Why we invested in (well, co-built) JUNO
At OSS Ventures, we invest in and co-build the software stack of the future of operations. As a venture builder existing since 2020, we created 12 companies of which 8 performed a series A, and are present in more than 800 factories throughout Europe. As builders of solutions for the manufacturing world, we are lucky to be at the forefront of the future of operations and are grateful for it. We took a habit, when a company gets created, to write the short story of how it went and the things we learned. You may find in the writing below interesting, as it is the true early stage story of JUNO blazing through uncertainty to find product/market fit, and sometimes some great jokes.
Productivity flat flat flat. Papers, papers, papers everywhere.
At the end of 2021, the OSS team had directly visited 180 factories (a record year) and had indirect information on 800 more. In heavy-regulation industries such as aerospace, pharmaceutical, pet food and agribusiness, the team noticed a disturbing trend : productivity was mostly flat. While big gains were going on with digitisation, automation, R&D in consumer goods, electronics, oil & gas, it had been five to ten years that those three sectors were having mostly flat productivity.
At OSS, we love a good challenge. Finding weird-looking figures and understanding bottom-up what’s happening is usually a great place to stumble upon great ventures. So we collected all our findings from user research and looked at the space.
Here’s what we found :
- Regulation and new norms those sectors have to abide by are up 25% YoY and accelerating. It’s a mix of semi-competent authorities, leveraging legislation as barriers to entry for new actors and a not-that-well-thought-out response to an increase in complexity of general operations and interconnections. Some may argue it is a very unfortunate state of affairs, but in our understanding of the market based on 150+ interviews, it is not one that will go away any time soon ;
- Resulting complexity of changing operations (to change one screwdriver type in Pharma, one has to go through a 14-step review process) effectively discourages any kind of not-worth-it-for-the-trouble innovation, which happens to be most innovation, effectively preventing those sectors from bottom-up innovation, thus explaining a part of the “missing the productivity train” part ;
- The operations involved in keeping up with the regulatory oversight and day-to-day box-checking were on the rise. So much so that, to quote one of the factory directors we spoke to, that “we are actually a paper factory more than a pill factory. A minority of my employees are dealing with producing physical things. Most of the flow is producing the right papers at the right time, proving that we indeed did the right thing. Or, more accurately, the thing we said we need to do to the regulator. If we don’t, the physical thing gets thrown out.”.
It seemed like a can of worms. We love those at OSS. We immediately chose to launch something. Thibaud just happened to exit his very successful fashion pants company and was looking to start a venture in technology after leading a consumer brand. Reda just happened to be looking to direct his amazing tech skills and acumen to a meaningful cause. Three industrials were convinced right off the bat that our vision of the issue was the right one — the pain point was burning. We resisted the “yeah but what is the solution to this ?” for eight weeks before going to the solution space and letting ourselves think of what could be built.
Hate the game, love the players.
By looking bottom-up what was happening, we got a more detailed view :
- “The system”, that we can define as all the instructions, checklists, quality controls, routines, in every factory (and even more so in heavily-regulated industries) is a beast. It’s a beast of complexity, range, span, frequency, complexity of rules (“check this machine only if two consecutive batches of production were made of different materials and check if the new material is of higher resistance, and if yes make sure the first piece is not too soft”). Moreover, it’s spread across multiple actors, systems, frequencies. Basically, the quality guy has a mix of software (sometimes) and excel sheets (always) and checklists, but so does the supply chain girl, the HSE girl, the maintenance guy, etc. On average, for a 500 people factory, the number hangs around 6 different systems, 120 excel files, 950 papers a day operated by 400 people total. The clear market leader (75%+ of all of those instructions) is Excel and paper, with 20% market share for various verticalized, one-trick pony softwares (the quality one, the maintenance one, (…) ), and 5% market share of MES, “Manufacturing Execution Systems”. Manufacturing Execution Systems is a failed category as the initial thinking of bundling all operations under one roof could have had merit, but the execution was lackluster with no possibility to change the system on the go, very poor UX, and no ability to be put in place simply. Internal numbers were that more than 75% of MES project were put in place 1.5x+ times over budget, but also that 4 out of 5 MES projects were not delivering satisfying results ;
- “The cost of the system” is constantly going up because it’s not known (“how much time is spent filling up the system ?” can never be answered in a factory), constantly evolving, there’s no versioning (we found a particular checklist that had been made for a quality defect 10 years ago, still done every day on every product, that was actually useless because it was put in place to make sure that a certain machine would not break. The machine went away, but the process sticked around as nobody knew why it was there in the first place) ;
- “The system” has two kinds of players.
