Dialogue between Yin Le, Partner of ZhenFund, and Zhou Yuxiang, Founder of Blacklake: Entrepreneurship Starts an Infinite Game

Since I joined ZhenFund, I have witnessed the continuous growth and transformation of Blacklake led by Yuxiang. How did he decide on his entrepreneurial direction? How has his mentality changed on the road to entrepreneurship? How to adapt to change? What is his vision? Let's listen to his sharing.

Entrepreneurship is a self-cultivation. I hope that through the personal experience and thinking shared by Yuxiang,  entrepreneurs can gain some inspiration and lighten their entrepreneurial road.

——Investor of Blacklake

Yin Le, Partner of ZhenFund

Yin Le : How did you decide on the direction of your second venture?

Zhou Yuxiang: First of all, as an entrepreneur with a technical background, one of my original intentions is to solve practical problems in the industry through technology.

In 2015, I returned to China and started a business with two high school friends who also had a technical background. They graduated from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University respectively, and also have many years of working experience in companies such as Palantir in Silicon Valley. However, overseas returnees are often not very down-to-earth when starting a business. Our first entrepreneurial project was to help factories make automated decisions based on big data technology, and to be the Chinese version of Palantir.

At that time, we also received ZhenFund’s angel round of financing, but after nine months of product development and putting it into factory application, we found that the actual situation on the production site was out of touch with our expected situation. The reason is that a large number of factories in China have not even completed the initial step of digitization, which is data collection on the workshop site.

So at that time we felt that we should go to the factory to stay for a while before continuing to consider the future direction. Some of the other students went to factories for mechanical processing and textiles. I went to a factory for injection molding. I worked on the production line during the day and lived in an 8-person dormitory at night.

This experience made me realize: 1. The system I imagined before was indeed too early for the current situation of the Chinese factory; 2. Because the data on the production line was not collected, it led to a lot of waste of production capacity, redundant inventory, and a surge in costs. Collaboration is not smooth.

Therefore, we have turned our company's business to help the factory complete the first step of digitization. Through real-time data collection and distribution, we can first drive the smooth collaboration of production business, and then continue to analyze and optimize on this basis, becoming the source of continuous progress and development of the factory itself. , This is the founding story of "Blacklake".

Yin Le : How has the your mentality of starting a business changed?

Zhou Yuxiang: At the beginning, our mentality was simply to bring the best technology back to China. But the experience of the previous project failure also made us start to reflect. If we want to build a great company in China, the most important thing is to understand customers and start from the real needs of customers instead of blindly worshiping technology.

Evenings in the dormitory of the factory, without much entertainment, are good for thinking. I realized that, from a practical point of view, the information base of manufacturing companies is generally weak. Even if the industrial software of foreign companies such as Siemens is adopted, there are factors such as high cost and slow launch, and my workers link to the outside world every day. It is mobile phones. It is difficult for them to learn traditional industrial software, but they are very proficient in operating mobile APPs. Why can't we build a collaborative product based on public cloud, agile development, and flexible configuration on the mobile phone, so that digitalization can be implemented at low cost and workers can get started quickly? So "Blacklake Intelligent Manufacturing" was born.

Yin Le : How does Blacklake build the ability to continuously launch new products?

Zhou Yuxiang: First of all, since the establishment of Blacklake, its positioning has been very clear.It is to help factories collect data and then drive collaboration, whether it is inside or outside the factory, so that asynchronous information becomes synchronous, based on sufficient information. Intelligent decision-making optimizes the efficiency of the production process.

Based on this positioning, we made three core choices:

First, we have chosen a cloud-native architecture from the very beginning, which greatly shortens the system deployment cycle, and does not require code-level development, but can flexibly match the individual needs of users through personalized configuration; 

Second, we chose the SaaS model and firmly chose the public cloud. The public cloud makes it possible to collaborate between users and between factories and factories across time and space, which is the most important value of cloud deployment.

Third, from the perspective of data utilization, we have thought deeply about the underlying data structure at the beginning of software design. In the Blacklake system, all data is structured and relational, so multiple factories can communicate on the same "language" basis, and can quickly access other software and hardware data, and further precipitate it into data assets.

Therefore, Blacklake's entire product design and technical architecture are naturally lightweight, simple, and flexible. It specializes in establishing links between various factories and is also good at rapid iteration to meet the needs of different customer scenarios.

In addition, "co-creation" is also a very important core of Blacklake. A great point of the SaaS model is that we are no longer a simple "one-off sale" relationship with customers, but more like a "partner".

