The world is your playing field, especially in aviation. There is no room for hobby projects here. Find reliable partners in the market.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marlon van der Meer, Founder & CEO of BagsID Network.
Marlon van der Meer has been an entrepreneur since the year 2000 and has founded multiple ventures in mobile technology with a strong track record in media, reaching millions of users through broadcast clients on practically every continent. He is frequently invited to participate in technology think tank sessions and to speak at conferences and universities. Audio and image recognition built for mobile and TV apps were the foundation for BagsID Network, a new AI solution that is disrupting baggage identification. Commonly known as ‘baggage biometrics,’ the technology will change the way we travel with baggage.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was first introduced to technology when I was 11 years old. Two memories stick out that year, 1984. My mother bought me the Tandy TRS-8 Model 4D, believing computers were the future. Although it was clunky, I thought it was the most intriguing thing I had ever encountered and was inspired to start programming. The same year, my uncle installed a car phone. Remember those? It was my first introduction to the freedoms presented by going mobile. I was hooked. There was never any other career path for me, it was and always would be tech. That’s what led me eventually into mobile messaging innovations and now artificial intelligence and machine learning with BagsID Network.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story that happened to me was when I started as an entrepreneur in 2000, focusing on text messaging for TV stations. For a well-known music station, we developed a simple text message game for Valentine’s Day. In just a few hours, we generated so many text messages that it was mindboggling. We are talking about millions of messages. What amazed me most was the number of unique users that adopted the service. It was unparalleled! We couldn’t keep up with demand and our servers could hardly process all the messages. It was totally unexpected. For years we were TV stations’ best friends, generating more revenue than advertising income. Today, I am still surprised by the speed of adoption and the volumes that were generated by (in hindsight) ‘useless-but-entertaining’ services.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people who have helped and inspired me along my career, it is hard to pick just one as I’m thankful to all of them. Someone I am grateful to is a Dutch entrepreneur who supported me with advice and capital at the beginning of my career twenty years ago. He believed in me. An extraordinarily smart individual who later started a car brand and bought a Formula 1 team. He always said, “for the persistent, no road is impassable.” Although not all of his adventures ended well, he made me realize that perseverance is crucial for entrepreneurs. Thinking differently and challenging yourself to be better. I took those lessons with me — as well as his former executive assistant who has been involved with BagsID from the beginning. She, too, pushes me to face the facts every now and then.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I recently read a quote by Marian Anderson that echoed my approach to entrepreneurship and leading a team: “Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.” As a CEO, especially at a start-up, your first job is to create a realistic, informed development plan and inspire your team to believe in it, and in you. Get the right people in the right positions and trust in their expertise. A CEO cannot do it all themselves, have faith that you hired the best people and let them have autonomy. Your job then, instead of micromanaging, is to help your team see the goal you are working towards, stick to the plan, and stay excited to see it through completion.
Whereas my SMS services were mostly entertaining, and did not actually serve any purpose, it was fundamental to me that my new business had to solve problems and be future-proof. For this reason, I did a lot of research and talked to the right people. It’s incredibly fun to talk to a CEO in a boardroom when he or she has no idea what’s really going on. You need to talk to the people who understand all facets of your niche.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Vision, understanding and organization. When it comes to launching a successful business, first you need to define your vision and match it with a customer need — what is your service or solution is solving? Then, find out if there is an audience and a market, and research every competitor in your vertical. Truly understand your position. Ask yourself: is it possible to dominate this vertical, what would it take to be the best? Envision what the world would be like with your product in it in five years, then create a realistic, informed development plan. Organization and strategy are crucial to achieving your goal on time, on budget and with success.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
The way we handle baggage, especially in air travel, really hasn’t improved in decades. It relies on the same basic legacy systems that have been in place since the 1960s and 70s. The problem is that it is extremely taxing on the environment. The industry is doing a lot for a better future. Worldwide, there are initiatives for cleaner aviation. Unfortunately, baggage is generally not considered important enough, whereas I think there is an enormous amount to be gained there. In terms of weight reduction, waste reduction, reduction of power consumption and especially better efficiency. The industry is stuck in the 1980s.
