Our rocket ship

A year ago, Shone was only Clem, Antoine and me. We had only visited a massive cargo ship once in Oakland, had no idea on how to plug onto their systems nor deal to go onto them. I would have never thought that in 2019, we would have shipped a first product and would be honoring our fist commercial contracts. But here we are!

We’ve done tons of progress this year. I’ve probably been telling our story hundreds of times and thought it was probably worth writing it down. First, let’s get back to our roots!

A realistic vision

Antoine, Clem and I started Shone in summer 2017, driven by the impact we could have on the backbone of the global economy. We prevent the disasters caused by cargo ship accidents, reduce the emissions of the 52,000 cargo ships that pollute more than all the cars in the world, and improving the efficiency of the entire economy.

Autonomy is happening everywhere. But the maritime industry has not seen any major innovation since containerization. We were convinced that bringing our skillset to this disconnected world was the right thing to do.

It is inevitable that cargo ships will become autonomous. We strongly disagreed with the vision that was pushed by maritime suppliers, that autonomy will happen through new unmanned electric cargo ships. The maritime industry just cannot wait for such a solution to be developed and needs solutions today. The future will be autonomous, but not unmanned. We believe autonomy will and need to happen progressively, on existing cargo ships.

It’s with this vision that we left our jobs and raised a pre-seed from our families, friends and The refiners.

Getting started

In October 2017, only a month after having started Shone, we got accepted to YC. At the time, we were still deep diving into the maritime world, to bridge the knowledge gap we had. We were cold reaching out to potential customers to learn more about their pain points and confirm that our approach will help solve them. All of our energy was focused on understanding a world that was not ours and making sure we were heading in the right direction.

We managed to visit a container ship and had the chance to discuss with dozens of maritime officers. In parallel, we needed to get a better understanding of what the technical challenges were gonna be, what where the main differences between a self driving car and an autonomous ship? Well, you need a cargo ship for this and it seemed pretty expensive. So we bought something we could bootstrap on, a 7m long boat.

Gotta go — Shone’s 7 meter long prototype boat

In January 2018, when we joined YC, it was still only the three of us. But we had gained extensive knowledge in the maritime industry and had prototyped autonomy on our 7m long boat.

YC

Joining YC, our goal was clear: skyrocket Shone to the next level by getting access to a cargo ship.

We knew enough on the industry and had learned what needed to be learned on our small boat and there was no point continuing prototyping on it. We needed to gain access to a cargo ship as soon as possible to start iterating on a product useful for the crew, with an actual crew, in real sailing situations.

At the time, we were in discussion with multiple shipowners, but realistically we did not have the bandwidth to work with multiple ones and needed to take the right pick. Working with CMA CGM was a no brainer, they had already proven their eagerness to drive innovation in this conservative market, taking a huge first mover risk as being the first one to order LNG vessels.

In February we closed a deal, giving us access to their operational container ships crossing the pacific.

CMA CGM Marco Polo — a 16k TEU container ship

By demo day we had figured out how to integrate on every system of the ship’s bridge and were integrated on one of their operational ship crossing the pacific. The learning curve to get there was really steep, and it helped us understand the complexity of the logistics we’ll need to build to install systems on operational ships without perturbing their operations.

At the end of March, after graduating from YC, we had closed a $4M seed round, that will give us the ressources to bring Shone to the next level.

Building a product users love

In April, we started putting the core building block in place that will allow us to go even faster in our quest to build a product users love.

It takes approximately 2 weeks for a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. Meaning we would have to wait for about a month and a half to get a ship back to the same port. This is a delay we just can’t afford as a startup. We needed to install more ships to have regular access to cargo ships and keep our velocity

In August, we were fully integrated on enough ships to have access in Oakland every two weeks. We had iterated and built a reliable system that was ridiculously cheap and easy to install, collecting terabytes of data every two weeks. We had the perfect setup to iterate on our product with the crew.

We could not afford to wait until we have all those ships installed to start building our product. In parallel, we needed to understand our users and customers better, start building a product that we will iterate on with them. We’ve never pretended to have all the answers, and want to build something useful. During those months, we’ve been traveling onboard of the cargo ships we were installed on to deeply understand the crew’s needs, building a community of seafarers and working with them to iterate on a first product.

We could have never done this if it was only the three of us. We had to be surrounded by experienced and highly talented people that could take the lead on every critical block we identified and had to work on.

In October, we had built an incredible team of 10 amazing people

Shone’s team

In November, we released our first situational awareness product. Helping the crew and the shore operation center have an unmatched level of awareness of the situation.

In December, we started commercializing it.

I just can’t find the words to express how glad I am to be working with such an amazing team. There is still a long way ahead of us, but we are more passionate than ever about what we are doing. We are really excited about the new challenge we have in front of us and can’t wait to bring Shone to the next level.

If you’re interested in joining our rocket ship or would just like to learn more, hit me up at ugo@shone.com !