Founder Friday: West Askew of Flo Labs
Welcome to Founder Friday, where we learn about the people behind the Highway1 startups.
Today we talk to Flo Labs co-founder and CEO West Askew.
HWY1: Tell us a little about your background.
WA: I studied biomedical engineering at Santa Clara University before going to work in medical devices for a few years with a startup called Avinger. I left to join Google[x] on a secret project that turned out to be the Life Sciences program, which was working on things like the smart contact lens, robotic surgery, and a wearable for non-invasive cancer detection.
Where did the idea for this business come from?
It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for a while, even since my days at Avinger, which was the first time I built a crude version of what we have now. I still have that prototype today; back then, it was just a simple GPS beacon. I set it aside for a while until I met my co-founder and head of software, Shane Farmer, at Google. The Life Sciences project within Google[x], now Verily, had an idea of pointing Google’s strong skillset of understanding large, complex datasets toward the large, complex dataset that is the human body that I thought was really interesting. Being passionate about the outdoors, I noticed there was an opportunity no one was really thinking about: that the outdoors and outdoor activities stood to gain immensely from higher-resolution data — we just had to build the sensors to collect it. Shane and I started talking about it and built another prototype that was a little more serious; that’s when I knew it could be done, and that we had the right team to do it.
How did you find out about Highway1?
I’ve lived down the street for seven years, so I watched Highway1 be built. I also met Brady — back when I was still at Google — but I can’t remember how we were introduced. When I first started exploring accelerator programs and hardware investors, Highway1 was at the top of my list.
What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far at Highway1?
Our team has built hardware professionally, which I think isn’t usually the case with companies that come through the program, so we weren’t necessarily expecting to need or have a whole lot of hardware help, but that’s certainly been the case. The staff has been super supportive across the board with firmware, electrical and mechanical engineering, you name it; when you’re a startup, you have limited resources, and if you can expand them quickly with little to no overhead, it’s a huge advantage. The general amount of support from the community and staff has been amazing — the staff truly does care. I was skeptical going in; I’ve heard at some accelerators you’re just one of the many dozens of teams going through the program and fighting for resources, but here it’s very clear that the staff really cares and wants you to succeed, which I think is pretty cool.
What are your goals while you’re at Highway1?
The goal is to launch a beta version of our product: to build 100 devices and hand out 50-75, and we’re on track to do that very soon.
As someone who’s been in the hardware space for a while, how have you seen it change in the last few years?
There are a few ways:
- There are so many more resources for people who don’t have any hardware experience and want to start: more places to prototype quickly, and so many more methods for doing it.
- The cost of rapid prototyping technologies like laser cutting and 3D printing are dropping; it’s a race to the bottom. You can have a mini prototyping shop in your garage for probably less than $10K, where a similar setup a few years ago would’ve cost you $100K.
- The cost to manufacture things in prototype quantities has significantly dropped, and the speed at which you can do it has significantly increased.
All of these things are pointing in the right direction toward a growing hardware community.