Bibhrajit Halder has been a big part of the autonomous wave taking over the world. He’s already raised nearly $70M for his own AI software company that is helping to build the future. The startup has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Brick & Mortar Ventures, Newlab, Autotech Ventures, and Vimson Group.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The new world of autonomous equipment
- What SafeAI is doing for heavy vehicles
- Building a SaaS startup
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About Bibhrajit Halder:
Bibhrajit Halder, Ph.D., is an industry expert in self-driving vehicles, autonomous robotics, AI, and Deep Learning. He has been working on autonomous robotics for over 15 years.
Dr. Halder completed his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, and has an MS degree in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from Ohio University. During his Ph.D., he worked on fault detection and isolation and supervisory control architecture that allows autonomous robots to identify failures and take safe action.
Dr. Halder joined Caterpillar and worked on Autonomous Mining Truck for 7 years, which is one of the first commercially available fully autonomous trucks in the world. At Caterpillar, he worked on the Vehicle Health Management system, which is critical to any autonomous machine. He also developed an algorithm for localization and perception for autonomous vehicles.
After Caterpillar, Dr. Halder joined Ford and built a team to develop a self-driving algorithm. Later he worked at a start-up, Faraday Future, where he led a team to develop self-driving software for next-generation smart cars.
Dr. Halder architected and deployed AI algorithms and Deep Learning models in self-driving applications. Later he worked at Apple as Sr. Architect working on an autonomous solution. Currently, he is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of SafeAI Inc. SafeAI is building the future of autonomous mining by creating autonomous mining equipment that just works.
Halder has published 1 book on autonomous robotics, over 15 journal papers, and filed more than 40 patent applications.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today today we have a very very exciting guest. We’re gonna be talking about the good stuff that we like to talk about building scaling financing. You know all the above. And very interesting. You know like what he is doing. You know in this rocket ship that he has embarked in and they you know, especially we’re gonna be talking a lot about autonomous autonomous stuff so hang. There. You’re gonna find this very inspiring and without further. Do let’s welcome our guest today. Be brajit. Let’s see if I say it right? Halder welcome to the show.
Bibhrajit Halder: Thank you Alejandro and really excited talking to you and thanks for having me today.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s do a little of a walkth through memory lane be rajid how was live growing up in India in Calcutta.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah, so I was born in Calcutta I. Loved it. It was very you know it’s a beautiful, beautiful city. Lots of good food. Lots of and I might had a large family so it was fun growing up I think I was playing a lot starting a very little. So. It was a very good childhood.
Alejandro Cremades: And what’s going on in India with that social pressure towards becoming a doctor or becoming an engineer. What’s going on.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah I was the fourth kid so we had the 5 kid I was number 4 so one of the advantage I had that because I was number 4 parents didn’t have time to take you know like you go to school you stay there. That’s all they expected out of me. They said whatever you do. We don’t care. We got too many to take care. So I was that was that works for me.
Alejandro Cremades: So so in your case actually you did mechanical engineering but then then you knew you wanted to come to the us I mean why? why? why to the Us.
Bibhrajit Halder: I know I came to Ohio University who has to in know our university and one of the question I remember the second day somebody asked me that how did you find us, you know you were in calcutta. They realize what calkata is how far you know India and and just my my experience don’t generalize it. But. If you are a guy and growing up in India and you are in the middle school. You pretty much know you’re going to go to us for study I don’t know why so it was not a big decision for us. So I pretty much by that I ah seventh or eighth grade I already pretty much knew that I was going to go to us for grad school. So no I think that we had ah I had opportunity. So I really was. Appreciative of that I finished my undergrad in India in mechanical engineering as you said and then came here for graduate school early 2000.
Alejandro Cremades: So now for you, you know like you did everything you did masters. You know you were not. You didn’t have enough with one so you decided to do 2 masters you know and on top of that a ph d so wow now you know after you do all these studies. Basically what you decided to do was to really ride the whole autonomous you know by stuff you know and you did it. You know first with caterpillar then with Ford I mean what caught you the your attention from from this autonomous wave now that they was forming.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah, and I was one thing I would say about this whole journey of my career I was always super lucky. So I was always very excited about robotics back in when I was doing my undergrads when I came here I was working on the robotics. So really, this is where the self-driving and autonomous. Started with the darpa grand challenge in us and as part of my grad school I literally got sucked into that and I could not be more happy for that. So my ph d was actually an autonomous vehicle. So my paged work as an auto autonomous vehicle. So when I graduated. Caterpillar just started their autonomous mining project and I joined literally a week before the kickt started their big project and as about to take my ph d work and that was my first patent in caterpillar so you don’t get lucky like that. So yeah I mean I and I have ever since doing autonomy. And I cannot be more lucky and happy that I got I get to do the such a cool stuff.
