Devin Bhushan, Squint: Accelerating Human Potential with Augmented Reality

Devin Bhushan is the Founder and CEO of Squint, a mobile app that uses AI and AR to present contextual information at the right time and place.
February 19, 2024
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Company Snapshot

Squint is an AR platform on a mission to accelerate human potential. 

Squint is a mobile app that uses AI and AR to present contextual information at the right time and place. With Squint, new employees at a manufacturing facility can hold up their phone or tablet at a machine and learn how to use it safely and adequately with instructions in front of them while they work. While they have focused on manufacturing, their solution could empower other workforces in industries like energy, healthcare, hospitality, and more.

  • Founded: 2021
  • Headquarters: Remote
  • Notable Investors: Sequoia Capital, Menlo Ventures
  • Total Funding: $19 million

Apply here to work at Squint.

What I like about Squint

Manufacturing is ripe with opportunity and undergoing a period of transformation. In the US, there has been a boom in construction spending (shown below) driven by the CHIPS Act, and manufacturers are rapidly upgrading facilities and equipment to newer technologies to increase productivity; however, there is a significant labor shortage with baby boomers retiring. In 2020, the US Census reported that nearly ¼ of the manufacturing workforce was 55 or older. Historically, manufacturers would train new workers by pairing them with an experienced veteran. But, with these people on the way out, coupled with sometimes complex customizations to the machinery, it is now more important than ever to find solutions to train new and existing workers. 

Chart showing real total manufacturing construction spending going up and to the right
Source: The US Department of Treasury

Additional tailwinds include large American corporations like General Motors, Intel, and US Steel opening up new manufacturing facilities in the US to reduce their reliance on Asia-based manufacturers. Many companies started to consider this during the pandemic due to a combination of global supply chain issues, high tariffs on Chinese imports, and consumer sentiment, showing Americans are comfortable paying a premium for American-made products. In Kearney’s Reshoring Index, their survey showed “96 percent of CEOs are evaluating reshoring their operations, have decided to reshore, or already reshored, an increase from 78 percent in 2022.”

The data makes it very clear America is investing in its manufacturing capabilities but doesn’t have the resources to train the large number of new workers it needs to hire to support this. Therefore, Squint is in a good position to help usher in some of this change.

Screenshot of Squint product showing operator that the task is 2.4 ft ahead of them
Source: Squint

Squint is at the forefront of AR technology with its “open-world” product that needs no hardware, QR code, or pre-built 3D model. In layman’s terms, it takes minutes to set up Squint and create an AR experience of a machine on the factory floor. While the technology is novel, what’s more impressive to me is how they use it to deliver value to customers through a frictionless experience. The early results are strong. Squint is seeing rapid adoption from enterprise customers like Volvo, Michelin, Siemens, and Hershey, and customers have shared with them they have cut their training time in half. As Squint builds out its integration layer to work with the legacy systems that manufacturers use, like Oracle and IBM, I expect Squint to win more customers and increase usage rates as the product ingests existing workflows and data.

Squint Team Photo

With deep expertise in the technology they are building and empathy for their customer’s problems, Devin and the Squint team are well-positioned to capture this opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to get to know Devin over the last few months, and I’ve been impressed by his humility, customer-centric focus, meticulous approach to company building, and bold vision. This is really highlighted when you listen to Devin talk about product development and new opportunities. These decisions are based on extensive customer and market research, where they develop a deep understanding of the underlying problems their customers are facing and how to solve them best. The outcome of this work is a compelling vision for how Squint can create value and build a strong business.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Hey, Devin, thanks for joining me today. First, do you want to introduce who you are and what Squint is briefly?

Devin: Thanks for having me on Kieran. My name is Devin Bhushan. I’m the Founder and CEO of Squint. Squint is a product that allows you to create a how-to guide for every machine on the factory floor. Manufacturing is going through a period of high turnover, and as a result, they have to hire as fast as they can. So, historically, the way they train these workers has been this in-person method where they pair them with an experienced veteran, someone who really knows what they’re doing. This person usually watches over their shoulder and walks them through this process for several weeks until they’ve learned. Now, this doesn’t scale when you have more new workers than experienced veterans, and that’s what’s happening right now. This is where Squint comes in. Instead of pairing a new employee with that veteran, you can give them Squint, and they can hold up their phone or tablet at a machine and learn how to use it safely and adequately with instructions in front of them while they work.

Kieran: Why are you excited about this opportunity?

