Huang Yao, CEO of Aqrose Technology: Be Brave, Be Practical and Be Quick


"a Post-90s CEO", "a student entrepreneur", "a Tsinghua student with high academic achievements" and "a technical guy"…during the early days of the entrepreneurship, these labels were often used to describe Huang Yao. In the past four years, Huang Yao and his industrial AI platform, Aqrose Technology, have been upgrading and iterating at an astonishing speed, and are becoming a rising star in the industrial AI field with a force that cannot be ignored. What kind of person is Huang Yao? Why did he choose to challenge the international giants in the field of industrial AI? And how did he make a quick turnaround from a student entrepreneur to a CEO? We will share with you the entrepreneurial story of Huang Yao, CEO of Aqrose Technology.

Pushed by fate

On January 20, 2017, Huang Yao, a graduate student in the AI lab of Tsinghua's computer science department, had just finished a conversation with his senior Li Zhu. On the subway back to school, a letter of intent for the investment of 6 million yuan came out of nowhere, which surprised him.

Fate gently pushed him forward.

Huang Yao was just 24 years old at that time. Two years ago, he switched from the department of precision instruments at Tsinghua to the department of computer science because of his personal interest. As a result of taking a course on "entrepreneurial opportunity identification", he met some Tsinghua entrepreneurial seniors. At that time, he only thought it would be cool and fun to start a business. As a natural activist, Huang Yao soon visited the companies of these seniors and chose to work part-time in two start-ups in 2015 as an attempt.

In practice, he found that leading a startup company is complex and challenging, requiring not only strong technical skills but also sufficient business sense. For him, who is strongly self-driven and likes challenges, it was a perfect fit. This experience made Huang Yao be determined to start his own business, but it was not part of his plan to start a business right after graduation.

His seniors Li Zhu saw the potential in Huang Yao of a business leader. As an outstanding student of Tsinghua's AI labs, Huang Yao is not only having top-notch skills but more importantly, he shows a kind of business thinking and execution that is rarely found in "Technicists", which is the key reason why he offered him $6 million in angel investment.

Seize the window brought by the "real demand and new technology"

There are many possible applications for robotics and computer vision: AR/VR, face recognition, service robots, medical care, autonomous driving, etc. According to Huang Yao, it is almost impossible for entrepreneurs to compete in a field full of giants, but only when new technologies or new markets emerge that there would be a precious time window for startups to grow rapidly once they have seized the opportunity.

At that time, there were already four AI giants in the field of face recognition, such as SenseTime and MEGVII, while medical imaging and autonomous driving had a too high professional threshold or required huge long-term capital investment, which eventually led Huang Yao to target the industrial vision sector.

There are two important reasons for choosing the industrial field:

First, the real demand. During his visit to the factories, Huang Yao saw young people in their twenties on the production line still using magnifying glasses for quality checks, which are simple, mechanical, and repetitive tasks that could be solved by technology. Huang Yao predicted that in ten years' time, the biggest crisis the factory would face will not be the rising cost of labor, but simply no one available at all. As a native of the Internet, Generation Z's outlook on employment has fundamentally changed, and in ten years' time, no young people will be willing to take on such a boring job.

Second, the new technology. The emergence of deep learning technology around 2012 in the field of AI is the biggest progress in the field of imaging in the last two decades. The emergence of this technology allows startups and international giants to stand on the same starting line, to have the opportunity to achieve the corner overtaking. Compared with the giants, startups often react faster, and industrial AI vision is highly dependent on data and scenarios, where China has an unparalleled advantage as the world's factory.

Challenging the giants

At that time, the application of AI in the industrial field was not really well received.

Compared with consumer AI, the industry standard for industrial AI is quite strict. Consumer AI users are individuals, and as long as a proportion of users accept it, it will have a huge market share, and its technical specifications do not have to be particularly set too high to start using. However, in the industrial field, enterprise customers have very strict requirements for AI technical specifications, and require a full POC (Proof of Concept) to be approved by customers before adopting it.

Another important difference between the industrial and consumer sectors is the cost and difficulty of data acquisition. Deep learning requires a lot of data "feeding", and consumer AI data is relatively easy to obtain whereas industrial data is very difficult to attain, and we need to find companies that are willing to "explore AI industrial implementation together" in the early stage.

Before Aqrose Technology, the domestic industrial vision infrastructure software has long been monopolized by foreign giants. These foreign companies occupy a major share of the high-end industrial automation market through their control of core technologies such as algorithms and key components. Domestic enterprises would have to either import software from overseas or purchase foreign software for secondary development. In this case, once the overseas companies set obstacles, the bottleneck problem will occur.

In Huang Yao's view, there are three main reasons for this situation: first, over the past two decades of reform and opening up, especially after joining the WTO, China has enjoyed the dividends of global industrial chain transferring to China because of the labor force population advantage, while the transformation and upgrading of the manufacturing industry is a topic that has been faced in the past ten years or so; second, in the past, domestic technical talents, especially software talents, were more attracted to the booming Internet industry, resulting in a scarcity of professional software talents in the industrial vision industry; third, the industrial sector is a fragmented market, and the customer's requirements are very personalized and different fields have different products, making it very difficult to develop.

Aqrose Technology is one of the first Chinese startups to challenge the global giants in the field of industrial AI vision. According to Huang Yao, with the advent of Industry 4.0 era, China's technology accumulation and talent density in key areas such as AI, Big Data and robotics have changed fundamentally in recent years. Coupled with the advantages of domestic manufacturing volume and the number of customers, Chinese startups are very promising to achieve the corner overtaking in the industrial AI field.

