The Journey of Abraham Innovation Systems
Abraham Innovation Systems Inc. located in Canada has more than 15 years of experience in developing computer imaging and imaging processing software. The company specializes in designing brand-new AI Vision Systems and providing major manufacturers with quality control and inspection, which includes surface inspection, assembly inspection, precision measurement, product traceability and robot guidance. The company’s mission is to help the automotive industry achieve fully automated vehicle testing, as well as monitor and control product quality during the production process with advanced technology. As a result, costs and human resources of automobile manufacturers will be largely reduced, raising their productivity.
Dr. Joseph Poon, the founder of Abraham, graduated from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Dr. Poon taught computer vision as well as imaging and pattern recognition in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He also provides technical consulting services to ASM Pacific Technology Ltd. in Hong Kong. Dr. Poon is an outstanding scholar. He participates, on a long-term basis, in the research on mechanical imaging, visual processing software development, and imaging and pattern recognition. His goal is to integrate theory, knowledge, and technology for business application.
Dr. Poon’s journey from conducting research to doing business has not been easy. While he experienced ups and downs, with determination and patience, he once again reached his career peak, transforming his two-man business into a company that serves the five major global automotive manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda.
Strive to raise funds during initial stage of the start-up
Dr. Poon’s early start-up funds mainly came from three sources. The first one was research funding of approximately CAD $200,000 from his previous client, ASM Pacific Technology Ltd. located in Hong Kong. Dr. Poon employed a staff member with this seed capital and submitted a research report within one year. He earned the second funding through creating websites for a large enterprise. In 2000, the dot-com mania spread globally. The Vice President of JP Morgan New York needed help in web development. He knew that Dr. Poon could provide the right talents. Therefore, he awarded Dr. Poon a three-month contract, bringing him more than US$100,000 of income. This became Dr. Poon’s second start-up capital. Through also selling top-up values of calling cards on the web, Dr. Poon earned his third start-up capital.
In order to raise sufficient funds for his start-up, Dr. Poon persevered, swallowed his pride and engaged in other industries. Dr. Poon had created an online bookstore business, developed a real estate mobile application, and set up sales booths at Christian exhibitions several times. In 2002, Dr. Poon set up a stall at the Christian Trade Show in Ontario. He has always been meticulous and pays attention to every detail in his work. His commitment to showcasing products surprisingly attracted a young man. That young man did sales business of electronic components. Although being a high school graduate, he was quite eloquent. At the exhibition, the young man asked Dr. Poon if Dr. Poon could assist to sell the products online. The next day, he showed up at Dr. Poon’s office and discussed about setting up a company together for selling electronic components online.
Seamless cooperation leading to repeated success
At that time, Dr. Poon had an approximately 400-square feet large office on Markham Main Street. One week later, the young man delivered the previously stored electronic components to Dr. Poon’s office. They established a company named Canavision and the business commenced. The young man was articulate and made up for Dr. Poon’s lack of ability in expression. They complemented each other and cooperated seamlessly. The young man later became the right-hand man of Canavision’s sales team. He has been selling electronic components for years and has connections with many factories. To him, Dr. Poon’s “visual inspection system” has business potential. Therefore, he went with Dr. Poon for a business negotiation at the factories near Markham. The young man totally understood the significance of a product’s features, advantages and benefits (collectively the “FAB”). Therefore, when he promoted the “visual inspection system” to the factories, he kept emphasizing the FAB and successfully attracted customers who were willing to do business together. One of them was the famous pharmaceutical company where Panadol was manufactured.
At that time, there was a production issue with Panadol. Panadol is divided into daytime and night-time pills and differentiated by colors of the pills. If any factory worker carelessly mixed up the daytime and night-time pills and placed them into the wrong packaging, customers might wrongly consume nighttime pills with hypnotic side effects during the day, become tired out, make mistakes at work or cause traffic accidents, etc. The pharmaceutical company would face huge claims and reputational loss. The pharmaceutical company that produced Panadol was led by an old man near retirement. He wanted to do a good deed before retirement and thus gave Dr. Poon and his business partner an opportunity. During three weeks of hard work, Dr. Poon and his team members worked tirelessly and successfully set up a unique “visual inspection system” for the pharmaceutical factory. This system could detect colors of pills and differentiate between daytime and night-time pills with complete accuracy, lowering the risks of the pharmaceutical company.
Canavision received the first order from Panadol. While the order was worth only CAD $16,000 and the costs incurred were close to CAD $14,000, and the company could only have its costs recovered after paying the salaries, the order established the reputation of Canavision and its external business connections. These were more precious than money and were intangible assets. During the following year, Canavision received three to four orders, even including orders from automobile manufacturers.
Discovered new technology to welcome a new era
Canavision’s second order came from a French company which produces plastic bottles for grape juice. When plastic food bottle manufacturers produce the plastic bottles, metals that form stains often remain on the bottles. As grape juice is foodstuff, food safety authorities usually cannot tolerate stains on plastic bottles. As a result, a large amount of substandard products will be sent back, leading to serious financial losses for food manufacturers. Dr. Poon accepted the daunting mission of providing imaging inspection for the grape juice plastic bottle manufacturer.