Devin: I think it’s exciting for two reasons. Well, there’s a lot, but I’ll talk about two reasons. One is the kind of technology, and the other is the customers. So, on the technology side, we are finally making an AR product that the world can use for real, and it’s actually changing the game for everyone it touches. I think from an engineering perspective, this is the kind of technology that at least, you know, personally, I’ve dreamt about for years, and I’ve only ever been disappointed when I tried versions of AR. Squint really works, and it’s magical and impressive every time I use it. For that reason, it’s really cool to deliver on the promise of AR, which we’ve all envisioned for so long. On the customer side, I think our customers really feel the impact of the product. We work with manufacturers like Cologate-Palmolive, Volvo, and Siemens, and our customers repeatedly tell us that we’ve cut their training time in half, and it’s changing how they can plan, hire, and train their workforce. So, I think those are the two main reasons why I’m really excited about Squint.

Kieran: Awesome, I’d love it if you could take me back to the beginning. I remember watching a video from Menlo Ventures, and you talked about starting Squint. One of the first things you did was research and score all the verticals to which you could bring this AR technology. Why did manufacturing grade the highest?

Devin: So, right now, manufacturing has a high turnover problem, and it’s a heavily paper-based industry and word of mouth-based, which allows Squint to partner with these inspiring brands that have historically been underserved by technology. We have customers who love solving problems. The really interesting thing about this industry is that this problem-solving approach is ingrained in manufacturing. So, for example, most of the machines on the factory floors are either modified or entirely custom-built because they basically look at what’s coming in and what needs to be going out. They build something for that specific thing every time. As a result, you look at the manufacturing floor, and it’s a marvel of new technology. It’s all novel. When you think about the mindset it requires, that problem-solving approach lends itself well when trying new technologies and being receptive to them, like Squint, for instance. 

Kieran: Squint works with large enterprise clients, such as Volvo, Michelin, Siemens, and Hershey. When a customer call goes really well, and they’re sold immediately, what’s the most attractive part of the offering? On the flip side, where is the pushback if a customer is skeptical?

Devin: Interesting enough, the answer is the same for both things. So, when we show off the product, the first thing that customers ask about is, hey, this looks awesome, but how long does this take to set up, right? Historically, if you go and take a look at the space we’re sitting in and AR as an industry, it’s been tough to set up and configure, but with Squint, it actually takes minutes. The cool thing is that you map an area, which is how Squint recognizes spaces or objects, using just computer vision. There is no special hardware; it takes a minute, and then basically, the next step is creating a procedure, and the way that works is you film a video of someone doing the work. Then, we use AI to write the how-to guide, so in a matter of five to six minutes, you’ve created a work instruction with an augmented reality guide attached to it. Once we show that off in a sales call or in that follow-up call with customers as they’re exploring the implementation, it blows their minds, and I think it goes from being the thing they push back on to being the thing they’re most excited about pretty quickly.

Kieran: Squint’s vision is to bring this AR technology to other verticals. When do you expect to start selling into some of these other industries?

Devin: We’re very focused on bringing it to manufacturers. There’s still such a large untapped market in this space that there are millions of people we could serve if we deliver on the kind of promise we’ve created here. I think other industries are something that we definitely will go into soon. I can’t say exactly when. There are particular challenges and things that we must overcome before we get there.

Kieran: Can you discuss some of the challenges you foresee when implementing this technology in other verticals?

Devin: As with anything else, just like we did with manufacturing, you have to do a lot of research in the space before you build. One thing we say internally is build with empathy. To do so, you need to research and understand what problem someone is trying to solve. So, rather than rolling Squint out without thinking about how it will serve these other industries, I think the way we want to approach this is some intentional planning and roadmap adjustments based on what we learn after we do that research. Scaling the team and the product is a hard thing to do. We want to focus on delivering the initial product to manufacturing.

Kieran: You’ve teased you want to become this integration layer where there will be plugins to get domain-specific sources of information, similar to what OpenAI did with ChatGPT. Can you share more about your progress here and why customers are excited about this?

Devin: I think of Squint as the system of execution for operators. Our customers have invested in various systems like SAP, IBM, and Oracle over the years. These systems have been around for a long time, and our customers have invested lots of time and resources into building on top of these systems, so they can’t really move away from them. As a result, the challenge they run into is they don’t have a good way to surface all the information across these systems to operators, and then also easily let operators on the factory floor manipulate this data without having to onboard every new operator to all of these systems that they have in the backend that maintain various aspects of the floor. So, if you think about it, what we’re trying to build with Squint is that single layer that operators interact with, and then behind the scenes, Squint is manipulating and surfacing data from various systems. So, once you put something in place and connect it to all the suitable systems, the thinking is there’s one place that people touch, and it accesses the existing suite of systems of record. 

Kieran: Taking a step back, AI and AR technology are fairly new, and the advancements are happening rapidly. What are you paying close attention to in these fields as it relates to Squint?

