Interview With Tomas Sluka
Describe your product or service:
Describe your company values and mission:
“We bring the natural 3D display to augmented reality and help to blend the digital world into the real one seamlessly.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“Funded mostly by private investors and partly by public grants — total $15.6 million”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“20 FTE [full-time employees], including three co-founders”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“The experience in early virtual reality devices made me terribly sick, and I knew that's because my eyes are forced to work wrongly due to existing flat displays in it. When I realized that there was no practical solution on the market or even in research, I started working on such a solution in my spare time. After I got a unique idea, built a prototype, tested, patented, demoed, and got feedback from [the] industry, I incorporated CREAL to bring the display to the market.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“I was searching for available domain names related to 3D, virtual reality, etc., 10 years before incorporating the company. I was convinced that 3D [would] be the next big thing in visualization and digital communication. CREAL means to ‘see-real’ (the initial name of the company was CREAL3D).”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I always wanted to do fundamental science hands-on, but when I realized that senior careers in academia [are lots of] paperwork and I faced a problem that I wished was solved, I didn't see a better future than solving it in a startup way.”
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“Every day had at least some roadblock. Hard to say what was more remarkable.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“We target [the] consumer electronic market as a B2B technology supplier. Secondarily a vision care market found us, and we are selling our display units to producers of vision care instruments.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“Our marketing is literally a face-to-face meeting with each customer.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“There are not even 100 customers in total on this planet in our industry. We make sure we are exposed in a good light to the industry, at public events, or through personal networks, and then we are usually approached by the customers first. If not, we try to be seen better and/or by other people in the target company.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“First metrics is the growth of our facetime and position in the hierarchy of the customer. Second is then concrete requests and offers received (vs. no follow up), third is the actual contracts signed and the money received.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“I liked most ‘Zero to One,’ so far, as it fits to our type of company.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“How much more it is about human relationships than about anything else.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“I try to motivate everyone and myself by the long-term vision, and I do not provide myself enough to be materially okay with the status quo.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“The urge to always deliver more and go farther than seems necessary.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“I was a research engineer at CERN. I learned how projects that look impossibly complex are actually completed.”