- The first player is the game master. The game master can be the supply chain head, the head of quality, the head of maintenance, or whoever. The game master has the right to write and edit the rules. The issue is, the game master more often than not does not know the set of rules, as the system has been created over the last 15 years by generations of game masters before her. As a consequence, the game master does not know the cost of the system, nor if the system is effective or not, nor has enough time to run deep analysis on how the system would need to evolve to best fit the needs of everyone. So the game master merely reacts to the newest thing in town, and sometimes implements a 200Ke cost measure that spans the next 5 years, to deal with one thing that happened, is non-critical, and likely won’t happen again. Only for the next game master to carry on dutifully that measure, as it is wildly unclear why this is being done, and there is so much to do. ;
- The second player is the champion. The champion executes all of the instructions of the numerous game masters from all over the factory. As a rule of thumb, a given champion will take various extremely complex instructions from 6 different game masters, interact with 4 different softwares and have 2 or 3 different sheets of paper to fill for every single operational thing she has to do. There is no way for any human brain to understand the web of rules that happen to make it so all of those instructions must be carried out at this precise time. Most of those users have given up any hope the system will one day make sense, and carry the paperwork dutifully.
Complex web of insights, highly dysfunctional systems : Reda, Thibaud and OSS team were so excited. At OSS, “build a thing that matters” is our first motto. The simple thought that around 1.1B workers were caught, to some degree or another, in this hell of a system, inefficient and slow and preventing humans from doing good work was mind-boggling. So, as lucky members of the tech community with the skills, privilege and access, to be in a position to help those was more than just an option — more like a calling.
So we put our heads down building.
At core, Juno is a system that lets :
- Game masters to understand the effects of the rules in place, edit and create efficient rules that will be executed by champions ;
- Champion to execute in a single place beautiful and easy-to-use parts of the system (checklists, instructions, data inputs) and understand why those are in place, even give feedback on what makes sense and does not ;
- C-levels to monitor the efficiency of the whole system and make sure the system does not become unmanageable, even become more efficient on a day-to-day basis.
By bypassing siloed softwares, the champion is no longer juggling between different online and offline systems.
By putting the game masters in control, the system is under control and constant monitoring for quick adaptation, killing of unnecessary measures, and constant audibility.
Juno is the single most design-ambitious product we launched at OSS. Because, once put in place, it becomes the de facto beating heart of “how things are made around here” of the factory. Also because it has two main users who are wildly different (we had to explain several times that a quality director and a supply chain director indeed had the same functional need to our co-builders, but that a shop floor worker with gloves on was very different). Last, because in a leap of faith typical of our “trust the user” philosophy, we were putting a lot of power in the hands of the users, particularly the game master ones, who were going to be in charge in a manner they had never been before. In a record 9 weeks, three factories were live. And the results surprised us.
“Your apple-like design is why you’ll win. I would have never thought that in my lifetime I would see this at work. I had given up”
Actual quote from a factory worker.
With three factories being deployed and ten more in the pipe, hyper-recruitment and all, it was now clear that Juno was on its path. OSS had to step down and we began outboarding the five full-time designers, coders, and product managers who were part of Juno since day 1. We wired some more money for the company to have everything needed for the next steps, and went on our way.
Here’s to Juno. Here’s to building things that matter.
If you read this far, you’re likely very interested in this story. At OSS Ventures, we fuel on having incredible founders joining, ambitious factory executives taking the leap of faith and working with us, and ambitious investors joining in. If you fit in one or all of the above categories, we want to hear about you. firstname.lastname@example.org . Hit us up. Maybe we can change the lives of factory workers together.