Aviation has an enormous carbon footprint, and the industry is always searching for ways to reduce its impact. The way we track and identify baggage, using barcode scan tags, is inefficient and unsustainable — new tags are required for every bag, every trip. With millions of travelers across the globe each year, that equates to entire forests of paper waste — not to mention the ink, stickers, and other environmental costs like energy as some airlines run their printers 24-hours per day.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Not only does the BagsID AI photo recognition solution solve this ongoing waste, identifying luggage through “baggage biometrics” and ushering in a tagless future, our algorithm can also recognize shapes and dimensions of baggage and make recommendations for smarter loading, allowing more cargo to be transported on fewer flights. That’s an enormous potential savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. BagsID’s technology will eventually replace barcode scan tags, which will save tons of paper waste in every country around the world.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Of course, I am familiar with the fact that the number of passengers increases every year and will continue to increase. One route I fly regularly is from Amsterdam to Tampa, often with a stop through Atlanta. Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world and nowhere is the enormity of aviation more tangible than there. I was walking through the airport, taking the train to concourse E, and noticed the immense volume of passengers and their baggage. It got me thinking about the carbon footprint both were causing.
I couldn’t believe that the aviation industry was adding hardware (such as RFID) to bags. In my opinion, baggage tags were not of the century, not to mention investing more money in new “solutions” that did not extract valuable data and were not reusable nor renewable. I started researching the environmental impact of the bag tag. An estimated 100,000+ tag printers and 50 million kilograms of paper (every year), the list goes on. You need 200 widebody airplanes to carry this kind of volume around the world. Let that sink in for a moment. It is a global problem. Meanwhile, all eyes are on aviation when it comes to C02 emissions. Quite honestly, baggage handling hasn’t really improved since the early days of aviation. It is still the same basic approach. There is a lot to win, for the environment and for the passenger. A lot of room for improvement — and that improvement is BagsID.
How do you think this might change the world?
Once our technology is further deployed, as we are partnering to implement the solution at a variety of airports and airlines, it only makes sense that it will eventually be adopted globally. It seamlessly integrates with baggage handling systems and can, for the time being, be used alongside paper tags until it is the only solution in use on Earth. And it’s Earth we’re trying to save.
Honestly, no. While these shows often focus on “Big Brother” and cameras watching and recording us at all times, the ever-present eye, in this case, is on baggage — only matching bags to the individual for the sake of tracking and reconciliation. In fact, our solution protects your baggage better than existing methods. If there is ever a case of mishandling, damage or theft, there is photo evidence to help determine where/when the issue happened during transport.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
- Think big and collaborate.
The world is your playing field, especially in aviation. There is no room for hobby projects here. Find reliable partners in the market.
2. Prepare to scale.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make sure the technology works. Don’t compromise there.
3. Understand the market.
Knowledge is power. Make sure all knowledge is represented on your team. And while you’re not setting the trend yet, make sure you’re following the trend.
4. Be an evangelist.
Use every opportunity to share your vision. We have experienced that all types of people think about what is possible with technology, which will lead to new applications that you would otherwise never have thought of.
5. Be tenacious.
The aviation industry consists mainly of parties who do not easily deal with change. Because they can’t or won’t, you have to be patient and politically smart. Baggage is often considered a necessary evil for an airport or airline. It’s not a sexy subject, so you must be tenacious in getting process changes on the agenda.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You are the future people like me are trying to protect. The impacts we make today on the environment will most likely affect you when you are our age — good or bad. That’s why you must make every effort you can to better both our planet and the society that lives on it, every chance you get. Pay it forward to the generation coming up behind you. Be the inspiration, don’t just think of what affects you here and now. And there’s so much opportunity for business and innovation that does good for our planet, it isn’t a movement that requires sacrifice either. Dream big! You can both be green and make it too.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’m most thankful for the inspiration I received from a man I have not yet met, but who has driven me to become the entrepreneur that I am — the founder of JetBlue Airways, David Neeleman. I recommend reading his book, Flying High, about how he became an airline tycoon while suffering (or should I say, being blessed with) ADHD. Launching an airline is far from easy. Doing so in the midst of a global health pandemic increases the challenge factor significantly. I have no doubt that Breeze Airways will be yet another success. He knows what he is doing.
I am looking forward to meeting him in person one day, having a chat about ADHD and the positives of having this ‘disorder’ — how those of us who have it naturally search for better ways of doing things. Off course I will take the opportunity to explain to him about our own BagsID mission to disrupt the aviation industry too. How we are going to create a tagless future and how baggage biometrics will be the standard. We also have been having success despite the pandemic. BagsID is the result of my personal journey benefitting from ADHD and I thank David for his inspiration, eye-openers and learnings.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am often writing thought leadership pieces on our website at www.BagsID.com. I invite you to visit anytime and sign up for our newsletter there, too. That way you can stay up to date on our efforts as we deploy our technology in airports around the world — maybe even the one in your own backyard. Stay tuned!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.