An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Paul Powers, the founder and CEO of Physna, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Physna – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
The inspiration for Physna came from my experience dealing with international patent issues after graduating from law school at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. I wanted to create a tool that would prevent the theft of physical intellectual property, which was impossible without 3D search. I spent a great deal of time and effort looking at every tool I could find on the market that mentioned anything along the lines of “geometric search” or “shape search”. It became abundantly clear that nothing would come close to working (even for 100% duplicates, let alone for parts within parts and complex geometric relationships, which is an absolute must).
The solution took years to develop and utilizes proprietary algorithms and advanced machine learning techniques, but we eventually cracked the code (better said: we finally learned how to codify every physical thing that wasn’t code). Physna is short for “Physical DNA”. We can identify literally every geometric relationship between all objects, regardless of file format, and correlate this with other data to make predictions in ways never before possible.
Although the initial use case was intellectual property protection, we quickly learned that we solved a much more fundamental issue: bridging the gap between the physical and the digital. This only became apparent to us after we were approached with countless use cases (now numbering over 300) from Fortune 100 companies and government entities.
Today, Physna is primarily used by engineers to increase design efficiency and effectiveness, by procurement to determine alternative parts/suppliers and consolidate orders in supply chains, and to identify parts and how they work together in the field (Physna’s AI allows us to determine what someone is describing, measuring, scanning or otherwise observing, and to show them not only what it is, but how that interacts with everything else, such as a broken component in an engine).
We recently launched Thangs, the world’s first true geometric search engine, which searches data both from the platform and public sources. Thangs is free and in the first 5 weeks since launch, we’ve now exceeded 11,000 registered profiles, tens of thousands of weekly users, and over one million models.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
We had to overcome many massive hurdles to make it to where we are today, many of which most startups, which are usually products and not new forms of technology, never have to face.
From day one, the challenge was to make the technology work. This was a herculean obstacle. How do you codify physical things in a way that allows software to understand them in their natural state, regardless of file format or source, without requiring any meta data or user input, in a way that preserves all data integrity and fidelity, while showing literally all 3D relationships to everything else world-wide? If that sounds hard, it’s because it is, and it’s frankly harder than it sounds. Many hypotheses failed. We would be half-way there and then realize that an approach simply couldn’t work because of something no one had ever thought of. It was demoralizing. But one day, it just worked. It was like inventing the lightbulb – we first had to laboriously determine the 9,999 ways it wouldn’t work.
The second challenge was when we realized how broadly applicable this technology really is. To-date, we’ve been approached by over 100 of the Fortune 500 with over 300 unique use cases. We can’t build 300 businesses of course, but we can focus on a core area for engineers, supply chains, and part identification. From here, we can create a platform that will enable the rest to be developed by others.
There were countless challenges, and tomorrow we’ll have different challenges than today. What gets us over and through those challenges is tenacity, drive, ambition, and mental fortitude.
What does the future hold for Physna?
Physna Enterprise and Thangs have been growing at incredible rates, but this is just the beginning. We plan on fully changing physical industries by rewriting how the digital and the physical interact. With hundreds of requested use cases, the way to achieve this is by creating a platform and API licensing structure that allows others to build tools based on our core technology. You could say we’re leaving “binary” behind in favor of “trinary”, which contains over 100,000 times more information and doesn’t rely on human proxies (e.g. text descriptions, video and audio recordings, pictures, etc.) to convey information about the physical world.
It’s time for technology to mirror reality, not a 2D representation of it.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Cincinnati?
Cincinnati has a rich culture. Everyone is supportive, the cost of living is comparatively low, and there is far more access to talent than most people believe. We also have an office in Columbus, which is an equally fantastic location for us. The startup scenes are present and growing, though they’re still less mature than in “traditional” hotspots like Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, etc. However, a golden rule of business is to be close to your customer. Ohio in general is geographically advantageous for any company working with producers of physical goods, whether that’s through manufacturing, engineering, supply chain, IoT, robotics, additive manufacturing, or otherwise. A large portion of the leading businesses relevant to those industries are present within driving distance, as is a surprisingly large percentage of the US population.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I have two tips: One practical and one even more critical.
The practical tip is to determine your goal first, and then work your way back to today. Map out that journey. If you don’t know where you’re going, there is no right path. Never let the path define your goal. If no path exists, forge one.
The most important advice is psychological: train your mindset over everything else. As a startup founder, you are going to be on an intense emotional rollercoaster. If you are in the right frame of mind, you will naturally seek out information around strategies, techniques, and efficiencies. But the reverse is not true. When you start a company, you sign up for a marathon that will have occasional sprints throughout. You require both speed and endurance to thrive.
Taken together, imagine yourself as a runner: if you know your goal, you know where to run. If you have the mental fortitude and resolve (the endurance) you’ll make it to goals that may seem very far away from where you are right now. That drive and focus on the goal will naturally lead to a desire to find ways to run faster so you can get even further. You’ll meet or exceed your wildest dreams if you truly, honestly, and consistently follow that simple advice.
Most entrepreneurs want to go far, but they don’t have a clear goal. They ultimately run in a circle. Most entrepreneurs focus on learning techniques (speed) but ignore their underlying mentality and frame of mind (endurance). The unfortunate result: they just run one quick lap back to where they started. Don’t fall into that trap.