Todd Alder is the CEO and Managing Director of Orbital UAV (ASX:OEC), a propulsion systems developer for military tactical drones, particularly those that undertakes surveillance and intelligence work, built to the size of a typical car.
What’s your journey in becoming a CEO?
From start to now: Chartered accounting, commercial and sales support for overseas start-ups, business process re-engineering for global consulting firm, leadership of large outsourced business processing teams, CFO for Australian listed companies, CEO Orbital UAV.
Tell us a bit about your business and how you are commercializing?
Orbital UAV (ASX:OEC) is a world leader in the design and manufacturer of integrated engine systems for tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). We have a long term agreement to supply a range of propulsion systems to Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc., for application across their entire fleet of UAVs. These are predominantly used by US and allied defence forces. In 2020 we were designated Primary Supplier status for all Insitu’s engines requirements.
As we continue to build our reputation in the global defence industry, we have recently expanded our customer base, signing new contracts with leading aerospace company Northrop Grumman, and one of Singapore’s largest defence companies. These contracts have the potential to lead to additional commercial production opportunities for Orbital UAV.
How are you managing with the current COVID-19 pandemic on both business and personal front?
As an advanced aerospace manufacturer supplying global defence prime contractors, we are fortunate that our product demand remains unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Our facilities in Perth, Australia and Oregon, USA have continued to operate. All employees who do not touch product have been working remotely, while our build teams have continued at our production facilities where we have implemented the appropriate measures and strict health and hygiene measures to mitigate the risk posed by COVID-19. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of all our people, our production has not been impacted and we have continued to meet our customers’ demands.
From a personal perspective, a lot of my time is usually spent travelling between our Australia and USA operations. Not being able to travel and following the ‘stay home, stay safe’ directive has meant I’ve had the opportunity to spend a good deal more time with my family, which has been great.
What’s the most exciting thing about running your business?
One of our core values at Orbital UAV is ‘challenge’ – having courage, challenging the status quo and coming up with creative new ideas. For me, that is the most exciting part of our business. I love to see our people embrace that ethos in order to achieve personal objectives and development, move our Company forwards, and deliver on our ambition to be recognised as the world’s leading supplier in our field.
How do you measure success?
Success for us is measured by three groups: employees; customers, and, as a listed company, shareholders.
The success of our business is dependent on the performance of our people. If people have belief and trust in what you are trying to achieve as a Company and how you are going about it, feel valued and rewarded fairly, and see opportunities to develop and grow in their role, I believe that combination creates a strong culture for company success.
For our customers, first, it’s about delivery – doing what we say we’re going to do and doing it to the best of our ability. Second, it’s about partnership. Our customers want us to challenge them, push boundaries, and ultimately deliver the best possible product. Our customers are at the forefront of the UAV industry and they expect us to help them shape its future.
Finally, for our shareholders who own the business, we must demonstrate our ability to deliver on our commitments and drive shareholder value.
What do you think is the most important quality of being a CEO of a listed company?
It doesn’t matter whether it is a listed company or a private company, you have to be authentic and you have to be able to communicate. Every stakeholder – employee, customer, supplier, or shareholder – as CEO, it’s my job to ensure people see, understand and connect with the vision of our business.
What is your favourite book?
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by Jon Gertner
What message do you want to send to our readership in Asia?
I conducted my first investor roadshow in Singapore earlier this year and I was delighted with the reception I and the Orbital UAV story received. It was also an opportunity for me to meet with our recently announced new customer in Singapore. As we continue to progress that contract, I’m looking forward to spending more time in the region and getting to know our growing investor community there.
YPB expands its anti-counterfeit footprint in SE Asia
The Chinese demand for Australian manufactured is high and product authenticity is of utmost concern.
However, it is becoming more and more difficult to determine the legitimacy of some dairy products.
Last year, YPB Group Limited (ASX:YPB) announced it had signed a 2+2 year sales contract with Nature One Dairy for the integration of its consumer engagement and serialised authentication solution, Connect, into its milk powder tins.
The idea was to ensure product authenticity and bring peace of mind to consumers.
