Forbes: How Being Turned Down Helped A Startup

For Palaniswamy “Raj” Rajan, SoftWear’s sink-or-swim moment came in late 2016 when the startup presented its SEWBOTS robotic sewing technology to one of the largest bath-rug makers in the country. But instead of signing its first deal, Atlanta-based SoftWear got bad news: it wasn’t ready. SEWBOTS were breaking down two or three times a day due to software bugs.

“When we first gave them a solution, they essentially said, ‘This is not robust enough for us,’” Rajan explains. “That was an important meeting in the history of our company.”

A veteran entrepreneur and investor, 47-year-old Rajan has learned to treat any interaction with the customer – whether positive or negative – as a chance to learn and adapt. (In 1999 he sold the online customer financial records management company VerticalOne to S1 Corporation for $166 million.)

Rajan, who at first was only an investor in SoftWear, took over as CEO after the meeting.  Nine months later, the 27-employee-strong SoftWear has turned skeptics into believers by building machines that operate 90% of the time while in continuous use for a year. In fact, it expects to handle all the rug-giant’s production within three years. Forbes estimates that the startup’s sales will hit $5 to $8 million for 2017.

“They’re the only people out there that are doing apparel automation at this level of sophistication,” explains Whitney Cathcart, an apparel industry expert and fashion technology consultant.  “Our archaic industry desperately needs this.”

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