Alejandro Cremades: Now there’s probably a lot of people that are not so technical and that are not so familiar with the the world of autonomy so give us a little bit of you know the history behind the autonomy you know in general and why so important.
Bibhrajit Halder: Absolutely just maybe in a step back. what is autonomy is autonomy basically what we talked about any vehicle. It’s not just a passenger vehicle think about passenger vehicle big truck other thing the thing that we you know ship it into moon event. You want to make this machine completely. Navigate drive. Do their job without any human intervention. So this is where the world is moving that machine will get the job done and when I was in a grad school one of our focus is to make the the robot that we are shipping to the moon make the mononomas because you cannot possibly send human there right. You have to have this vehicle running autonomously and the way you want to think about the technology is that give them a eye that it can see things give them a brain so it can make the decision and give them a you know a control so that it can move around so auto autonomy got started actually back in 90 s. Ah, we say defense industry was doing it early 2000 in the defense industry said can we give it to the everybody else. This is where the darpa grand challenge happened amazing success. They put about 2 ah 2 challenges $1000000 you know, kind of prize money. But that two couple of million dollars of investments sparked the whole industry into this path. So I think this is some of the thing defense does that people don’t realize how amazing they are to kickstart a trend setting technology so they really started this whole thing and when they did the gradarpa grant challenge.
Bibhrajit Halder: You name all the big universities right? Carningham Mill University Cmu Stanford Berkeley you know, caterpillar oshcosh all the gm for all the company was part of those competition and everybody 1 thing got proved out of that competition that yes we can do it. Not as a one company not as a 1 thing but as a humanity we can do this and having just dep pickedt it up before anybody else I think caterpillar and Kumar Suz of the world they realize that big mining truck and think about a mine is a constrained environment running twenty four seven and really doing very repeatedive job but also in a very safe you know safety concern is very high so making those autonomous was no brainer so catapularmao started about 10007 and by that time we were doing it I was at catapular. Google came into the scene twenty eleven they said we want to do passenger vehicle autonomy and that just started the firestrom as you know today then forward and Gm and volsberg and everybody started doing and and I think what happened in 2016 Gm Bought Cruise for a billion dollar and cruise is another startup company that time it was very small that really parked the interest of the investment community. They didn’t see that gm is going to buy a software company for a billion dollar
Alejandro Cremades: And I’ll show you without that much in revenue I Believe Cruise didn’t have that much in revenue going on. Yeah.
Bibhrajit Halder: No crus at 0 revenue. Not so that was really just the idea few people doing things and that got bought for $1000000000 and that just kickstarted the whole industry from the funding side of aid.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Bibhrajit Halder: And just to kind to wrap it on that just a dollar valuewise that probably about $8200000000000 got invested into autonomy or self-driving ecosystem starting from about 19016 so over the in the last seven eight years eighty two hundred billion dollars got invested. I think that’s a huge huge number for moving a technology forward. Ah so I think you know after that is a little bit of all over the news right? every oem you know every startup was doing selfdriving car and now here we are today. You you see that is’s still going on lot of effort is getting obviously we are focusing on the heavy industry because we know what we know, but that’s kind of the long history of self-driving if you will.
Alejandro Cremades: So I Guess you know so that we can just dive right into it with what you’re doing with your business but before that you know I’d like to get the one lesson learn that you got from the 3 companies that you worked at before starting your own business First One. Lesson learn at caterpillar.
Bibhrajit Halder: That’s very easy. The biggest lesson learned is that you know as complex as the technology of autonomy is deploying into operation is a different beast. So I was there for 6 year or almost seven years first 3 year we are developing. Last three years we are deploying the amount of thing I learned in the last three years is like pale compared to the first 3 year I think developing the technology what the way we say is a 10 % effort actually deploying and running on a day-to-day is 90% so I think that is the number 1 thing I learn in caterpillar and I’m so grateful about that that experience really shaped my kind of learning so much I think now if you look at food and Apple I think they’re what I learned the number 1 thing is that how fast the technology has been moving. Every aspect of it. The lidar got super super mature. The compute platform you have the gpu the new way of doing Ai the dnas of the world. So both at at Ford and Apple I learned that I think specifically for Apple 1 thing that blows my mind is that. Kale and the scope they work with the amount of people they have the talent they have the infrastructure they can throw into that you got to see otherwise to believe it like I I obviously was in a big company. Both caterpillar and Ford is big company. But when we see it in Apple the amount of infrastructure and resource they can utilize.