That relationship has been going strong.
Nature One Dairy is one of Australia’s milk formula manufacturers accredited by the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA) for export to China.
Today, YPB announced that follow-up business from Nature One Dairy in Australia has been extremely positive.
The relationship with NATURE ONE DAIRY® has been strengthened with YPB announcing just this week that the group had confirmed the expanded usage of YPB’s CONNECT codes in its regional expansion through South-East Asia.
NATURE ONE DAIRY® (NOD) was YPB’s first dairy sector customer and it is a producer of nutritionally enhanced milk powders, as well as being a contract manufactures for a number of Australian and international retailers.
The group has confirmed that it intends to increase the utilisation of YPB’s CONNECT beyond the initial applications in China and domestically to its new markets of Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.
NOD has initially ordered an additional 10 million codes to be implemented over the initial Master Service Agreement (MSA) period.
The group’s South-East Asian expansion takes its product lines into more markets and additional product types such as senior and student nutrition targeted at the Vietnam market.
YPB’s chief executive John Houston highlighted the positive revenue impact from this development in saying, “NATURE ONE DAIRY® is a cornerstone client of YPB’s innovative CONNECT platform and we are delighted to extend our MSA to support its SE Asian expansion. We believe that not only will this add to revenue recognition, but also the awareness of this technology which is easily implemented on production lines to confirm product authenticity and encourage consumer engagement.”
Today’s news comes on the back of improved financial performance for the half year ended 30 June 2020.
YPB’s financial performance improved significantly in the first six months.
The net operating loss of $1.7 million was a 52% or $1.9 million improvement on the first half of 2019, and this could be attributed to timely cost actions that have set the company up with a lean effective cost base.
In terms of managing cash flow and gearing the group’s balance sheet to cope with the challenging conditions, the company was provided with $1.2 million of loans from an entity associated with chief executive John Houston, of which $600,000 was subsequently converted to equity following shareholder approval.
New equity totalling $800,000 was also raised post period end.
As at 30 June 2020, the company held $532,000 in cash and cash equivalents.
Two new contracts
YPB’s proprietary smartphone enabled technology suite allows consumers to confirm product authenticity and, for brands, that triggers consumers’ engagement.
Being able to identify product authenticity is a critical and more widespread issue than many are aware of, and it tends to be the high profile brands that are targeted with one of the notable examples being the sale of fake Penfolds top shelf wines in China in recent years.
On the score of China, this week’s release of the group’s result comes just days after the company announced two new important contracts in China that incorporate the group’s core technologies, a development that triggered a 25% share price increase.
However, COVID-19 side-tracked management’s execution of the company’s plans the first half.
As budgeted, revenue from Retail Anti-Theft (RAT) was zero during the period following the closure of that business late in the first half of 2019 and was the major factor in the 41% or $244,000 revenue fall compared with the previous corresponding period.
However, COVID-19 also crimped planned revenues, interrupting normal customer ordering and new business development.
On a brighter note, costs were down across the board, falling 52% as reported or down 30% adjusted for exchange rate (FX) movements.
Key factors contributing to the reduced costs included management’s major refocus and reshaping of its operations over the past two years, including further aggressive cost action and temporary staff salary reductions in the half as COVID-19 struck first in China and then in Australia and South-East Asia.
Directors absorbed their share of the pain, cutting fees to zero between April and December 2020 inclusive.
YPB steps up to assist in protecting suppliers and consumers during COVID
YPB has not just being proactive in terms of absorbing some of the COVID-related impact in terms of shareholder returns, but through its state-of-the-art technologies the company has looked to tackle the problem of counterfeit face masks.
Global counterfeiters are taking advantage of the worldwide panic, producing and selling fake face masks and Covid-19 testing kits.
Earlier in the year, Chinese authorities shut down more than 80 shops on e-commerce platform Taobao, run by Alibaba, for selling counterfeit masks, and police found 100,000 fake masks during a raid of an underground factory in Shanghai.
There has also been widespread reporting of the sale and distribution of fake face masks, usually counterfeit versions of the popular N95 variant made by 3M.
