Lothar Hohmann is owner of PRECISE, a company that produces laser engraved 2D and 3D portraits, trophies, awards, corporate gifts and mementos made of precious high-quality optical crystal.
He is an energetic, creative entrepreneur with a sharp ability to identify business opportunities and to transform them into profitable enterprises. Arabian Gazette sat with the German entrepreneur in his office that is studded with lots of miniatures, trophies, and other interesting products manufactured by his company and spoke to him about various PRECISE products.
How did the idea of PRECISE originate? What hurdles did you go through before realising it?
PRECISE was established in the UAE as an industry pioneer of sub surface laser etching of high quality crystals. In November 2002, we opened our first outlet in Dubai Duty Free Shop where we introduced 3D crystal engraved scanning. We scanned people’s faces, ear to ear, 180 degrees. This technology is still popular and we offer this service at multiple locations in Dubai.
The idea was pushed further when people started to ask me if I could scan their whole body and get their image. Now the question was how to reproduce it. One option was to laser engrave the scan on a crystal block.
In August 2009, PRECISE launched the miniYOU concept with a mission to provide unique gift ideas that are fun to give and even more fun to receive. We understand that people are tired of giving the same old stuff so we are coming up with ideas that are unique, personalised and totally unexpected.
From an entrepreneurial point of view, it is not about inventing things. Inventors are people like Da Vinci, Einstein, and many others. What we’re doing is capturing ideas and making them marketable.
Each miniYOU is specially designed, handcrafted and then precisely hand painted to produce an astoundingly similar look-alike miniature sculpture, to the image of the intended recipient. Our highly talented sculptors and professional artists focus on quality, producing a unique figurine every time. The completed miniYOU’s stand approximately 13-15cms tall.
MiniYOU’s are gifts that show thought and originality. You can be sure that this is something they’ve never received before.
What other personalisations does PRECISE offer?
After making crystal engraving models, we started wondering what else could be personalised. Obviously, our beloved gadget stands to be mobile phones and that’s precisely what we targeted. There are already products in the market where people can purchase like clip ons in order to personalise it because everyone has got, say for example, a Blackberry or an iPhone, but it is more about making a statement that defined their personality and a reflection of themselves.
So we came up with Instant Skin – a trademark for a revolutionary concept that allows instant personalisation of gadgets and electronic devices including mobile phones, computer mouse, iPod, game consoles, cameras and laptops. Besides a large image library that covers everything from animal skins, patterns, and other designs; personal, or original digital pictures as well as any other image according to personal choice can be used for the Instant Skin gadget personalisation. The image is printed on a transparent film with a special process and instantly vacuum wrapped. The Instant Skin process can be applied on a ‘while you wait’ basis.
Tell us a bit about your latest innovation.
Time moved and we were able to produce results that were encouraging. This was last year July-August when we picked up on our idea again, reworked it and said: “Let’s give it a go.”
In September, with a budget of over 1 million dirhams, we started to develop a concept called TIM and hoped it to be ready within 3-4 months.
Basically, TIM is an acronym for This Is Me – a life-like 3D model of an individual, designed to capture memories for ever. TIM stands at roughly 10% of the person’s original height, and is the result of combining the latest 3D scanning techniques, 360 degrees in full colour, with the latest generation of rapid prototyping technology.
The way it works is when a customer comes to our studio, he/she stands in the middle of the room that is about 5x5m. It has a special reflective tent inside. In the four corners of the room there are beamers beaming a pattern onto the standing person. This pattern – because of the body shape – is distorted and read by the scanner. When someone is standing in the middle of the room, one scanner scans him/her from the front, one from the side, one from the back. We get our data this way. After the scanning, we stitch this data together through the help of softwares.
The biggest challenge was to get the data moulded so as to fit the body together and create a 3D avatar. It involves removing certain things, modifications, texture mapping etc. What we also take into consideration is our skin which is not homogenous as there are variations in skin colour or type that needs to be taken care of. This whole data comprises of at least 50MB which also needs to be converted to the software-friendly format.
After the conversion, the data is read by the computer which then produces a 0.0875mm thick layer of powder. An ink nozzle disposes a binder material as well as the ink that colours the product. The finishing touches are given when the colouring is done, the printing process is finished, when it is de-powered, clean it up, dip it in a special solution to conceal the colours and finally it is dipped into wax. Then it is ready to go!
As we know that technology is rapidly advancing, do you think there will be a time when people won’t have to come to one of your studios for a scan and everything could be done virtually?
There are possibilities where we can create a 3D body and put your head on top of it. Hopefully, by the end of this year we’d be able to provide our customers with a library of pre-designed bodies which can fit in very well with a good profile picture. This may not be the same as people coming to our studios in their favourite gear and get themselves scanned. And I say this because it won’t be the same if superman’s body is attached to someone’s face. I personally believe that people love this experience to come to the photo studio and get photographed etc.
Moreover, I think our product will develop where our customer wants it to develop into. We will do what our customer will ask us to do.
So PRECISE products have a lot to do with flexibility?
Of course, we believe in flexibility. Personally, my rule #1 is that things will change so be flexible. Adapt yourself according to the situation. Take Burj Khalifa for example. The world’s tallest building is flexible. It moves. It would have broken down had it been stiff.
I think we’re at the beginning of this technology right now. When people will develop similar concepts, of course we’ll have to adapt to change. I don’t believe that I’m the only one who is working on this idea. I’m sure there are already people out there thinking along the same lines.
Do you have any competitors at the moment?
Fortunately, we don’t have any competitors. Not that we’re aware of. However, if anyone emerges as one, we wish them good luck.
Having said that, I’d like to elaborate that we have 10 years of 3D laser engraving experience and expertise.
What are your future plans?
Right now we’re in the process of setting up franchises that will allow people to set up scanning studios. We’ll be providing the avatar and production services at the backend. We have the capabilities and production facilities here in Dubai to meet global demand. Thanks to advances in communication and transportation, we can deliver our products via courier services within days.
Reflecting back on what must be a decade of hard work, what do you think you’ve achieved so far?
I think the small and medium enterprises are the backbone of any country’s economy. I’m glad to have been included in the top 100 SME Entrepreneurs list which I think is an honour as well. Ten years ago I started with just three people and today over 100 employees work for Precise. We survived the 2008 global recession though not without scars but still we kept on growing.
What was the key for survival during the crisis and how did you manage to get past the hurdles?
I think it is really important to have a good team of dedicated people. It is also necessary to be pushing your limits and be flexible to the demands. Staying focused on the goals is also vital for survival.
What are the top three qualities that you reckon an entrepreneur must have in order to be successful?
I think it is really important to follow your gut feeling. Sometimes it lets you down but as long as it gets you up more than it lets you down, I think it is good. It is also important that you stay true to yourself. The only things that is consistent is that things change.
I always emphasise that you’ve to be true to yourself. You’ve to have a unique proposition to what you’re doing.
It is true that a lot of people are taking existing concepts or bringing franchises from abroad to Dubai and making them successful. Obviously, that is also a way of entrepreneurship as they’re taking an existing business and making it work in a different environment. However, when you see what other people are doing and you use your own imagination and creativity to your advantage, I believe this is true entrepreneurship, as you’re using your skills and capabilities to be instrumental in developing something. Last but not the least, you’ve to do it with passion, with your heart. There will also be times when, as an entrepreneur, you’ll be cold and calculated and say, “alright, this did not work.” However, this is the time when you’ve to stay focused. As they say, “as long as it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”