Time flies: it has been seven years now since our company started on the market. Especially the last few years have been very intense for us: over 200 interactive projects, the World Expo Exhibition, and some work on artificial intelligence. A lot has happened. How did the beginnings of the company look? What challenges have we faced so far? Marek H. Kotlarz — Vice President of the Management Board at Toucan Systems – shares his observations on our development.
“Would you be ready to take care of a new IT business?”, one of the chairpersons of the Pomeranian Development Agency asked me one summer day. He was developing his initiative to support new emerging companies. His argumentation was convincing: “Two young engineers, Radek and Łukasz, invented their own kinetics systems for gesture control. Take a look and think about it”, he encouraged, giving me a large package containing a feasibility study with a business plan.
I preferred not to admit that I had no idea what kinetics was, so I spent the evening reading and trying to understand what this company was supposed to sell. Finally, I surrendered, overcome by such mysterious-sounding concepts as Augmented Reality, gesture or motion control, kinect or player. But paradoxically, it convinced me that it was worth paying a bit of attention to the business.
A few days later, on 13 August 2012, I was at the notary’s, signing the contract to establish a new company called Toucan Systems. I met the creators themselves and took a seat on the board of directors – and this is how our adventure began. Like all the originators and inventors, Radek and Łukasz were convinced that they were what the world had been waiting for since the beginning of time. After all, they were specialists in this field, they had read books on management and business, and they saw no reason not to succeed. What problems could stop them? They had just raised funds and set up a company!
A miracle did not happen. The customers did not break down our doors and windows, and the capital entrusted to the company melted every day. First months were not easy, and we’ve had doubts from time to time. But the belief in success was stronger. Fortunately, it was not devoid of reflection: engineers learned entrepreneurship, not only from books, and tried to adapt their offer to the needs of the market. In my opinion, it was openness and deviation from the schematic thinking that made a breakthrough for us.
One of the first applications based on Kinect – a device recording the surrounding reality with the help of two cameras, an infrared heater and microphones — was ordered by a private company for six thousand zlotys. A right-size display cost us some four thousand, and delivery from Poznań consumed another two. The CEO transported the presentation screen himself. After the event, at which we successfully presented the interactive application, the display was damaged. Repair was two more thousand. The results were not success per se, but we treated it as marketing costs, because, finally, we were able to put something in our portfolio!
Over time, there have been more (initially small) projects, but thanks to the innovative nature of our ideas, the interest of customers grew consistently. And so did the catalogue of completed projects. Toucan created software for Sopot Ergo Arena, SEAT and Orlen QGaz. Among our customers, there was even a German confectionery manufacturer. Finally, it was time for a real exam: over a hundred applications that were to be made for one of Europe’s largest financial institutions. We were creating them at our own expense for almost a year and a half. Meanwhile, none of the commercial banks was willing to entrust money to a recently established company (a concern every startup faces). So it was necessary to convince private investors to offer assistance. Thanks to the efforts of the management and the devotion of the crew, the project was completed. This finally allowed the company to be treated seriously by our prospective contractors, who appreciated the quality of the recent implementation.
This experience also resulted in an idea to create our own software to control the devices of each display and manage them from every device with Internet access. This is how Toucan Nest, our next innovative system, was created. It was implemented in the Krasiński Palace in Warsaw, the Second World War Museum in Gdańsk, the Historical Museum in Elbląg, Tatra and Słowiński National Park, as well as in the EC1 Lodz complex of “City of Culture” and many other places.
The company has grown. It has received a substantial funding from European funds (granted by the National Centre for Research and Development) for pro-social projects Toucan Eye (supports system for visually-impaired people) and Toucan Assistant (system that counteracts the exclusion of the elderly). Our Department of Artificial Intelligence has been continuously involved in developing them for some time now. Toucan Studio, in turn, was established for the production of games, which are now successfully sold through digital distribution platforms around the world.
The interest in Toucan’s ideas was so great that we were invited to create software and the visual framing for the German Expo 2017 pavilion in the capital of Kazakhstan. Our team of engineers and graphic designers did so well that not only the whole pavilion, whose devices were controlled by Toucan Nest, was distinguished, but we also received the highest rating of the jury for one of our applications. The following year, in order to better adapt devices to the requirements of our modern systems, Mango and Papaya computers were designed. Miniaturized media players called “Berry” are under way. The company’s youngest “child” is DAVOS, a comprehensive debate system, successfully installed in the meeting room of the Poznań City Council – equipped with touch terminals that the Toucan experts designed themselves.
It’s been seven years now, but owners and management are not yet satisfied. We are still looking for new ways and for new ideas, struggling – like any serious company – to mark our presence on the IT market. We are ready to deal with new challenges, rapid advances in technology, engineering, electronics and growing requirements of contractors. There is certainty in what we do: the future in this sector is artificial intelligence, which we are trying to use in our systems. We are aware of difficulties, competition, changing economic conditions, but we believe that we will be able to cope with these challenges very well.
Oh, and now I can proudly say: I already know quite well what the mysterious terms mentioned before really mean!