeArt has developed and patented a composite material that can be buried but is designed to burn effectively. It’s strong enough to carry the weight of a body, yet light enough to be delivered by one person. The company uses inkjet printing to offer customers the option to personalise their coffins. Interestingly, Grehan says that people have approached him to use this material in other areas such as kitchens and caravan interiors, adding that there might be more opportunities.
The day concluded with drinks and dinner complete with a quiz and the option to watch England lose to Belgium in the final game of the world cup’s group stages. Those were the heady days back in June when it seemed that even losing was a kind of victory but now we know better – winning at any business takes years of hard work, long before you get to the tournament itself and that ultimately was the message that came through from each of these speakers.
*I never did find out what this means