Founder Friday: Mark Gray of Peeq Data
Welcome to Founder Friday, where we learn about the people behind the Highway1 startups.
Today we talk to Mark Gray, co-founder and CEO of Peeq Data.
HWY1: Tell us a little about your background.
MG: I owned and operated a software services firm called Industry Next for about eight years, working on video projects for clients like Comcast, Microsoft, eBay, AOL, and NBC. At Comcast, we helped build what’s now their X1 platform.
Where did the idea for this business come from?
I was really interested in the wearable market, but I noticed a lack of attachment to wearables; there were articles coming out saying most people stopped wearing them after 60-90 days. I was an early adopter, and I had this belief that people didn’t really want to be data scientists about themselves. Nobody actually wanted to share how little they’d walked yesterday, or how badly they’d slept. In many cases, it wasn’t really actionable, either: I might not have gotten a lot of sleep last night because my kids woke me up; there’s nothing I can do about that. That lack of a good use case was really sticking with me, and I found myself thinking: what am I really passionate about? I’m a soccer player, I’ve always loved sports, and I thought there was something in the fact that the people adopting wearable technology were the active ones. Maybe video could be that hook: we could capture people’s moments and give them a reason to stick with their wearable.
How did you find out about Highway1?
I’m a video software guy, and in the beginning, I was thinking about Peeq Data from a software perspective, assuming we’d work with a wearable maker already in the market. Later on as we started to develop our idea more, I thought we’d use beacons or something more cost effective. Very quickly as I started going through the research, I realized those weren’t going to work either, and in fact that there was no hardware anywhere out there that would do the job. During that process, while I was still thinking about what our technology was going to look like, I attended a hardware workshop by Marc Barros. Some PCH and Highway1 folks spoke at that workshop, and I thought “This is really good content; these people seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to hardware.” That’s how I learned about Highway1. It wasn’t until much later when we finally decided to do our own hardware that I applied — and here we are.
What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far at Highway1?
There’s been a bunch:
- I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of hands-on support we got. I knew there’d be a curriculum and that we’d learn things from experienced people, but I didn’t realize that Jon Carver would do CAD for us, that we’d have people review our PCBs, or that they’d help us with prototyping and do actual work for our company. Before coming to Highway1, we had a client using our sensor, and we learned a lot about what we wanted to change, which meant we had to spend real money with people to do that work to help us get there. It’s not just resources and facilities, it’s also about timing: if I wanted to 3D print something, I’d have to schedule it and be put into a calendar, and it’d be a job that took maybe two weeks to turn around. Here, it’s all compressed: I walk into the lab, I run the print, and I get it a few hours later. That’s huge, and I guess I didn’t expect that coming in.
- During our time here, we made a pretty big breakthrough on our manufacturing process. We came in with injection-molded parts for our enclosure, and through our conversations and redesign work here, we’ve discovered and are moving forward with a completely different manufacturing process that’s 30% the cost of the prior one; that’s a big win, especially at scale.
- As a serial entrepreneur, I have investment connections in the software world, but less so on the hardware side. It’s been nice to be here and meet folks who’ve already made it through the filter, who are coming to due diligence week or Demo Day because they want to invest in companies like ours.
What are your goals while you’re at Highway1?
A big part of it is to get to the next version. We had a pilot of our technology running with a client, and the program’s been about getting to the next version that we can aggressively take to market. We wanted not only to redesign the tracker, but the system of attachment and our branding to go along with it. The design partner matchmaking at Highway1 was really very helpful: we got introduced to IDEO, and they’ve become a strategic partner and an investor in the company.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to get started in the hardware space?
Something we’ve been learning a lot through this program is to get out there with something as soon as you can. Development is going to be an iterative process, and you want to get something out to your users as fast as you can because there’s so much learning. With hardware, you can do that with a low-fidelity prototype, which will save you a lot of time and money.