In the first three years of our business, when we polished the product "Blacklake Intelligent Manufacturing", we co-created with a large number of large manufacturing companies such as China Resources Group and Nongfu Spring, and abstracted and precipitated some advanced experience in the industry into our product. product design.

But in fact, we have always had a belief that we do not want to develop into a company that only serves top customers and large enterprises, but hope to help more small and medium-sized enterprises cross the growth gap . Recently, we are also conducting in-depth co-creation of new products with some small and medium-sized enterprises, hoping that technology can be more inclusive, empowering and connecting enterprises of different sizes.

Yin Le : With the efforts of Blacklake, what will the future digital factory look like?

Zhou Yuxiang: In the past 10-20 years, the digitalization and automation of the manufacturing industry have all aimed at "how to improve productivity", and the core keywords are cost reduction, efficiency increase, and capacity utilization. But in the future, changes in the manufacturing industry will be reflected in changes in production relations. In the past, the manufacturing industry was driven by design, and "design-production-marketing-sales" was the main model, but in today's era, the consumer Internet has largely eliminated the asymmetry of consumer information, and the model of acquiring customers through advertising has become more and more expensive , and the influence of advertising on consumers is also weakening.

Under this trend,the production relationship will gradually change from design-driven to consumer-defined manufacturing, that is, demand-defined manufacturing will replace design-defined manufacturing. What consumers need, there may be no inventory at all before the live broadcast. After receiving the demand information during the live broadcast, the factory will produce and develop it. As long as the coordination efficiency of the entire industrial chain is high enough, the factory can basically achieve zero inventory, and all production behaviors are targeted. Rather than planning or even slapping your forehead.

To achieve such a production relationship, the digital transformation we do is not only centered on the goal of cost reduction and efficiency increase. The phenomenon of cost reduction and efficiency increase will still appear, but it is only a by-product. The core of the change is how to make the factory flexible. Response The ability to demand, from the needs of the consumer side to the first-level, second-level, and third-level engineering needs, and then to the raw material engineering needs , cloud computing naturally has this penetrating power, and SaaS itself is a low-cost product form that cuts into this system.

This is the future digital factory Blacklake sees, and all our product lines will work hard to realize this vision.

Yin Le : Under the epidemic situation, how does the company's business cope with the challenges?

Zhou Yuxiang: In fact, the epidemic has actually promoted the overall thinking and desire of manufacturing companies for digitalization. After quite a few customers were locked at home, they calmed down and began to think about the company's long-term development strategy, so they found us to do digital layout and transformation.

I still remember that when the epidemic just emerged in early 2020, we learned that some anti-epidemic companies had some difficulties in resuming work, and our products can just help. Therefore, a public welfare policy was launched: all enterprises that have contributed to the fight against the epidemic can use "Blacklake Intelligent Manufacturing " for free within two years , and the consultants of Blacklake will support the launch remotely.

During this process, we found that many small-scale but fast-growing manufacturing companies have found us. They have a high enthusiasm for learning and a strong demand for digitalization. This later became an opportunity for us to start a second product line.

The epidemic in Shanghai has been repeated this year, and we have also worried about the difficulties faced in remote delivery of products under the epidemic. Fortunately, there are more ways than difficulties.

Along the way, our fellow Customer Success team made a lot of innovation and sacrifice. Some students were trapped at home, conducted research and training with customers through remote video conferencing, overcame various difficulties, and explored a new mode of remote online, helping them receive digital knowledge more efficiently and structured from the perspective of customers, and finally The delivery was successfully completed ; another group of students stayed directly at the customer's site for two months and "closed-loop production" together. When the epidemic situation was lifted, the project just happened to be launched, and customer feedback achieved very good results. This also practiced the core values of "customer value maximization" and "the world is different because of me" within Blacklake .

Yin Le : What advice do you want to give to those who are about to start a business?

Zhou Yuxiang: More and more entrepreneurs are welcome to serve the digital transformation of the real economy, and everyone is welcome to enter the field of industry and fight side by side with Blacklake. This is something that may be a bit bitter, but worthwhile .

Yin Le : Please recommend a book that inspires you.

Zhou Yuxiang: "Finite and Infinite Games". Its author is James Cass, a professor at New York University. The point of view in the book is very interesting: "There are at least two kinds of games in the world, one can be called finite games, and the other is called infinite games. The purpose of finite games is to win, and the only purpose of infinite games is to prevent the end of the game , so that each participant continues to participate. " So do you choose to play a finite game or an infinite game?