Bibhrajit Halder: A just mind blowing. So I think I I learned a ton from every aspect of our of the 3 company.
Alejandro Cremades: Now I mean it’s it’s kind of like interesting how you go from caterpillar and from Ford where you’re like working more like with cards where with something like Apple is more like devices now I mean that’s quite a change when it comes to autonomous stuff.
Bibhrajit Halder: Um, I mean Apple was I mean Apple is doing autonomous car right? So I was still working on auto autonomous car. But you say you are right? It’s a different setting because they’re software company compared to so I get to learn the what a somebody like Apple what a software look like.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, and you know it’s interesting because not everyone knows that Apple is actually you know experimenting with with cars. So I mean that’s that’s pretty amazing I mean are we gonna see eventually you think a car that is a done by Apple and all.
Bibhrajit Halder: The way I see I do not know that will be the honest answer but the way I say that autonomy they are definitely working on and if they’ are doing autonomy if they were decided to do the car. They will do the car but I don’t know exactly what they will decide because the your biggest. Motivation here is to make the vehicle autonomous and if they decide then I need to make my own vehicle to do a great user experience then they will do it. It’s about that user experience.
Alejandro Cremades: Got it? Well you never know maybe Apple and ends up buying Tesla got knows but in your case. Basically what happened is that Apple was literally the most immediate step to you launching your own business save ai so. Give us a little of a walk here through the sequence of events that needed to happen for you to say you know what? it’s my time to shine is my time to go out it on my own.
Bibhrajit Halder: It’s it’s an industry level decision. It was not really because I am not a you know I’ve been in the big company. All my kind of career right? It was really I saw the. The massive improvement happened in the overall self-driving ecosystem right? as I mentioned compute platform sensor the ecosystem the talent the technology and I realized that we have done autonomy in the heavy industry back in the days almost ten years ago we put it into production but we went into production with one point zero. And I’ll explain what I mean by that and this Apple Google way of doing autonomy can greatly benefit the industry I come from which is the mining the construction the heavy side of it and nobody is doing it. Everybody got sucked into the passenger side as like somebody got to do it then I look around then I was like. Somebody might be me because I have the both experience I have the heavy industry background I have the auto autonomy background I have seen how 2 point 2 is done so that’s really the trigger point is that we know that heavy industry will significantly benefit their safety. Their productivity. Their overall efficiency will go through the roof. If they somebody can bring the technology to them and I was in a best position to do that and that’s really the trigger point that can I breath a bridge can I be the bridge where I bring that this newer technology back into the industry where I come from where I learned my you know learn for last seven years.
Alejandro Cremades: So Then how were the early days like we save ai because I mean I’m sure that for you. It was all also quite a humbling transition where you’re used to these massive companies and then all of a sudden you see yourself maybe like. Distributing flyers at the you know engineering events to to hire people I mean I’m sure that they it was quite humbling. So.
Bibhrajit Halder: It is humbling event today if you can believe it and I still I remember the first presentation I had peach tech to my investor for the preeed round. So we raise about a million plus on the first check on the pree round. I would never show that presentation to ever again. It is so ugly so done so bad right? So yeah I think it is still humbling what we are doing and I’m I’m learning on everyday basis but also super lucky I mean we’ll talk about that like the support I got whether it is from the investor community with the partners just friends and. In ecosystem that help help me through that and obviously then amazing team. We we had about hundred people today. We we just have amazing team that we build up over the time. But yes, it’s a it’s a learninging every day still.
Alejandro Cremades: And for the people that you know are listening to be able to get it. What ended up being the business model of safe Ai how do you guys make money.
Bibhrajit Halder: Pretty simple. So think about this mining vehicle this construction vehicle any e equipment and you can think about they run almost and you are from 2 hour a day to 24 hour a day and currently they are using human to drive this vehicle and what we are doing. You’re taking human out of the harms way. And we are driving the vehicle with the software and we letting human do the organization orchestrating and planning side of it right? So that which they can do it from the in the office area if you will so our business model that we charge a yearly licensing fee for running the vehicle so they are already. They have the operating cost to run those vehicle. We charge a software licensing fee. So so we are pure software company. Yes, we integrate hardware but we are a software company where we charge as a software licensing fee year over year par vehicle.
Alejandro Cremades: So then I guess you know. Also you guys have raised quite a bit of money for this. How much money have you guys raised So they.
