Jules Shertser, CEO & co-founder of Twindo.ai, discusses his journey in creating a new project management system for construction and maintenance in wind energy, and beyond. He explains how they pivoted from another direction and how start ups can gain an MBA level knowledge base in parallel to the wild rollercoaster of scaling an early-stage start up.
A Dutch version of this article can be read on the website of our partner: Emerce.
Could you tell me how you got here?
“In 2021 the world was somewhat turbulent. We had COVID, Brexit and it was making people ask meaningful, existential questions. No exception for myself. I’d been involved in wind energy for more than a decade, giving the best years of my life to making wind projects as successful as possible as a project manager, engineer, trainer and even a consultant, for my sins.
I was busy converting my wind service company into a scale up, it was clear to me that a more agile and automated software system was needed for this company, that would facilitate a better value chain not just for our customers but also for our technicians making the magic happen in the field, who are often overlooked as a truly vital element in successful and financially rewarding projects. Therefore we would attract the best talent, being able to provide the very best service. It is all about efficiency and quality.
It needed some very specific problem-solution technology, that currently didn’t exist and I had a strong feeling we could do that with well thought-out process engineering, but technology development was a new space for me and at times, you know you get that feeling of biting off more than one could chew, it popped up sporadically, thinking rationally and planning methodically helped sooth the pain.
However, by luck, from discovering a wonderful inventory management product and chasing down its creator, I met their CTO, that later became our CTO, Frank, van Luijn, he made really good agile enterprise software that’s used by the military and other offshore companies like Eneco and Vattenfal, etc. Together we started going over the process of what it might look like to create this software for my service company while bonding over craft beer, dark humour and music.
In the meantime I’d secured framework offers for some big contracts with large original equipment manufacturers, who make the turbines. In fact, I was offered 3000 turbines across southern Europe for maintenance. And I just needed a huge amount of investment to get multiple warehouses, dozens of trucks, wages for workers until invoices arrived etc. Then reality kicked in, I realized that it’s really hard to get investment for asset heavy ideas, like physical services. But when I explained it to investors, managing to get in front of quite a few, they really liked the idea of the software, not the physical services. But my value was in operations not technology. Talking it through with my wife “I really believe that you can provide some value here to the industry, with a long career in different roles with different stakeholders, there is unique insights.” And she dropped a bomb that would determine the next years of our lives: “Why don’t you just focus on making software, solving these issues and more.”
I kind of thought, you know what, that’s actually a pretty good idea but its way outside of my comfort zone. First stop: retraining in technology and AI innovation. Then Frank and I spent our spare time in 2021, to go through the whole ideation process, to really add the value that we wanted, armed with a copy of Rob Fitzpatrick’s “Then Mom Test”, we validated with the market to confirm assumptions and determine if there was an appetite for it. We had overwhelming positive signals from feedback, from more than 60 decision makers, we had around 55 really positive ones. So we decided to do it, in 2022 we went fully in.
It was clear that despite having good business development skills ourselves, having a great product was not enough, we needed to reach the global market to deliver the value we knew was possible, we yearned for a commercial founder that had executive business dev experience in a unicorn and that led to a challenging quest. That quest ended super successfully, with Twindo’s 3rd cofounder and CRO, Guilherme Marinho, who had been an exec in two 2.5x unicorns, we instantly clicked and the rest is history.
Of course, over time some of the features and the way we deliver value changed as we worked closely with some big companies, always keeping an even keel with cross industry functionality in our minds, but eventually came to the product that we’re offering now. It’s currently being used successfully on and offshore around NW Europe, as we speak, which is a super satisfying feeling. It seems like a lifetime ago, that I spent all those hours working around my kitchen table building Twindo with Frank and Gui, to having an engaged team and seeing the product provide value to its users, that’s what it is all about: user value.”
Nice. And could you tell us about the product and how it helps customers?
“The product is like Monday.com but for heavy industry, incorporating weather modelling (think lifting operations) intelligent planning and decision management support. Drilling deeper it is suite of smart tools that enhance the planning, management, and reporting of wind energy projects. Kinda like a google type-forms, on steroids, that connects data from a mobile app, feeding to project management dashboards, planning and human capital evaluations. It’s a dynamic and promising field, offering substantial opportunities for cutting-edge technology and straightforward improvements.
