|Marin Šarić: "When people think about logistics, they think about routing, they think about package deliveries, they might think about some ships or freight crossing companies,” he concludes. “But I think what people need really to understand is that we are moving towards this mobile world, where every every year, in every country, there are more and more people who are working on the go, and Optimoroute is in the middle of it all.”|
A Croatian startup run by a veteran ex-Googler is trying to make deliveries and doctors more efficient
LONDON — Imagine, for a second, that you run a delivery company. You need to make sure your fleet of couriers run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, without wasting time and taking the fastest routes between stops. The more efficiently operate, the more money you make. How do you do it?
This is what’s known as the “Travelling Salesman Problem,” and it’s a famous problem in computer science.
But what if you realised that maximising the efficiency of your workforce meant that in the process you would unfairly distribute the work between your employees? If it risked causing resentment and bitterness, would you still do it?
That’s a decision that Optimoroute, a Croatian route-optimisation company, forces its customers to make.
“We have a slider where you can adjust how sensitive you are to this fairness, we call it balancing,” Optimoroute CEO Marin Šarić told Business Insider, “so you can decide for yourself how much this is an ethical issue for your business.”
Operating out of Zagreb, Croatia, Optimoroute provides back-end software to consumer-facing companies that have agents in the field. It has customers spread across 15 countries, including an Atlanta food delivery startup, a Saudi Arabian bakery, a London laundry-on-demand service, and air-conditioning and heating repair businesses.
The idea was first spawned in 2012, but all three of the cofounders didn’t go full-time until 2015, and raised a previously unpublicised seed round in July 2016.
Investors include San Francisco VC firm Pathbreaker Ventures, London-based Hoxton Ventures, and the CEO of Yelp. Šarić declined to disclose the size of the round or the company’s valuation, saying only that Optimoroute had “several million in offers” in the oversubscribed round but ultimately chose to take less than investors were offering.
Today, the company is still small, with less than 10 employees, almost all engineers — though it’s continuing to hire. Maric claims it can work far faster than its competitors, recalculating complex routes on the fly as required, and can boost the efficiency of its customers by as much as 10%.
Route-planning has human complications
You can apply the Travelling Salesman Problem to just about any job with workers on the go, from doctors to delivery men — but there are varying human factors that need to be accounted for. A “salesman” might only be able to visit customers at very specific times. Or a company could need to avoid having its entire workforce clocking off on break at the same time. “These people are not robots, they need breaks,” Šarić said. Optimoroute “automatically calculates everyone’s breaks so it minimally impacts the whole operation.”
Plus there’s the issue of fairness. If the most efficient route means one employee “just idles around most of the day and doesn’t have to do anything … it creates a huge management issue,” the chief exec said. “It’s a human issue. Those [other employees] will feel it’s unfair.”
It’s led by a veteran ex-Googler
After university, Marin Šarić joined Google in Silicon Valley in 2003, “when it was legitimately a small startup.” (Google formally launched in 1998.) He helped create the Google book search project and ran Google’s library-scanning engineering team. His time at Google informed his ultimate approach to Optimoroute, which he cofounded with his brother Frane Šarić and Gorin Kukolj: “What if I could take that experience and bring it back to Croatia?”
When raising venture capital, “I deliberately didn’t want to talk to any emerging market investors,” Šarić said. “I wanted validation from the same people that I knew of or met when I was working in the middle of it [in Silicon Valley] … I wanted those people to say ‘wow, those people are fricking cool, we believe in you, we’ll invest in you.’”
Rob Kniaz, another veteran Google employee-turned-investor at Hoxton Ventures, said: “When Marin was raising his first capital in California two other former Googlers, including one Hoxton fund investor, reached out to say we had to meet him en route back to Europe from the Valley. So we flew right out to Zagreb … He bypassed typical London venture firms entirely.”
Šarić says the company is currently “so close to profitability right now our runway is almost measured in decades,” but that it intends to raise more venture capital to fund further growth, with an “85% chance we’ll raise a Series A in 2017.”