US Customs officials uncovered six plastic bags containing fake Covid-19 testing kits in a package sent from the UK on March 12.
However, with the virus showing no signs of slowing down, more fake sellers are likely to surface on e-commerce sites faster than they can be shut down, especially as people continue to stockpile masks or buy thousands at once to send to family and friends in parts of the world that have run out.
To help combat this, YPB is offering manufacturers of both masks and tests their technology free to help control the rapid spread of fake products.
Low sales costs translate into higher gross margins
Harking back to the group’s operational performance, cost of sales or direct product costs also fell significantly to $10,000 from $152,000, again reflecting the product costs of RAT in the prior period.
The mirror image of the low cost of sales was the very high gross margin in the June half of 2020.
The high intellectual property content of YPB’s revenues accounts for the 97% gross margin achieved during the period, up from 75% in the prior period where RAT gross margins of circa 30% dragged down the average.
Very high gross margins are likely to be sustained and are a key element in YPB’s plan to profitability, as profit leverage to revenue growth is extremely high with effectively every incremental revenue dollar falling straight to the profit line.
As revenue growth is achieved, the company’s profitability can improve rapidly as virtually all cost lines were down, many experiencing significant declines.
The biggest contributor to the first half cost fall was lower labour costs (aggregated as consulting fees, director’s fees and employment expenses) down $703,000 or 34%.
This was due in part to staff rationalisation, part permanent salary cuts, part temporary and voluntary salary cuts (April through June) and lower capital raising costs.
The group also received subsidies from the government of local jurisdictions relating to the various COVID-19 financial assistance packages in Australia and China, but the quantum was immaterial at $21,000.
The increase in Directors’ Fees related to active new business development work performed by a non-executive director, and this was paid in the form of equity (performance rights) not cash.
A notable increase in professional fees was driven by unavoidable experts’ reports necessitated by compliance requirements.
Momentum improving in China
The key operational development in the half was further new business momentum in YPB China, despite severe COVID-19 restrictions.
Although the potential is not yet fully proven, YPB China is unearthing significant new interest in YPB’s established T2 tracer-scanner technology driven equally by YPB’s excellent reputation in Tracer technologies and a heightened awareness of the need for product security and provenance.
The China operations were restructured last year with the cost base reduced significantly.
The sales function was more closely integrated with the skilled Australian sales team and new sales strategies and tactics were developed.
A key element of the strategy was to focus almost exclusively on channel partners – major suppliers of parts, packaging and other inputs to major branded consumer goods manufacturers both within China and internationally.
These intermediaries have privileged access to brands and offer leveraged – one to many – market access for YPB.
Key new channel partners were signed in the second half of 2019 and new parties came on board in the June half with management anticipating further new channel partners to emerge in the near term.
Some neglected prior YPB relationships have also been rekindled.
Structured account management, previously a key weakness of YPB, has been instituted and is expected to drive solid recurring revenues from these relationships.
Channel partners provide entry into high-volume industries
Via the channel partners, YPB now has an opportunity to gain access to very high volume industries, and the focus is now on driving volumes significantly higher.
This will take time, but the building blocks are being assembled for significant growth in YPB China.
Importantly, these opportunities relate primarily to the established T2 tracer-scanner technology for maintaining product security in supply chains.
The level of interest is indicating that there may well be a significant opportunity for this technology in China, as was identified at YPB’s inception, and that the conditions for market acceptance are now more favourable.
Importantly, the potentially bigger, consumer-facing opportunity of MotifMicro1 is well advanced in its path to commercial development and trials with PanPass, one of China’s largest security label printers.
COVID-19 has slowed both MM1 technical developments and high volume trials but major progress was made in the June half.
Release of a fully commercial MM1 product is anticipated late in December half, although it may slip into the first half of calendar year 2021.
Nevertheless, the preparation for commercial release and revenue generation from MM1 in China is well-progressed and it is expected to begin generating revenues quickly upon its release.
It is also worth noting that a new sales resource was added in Thailand towards the end of the June half, perhaps paving the way for further opportunities in South-East Asia.
