This is a longer version of the ariticle in today’s Belfast Telegraph Business Section
When Paul Moffett left art college and began to work in three dimensional (3D) design, his and his partner’s ambition was no more than to create 3D visuals and art work to add value to someone else’s product. But the search to find the right technology led them, within a few years, to build a unique scanning system which is now being sold to doctors in the cosmetic surgery industry in America.
It was their persistence to find exactly what they needed, the realisation that did that not exist, finding the right technology partners and the right niche in the market which launched Axis Three www.axisthree.com in March 2008.
Their sales pitch is simple: “We will show what your patients will look like pre-surgery and give an accurate representation and improve return on investment”. Their technology is complex, but what differentiates it is the work they have done to make it usable by doctors with minimum training who can let their patients know exactly what they will look like after surgery. Their target market has been surgeons working in breast augmentation. Soon they will be rolling out equipment to help doctors working in facial reconstruction.
When Paul started the search for the equipment he needed just after leaving Art College in Belfast’s York Street, there were already some scanners available. On a visit to a major technology exhibition in Germany, he and his then partner Martin Bradley found a rudimentary scanning system. They bought it but when they started to work with it, they realised it wasn’t what they needed. They also realised that there appeared to be nothing on the market for a non-engineering User to scan 3D. “That led us to the first phase of building hardware and developing our own software.” They knew the needed a partner, that they couldn’t build the technology they wanted from the ground up.
“What we were talking about was developing a usable interface and de-skilling the process so that anyone could use the scanner and get something usable from it.” says Paul, now Head of Engineering at Axis Three. “It’s easy to get the technology side but that’s not half of it. It’s the corner stone, but not the whole structure.” It was also at that stage Paul admits the first failure. “Looking back on it, it seems like an insane business plan. The technology was good but the one competitor we had failed to realise along the way was the 2D photograph – a 3D modal is going to cost a whole lot more.” In November 2004 the company almost shut down. They began using a different scanner and Paul and his partner worked on with no wage. “We knew there was potential. We need a niche but where is the pain in the market? The one thing the scanning application is really good for is scanning the human form. That led us to a couple of decisions.” They considered approaching the games industry to produce life like digital characters and the movie industry to design so called ‘digital extras’. “With more market research it became evident that the cosmetic surgery industry was just begging for something like this as there was nobody in sight – not even close.”
With another visit to CEBIT – the massive technology exhibition in Germany, they began to find potential businesses to work with.
“At that point we started to talk to Siemens who had really cool capture technology.” The Siemens technology over came all the technical problems they were experiencing. And it gave them the partnership arrangement they had been looking for. By 2006, with other investors and support, they started to move the business forward.
But their expertise is technology, not marketing. “It takes time to develop technology and what you are focused on is getting it developed. What you don’t do – and what we needed advice on at the time – was that you have to work out how you are going to sell it. That should be happening in parallel. Looking back, I would have loved to have access to even other students at my level studying Marketing. Paul believes that it’s paramount to bring the sales and the technologists in a room at an early stage. “It saves a lot of time in the long run.”
Axis Three began to sell their product directly to doctors in Los Angeles in March 2008. By the end of the first year they had turned over £800,000 and were gathering momentum and further investment. “A patient goes into a doctor’s office for what is essentially major surgery with a large price ticket against it and a lot of uncertainty. So our idea was to give the doctor the control to show the patient what they are going to look like.”
From LA they worked across the country capturing customers in New York. They plan to continue eastward and position themselves in a global market. “Our ambition is to be the de facto standard. I think when patients start seeing that some doctors have this, very soon every doctor will need it in order to make the consultation work, and that’s what we are seeing at the minute.”
Check out the Podcast at NITechBlog: http://www.nitechblog.com/blog/p.php?id=454