Šarić pitches the work Optimoroute does as more important than ever, given the changing face of work. “When people think about logistics, they think about routing, they think about package deliveries, they might think about some ships or freight crossing companies,” he concludes. “But I think what people need really to understand is that we are moving towards this mobile world, where every every year, in every country, there are more and more people who are working on the go, and Optimoroute is in the middle of it all.”
Read more at www.businessinsider.my/croatian-startup-optimoroute-deliveries-route-planning-more-efficient-marin-saric-2017-3
Marin Saric unraveling the myths of robots
Marin Šarić is totally captivated by the robot. "It’s fascinating that in actually grabbing a cup you need so many different abstract clues from different areas,” he says. Photo: Janne Danielsson.
He left Google and the Bay Area to study in Sweden. Now Marin Šarić is taking on the daunting task of making a robot imitate human motions. - What we are doing here is pioneering. It makes me feel that I’m working on something substantial, Marin Šarić says.
In his otherwise neat office he is surrounded by loose robot body parts, heads, arms, and legs. The robot in the coffee room is learning how to take out a cup from the cupboard, preparing to someday be able to go to kitchen and take out a dish from the dishwasher without human supervision.
“People think we are at the point where robots will take over the world. It will take at least a hundred years before we can imitate a human brain and before it will reach industrial production,” says Marin, referring to the predictions of the world’s leading cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
You can easily understand why. For example, take a part of research in computer vision where robots are designed to recognize human faces. There are thousands of papers published, some focusing just on how humans move their lips. It can take a full year’s study in leading-edge research to figure out just how to grasp a cup.
What made him chose KTH
Realizing that what people were working on was even more important than the university ranking and reputation, he checked all the papers, citations and courses on programmes around Europe.
“It is so full of youthful energy here, they do cutting edge work but are very humble about it. Like they are only playing at work. This is a very small lab, but I’m so amazed how much we do.”
Craziest thing he ever done
“It’s a daunting task…there goes another PhD on such a small part of the human behavior,” he says laughing as he effortlessly takes a sip from his cup, a movement that’s very difficult for a robot to accomplish. Marin is going to help robots do motions that are really easy for us humans.
“Google already runs cars without drivers,” he says, making a passing reference to his former employer. After five years as a senior software engineer at Google and on a good career path, did he make the right decision to come here?
To embark on the master’s programme in Systems, Control and Robotics was the craziest thing he has ever done, he says: “After finishing, I only applied for a PhD here, no multiple options this time”.
As a 12-year-old in Croatia he got hold of some cool underground programs doing crazy animation tricks, some animating a Swedish flag. A couple of members of anonymous Swedish hacker groups he idolized as a young boy have now revealed themselves to be his colleagues.
“Actually the ‘programming’ of the hacker scene worked somehow because I’ve ended up in Sweden,” he says.
With a background in artificial intelligence that had little to do with systems and control he found the math quite intense. He had two serious talks with the programme director about quitting, but was persuaded to stick with it. For his master’s thesis, a young professor at the Centre of Autonomous Systems reached out a hand and offered him a subject he is pursuing as a doctoral thesis:
“It is absolutely fascinating, but daunting. There is no way I would have dared to look into this without her encouragement. In a field like this where everything is destined to fail you need a lot of support.”
As the robot starts focusing on what’s going on Marin is totally captivated. He cannot help but marvel at the human body.
“We can do such complicated things with such ease and it never even crosses our consciousness. The small things that make us work. But how much in reality is needed to just pay attention? It’s fascinating that in actually grabbing a cup you need so many different abstract clues from different areas,” he says. He talks about robots as if they are alive.
As a child he used to cheer the evil robots on TV. They were not after the destruction of human beings but simply wanted to be recognized for their feelings, he believed. Today Marin would be happy if he lived to see a robot as capable as a cat.
“My lifetime achievement would be to make robots as intelligent as a cat. They are not solving big cognitive problems, but they are very good in doing the basics.”
Text: Marie Androv