An internationally recognized researcher from Carnegie Mellon University approached us to create a data collection platform for his vision algorithms. The researcher had a contract with the United States Air Force to deliver small autonomous planes that could navigate urban environments and collect data using their onboard cameras. His vision algorithms were designed to enable urban navigation. To make it work, he needed our firm to build the system that collected the data. The plan was to send the data from the aircraft to servers on the ground, process the data through the researcher’s vision algorithms in real time, and then send navigation instructions back to the aircraft. We had completed other real time data processing systems, but this unique project sparked an idea. What if we could take our embedded data processing systems and do more than just process data in real time? What if we could build a brain for the plane?
Image-based navigation for small unmanned aircraft– a brain for the plane. Maveric was born from this concept. We raced to build a prototype for Maveric and took it straight to Eglin Air Force Base in Valparaiso, FL. They told us they would love to buy something like Maveric, and gave us a nice pat on the back. Success, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized they weren’t serious about purchasing the product. They weren’t disrespectful, they just didn’t think that our team of six could develop the product that the Air Force was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on. They were giving us the polite “’atta boy,” and sending us out of their office.
We finished a prototype, wrote our business plan, and started pitching to investors. Ten months into the development of Maveric, we received our first angel investment. Twelve months after that, we would complete our first Series A financing.
The sky was the limit. Anything was possible. But, as I have come to experience, success in business can ebb and flow. Our first twelve months of success with Maveric was soon replaced by the feeling that we were fighting off a never-ending barrage of hindrances. The engineering services business we pivoted to a few years earlier was now conflicting with the demands of our new product business for Maveric. We struggled with balancing two very different types of businesses. Splitting time and money between the two resulted in neither business moving forward at the rates that our business plans anticipated. We wanted both businesses to continue– the engineering services business was the stable foundation that provided us the ability to pursue Maveric, but we feared that without a product like Maveric, the company may never reach the level of success we desired. Unaware of what was looming, as 2009 began we continued to walk the fine line of balancing the two businesses. Then came the recession, and the market solved our problem for us.