At that time, Dr. Poon thought that the factory could mold four plastic bottles per second and 240 per minute – this would be manageable by Canavision’s inspection capability. However, detailed examination revealed the speed of computer’s CPU to be merely 600 megahertz, which was insufficient to manage 200 plastic bottles per minute. As Dr. Poon was extremely worried, a CPU with the speed of 1.6 gigahertz was introduced to the market, solving the problem immediately. By using the latest computer technology, Canavision overcame this technical challenge. Others heard the news and came to do business with Canavision, leading to an endless stream of orders.
Economic recession poses challenges to start-up
Although Canavision received more orders, the amount of capital spent on research and development was also on the rise, keeping Canavision’s finances tight. In 2007, someone suggested Dr. Poon to explore business opportunities in mainland China, that the AI Visual System would have a market there. Dr. Poon decided to take the risk but was met with failure, losing money and wasting a lot of manpower. Canavision did not receive a single order for almost the entire year, facing a severe financial crisis. As Dr. Poon’s business partner had not been paid for more than six months and still had a family to feed, he had no choice but to leave Canavision.
Absent the sources of funding and business partner, Dr. Poon’s confidence was all but gone and felt helpless about the future. It never rains but it pours. One day, when Dr. Poon’s business partner has departed for three months, Dr. Poon unexpectedly received a legal letter claiming for CAD 1 million from another company. The company allegedly claimed that a system previously designed for it could not operate effectively, leading to delivery delays and huge financial losses. Dr. Poon said, “During those two years, I was busy looking for new business opportunities in China and did not get to overcome challenges thoroughly with the team. I just let them deal with clients on the frontline. They did not have relevant experience. They thought that as long as the client did not raise further requests after a complaint, the problem had been solved. I only realized the severity of the problem after receiving the legal letter. This was the first ever legal letter received in my life claiming damages. This was a heavy blow to me. I was already impoverished, and with two relatives passing away in 2009, I was in a predicament and felt hopeless. I was deeply perplexed and grievous, and felt extremely stressful.”
At that critical moment, Dr. Poon’s lawyer recommended him to immediately suspend all business operations of Canavision and register a new company. The lawyer kept asking Dr. Poon for a name of the new company. Due to time pressure, Dr. Poon blurted out “Abraham” as the new company’s name. The lawyer added “Innovation Systems” to the name, and Abraham Innovation Systems Inc. was thus born.
Down in the dumps but rescued by faith
When Dr. Poon faced business crisis, he was near mental breakdown. He constantly had nightmares, woke up easily and had cold sweat. Dr. Poon is a Christian. He could only rely fully on his God and pray that God would help him overcome this adversity. As Dr. Poon recalled those difficult days, he said solemnly and sincerely, “Entrepreneurship is challenging and one needs tough mentality. You may be at a low ebb or even adversity. The most important thing is to equip yourself and understand clearly your mission. Doing business requires substantial sacrifice. While it may bring you success, it will not always proceed smoothly. Therefore, those who just get started must be psychologically prepared for the risks and blows that appear anytime along the journey.”
From 2009 to 2014, Dr. Poon had to handle litigation every day and became exhausted. While the revenue was only about CAD $60,000 for serving this company, the claim was high at CAD $1 million. Dr. Poon repeatedly invited the other party to settle out of court, but was always rejected. During Christmas 2014, Dr. Poon suddenly had a thought that the other party might need a sum of money to buy his wife a Christmas present. Dr. Poon then asked his lawyer to issue a legal letter to offer a compensation of CAD $70,000. The letter was sent out on 22 December. He received the other party’s reply on 23 December, which indicated acceptance of the offer, putting an end to the tough days of litigation. Having to deal with litigation for years, Dr. Poon lost faith in himself, to others and to doing business, but did not lose faith in God. He said, “Challenges break even the toughest person. When one is at a low ebb, experience and determination alone would not be helpful. At that time, only through God’s grace and my faith in him could I overcome the challenges. Abraham had also experienced this.”
Abraham, the father of faith
Abraham is the father of faith and also the common ancestor of Christians, Catholics, Jews and even Muslims. Most people have heard of Abraham. When Dr. Poon introduces his own company Abraham, it leaves good impressions to many. Regardless of the religious backgrounds of business partners, they are all willing to make friends with Abraham. The company name is abbreviated as “Abra” and customers like to call the Abraham team “Abra people”.
In 2011, when global economy showed signs of recovery, Dr. Poon e-mailed factories to look for business opportunities, but there had been no reply. One day, the phone rang and a familiar voice came from the handset. It was a previous customer that had been out of contact with for many years. Dr. Poon once did visual inspection of car seats for this customer, who was fired by his company and had recently found a new job with Chrysler as its Quality Manager. He invited Dr. Poon to his office to discuss the development of applications.