Bibhrajit Halder: So total accumulatative we raise $68,000,000 till today we closed our be round last quarter and and obviously that money help us keep delivering and providing to our customer. What we have have committed already.
Alejandro Cremades: And how was that journey of going through all the different rounds I’m sure that was also quite a near to you.
Bibhrajit Halder: Absolutely I mean my background is engineering right? I never did it before but so we did as preced. We did a c then we did the a and then we just closed the b only thing I can say that I’ve been learning right? Every aspect of it I’m learning how to do it and. We have an amazing, not just a supportive investing community but also very visionary and understanding the market I think that is very important and because when you are early stage. They don’t have anything to really see why they should invest that there is no revenue. There is no product so they get to see they actually had the same vision that. I have and they’re able to relate to that. So I think that is a very very amazing. So over the time it was a lot of learning but at the same time. Huge amount of support from the investor and the in a Vc Community so
Alejandro Cremades: So so in this case I mean pretty interesting going from the engineering side to now the business side. You know how have you been able to blend both because not a lot of technical people are able to really you know cross that a bridge.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah that’s a very good question and I think I will I will kind of go back to my caterpillar days and and kind of credit to that I have seen how maybe as an engineer but have seen how you know oe yeah caterpillar for my example has. Transition from a technology to actually giving value to the customer. So my not serve was always what value does my in customer which is a mining company construction company think about victims of the world in us. What are they getting and if you think about just a simple example, you’ll realize that. Typical construction company. Let’s say they’re doing a project for five year hundred million dollar operating cost building a bridge building a dam building a road. This technology can make that time instead of spending 100000000 and they will can get it done in $75000000 and instead of 5 year they can get it done in 4 year at the same time 25% cost reduction 20% time reduction fundamentally changed the way we do construction or building the things if you will so I think that was my not star when I go talk to the end customer I said this is your benefit this will change your industry and that is really the. You know my learning from the business side that what is the value to our in customer and as a startup I cannot go or we cannot provide a 5% 10 person increment and value. You cannot sustain that you have to give them a step change. You have to show them the new future I think that was kind of my way of learning the business.
Bibhrajit Halder: What is a real value to the end-user.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously you know like the um, the transition to and you know what we were talking about I mean you raised over $60000000 and you were coming from corporate America so it was not like the venture world. Not like you already. You knew you know friends from other startups or you were working at another Vc firm or anything like that. You know, let’s say you just dove into it. So how was it like to. Also. Learn and get up to speed not just on the business side of things but more you know, specifically on the financing side of things under that umbrella business where now you know you need to get to know the people you need to know the technical jargon you know on the financing side and understand how different things are going to impact you. As you continue to go and you take on that money. How was that how did you tap into that you know pool of investors and into that community because it’s very difficult to access.
Bibhrajit Halder: Now that’s a very good question and I get this question from some of my other friends across the globe I would say you know that’s one of the things super lucky that I am in Silicon Valley I think I cannot say it any other way. There isn’t you know. This place is just magic the amount of people that are willing to help you support. You. You know they understand the vision. They understand the you know work you are trying to do I think I probably couldn’t have done this outside Silicon Valley I think that support I got is just incredible. Whether. People making introduction people giving me guidance people are telling me what I’m doing wrong which I do you know you know every day I do something wrong, right? So I think that’s that ecosystem that support and the people winning is to kind of listen to you and relate to your vision I think I would say I got lucky. It is when you say how do you get? you know up to the speed I don’t I don’t think I got up to the speed yet I’m still learning and I’m still going and running every day making sure I don’t fall. But yeah I think I really relate to that the support and the overall ecosystem that silicon valley provide. We have invested across the globe now we have invested from in Europe Uk you know, even Asia quite a bit of investor but really the support we got from here that got me going and I I’m learning the linos I learn as we go and that’s another good part of this job is that.
Bibhrajit Halder: You really have to have your learning almost on a daily basis because there is always going to be 5 new thing throwing at you literally on a daily basis.