Early progress in new business development has been encouraging and may bear fruit in the coming months.
During the June half, an innovative MM1 high security shrink wrap was developed with OPP Gravure Printing Co. Ltd in Thailand.
Further development activities have been severely hampered by COVID-19 in Thailand, but mutual interest remains in developing the relationship further.
Major advances with Connect and MotifMicro1
YPB has also made significant progress on the technical front particularly with its Connect and MotifMicro1 products.
In the June half, the new generation Connect 2.0 consumer engagement platform was released.
It is a newly architected, user friendly, lower cost of operation product that went live during the period.
The migration of existing customers from Connect 1.0 to 2.0 is ongoing and this is expected to result in lower hosting and other operating costs for YPB once the migration is completed by the end of 2020.
Major progress was also made on MotifMicro1 smartphone readability, culminating in the announcement on July 27 that the critical technical milestone of Android smartphone readability of the proprietary MotifMicro1 particle had been achieved.
Importantly, this technical step was also a key commercial milestone, with the addition of Android functionality to the existing iOS capability of MotifMicro, a major technical hurdle on MotifMicro’s commercial development path.
The Android capability is included in the second generation MotifMicro1 APP which was also released at the end of July.
Smartphone readability development is highly dependent on Artificial Intelligence skills and capacity, and our Bangkok team has advanced capabilities in this area.
COVID hangover remains, but December quarter growth is a prospect
COVID-19 and its aftermath continue to make estimating the timing of new sales revenues and cash receipts unusually difficult.
Nevertheless, present indications are that December half revenues should stabilise at June half levels, and possibly grow, but with a heavy weighting towards the December quarter.
The range of possible outcomes is wide and dependent on ‘normality’ resuming for YPB’s customers and their ordering patterns, as well as the timing of new business wins that in some instances are still being hampered by COVID-19 restrictions.
Costs are likely to rise somewhat in the December half as the temporary COVID-19 salary reductions ended on June 30, 2020.
However, other cost items are likely to remain relatively flat and will remain tightly managed.
Changed work practices across the business community will permanently reduce a range of costs and improve staff productivity.
Discussing the result and the group’s outlook for the remainder of the year and into 2021, Houston said, “H1 2020 demonstrates that YPB is heading toward becoming a successful, self-funding business.
‘’Our product suite is now diversified and commercially robust, and we have developed a cost effective yet highly skilled tech team in Bangkok.
‘’Our sales strategies and staff are at a new level of professionalism, and our cost management is very tight with the new norms of remote work and meeting permanently reducing a range of costs.
‘’YPB China’s market development progress with our established T2 tracer-scanner is very encouraging and it is possible that T2 in China alone could underwrite the company’s profitability should we be able to build further momentum in that business over time.
‘’As MotifMicro1 approaches commercial release, our market opportunity balloons many fold as it will be a globally unique, high-security, product authentication technology for the much larger consumer market.
‘’Market entry is well planned with early adoption partners in both China and Thailand established.
‘’Further, MotifMicro’s possible applications are only limited by imagination, and licensing MotifMicro1 for specific industries and geographies remains an important plank of the plan to realise its true value (although not in active development presently).
‘’Finally, I’m proud of and grateful for the dedication and sacrifices of our staff during COVID-19, and the whole team is intent on making YPB the success we know it can be.”
‘Buy Now Pay Later’ and Plant Based Meats: Roots Targets Two Mega Growth Markets
Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies Limited (ASX:ROO) has a strong pipeline of opportunities in the agricultural and cannabis sectors, and with a number of initiatives in play regarding developing technologies and entry into new markets there are several share price catalysts on the horizon.
This week it made inroads into two growing markets: plant-based meat and ‘buy now pay later’ (BNPL).
Roots’ entry into the plant-based meat market is unsurprising.
The plant-based meat market was estimated to be worth US$12.1 billion in 2019. It is expected to reach a value of US$27.9 billion by 2025.
Demand for plant-based meat alternatives is being driven by consumers seeking healthier dietary options and R&D efforts from health experts and food manufacturers.