Be Brave, Be Practical and Be Quick

Since we have chosen this track, we have to be one of the best.

The demand of industrial vision inspection customers looks like scattered islands, and what Aqrose Technology is trying to do is to string these islands together and merge similar items. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to have a deep enough understanding of different application scenarios from which to abstract the essence of the problem.

Huang Yao spent a lot of time on the market, deep into the front line research, and constantly visited customers. He recalls: "At the beginning of the business, I visited all the robotics and industrial-related companies I could contact, and then went on field trips to factories in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta to gradually develop an industry perspective. The most rushed trip was visiting four cities in a day, meeting six customers."

The difficult conditions make him appreciate every opportunity.

Huang Yao still remembers very clearly that when he was visiting a customer in Suzhou, he was asked to develop a customized AI inspection system in two weeks. Though it seemed to be an impossible task, Huang Yao agreed. He and four engineers slept in the factory, resting only about four hours a day. One of the engineers caught a train back only the day before his wedding. In the end, it really took them less than two weeks to deliver a demo system, and finally the process and test results were finally delivered to the client for demonstration. Soon, the customer placed an order for 2 sets, which was the first order in the company's history.

The customer also did not expect that the outstanding Tsinghua students could be so hardworking and practical. The team style of Aqrose Technology impressed the factory executives and the engineers, and as a result, their trust and openness to Aqrose Technology was very high during the subsequent cooperation. Looking back on this experience, Huang Yao describes it as pure, fulfilling and very enjoyable, the feeling of forgetting oneself and doing everything to achieve the goal, which he hopes will continue in the organization.

In the first half of 2019, Aqrose Technology's standard software products were really on the ground for the first time, however, sales faced new challenges. The products could not be sold no matter what, what should we do? A question from an investor made Huang Yao sit in the conference room for 8 hours, and at the moment he walked out, he decided to sell AI software himself.

He spent more than a month meeting 30 to 40 salespeople from similar companies at home and abroad, trying to understand and learn about sales by talking with them. As it turns out, he was able to sell very well. Today, Aqrose's AI products are adopted in more than 100 factories across more than 10 industries, such as 3C, semiconductor, new energy automotives, etc. Its customers include Visionox, Foxconn, Luxshare ICT, CATL, Shennan Circuits Co.,Ltd, etc.

Work on organizational and personnel problems

The constant effort to find real problems and solve them is one of the sources of Huang Yao's sense of accomplishment. After experiencing technical and business problems, coupled with the rapid expansion of the company this year, he is now beginning to pay more attention to organizational and personnel problems.

The founding team of Aqrose Technology consists of only 5-6 engineers, all with pure technical backgrounds, and, in Huang Yao's opinion, the integrity of the founding team is not the decisive factor, as he values like-mindedness when choosing partners. "Some startup teams are luxurious, and their technology, business, management, seemingly integrated, but in fact, they are scrambled in spirit even though looking intact in appearance."

In less than two years after the company was founded, Huang Yao completed an upgrade of the core team, supplemented by more experienced industry experts from the outside with everyone believing that this could be done.

In early 2017, after Huang Yao made up his mind to start his own business, the last page of the PPT he shared with his team for the first time contained three words: Dream-driven, All-in, Enjoy-it. This was his requirement for the team: first, the enthusiasm and faith for the matter itself are the most critical; second, to have enough commitment, don’t take the easy way out. In the face of so many excellent competitors, being half-hearted is a sure way to fail; third, to enjoy the process itself, otherwise one will not be able to persist in this business in the long term.

Aqrose Technology 2021 ushered in rapid development, and the team was expanded from 100 people to more than 200 people. How to maximize everyone's role under the unified culture, while maintaining speed, execution, and growth, is the problem that Huang Yao has been thinking about lately. In the company's latest debriefing meeting, Huang Yao felt his heart was filled with joy when he saw the "gorgeous transformation" of his partners.

While the company is growing rapidly, Huang Yao is also upgrading his knowledge and iteration. In the eyes of his wife, he is more straightforward and to the point; in the eyes of his partners, he is more business-minded; in the eyes of his colleagues, he grows increasingly, becoming more powerful, decisive and vigorous.

Having become CEO right out of school, Huang Yao's growth rate is visible to the naked eye, whether in technology, business or management. Huang Yao was once sad and hesitated by the need to lay off some old employees who did not match and could not keep up with the company's development, but now he does not hesitate to deal with such situation. "Do I seem hard-hearted? To figure out the local and overall, the milestones and long-term goals, to sort out some principles and do the right thing, things are rather simple now", said Huang Yao.

It is both the business logic of Aqrose Technology and the growth logic of Huang Yao to pursue the essence in the midst of complexity. He will seize every opportunity to communicate with various industrial moguls, but also love to read, He said: “De-constructing their way of thinking is far more important than to get the answer".

Founded in 2017, Aqrose Technology is based on the research and development of computer vision and robotics core technologies, applying AI technology to industrial automation to solve challenging industry problems. AIDI, the company's AI deep learning vision inspection platform software for factory automation, is currently in use by many industry-leading customers to solve industrial vision challenges such as defect pinpointing, inspection and classification. The company is committed to building a leading industrial AI platform to truly bring AI technology to millions of factories.

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