The Quality Manager had not met Dr. Poon for years, but still remembered him due to an unforgettable collaboration experience. One day in summer 2006, which was a Friday, the factory where the Quality Manager worked at was affected by power outage and the machines stopped running. Dr. Poon received a phone call requesting for support. As it was a Friday, the Quality Manager only called Dr. Poon to try his luck, but to his surprise, Dr. Poon immediately agreed to help. He hurried to the factory on Saturday and duly conducted inspection work. The Quality Manager was astonished that Dr. Poon was willing to sacrifice his personal time for work. He even said afterwards, “I like to work with people like Dr. Poon. Dr. Poon left me deep impression with that incident. I realized that Chinese are very responsible, not afraid of hardships or doing extra. When the temperature was high at 38 degrees Celsius, Dr. Poon came to the factory to repair machines tirelessly. As a manager, I very much admire the work attitude of Chinese.”
When the Quality Manager became part of Chrysler’s senior management, he wanted to cooperate with Dr. Poon. Soon after, Dr. Poon received calls from previous clients one-by-one. They had all moved to work at large factories, became quality managers and invited Dr. Poon to their factories to develop applications. Dr. Poon would not have imagined that his previously tireless service for customers led to business opportunities today. These are seeds sowed by faith. The Bible said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen.” (Hebrews)
Understand market trends to seize business opportunities
The production line of the automotive industry is very complex. Each car contains more than 50,000 different parts, and each part needs to be produced according to specific requirements. Should there be human errors or mistakes made during the production process, the products have to be withdrawn, leading to reputation loss of the depot and serious financial losses. To deal with this situation, the Real Body Inspection System developed by Abraham meets the depots’ needs. Dr. Poon’s “Fully Automatic Visual Inspection System” has been favored by automobile manufacturers for good reasons.
- First, Abraham is a pioneer in researching the “imaging and pattern recognition” technology and his expertise surpasses his peers. Dr. Poon said, ‘If other companies have entered the market and you joined in to compete, you are a follower; Abraham is the pioneer. Only through developing new markets with creativity and innovative technology can one earn high returns.’
- Second, the products are affordable. A fully “Automatic Visual Inspection System” costs between CAD $1.5 million to $2 million.
- Third, no change to the production line is needed. Just by adding a tunnel, the whole system can be flexibly applied.
The Abraham team spends a large amount of time to keep in touch with clients. While some clients request Abraham to visit the factory and such request is not “cost-effective”, the Abraham team will try its best to fulfil the request. Dr. Poon expressed, “The business strategy of Abraham is to be willing to do something extra and grow with clients. We try our best to solve their problems.” Dr. Poon focuses on establishing win-win relationships and mutual trust with his clients. Dr. Poon emphasizes that his relationships with clients are not built merely on a business level but also on a personal level.
Dr. Poon once met a consultant from Magna (the largest auto parts manufacturer in North America). The consultant said that he would like to introduce Dr. Poon to the factory director. When the director saw Dr. Poon he immediately said, “So you are Joseph Poon. Very pleased to meet you. Everyone from Chrysler, our client, talks about you.” The industry even has a saying that “when in need, always look for Abraham.” This indicates the extraordinary confidence the clients have in Abraham.
Be a company that “goes global”
Today, the business of Abraham is on track and has even become the service supplier of the five major automobile manufacturers. However, Dr. Poon still has a goal, which is for the company to “go global”. Dr. Poon said, “Going global” is the major trend all over the world. China is full of business opportunities. Automatic inspection will have a great demand in China. However, ‘going global’ has another meaning that is unrelated to business, but related to people. We will take the initiative to care and learn about the needs of overseas businessmen, and support them with concrete action.” Recently, Dr. Poon met two entrepreneurs aged around 60 in Shenzhen. They are both chairmen of companies. Dr. Poon dines with them when free and they have become good friends. When Dr. Poon talked to them, he found out that they had to overcome the same challenges. Dr. Poon thus shared his experience of overcoming low ebbs encountered during starting and running a business, offering them appropriate support and encouragement.
Dr. Poon pointed out, “‘Going global’ does not simply refer to developing businesses but also establishing friendships, which especially includes providing comfort and counselling to those facing business crisis, post-failure mental breakdown, being severely in debt or experiencing relationship breakups.” Dr. Poon had faced financial crisis and defeat when doing business. Together with loss of relatives, he was at a low ebb of life. However, he was convinced that he could overcome the hardships with God’s grace and mercy. Now those incidents were in the past, Dr. Poon was sympathetic towards businessmen also at a low ebb. He hoped that through sharing his experiences, he could offer concrete help and encouragement. He also shared his faith. Dr. Poon said, “Perhaps some would ask, why would you continue after failure. I would reply that after ‘going global’, one would find out more about others’ needs.” If people ask Dr. Poon why would he name his company Abraham, Dr. Poon would now answer with confidence, “Abraham is a biblical figure and I have complete faith in God, who loves me.”