Alejandro Cremades: So in your case I mean you’ve been able to raise money from sixteen. You know, notable investors and when it comes to the support that you’re alluding to how do you go about using in the most effective way your investors so that they can be really Helpful. You know as you continue to build a business whether that is on giving you access to talent giving you access to more money giving you access to a man a on buy side or a sell side or even distribution you know in the formal business development deal Some partnerships. How do you go about using their help.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah, and we have a extremely diverse group of but very talented investors in our kind of portfolio right? We have pure financial investor work and laid out around some of our around we have our strategic investor who are partner. We also have some of our customer as our investor. So I think we got 3 group of people as our direct customer our potential customers. Our partner and strategic strategic partners and obviously the financial people I think each group brings very unique thing to the party but 1 thing very common among all of them. They are ready to help you anyway. They can wherever you need I did not have an experience I probably have a texting relation with pretty much all my investment you know key member and they were anytime I I remember I have texted some of them at twelve twelve in the night and I got responded at twelve thirty something I asked right? so. That kind of they’re always ready to help whatever you ask I think from the customer side. The biggest you know, biggest support they provide. they really give you the north start of the you know market what they really need they were very open and that share with you. You know and that is the that is a goal when you’re doing a business. Hearing from customer what they need that is the goal because that’s where you you lose your one of the thing we are doing amazing at say if you have besides the team. What I don’t think I’m very proud about is that product market feed what we are doing something that customer wants. It is not something that we are just smart and we’re doing because we love it and we are looking for somebody to use it.
Bibhrajit Halder: Really, this is customer saying we want it. We want it today. Can you make it faster. Can you make it better I think it doesn’t get any better than that I think the partner brings a huge support whether introduction to the customer just being working with us giving us the credibility because all of our customers are. Multibillion dollar behemoth so they’re like the big name in their country if you will will as I a bigels of the world so they brings the credibility and I think the financial investors are like literally every way they can help hiring people introduction to other investor. You know they really roll up their sleep and healthy. Anyway. To grow the company.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for the people that are listening to get on understanding on the scope and size of save Ai today I mean what can you share around number of employees or anything else that you feel comfortable sharing.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah, we are. We are about 100 people. We are about 98 today we are based in Silicon Valley our offices in Santa Clara but we have also an office in part Australia we are deploying in Australia we have a office in Tokyo we are deploying in Japan. We also have an office in India. But we we want to expand so we are pretty globally expanded if you will about 100 people you are looking to grow the team. We double the team last year ah for about 4200 almost and ah sizewise as I said we raise about $68000000 but more importantland do we have a. Very dedicated customer commitment. We are deploying into multiple area in the us Australia and Japan we have a customer who has given us a you know hundreds of millions dollars of commitment so that a that we are we are delivering as we speak.
Alejandro Cremades: So imagine you were to go to sleep tonight be bragitta and you wake up in a world where the vision of safe ai is fully realized what does that world look like.
Bibhrajit Halder: That’s an amazing question. So I think what that look like is that over 70 to 80% of the equipment that is building your world. So think about this way that we use this machines and all the thing to build our world our infrastructure right. We do mining. We do build ports. We do. We are airport 7 to to 80% all is just getting done by machine and as a humanity we are just planning and organizing the whole thing and we are building faster and we are building with a lot more so in a just sustainable way but doing it at a lot less resource. I think that is ah that is the future we are going towards and as we work together that future will come faster and if we don’t work together. It will take longer but that future will come.
Alejandro Cremades: Now We’re talking about the future here. So Let’s talk about the past. But let’s talk about the past with ah with a lens of reflection. Let’s say I was to give you the opportunity of getting it to a time machine I’m being able to. Go back in time and being able to have a chat with your younger self with that younger be vergit maybe that younger Bee verjit that is thinking about doing something maybe a company of your own and imagine you were able to sit down and give that younger. Be Rajit one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be NY given what you know now.
Bibhrajit Halder: Very good question. 1 thing let me answer to that question. But I mean I think the career I went through I probably won’t change anything I learned so much. But 1 thing probably I would give advice to myself is that you know. You want to jump and you want to start something even when you think you are not ready at all like it is okay to be not ready, not knowing and just do it because I think if you take your time to be ready. You will still be not ready so you just you know run that. Time right? So I think if I do advise anything I will say whether to be younger myself or somebody else that if you feel like you’re not ready. You are absolutely not the time you want to take a couple of more year to learn just do I think you will learn like hundred times more by doing when you’re not prepared.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that now for the people that are listening that would love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Bibhrajit Halder: Yeah I’m on Linkedin I’m on tutor. So Linkedin you can find me with my name. 1 thing is very that because my name is not just unique I’m literally the only one in the world. So if you type my name in Google like b I B H a it will show up the whole thing. But joke aside, you can find me on that name on a. Linkedin on a Twitter I’m very active on both of them and i’ll’ll definitely reach out and respond.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing will be right. Did thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you today with us.
Bibhrajit Halder: Ah, this is great and I love the way you set up the questions and you know I as I mentioning at the beginning I listen to some of your podcast.
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