In each of our podcasts, we ask top hardware entrepreneurs the same 10 questions to better understand the challenges and best practices in starting a hardware company. In Season 2 Episode 2, Lemnos’s Eric Klein speaks with Kavodel Ohiomoba and Andy Kittler, co-founders of FieldVision, a Lemnos portfolio company that builds an autonomous camera that automatically films any team sport.
- Why did you start your hardware company?
Kav: My background was in sports and tech. After I graduated from college, I worked for a company that built a sort of “Moneyball” for various NBA teams. Our first client was the Golden State Warriors, and they have this unique blend of cameras. Those cameras track the XY coordinates of every player and the XYZ of the ball. I took that data set and said, “When Stephen Curry goes left of the ball screen, here’s what he scores, and when the Warriors run a small small with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, here’s what they do”. That was my foray into computer vision and technology. After that, I had this idea to bring that down to the youth level. The only way to do it was hardware and here we are.
- Had you worked on hardware projects before this startup?
Kav: Never an official hardware product. I bought Zigbee components, took them out to a field, and tried to use the Zigbee protocol to figure out locational data based on where I was. I tinkered with things and played around with various hardware stacks, but never even thought about fully building a hardware drive before this.
Andy: As a kid, I kind of built my own desktop and did some of those various weekend trips to RadioShack—just building kind of random stuff. I also had some experience at a hardware-software company called Theatro, which I helped start. We built a communication device for retail store associates, but I really didn’t have exposure to the hardware side of that development process.
- How did you decide what would be your first product?
Andy: I had been working at various startups and also been a coach for both youth and college lacrosse. When Kav started to speak to me about what was possible with computer vision, how we could build this camera, and what we could do with it, I immediately knew from coaching that there would be a huge impact on what coaches would be able to do for the teams in terms of development. But I also knew that there would be a lot of use for parents.
- What kind of engagement did you have with mentors, peers, or incubator colleagues early on?
Andy: We’ve worked really hard to build an advisory team where that has a deep set of experience in cameras, hardware, and manufacturing, which also includes Lemnos. Part of what led us here is that we knew that we wanted to fill that founding team gap with some deep experience. I’ve built out a bench that we feel like does that.
Kav: We have a set of advisors that we essentially approach every month or two, give them a pitch, tell them the story, and give the update around where we currently are. For us that’s been an incredible way to test our thesis and to validate our thinking and to incorporate feedback. We found folks who like sports, who are interested in the product natively. Our most key advisors, the Dean of Engineering at Wash U, started three or four computer vision companies, and he used to work for the New England Patriots. So he had this natural affinity to the idea and was more than willing to give up his time.
- Why did you choose to work with Lemnos?
Andy: When we started interacting Lemnos, we saw the potential for a great core partner there. As the conversation developed, it became apparent that we could develop a great working relationship with them and we could depend on them to add value from a hardware perspective to our business.
Kav: Specifically, the feedback was critical and candid, and it didn’t seem like that would change. You could see our trajectory change given that rate of feedback and given the hardware expertise that folks have here. The other thing that was awesome, and I think is a little understated from the Lemnos side, is the talent that you have here with the other companies and how the community reinforces itself. It’s such a huge value. I felt apparent that we would be in a place with a ton of smart founders and smart people, and that’s the kind of place you always want to be.
- What are the most important tools you use to make your product?
Andy: We’ve always been big believers in managing the data that we’re collecting—be that customer development data or data from optics experiments that we’re running. We do that through tools like Asana, etc. Also, we always knew about product requirements, documents and these types of things before we got to Lemnos, but here we have a specific template we could work off and a set of documents that adhere to a template with an MRD (Market Requirements Document), PRD (Product Requirements Document), and other docs. We run through these on an interim basis. These really helped synthesize all that feedback that we were housing in a giant project management tool.
Kav: Everything Andy said, plus one additional thing. As we’ve worked on our hardware, logging was an incredibly important piece of debugging in a way that isn’t quite the case in software. So to have a logging infrastructure that’s set up for your product, instead of for your needs, was just hugely crucial in terms of saving us time and narrowing down the search space for all the problems that we ran into.
- What has been the most surprising thing about this process of bringing your idea to the market?
Andy: There’s always going to be a lot of surprises, and things like technical surprises are just a part of the game. I think learning about what types of things come up from a hardware perspective was new for Kav and me. We kind of knew what a software development roadmap and timeline looked like, but you run through an entirely different set of constraints and parameters when you’re dealing with hardware.
Kav: I think the most surprising thing is how much is involved in bringing a hardware product to market. That may sound a little naive, but the amount of information you have to process, capture, keep in mind, and keep organized, especially if you’re building a team out, distributing units, and thinking about inventory—all things that I hadn’t thought about before—those were the most surprising things.
- What’s the hardest part of being a hardware startup founder?
Andy: I think all entrepreneurs are optimists to a certain degree and they tend to want to say, “We can do this and we can this in X amount of months.” When you’re dealing with a new field, which was hardware for us, there was a learning curve in realizing that the timelines were going to be extended because of the nature of hardware development.
- What advice would you offer to other founders?
Kav: I would say one of the most critical things for us is organization around information. It seems like such a simple thing, but having really good organization around information—whether it’s on Google Drive and whether that’s a process like finding a product design partner—being able to take that information and transmit from me to Andy or from me to the team, and streamlining that communication are just such important parts and save you so much time and energy.
Andy: Seek critical feedback. We’ve spent a lot time trying to cultivate advisors who knew more about the topics we were working on than we did and got their feedback on it. That feedback is totally invaluable to the growth process. The more you can open yourself to critical feedback on your product, your idea, your pitch, your process, your team, the better off you’ll be.
- What book are you reading?
Kav: Reading is therapeutic for me, but the thing that is most therapeutic is playing sports or shooting a basketball. I’ll put on headphones, go to the gym at 7:30 in the morning, and just shoot for and hour and a half. All of your problems just ooze out until you come into work.
Andy: There are a lot of things I like to do—relax and hang out with my wife—but getting outside is probably the most important. It’s kind of like what Kav said about shooting, riding a singletrack trail in the Bay Area is just a therapeutic experience.
To contact Eric Klein, you can reach him on Twitter: @lemnoslabs or email: email@example.com. To contact Kav, you can reach him K@fieldvision.co and Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @FieldVisionHQ.