FORT Robotics, a Washington Square-based startup that builds wireless functional safety systems for autonomous machines, is coming up on its one-year anniversary, and it’s seen quick growth in that time.
The company is a spinout of Humanistic Robotics, which was founded in 2004 and created devices to keep humans safe from landmines which were deployed in areas such as Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. Humanistic went on to develop devices and systems for autonomous machines, and last year rolled out FORT to pioneer its wireless communication platform.
“With people out of the drivers seat and machines being controlled by AI, there needs to be a way to ensure human safety,” FORT CEO and founder Samuel Reeves told Technical.ly during a visit to its Curtis Center office. “The industry has been there, and the tech is finally there, but there’s not yet a safety platform of record.”
Essentially, Reeves said, that’s FORT’s mission — to create a secure, end-to-end wireless platform that ensures human safety around dangerous machines.
When FORT spun out of Humanistic last year, it brought along about 1o employees. It’s since raised $4 million in seed funding and brought its staff headcount up to about 25. In 2020, FORT will likely raise a Series A round and continue to grow, Reeves said.
So what has Reeves learned in the first year of leading a quickly growing robotics company? We talked with him about running a startup that’s quickly growing. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Technical.ly: How did you figure out who you needed to hire?
Samuel Reeves: The team that came over had invented the core tech behind the platform and had started to sell it and make it. We had the bones of a team, now, we’ve beefed up pieces of the company we’ve already had — mechanical, technical, engineering. But we’ve brought in new functions we were sorely lacking, like marketing.
Every time somebody new shows up we realize how badly we needed them.
How does company culture change when you go from having 10 employees to 25?
It is a night and day difference in terms of the way we communicate. When you have 10 people, you can just kind of walk around and talk to people to get everyone up to speed and when you grow to 25, and you have all these people who don’t have a shared background. We had to get a lot more intentional about communication, and bring people along with the industry as we go.
Does a one-year-old company have core values yet?
They’re not yet formally codified, we haven’t written anything down yet, but these are the big two that keep coming to the surface. We’re merging innovation and agility with safety critical process, and secondly, aiming for customer centricity, or the need to be continually responding quickly in a high quality manor to customers. We need to figure out what our customers need before they ask for it.
We’re also operating with an ownership mentality, we expect people to act like you’re the owner of this job. It’s a place without ego, and decency is very important, as well as directness and authenticity.
What hiring lessons have you learned?
Finding really good people is hard especially now that we’re at a very low unemployment rate and tech workers are in such high demand. For us it’s been important to target the right people — you can target people all you want from big companies like Comcast, but unless they’re open to working at a startup, you’re not going to get them.
Another key thing has been oversharing during the interview process. We don’t have a recognizable name right now, so we are treating interviews as opportunities to engage with people, trying to answer a lot of questions, really bringing people into the story and letting them meet a lot of people who work here.
It takes some hustle — it takes three, five, seven, touches to get people to engage, people who are actively recruited, and that’s how it’s working in this industry right now.