Popularity for the products has also increased following the establishment of NASDAQ-listed Beyond Meat Inc. (market capitalisation of approximately US$7.8 billion), as well as an investment in alternative meat manufacturers by Cargill (America’s largest private company in the sector).
Following Roots’ recent placement to raise $2.5 million, the company is well funded to capitalise on a number of opportunities that it is aggressively pursuing through its new plant-based meats department.
The new department will be helmed by world leading researcher Professor Zohar Kerem, who has a long and distinguished career in food chemistry.
Roots is seeking to capitalise on recent Proof of Concept (POC) study results that show the positive effects Root Zone Temperature Optimisation (RZTO) technology on the yield of protein-based plants, an outcome that has prompted management to pursue opportunities presented in the lucrative plant based meat market.
Root Zone Temperature Optimization (RZTO) optimises plant physiology for increased growth, productivity and quality by stabilising the plant’s root zone temperature.
Commenting on these developments, chairman and chief executive Boaz Wachtel said, “We are extremely excited to have established a plant-based meat department to explore potentially lucrative opportunities in a rapidly growing sector.
“The company is also pleased to welcome Professor Kerem to lead the division, as he will be instrumental in screening opportunities to provide validation of the company’s technology in enhancing protein in plants.
“We have already achieved excellent POC (proof of concept) results using the key ingredients for meat alternative products and we will now commence work to aggressively pursue collaboration agreements and partnerships with manufacturers in the sector.
“As food security continues to becoming an increasing concern for developing and established nations, our broader business performance continues to perform well.”
BNPL is also an attractive market
While it works hard to establish itself in the plant based meat market, ROO is innovating elsewhere.
The company has executed a strategic agreement with major retail and marketing company Amir Marketing and Investing in Agriculture Ltd, (Amir) to promote and sell ROO’s proprietary Root Zone Temperature Optimisation (RZTO) technology in Israel.
The agreement also includes a ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ component, which will lower the barriers of entry for farmers and expedite uptake.
Amir sells a wide range of agricultural products and solutions to private farmers and agricultural businesses in Israel. The group has 25 retail stores and trade centres across all major agricultural areas in the country and service approximately 7,500 customers per annum.
Under the agreement, Amir will promote the ROO’s RZTO technology in its 25 stores and offer a ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ plan, which will allow consumers to spread payments for the technology over 12 to 24 months.
Amir will be responsible for cash collections and will make payments to ROO up to 60 days from the signing of a purchase order.
The offer is already gaining traction with a first sale valued at A$14,300 for an RZTO system sold to a Peonies grower in North Israel recently installed.
This development marks one of the first ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ plans introduced into the agriculture sector and highlights the company’s innovative approach towards business growth.
Roots executive chairman and chief executive, Boaz Wachtel said, “This agreement is a significant milestone for Roots and the agricultural sector more broadly, as it marks one of the first ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ payment plans for consumers in the space.
“The agreement with Amir provides the company with another sales channel into the Israeli market, as well as visibility for our solutions in over 25 retail stores throughout the country at little expense.
“The payment agreement we have struck with Amir will make our technology much more accessible to farmers and other growers throughout Israel as the payment terms align well with farmers’ receivable terms.
“As the world continues to transitions to more ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ plans for goods and services we will continue to pursue similar agreements with our distribution partners.
‘’We anticipate that this will assist in driving demand for our products in international markets.
Roots is well positioned with a strong supply chain and it has number of initiatives underway to drive sales domestically and in a number of international markets where RZTO is being well-received and accepted.
If Roots can achieve success in Israel using ‘Buy Now – Pay Later’ terms, the readily transferable model suggests the company can tailor this type of plan to other countries.
YPB’s new contracts give it a bigger foothold in Chinese markets
Having raised $650,000 to be used for the technical development of its Motif Micro and Connect Platform technologies, business development and marketing costs, product authentication and consumer engagement solutions provider YPB Group Limited’s (ASX: YPB) is in a strong position to continue its momentum.
