4 min. read
Dive Into DeepTech with Berlin-based Phantasma Labs
Meet the Entrepreneur and Founder
Meier’s journey to DeepTech
Phantasma Labs, the Berlin-based start-up, is the first simulation platform of its kind. Emulating complex human behaviour for the training of autonomous vehicles, it falls under the umbrella of DeepTech. Shall we dive a little deeper?
Phantasma Labs Co-Founder Maria Meier describes DeepTech as products with technology at their core.
“It takes a lot of time and effort and R&D to develop it before you can commercialise. Many DeepTech applications have machine learning at its core but it comes in different flavours.”
So what flavour is Phantasma Labs? Making complex data more human, their scenarios help driverless cars become safer and smarter. “Right now we are working with automotive OEM’s, famous car brands such as Audi, but also with suppliers,” explains Meier. “We are also looking to venture out into different areas to apply our technology. We’re not defining ourselves as an automotive company, but rather as a company that uses reinforcement learning and simulations to solve difficult problems.”
The Founders of Phantasma Labs, Ramakrishna Nanjundaiah (CEO) and Maria Meier (CTO), met in the Talent Investor Entrepreneur First program. Both Technical Founders, after deciding to work together, Nanjundaiah turned his focus towards the business side, leaving Meier in charge of the technical. “Inside our team, we’re skewing heavily towards tech and engineering,” Meier tells Xena. “Right now 75% of our team members are on the tech side.”
From 3D artists to machine learning engineers, employees with classic simulation backgrounds to those working with the cross-platform game engine, Unity, the team behind Phantasma Labs is a mixed bag. And it’s not only across backgrounds that they champion diversity. “I’m happy to say that we have a 50/50 gender split on the tech side, which I think a lot of companies don’t have unfortunately,” says Meier.
“I’m very proud of that. When I was a Backend Engineer I was always the only woman on any team. That’s something I knew I wanted to do differently when I had my own company.”
From Computer Science to CTO
From her position as CTO, Meier has all the tea and isn’t afraid to tell it how it is. “When you’re not hiring, when you’re just engineering, you hear all kinds of different things. But when you start hiring yourself, you realise that it’s possible to do it if you want to. If you prioritise certain things you can change them.” You might have to do some extra work to get there, but for Meier, doing that extra work to close the gender gap is of the utmost importance.
So how did she get from a degree in Computer Science to CTO and Co-Founder of one of Germany’s most exciting startups? After her Bachelors at the Technical University of Munich, Meier decided to do a Master’s degree and deep dive into DeepTech topics. “For me that included building the systems to move a lot of data around. I guess today you would describe this as data engineering,” she tells Xena. “Initially, I even wanted to do a PhD but then I realised that’s not for me. I prefer working in a team and in more fast-paced environments.”
For Meier, her motivations have always been clear. “I always knew that I didn’t want to work for an e-commerce website. It is a totally valid application, it was just not for me,” she explains. “I’m motivated by things that are harder to solve. Most things in web applications already have solutions so you can lean on best practices, you can lean on literature that is existing out there. In our case, there is no cookie-cutter pattern that is already out there. And that’s what I find super fascinating and motivating.”
Advice for Founders
Founding a company is all about the idea, right? Wrong. Meier believes surrounding yourself with the right people is key. “If you can talk to other Founders and really figure out if this is what you want to do, don’t worry so much about having the perfect idea. I don’t think that’s important,” Meier reassures. “In fact, I changed ideas many times. If you had told me that I would be doing a solution that works for autonomous driving in 2016, I would never have thought I’d end up in that field. When I met Rama and we started brainstorming and doing market research, we realised this industry actually needs what we are doing.”
Initially unsure of the technicalities of founding a company, Meier joined Entrepreneur First, a matchmaking programme for co-founders. “If you start a company, first of all you don’t have to be best friends with your co-founder. Second of all, you should have some differences in knowledge so you complement each other.”
That being said, Meier also emphasises the importance of equal footing when Co-Founding a company.
“The best way to found as a technical individual is to be on equal footing with the other Founders. I realised that’s not always possible.”
She has experienced this personally, being headhunted for CTO roles only to be offered 5% in comparison to the 35% held by others in the company. Her advice? Know your worth as a CTO.
Is a CTO role right for you?
So how do you know if the CTO role is right for you? Meier has some great advice from someone who has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about what a CTO is. If you are in a smaller company, then you will still have a lot of coding work to do. But if you want to be in a bigger company, it’s a lot about leadership or doing more technical roadmapping,” she explains. “I think you should realise for yourself what you like doing. The leadership part is a different kind of skill that no one teaches you in the beginning. Not everyone is cut out for people management and leadership. The important thing is to be aware of what you personally like and go from there.”