Interview with Symeon Chatzigeorgiou, Director of Partnerships at DeepSea
DeepSea is a maritime technology company specialising in vessel performance monitoring and optimisation. The company combines years of experience in the shipping industry with deep expertise in the fields of software, hardware and Artificial Intelligence. Today, we met with Symeon Chatzigeorgiou, Director of Partnerships with the company and talked about the value proposition of DeepSea, but also the valuable learnings of the journey so far. Here’s what he told us.
Tell us a few things about DeepSea Technologies. How did it all start? How did you discovered the market opportunity for your technology, and where are you today?
There has always been a big problem in shipping, which has many negative knock-on effects. The problem is that no one really knows, with any sort of accuracy, how individual ships behave - they’re all different and respond in different ways to the environments they encounter. In the past, the problems were related to planning voyage durations and negotiating vessel hire rates. Over the last half-decade, though, things have changed - now, with sky-high fuel prices and massive environmental pressure, this issue has become existential in nature.
DeepSea started in 2017 as this ‘new reality of shipping’ was just starting. Our founders, Konstantinos Kyriakopoulos and Roberto Coustas, realized that the way to solve this age-old problem was to look at one of the newest technologies around - artificial intelligence. The market opportunity was clear - collect shipping companies’ vessel data (as high-res as possible), use AI to understand what it really meant (as accurately as possible), and then use it to save money (as much as possible). We quickly started gaining traction with early adopters, mostly Greek companies but also international ventures - and took things from there.
We’re now around 90 people and are optimizing over 300 ships worldwide. Hoping for that number to double by the end of the year!
What value are you bringing to the clients and partners? What differentiates you from the rest of the industry?
Let’s develop what I said before a little further.
Every voyage that is NOT harnessing AI-based voyage plans is around 10% inefficient. This may sound like a lot - and it is - but the reason why is quite simple: until now, voyages have largely been planned in the same way, regardless of whether they are being sailed by a VLCC or a rubber duck. Even when there is an attempt to bring some degree of understanding - i.e. ‘vessel models’ - into the route and speed planning of a voyage, these models are inaccurate and are often outdated. To squeeze the last 10% efficiency out of every voyage you need one thing: a deep and accurate understanding of a particular vessel’s performance profile. This needs to capture a number of key things, including the impact of any combination of weather conditions on power requirements at different speeds, the current level of fouling, and the impact of vessel draft on all this.
This is the solution we provide to our customers. A platform that allows them to plan routes and speed configurations, custom-made for every vessel - and which decreases their fuel consumption and emissions by around 10%. When you consider the size of a single vessel - some burning over 200 tonnes of fuel a day - and the size of a fleet - some numbering in the hundreds of vessels - that’s a transformative result.
We employ artificial intelligence - which we use to model vessels accurately - and advanced algorithms to interrogate these models at every stage of the voyage. AI is a brilliant tool for this job, and we’re pleased to have built the foremost research team in the shipping industry to help us deliver concrete results to each of our clients.
What differentiates us is results! We’re shocked by how many service providers there are that claim to provide major efficiency improvements but provide no proof. On the contrary, we believe that the only way to popularise this sort of approach in the wider shipping industry is to keep providing concrete evidence of its impact on our customers. A couple of months ago, we published an extensive case study showing how Wallenius Wilhelmsen, one of the world’s most forward-thinking shipping companies, achieved a 7% fuel saving using our technology. For them, the results spoke for themselves - they’re now rolling our solution out across their 120-vessel fleet - but the case study exists to show the wider industry that AI-powered voyage optimisation is a powerful tool. In fact, we believe it’s the future of every shipping company… and the early adopters will gain the biggest rewards!
What would you consider having been (or are) your biggest challenge so far?
There are many small, even daily, challenges that anyone developing this kind of business has to contend with. But at the end of the day, the biggest challenge comes with popularising any radical or disruptive solution - especially in a market that can be somewhat traditional. The nice thing is there are lots of people out there looking to genuinely improve things (processes, approaches, viewpoints), even if it means changing the way they do things. These are the people that we love working with. We are lucky that our solutions have a holistic benefit within an organization - they rapidly make a positive impact on multiple metrics (financial, environmental, social) with very little ‘downside,’ if any. However, there is still the constant requirement to prove the validity of your approaches again and again: there is no such thing as too much proof! For any young and evolving company, this is usually challenge #1. Once you reach a certain size the social proof speaks for itself, and people don’t question the efficacy of your service - which is the real tipping point.
What are the biggest learnings from your journey so far?
The biggest learning we have made is that working closely and slowly with a client or potential client is so much better than trying to work quickly and at arm's length. This may sound obvious, but there is often pressure to try to speed things up (both from your side and the client’s side). Slowing things down and building a relationship based on a solid foundation - where both parties understand fully what each other can bring to the table - allows you to craft solutions to specific problems faced by a client, or at least to understand the real working environment that you're dealing with. This is how real value is created - not through transactions but through open cooperation. It’s very much the spirit that both sides brought to the Wallenius Wilhelmson partnership, which continues to be a fantastic and evolving project, that is pushing both parties forward in the most positive way.