This week, YPB announced that its China business has signed two important new channel partners: a high-volume pharmaceutical packaging supplier, effectively marking YPB’s entry into the China pharmaceutical sector and a well-established label printer with a broad, blue-chip customer base.
Combined, the two contracts are expected to add first year revenues of around $75,000, with possible upside in years two and three as YPB’s solutions are on-sold to the channel partners’ end customers.
YPB’s proprietary Brand Protection and Consumer Engagement suite allows Government and Brands to protect their assets and their consumers to confirm product authenticity; for brands it can trigger consumer engagement.
The combination of YPB’s smartphone authentication solutions and its SaaS Connect platform creates ‘smart’ product packaging, opening cost-effective, digital and direct marketing channels between brands and their consumers.
In fact, the company reported it had made excellent strides during the last quarter despite COVID issues relating to its progress with regard to the development of Android for Motif Micro (MM) as part of the new generation MM app.
These strides include the blossoming of its focus on the China market.
Three-year contract could open up pharma market
YPB China has signed a three-year contract to supply Suzhou-Haishun Packaging Material Co. Ltd with YPB’s proven T2 tracer-scanner authentication solution.
In a unique product innovation, Suzhou-Haishun will incorporate YPB tracer into an advanced foil application for a pharmaceutical customer in China with a YPB T2 scanner used to confirm product authenticity through the supply chain.
YPB will supply its proprietary tracer and scanners with minimum annual take or pay conditions, and with additional incentives for increased volume.
Suzhou-Haishun will promote the brand and consumer protection benefits of YPB’s solutions more broadly to its customers, and management anticipates growth beyond the contracted minimum value over time.
Suzhou-Haishun Group is a prominent, large pharmaceutical packaging and flexible packaging material (laminated foil and end products) manufacturer in China, producing cold-forming foils, tropical blister foils, suppository films plus lid stock of all types for pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food applications.
The group has a portfolio of major clients domestically and globally and is certified by the US FDA and DMF (Drug Master File).
The contract has a minimum total contract value of A$75,000. Further information about the contracts can be read in YPBs ASX release and on the YPB website ypb.io.
Beijing Haihui Printing also on board
A second three-year supply contract has been signed with Beijing Haihui Printing Co. Ltd which will integrate YPB’s product authentication tracer and scanner technology into anti-counterfeiting label printing for its customers.
Haihui is a well-established printing company that has been operating in China for over 20 years delivering integrated planning, design, production, printing and packaging.
The group specialises in the technical research and development, design and printing services of self-adhesive label identification, anti-counterfeiting label identification and various composite label identification.
Haihui provides labelling services for nearly 100 customers across a diverse range of sectors, and its customers include Nippon Coatings, CQC, Sinopec, ZFT, Duoduo Pharmaceutical, Tsinghua Unigroup, Sony Ericsson and French Andros.
Revenues will be based on purchase orders.
Commenting on the significance of these developments, particularly in light of the company’s revised sales strategy in China, YPB chief executive John Houston, “Securing two new, high quality China channel partners in new end-customer segments that are immediately revenue generating and with the sales process occurring through the difficulties of COVID-19 reflects the increasing effectiveness of our revised China sales strategy.
“Over the past ten months, YPB China has developed new channel partnerships in a number of large and lucrative sectors.
“We are now better at demonstrating the value, relevance and simplicity of our forensic tracer-scanner solution.
“The fact that major intermediaries are staking their own reputations by offering YPB’s solutions to secure product authenticity for their customers’ products is proving that there is indeed a significant market for high quality anti-counterfeit solutions.
“We’ve always had great technology, and after years of toiling we are now creating an effective sales machine.”
Indeed, YPB is steadily building a base of longer-term contracts and with strong client management the group can generate repeat orders and recurring revenues.
Despite market conditions YPB’s China operations have continued to adapt and improve by better contract management and increasing the incidence of “take or pay” provisions.
The potential to generate additional revenue streams in China is enormous, and YPB’s growing suite of channel partners provides leveraged market access to those very high volumes.
Sound channel management is expected to result in revenue growth and ultimately a profitable China business over time.
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