The product creates a seamless data cycle from the office to field and vice versa, where remote technicians complete permits, timesheets, checklists, photo documentation etc. Data is mined form these reports that feed live dashboards and planning, with an in-depth analysis of tasks, dependencies, and historical job performance data. We do not touch asset energy production data or condition monitoring data, its red ocean, we make sure the physical work is performed in the best way possible, that’s our area of expertise. A hugely underserved area of the market and a place for significant market impact over the status quo offerings.
Our focus is on resolving issues and delays in wind energy projects, uncovering root causes, and improving project success, particularly for live and ongoing projects. Pre-project planning is relatively straightforward, relying on manually treated historical data and sufficient processing time. However, it’s during active projects, where conditions change rapidly due to weather, resource fluctuations, and other variables, that reactive planning becomes vital. The swift changes in project dependencies and parameters necessitate collaboration between human decision-making and machine learning, leveraging informed data with human wisdom and other stakeholders input.
Twindo enhances the execution of construction, installation, operations and maintenance tasks, leading to better project outcomes. We adopt a bottom-up approach, distinguishing us from other software solutions. We had to create an entirely new type of project management methodology, “Aim” (Activity Informed Management), which revolves around using AI to collect data from task performers and utilizing it to enhance pre project and live planning, naturally overall project management.
We believe that project management, as unsexy as it is, IS a growth driver not a daily burden and that both technicians and project managers are an undervalued element of project success with multiple % increases in project performance, when done right. Wind energy faces significant challenges, particularly for original equipment manufacturers, who are pivotal to the industry’s success. Negative impacts on these manufacturers ultimately affect the entire industry. Twindo seeks to address technical issues experienced by manufacturers, service providers, and asset owners, aiming to reduce project delay costs by 5%.
For back-office workers, we target a reduction of up to 90% workload in administrative tasks including far fewer errors, with an average reduction of 40%. Technicians also profoundly benefit, with at least a 40% reduction in administrative tasks. Furthermore, we provide workers with essential information, making it easier to onboard less experienced personnel and perform their tasks safely and to then desired quality criteria. There needs to be a huge influx of new technicians and mangers to meet net zero targets, unfortunately it can take years to gain the experience and wisdom needed to work efficiently in wind projects. Our solution vastly reduces this time frame, additionally reducing the need for micromanagement all while empowering workers to preform at their best”
Is it limited to wind energy or are you also looking to expand to other renewable sectors?
“Our beachhead market is wind because, well, it’s hurting a lot and it happens to be a market that we have great expertise and network in, but other industrial markets suffer with similar obstacles. From the beginning we saw that this could be a product offered to various other verticals like other energy areas, construction, aviation even space. The architecture and product design was careful to take this into consideration, so the move to an agnostic version would not be a huge problem in the future, although in hindsight getting a product out faster would have created more traction that is relevant to the current investment landscape. Customers of ours in renewables are already planning to use the current Twindo platform for projects in oil and gas, military and other heavy industry projects. We look forward to their feedback. The same reoccurring issues crop up within industrial project case studies, time and time again. There’s a project management methodology, from the 1950’s called “Critical Path Method” (CPM), I wont bore you with all the details but it’s a way of setting some dependencies to jobs, mostly at pre project stage, so the most logical and efficient task can be chosen at any moment within a projects controlling or delivery stage. It is outdated and gives a false sense of security for project success. We needed to rethink current methodology and create an totally new approach, to realise Twindo’s goals and bypass these current industry hurdles, combining the new approach with state of the art technology, we have solved the main shortcomings of CPM.
Our lean methodology for project management relies on lives data from work, being carried out live, in conjunction with other internal and external data sources, like weather prediction models, meaning that the current situation is continuously analysed and acted upon, in seconds, before decision making windows are missed and time is lost.Our vision is to be the Monday.com of heavy industry, beginning with one of the most complex industrial environments on earth – wind energy.”
The wind industry is quite costly to run right?
“Absolutely. The energy transition, it’s never going to be cheap. There is no good solution to that. It’s going to require heavy investment to shift from traditional energy to the latest generation.
We must make it more profitable. It needs to be more attractive to get the investment needed to build the vast amounts of assets that are required to make the energy transition. And that’s how we help.
From a commercial point of view, the area we work in, is an underserved area, people are sleeping on, which is human machine collaboration for project management, improved decision making in really complicated and complex environments. That’s an area that has yet to be handled well. We approach it differently and that difference will generate new value for the market.
