Startup Spotlight Q&A: Physna

Paul Powers co-founded Physna in late 2015, unaware that this company would one day revolutionize 3D technology in CAD design, engineering design and quality control throughout manufacturing and procurement. Powers graduated from Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany with his law degree, which he funded through several tech companies he founded. Paul also founded Zoozler, a tech innovation firm assisting startups with business development and fundraising. Paul launched Physna after returning to the US with the intention of addressing IP theft of physical goods. It would later become clear that the technology developed at Physna had far broader value than initially realized. Since creating Physna, Powers has worked to share Physna’s strategy and vision with customers, partners and investors. In 2019, Powers was recognized in the “Forbes 30 Under 30” awards.

Physna — short for Physical DNA — uses its proprietary technology centered around AI-enhanced 3D geometric analysis for applications in engineering, supply chain, manufacturing and inventory management such as 3D model search, comparison and AI predictions. Physna is highly flexible and can be used as a standalone or as a CAD or PLM plugin. With Physna, engineers and designers can instantly find, compare and analyze CAD models using any input such as parts within parts, components of parts, geometric measurements, a description interpreted by Physna’s AI, etc.

— In a sentence, what does your company do?

Physna gives mechanical engineers the same tools software engineers enjoy (autofill, machine learning predictions, comparisons, etc.) by codifying 3D models into a universally applicable, proprietary code — bridging the gap between the 2D digital world and our 3D physical world.


— What makes your company/product different in this market?

Physna is a fundamentally new approach to 3D data. Physna can make predictions using advanced machine learning, and automates various tasks throughout engineering, procurement, quality control, and inventory management. Our proprietary algorithms codify CAD data and analyze the internal and external makeup of a 3D model including parts within parts, components of parts and geometric data.

— Describe how and when your company came to be. In other words, what was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?

When I met and spoke with business leaders in manufacturing companies, I discovered that many large manufacturing companies have challenges with managing CAD files. In fact, the average mechanical engineer works at only 20% the productivity of a software engineer due to a major disparity in organization and automation tools. The impact is not only on time. Incorrect or faulty designs can lead to machine breakage, safety issues, unplanned downtime and financial loss. I founded Physna to help engineers and designers to easily find, analyze and compare 3D models.

— What milestone are you most proud of so far?

Physna has achieved several major milestones with substantial strategic arrangements with government agencies and large enterprises. While these are confidential, we are also proud of our relationship with Drive Capital. Physna recently completed a $6.9 million Series A round of financing led by venture capital firm Drive Capital in Columbus, Ohio. This funding will further product development, increase adoption of the technology and expand the engineering and sales teams.

— What are people most excited by?

Engineers and designers are excited by our technology that bridges the gap between the physical and digital world. With Physna powering search and comparison of 3D data, engineers can focus their time innovating new products in aerospace, automotive, medical devices, and various other areas of manufacturing. Innovations that can improve economic efficiencies, lessen our impact on our environment, and cure illnesses. By empowering others, Physna helps improve work of innovators who in turn can better improve the lives of people around the world.

— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?

We have raised $9 million to date starting with private, high net worth investors and recently a $6.9 million Series A round of investment by Drive Capital in Columbus, Ohio. We had several term sheets for our Series A round, and we chose Drive Capital because they understood our value proposition and our plan to scale the product.

— What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?

We are carefully tracking our investment in sales and marketing to ensure that we have significant ROI. We are also looking at user growth and engagement to ensure that our target customers are adopting Physna as part of their every day work.

Before I go to a meeting, I ask “Why am I meeting this investor?” I look for long-term partners for our business who will provide more than capital.

— How do you build and develop talent?

We have a robust hiring process at all levels of our company. To stay as objective as possible, our developers enter their qualifications and complete a series of coding tests anonymously. During the interview process, we do a very detailed review of qualifications and ensure that we are asking questions to identify that candidates are a good fit for our culture, not just qualified for that particular role.

In developing talent, we encourage our team to seek out training and learning opportunities. Physna offers internal training tools and we also hire trainers and coaches to come in and spend time further training and developing our team.

— How do you manage growth vs sustainability?

Physna is growing very quickly, and at any company it’s always a challenge to fuel the growth while ensuring that the company can keep up. Careful planning and scalability reviews help to ensure that sustainability is not impacted by massive growth. If this is planned diligently, only rarely should growth be restricted for sustainability or vice versa. We hired a great sales team and ensured that our focus is on a strategic subset of our entire range of opportunities. This focus area is strategic in that the same customer base can benefit from additional tools as we scale and sales in one sector will promote sales in the other.

As a leader, I’m focused on making sure that we have a clear view of our current situation, knowing where our people are focused and how they are prioritizing their work. I also pre-plan for scenarios like signing a large customer or pursuing a partnership opportunity, and have a pre-built game plan to shift people and responsibilities to successfully manage through these periods of explosive growth.

— What are the biggest challenges for the team?

There are two types of challenges startups can face: Some are a solution in search of a problem, and others are solutions to many different problems. The former is a problem, the latter is a challenge with a major upside if handled appropriately. Physna is very much in the latter camp — i.e. we built something that can solve more problems than we anticipated. As such, the biggest challenge is staying focused on our priorities. We have to deliver a premium product experience to our customers every day. Everything else that doesn’t contribute to the customer experience is eliminated from our work.

Another challenge is that our company has legitimately developed fundamentally new technology. It’s not an application of already existing technology. That means there is no instruction manual for this, so we have to forge a new path more so than your average startup. This is a challenge but it is also an opportunity. We are more versatile and can deploy our technology for a very wide range of applications. This means that, as long as we plan appropriately, we are not limited by the depth of a vertical, since we have a lot of verticals we can later expand to.

— What’s been the biggest success for the team?

There is no way to isolate the biggest single success, but it is very likely a result of a failure. When we started Physna, we had no intention of creating fundamentally new technology; rather, we intended to license existing technology to solve a specific issue. That effort failed as literally every technology we tried out was unable to produce the results we needed. That nearly caused us to give up before we were even called “Physna”. But that is precisely what resulted in the development of our Physical DNA (Physna), which is now going through patenting in over 120 countries.

— What advice would you give to other founders?

  1. Don’t choose a path. Choose a goal. Then make a path.
  2. Be open and honest with yourself and your team.
  3. Realize that success is overwhelmingly dependent on mindset. It’s not what you know, and it’s not even who you know — it’s how you think.
  4. Use optimism as your fuel and realism as your steering wheel. Pessimism is a handbrake and that won’t get you anywhere.
  5. Think about how nature works: Evolution is based not on strength or appearance, but rather on adaptability. To be adaptable, you have to be open to change and honest with yourself and others about results. That also means you have to experiment and track what is working and what isn’t. Nature in this sense is the market. Listen to the market and adapt accordingly. Otherwise you will go extinct.

— Have you been or are you part of a corporate startup program or accelerator? If so, which ones and what have been the benefits?

Physna has not been part of a corporate startup program or accelerator.

— Anything else you’d like to share?

Over 70% of our economy is comprised of physical goods, but less than 1% of software is designed to serve the physical goods industry. Technology innovation has been largely centered around software because engineers of physical goods lack fundamental tools taken for granted by software engineers. As a result, mechanical engineers are only 20% as productive as software engineers. There is a simple reason for this: Software is written in 2D (text) and built to understand 2D (text). But we live in a 3D physical world. Physna is dedicated to bridging this gap and democratizing 3D technology to enable not only the fourth industrial revolution, but the second digital revolution as well.

Startup Spotlight Q&A: Physna was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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