Devin: Yeah, honestly, everything. Like you said, things are happening so fast. One of the things I love tracking is infrastructure advancements. So, on the AI side specifically, I think that’s where opportunities will arise for us to use new foundational technology to improve the Squint experience. My take on AI and the direction we’re headed in is that it’s always more powerful when you can pick it and adapt it to an existing product and enrich the existing solution rather than offer it out of the box as an input/output offering to your customers. That’s what we’re trying to do with Squint, right? So that’s why infrastructure improvements on the AI side really let us add superpowers to Squint.

Kieran: Why is this the right team for this opportunity?

Devin: We have an incredible team. There are three qualities that we share across the board. Everyone is product-minded, empathetic, and curious. I think those are the critical traits to putting together a team that can tackle an emerging technology, in this case, AI and AR, and can actually create a product that disrupts the space that historically has been kind of behind on the technology side, like manufacturing. So, I think, generally speaking, we need people who can understand these problems and come up with great out-of-the-box solutions, and that’s what we’ve done so far. Our team is all independently very good at these things.

Kieran: Your team has a lot of expertise in AR technology, but coming in, you had no previous work experience with manufacturing. In what ways has being an outsider to the industry you’re building in impacted Squint?

Devin: That’s a great question. I was thinking about this the other day when I was reflecting on this year. This lack of exposure to manufacturing before building Squint has forced us to really start from zero. I’m on calls weekly, and we still don’t assume we know the problem. As a result, we try to ask the most basic questions to our customers, and in the process, we’ve discovered many use cases in areas to address that if we’d come in with prior knowledge or assumptions, we would have asked much more advanced or focused questions and completely missed these problem areas. Therefore, we’ve started building Squint from the ground up with the operator mindset, and that’s what’s led to rapid adoption and the ability to work with substantial companies that we discussed.

Kieran: Squint is in the process of scaling rapidly. Startups often talk about trying to preserve their early team culture as they scale. How would you describe your culture today, and what parts do you want to ensure remain intact as you scale?

Devin: The two most important things I would love to keep intact are empathy and curiosity. Our engineering and product teams have been tackling things from the ground up and are trying to create impactful solutions. Maybe the most important thing is being able to think outside the box and be creative with some of these solutions because there isn’t a pattern in this space that we’re copying, right? We’re creating a lot of these gestures and interactions from scratch. No one has implemented AR well before, at least not in an industrial space, so I’d like to keep those things. One thing I’ll add to that, and maybe most of all, is we work fast. As a startup at this stage, I think speed is your moat. So, I’d love to keep those three things around: empathy, curiosity, and speed.

Kieran: You mentioned this out-of-the-box thinking on your team. Can you talk about a problem you’ve encountered and one of the solutions you’ve built from the ground up?

Devin: I’ll give you an example. So, when we first built Squint, the kind of complete footprint of the product was this ability to create work instructions and a how-to guide with step-by-step instructions. You could take that and start pinning these steps, put them around the world, and then hand the tablet or phone to an operator and have them walk through it. The end result of this was highly impactful, and that’s where we saw the ability to cut training time in half, but then when we looked at this process that people were following, we learned that they were spending hundreds of hours coming up with the procedure that they put into Squint. It was something that required a lot of research to uncover. They would take documentation specialists, put them on the floor, and say hey, watch this procedure. It could be a three-hour procedure. Watch this 10 times, take notes on every step, and then go over your recordings and notes and try to assemble a step-by-step guide of exactly what to do. The repercussion of getting this wrong is someone gets hurt, right? So, it’s high stakes. We saw that, and we’re like, wait, I think we can solve this in a better way. Let’s take the video of the operator doing the job correctly, feed it into a multimodal LLM, and output an excellent standard operating procedure (SOP). When we figured that out, we unlocked this whole creation process. There is nothing like this in the market because no one has taken this bottoms-up approach to solving this problem before.

Kieran: Can you highlight some of the open roles you’re hiring for and some of the exciting projects they might get to work on?

Devin: We’re hiring across the board. Some roles include a Director of Sales, Director of Product, sales engineering, SDRs, Account Executives, Engineers, and Designers. So, literally all across the company. I think they’re all foundational roles and integral to our success. If I had to pick two to focus on, I would pick the product and go-to-market leader as interesting positions where you get to come in and not only grow the existing culture but also add your elements in at kind of this early stage of the company as we’re starting to grow. So, I think it’s a chance to shape a product and go to market that’s really unique. After all, how often do you hear about selling enterprise licenses to a mobile app? I think it’s pretty interesting and unique, and I hope people out there are excited. So, if anyone is interested, please reach out. We’re hiring.