In wind, there is predictive maintenance based on mechanical parts, but no one is looking at the humans who plan and deliver all the physical work, the market is already talking about robots to perform human funtions, but they can’t perform most tasks, outside of inspection, like a skilled craftsperson. Solutions need to be more “feet on the ground” at this moment in time, I mean we don’t see robots used in construction yet, only for business as usual tasks, like factory work. By definition, in the field, wind is very much not business as usual conditions.
Human x machine collaboration, at a meaningful level. This is an area that if not us, someone else is going to walk into. Naturally, its relatively easy to make software, but its really hard to make good software, that works and generates genuine value. We’re already way ahead. We’ve been doing this for some time and are excited for what the future brings.”
Awesome. And how many of those kind of smaller companies do you currently have aligned?
“We currently have 3 live clients and 2 more starting by the end of the year, everyone is very much engaged and excited about what the product can do for them. By the end of 2024 we intend to have 20 clients and an MRR of around €100,000”
Right. And that will be enough to start advancing with the larger ones?
“We expect so. Our team are already in contact and have interest from the largest energy companies in the world, but there is a current phase of risk avoidance in the market, once it is shown that Twindo is a safe and valuable choice, the groundwork is ready to have a customer relationship built upon.”
What advice would you give to another founder?
“Get out there, network, test assumptions and gain knowledge ASAP. There is so much to be said for talking to others, seeking help, asking questions, gaining knowledge, perhaps sharing battle stories, seeking other perspectives outside of your own bubble. Because sometimes your head is down in your work, even if it’s a group of you, and even if you can agree on a common path between each other, you might still be within a bubble and might still need external suggestion, you might even find some “aha moments” by doing so.
Accelerators are amazing, as a first time founder, I would not consider having a few past companies to be on par with a high tech start up, reliant on fundraising. The whole process of being a founder has been like a real time MBA, learning by doing, accelerators help you do that with limited damage collateral. They’re not going to completely change your entire trajectory alone, but they will definitely arm you with valuable knowledge to more likely succeed and step on less rakes in the grass.
It’s like, a training camp before a sport event and I think that’s great. We attended the Rockstar Energy Fund program, a leading global accelerator. We thought that was great and we thoroughly recommend it to other founders. The AWS start up loft accelerator was really good too and the NVIDIA inception program was quite insightful.”
Are there any other developments that you would like to share?
“We really seek to secure ourselves as leading, state of the art technology. So we are partnering with several different institutions. The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. We are working with them already. We have several students working with us in a big data project to battle test our weather prediction models, but also TU Delft. We’ve signed a memorandum of understanding with TU Delft, the algorithmic optimization department. They’ve seen a lot of these types of projects for reactive planning. And they think that what we’re doing is completely different. It’s something they’re really keen to be a part of. So that was some of the biggest validation we’ve had so far. Yeah, that’s something that feels great for the whole team, because it’s not just validation from the wind energy market it’s a validation on creating an entirely new form of project management methodology, that can affect many industries for the better, of which are very proud of.”
Awesome! And lastly, how much are you raising and what kind of angel or what kind of investors would you look for in this round?
“We are currently raising a round of €800,000 to jump over 2 relatively easy wins, one being the improvement of our customer onboarding and sales, making it totally automated and scalable. At the same moment gaining more clients from the faster decision side of the energy market – service providers. Providing the proof points for more pragmatic buyers like asset owners, OEMs and late adopters, for the next stage.
The second being the finalising of 5 machine learning algorithms to significantly reduce project delays and costs by analysing the dependencies of current and nearfield jobs at hand, within a project, guiding project managers to make better, faster decisions in any sized project, the larger the better. TU Delft has signed an MoU to join us in the R&D of these algorithms in exchange for joining them for dissemination of research data at global AI events.
These milestones will be complete in the latter half of 2024, we estimate this will leave us in a strong position of having created a lot of company value in traction and credibility.
Next stage is a valuation boost, enabling a robust seed round, in order to scale fast with a global mindset. Given the current investment climate, we have a large interest from investors, ranging from angels to CVCs.
Our ideal investors will have some of the following value adds: links to the energy or other heavy industry markets, experience in software and enterprise sales, experience in scaling global companies.
We are considering angels, VCs and CVCs, with tickets as low as €50,000 possible.
If there is anyone out there that understands what we are doing can add value please contact us via Funds up or our website to schedule a call.”