Startup Stories

Podo on the Highway1 Experience

A startup from an early cohort looks back on their time in the accelerator

Every startup comes from somewhere: Podo began as three friends fresh out of college with a great idea for a product and not much else.

“The root of the challenge was that we’d never done it before,” recalls Podo co-founder and president Eddie Lee. “Branching out from that were specific challenges like making everything shrink small enough to fit within the size profile we wanted, which involved sourcing very specific parts, which we had no experience with.” Lee chuckles: “Hardware entrepreneurship is just question marks everywhere. You have to build your prototype, you have to take it to mass production, and knowing where to go and how to tackle those problems are huge unknowns. We wanted someone to point us in the right direction, and Highway1 is maybe the biggest hardware resource in San Francisco.”

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Most hardware products involve a software component, whether it’s onboard firmware or a mobile app, and Podo was no exception. “I remember going to Highway1 and meeting Brady, Jon, and Ryan,” says Lee. “We didn’t have much of a prototype. We had a physical model and a mockup of the app, and said ‘Please use your imagination and picture these two separate things as one integrated product.’ That’s where Highway1 helped us in the beginning. Getting the two things to converge meant there had to be space for the electronics, or the app had to take into account all the quirks of the physical product. There was a lot of prototyping: a lot of 3D printing and making test boards, and we slowly got to the point where it could all work together.”

As part of the Highway1 cohort, Podo never worked alone. “We basically lived at Highway1, so we spent a lot of time with anyone that was there. Everyone was super helpful. We were very close with Modbot, who were at the table next to us: Adam taught our mechanical engineer how to do continuous curvature, which gave us the nice curves on the Podo that you see today. He also helped with the magnetic cup enclosure we use. And whenever we have a crowdfunding campaign, people from our cohort help to spread the word. We run into them at networking events all the time; it’s just really nice to see everyone succeed.”

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Every Highway1 cohort takes a trip to Shenzhen to tour various manufacturing facilities and get a firsthand look at how things are made there. For Podo, says Lee, the trip “gave us more confidence when we started going there ourselves after Highway1 was over. Having been there, we knew some of the local customs, how to interact with factories, how to take a bus and not get lost, that sort of thing. China wasn’t a scary, mysterious place: it started to feel like home.”

What was Podo’s main takeaway from the Highway1 experience? To Lee, it’s the sense of community, both for the team and between the other startups: “The way people helped each other out and stuck together is something that I feel stayed with our company as we hired people and grew ourselves. There was an attitude of really getting your hands dirty and also asking for help when you needed it without shame. Highway1 taught us how to feel out what it takes to get stuff done; we took that feeling with us as we built our team.”

Highway1 is opening applications for its eighth class in exactly a week. Read all about the specifics of the program and get ready to submit your application!

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Highway1, a division of PCH, is the premier hardware startup accelerator, located in San Francisco. We look for great hardware startups, with an exciting business idea and a compelling prototype. We help you design products that deliver real value to customers, that are delightful to use and that can be manufactured at scale.
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