In the wake of a comprehensive retooling of its business development strategy, Fredericton geo-mapping startup 3D Planeta is in the process of raising a seven-figure funding round.
CEO Norm Couturier said in an interview that the reworked sales and marketing strategy was in response to COVID-19 rendering the company’s previous, travel-heavy approach unworkable.
After several months spent fighting for traction with buyers who were often uncomfortable negotiating remotely, Couturier said the last three to four weeks have represented a sea-change for the business.
“We’ve been able to grow amidst the pandemic… We’re not growing as fast or doing as much as we would like, but given the times, we’re happy that we’re still able to still grow and persevere,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunity to develop new approaches, get new customers, do platform development, and get as much ahead as we can.”
Couturier’s team provides three-dimensional maps to search and rescue crews, emergency responders, mining companies and other groups that require precise knowledge of an area’s terrain. The geo-mapping data incorporates photos from satellites and can be viewed on a variety of devices, including smartphones.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, 3D Planeta’s marketing staff were focused on building relationships with decision-makers by attending industry events and in-person meetings.
But many of the company’s customers are located outside of the country. When COVID-19 forced a halt to most international travel, Couturier’s team switched to video-conferencing for most of their sales activities.
With many prospective buyers being highly traditional in their approaches to business, it proved difficult to make deals from afar.
“Those folks that we would normally deal with are not necessarily the folks that are interested in sitting behind a computer on Zoom meetings,” said Couturier. “They tend to drift away from you and you have to work harder to try to get their attention.”
As decision-makers were increasingly forced to adapt to the new paradigm, though, securing meetings and closing sales became easier, and Couturier sees remote work as being an important part of 3D Planeta’s sales strategy even as lockdown restrictions begin to lift in some regions.
“I believe that there’s a new bar set for what’s acceptable from a remote business development point of view,” he said. “I firmly believe that, six months from now, if I can work out a deal with a potential customer over a Zoom meeting, versus one of us getting on a plane and flying across the continent, I think they’ll be far more receptive than they have been in the past.”
Also bolstering his outlook for 3D Planeta are falling costs for satellite imagery, which is sold in digital catalogues from aerospace firms.
As part of its suite of services, 3D Planeta accesses that data and incorporates it into its three-dimensional maps. The feature prevents customers from having to search through image databases looking for up-to-date photos of the correct location, with the correct level of detail.
Prices for the image data were recently as high as $200 per square kilometre, according to Couturier. But as private aerospace firms launch increasing numbers of small satellites that are relatively inexpensive to send into orbit and operate, the cost can now be less than $100 and is likely to continue falling.
For small and medium-sized organizations, that cost decrease is making 3D Planeta’s services increasingly feasible, broadening the company’s pool of potential customers.
“Making it cheaper to launch things into space, making the units that go into space cheaper, and more flexible, and more portable, those things are all making our solution that we provide that much more attractive and within reach of more organizations,” said Couturier.
The current fundraising round -- the target for which is between $1 million and $2 million -- is 3D Planeta’s second. Last year, the company closed a round with an initial target of $750,000. In April, the University of New Brunswick announced that its Fraser Student Venture Fund had invested $25,000.
Couturier’s team now employs 11 full-time staff and a slate of part-time specialists, with more workers joining as revenue permits. Once the current fundraising round is done, he hopes to increase the pace of new hires.