Editor’s Note: In honor of 10 years of the IDS program at the iSchool, Alexandra Archambault will be leading you through a 10-episode podcast series. Each episode highlights a different successful startup company from the program.
Alex: This week I talked to Charles Preuss about his company, Imajion. I was able to snag a few minutes of Charlie time on the phone. He described his company as “the first mixed reality communications platform for construction.” If you’re a little confused about what that means, here’s how he described it to me.
Helping Construction Sites See in New Ways
Charlie: It’s visual holograms in your space without cutting off your vision, and it’s aware of your surroundings. So it’s like a smart integration that you can connect to your building through a head-mounted display and remote users anywhere around the world. Those remote users will have the same capabilities as the head-mounted display without actually having one. So they can connect to the head-mounted display, which we use the Microsoft HoloLens. They can connect the same capabilities as if you were wearing one through their phone, tablet, computer – any device that has a browser.
So think of a conference solution like Skype or GoToMeeting or Webex. Now add somebody on the job site with a HoloLens that is also connected to that conference call, which is also integrated with all the top leading construction industry software programs that they use on a day to day basis that houses all this special data. Then they can actually interact with that data in a visual way via holograms.
“I joined the military and I realized communication was one of the number one factors of mission success.”
A lot communication that happens throughout the industry is done through a very archaic/fragmented way. People are using phones, emails, text messages, video calling, etc. Those are used in asynchronous/synchronous communication and some aspects aren’t fully visual or contextual.
A lot of times it takes, say, a superintendent and architect maybe three days to two weeks to get on the same page because of the constant back and forth, communication lines that they use today (like email). A lot of times when you try to translate your thoughts through text you lose about 20% accuracy. Then in order to be visual, because you have to be on the job site to fully understand what they’re talking about, you have to add photos, recordings, etc. Sometimes it’s not correct or clear. What we’re doing is adding that visual context with the data and real-time communication: we’re merging it all into one.
Finding Inspiration at an Early Age
Alex: Charlie was inspiration to create the product by his family, who has been in construction for over 30 years. He said he realized at an early age that clear communication was the most essential part of a successful project. This was his solution to make construction projects both easier and faster.
Charlie: When I was growing up, my father was constantly driving from project to project. I would only see him on weekends. That was going on for about six to seven years during my adolescence. I realized as I was going into that industry that the only way to understand all problems on the job site was to visit it and see it for yourself. Communicating with people on the job site is very costly and there are a lot of down sides to that approach. I joined the military and I realized communication was one of the number one factors of mission success.
I started tying those two together and realizing that communication is one of the biggest factors of project success and mission success pretty much in many industries. How we are communicating back and forth between outside stakeholders, especially when a lot of information and context is locked into a certain location, wasn’t efficient enough.
When I got out of the military I came back to Syracuse University. I started getting really interested in emerging technology. I took a deep dive with emerging technology, VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed reality). From there I put all the pieces together and started building.
Finding Alumni to Help Build the Team
Alex: Charlie said when he was starting his team he really started tapping into the Syracuse University network. In fact, his CTO and co-founder Adrian Hatch is also a Syracuse University graduate.
Charlie: The biggest thing is networking with the staff and professors. A lot of time your idea can be very clunky and not really fine-tuned. The more perspectives you can get from different people around the University, the more they’ll ask you questions and give you constructive criticism, you can refine it even more.
A lot of the time I went to the iSchool, I’d talk to John Liddy down at the Tech Garden all the time/ I went to the business school to talk to people about business models and pricing models. The good thing about the Syracuse University is that it has all aspects of business invested into each school. I would take these different foundational pillars of a company that I researched, and then went to those prescribing schools within SU and started asking lots of questions, taking notes, and refining what Imajion would be today.
What It’s Like to Work at Imajion
Alex: When talking about his day to day, Charlie said that every day is different. But he’s excited about where Imajion is heading.
Charlie: My day-to-day looks like chaotic beauty. We’re doing everything and anything, we just partnered with Autodesk, Microsoft, DeWalt … a lot of big firms that were utilizing as a strategic partner and utilizing their influence in the market and their customer base. We’re working together to provide a value that they don’t provide currently and finding ways to work together to find more value tailored towards our customers. We’ve closed with some of the top construction firms in the United States for a private Beta and we’re getting ready to do a national launch in Q2 next year.
“Anyone in the world that has built something great has started with a crowd of people telling them it’s impossible.”
Charlie’s Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
Alex: When it comes to his advice for new entrepreneurs, Charlie stressed the point that you should never listen to the doubt of others if you are confident in your idea.
Charlie: Don’t let negative feedback hold you back from starting. The best thing to do is start and then figure out the solutions to your problems later. The longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be. You really just have to jump into the fire.
The more you hear people say you’re crazy, the more you’re on to something bigger than what people can deceive. A lot of times people get discouraged by people saying “that’s not possible”. But anyone in the world that has built something great has started with a crowd of people telling them it’s impossible.
Editor’s note: this interview has been edited for clarity.