How did axle ai get started?
I was head of product management for workgroup video software for 5 years at a public company, Avid Technology. While we had a great run there and built a $50m+ business serving broadcasters, I always thought there was potential for a much bigger market for video outside the broadcast industry. I pitched the CEO and COO at Avid on targeting this market with more open, affordable software. I never got the green light to do it because we were really focused on executing with the products we had. There were also even bigger aspects; Avid had a storage business of over $100 million tied to our software, and they didn’t want to risk any decline in that. When I left Avid in mid-2012, I had a real head of steam to do this and got together with Patrice and other colleagues to help make it happen.
This is not your first time founding a company—what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Tons of books and articles have been written about this, but I think it comes down to adaptability, the ability to think on your feet and the ability to work well with others. Also, the ability to watch expenses like a hawk!
How did you meet your co-founder? How do you work together?
Patrice and I had worked together before my stint at Avid, co-founding a software company called SeeFile, a photo management application aimed at photo labs and wedding photographers. We ran it together, but when I got the job at Avid, I stepped back into an adviser/investor role. Patrice ran the company for 5 years. It was a small business, but a great training ground for the work we ended up doing at axle ai.
How do you handle risk and competition?
You have to stay focused on the things that make your vision, company and products uniquely valuable. We’re starting to reach the point in our development where we have real competitors. In the early years, we were out promoting a new concept that nobody thought was practical. After we stuck around and grew year after year, industry players started to notice. Luckily, their lag gave us some time to establish our brand in the pro video space. Also, we did a lot of that using tools like trade shows and in-person panels, which were available pre-COVID-19. It would be a lot harder to accomplish now, so I’m glad we started when we did.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
We’ve had to accomplish a lot with a little because the company has been bootstrapped. For instance, nearly all of the company’s marketing materials—not just the logos, but even the website, brochures, promotional videos including our recent fun 30-second promo video (see below)—were done in-house by our team on a very modest budget. We staffed that video with production assistants and extras we recruited from Craigslist! And it came off great. When you see the “personal cloud” tossed in at the end, it’s me offscreen tossing it! (Side note: it was shot at the beginning of March and a couple of weeks later it would have been impossible to pull off with the COVID lockdown in New York).
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
It turns out that I’m pretty good at pitching our business to investors after a bit of practice. We were very customer-focused for our first 5 years in business. I knew from Avid and my photo industry background, that I could interact with customers pretty well and explain our technology in understandable terms. In fact, at Avid I ended doing most of that work for my customers and product lines. Angel investors and VCs always felt like a different world to me. When we participated in accelerators at Quake and Launch, we got a lot of experience presenting and meeting with tech investors. That has been very helpful.
What’s it like working with so many types of organizations (schools, large corporations, etc)?
It turns out that the people doing the video work actually have very similar roles and workflows, regardless of whether they work at a church, a sports arena, a political campaign or a major brand. They’re the people bringing the camera and gear, capturing the key footage, bringing it back on hard drives, editing it, and reviewing it with colleagues. So the work itself is very consistent. We interact with the companies very differently in terms of how purchasing happens. We buy-in from other departments and so forth, but our customers on the video team usually guide us in that process.
What is your superpower?
I’m happiest thinking outside the box and getting things done in new and interesting ways. Best of all, I enjoy accomplishing this as part of a team.
What’s your kryptonite?
Lack of sleep. I really need to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night and am pretty useless below those numbers.
What’s your team culture like?
We’re a great example of a pre-COVID virtual team. Our workforce is scattered all over the country and the world. We had originally planned to be more concentrated in Boston, but as time went on and we built out the engineering and customer-facing teams, it was clear that they were going to be wherever they needed to be. As it turns out, that worked out great and there was only minimal adjustment needed to adapt to COVID-19.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Hard to say, apart from major workaholism!
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Not much, based on my answer to the last question! I used to be a world-class competitive Scrabble player, but have let that lapse in recent years.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
In a recession, cash is king.
Do you have any mentors? If so, what have they taught you?
Yes, several of them are on our advisory board. They give me perspective on the bigger strategic picture, like market sizing, valuations and exit strategy. Then there are the really big picture items, like why are we doing this (as opposed to something else). As Steve Jobs used to say, “how big a dent can we make in the universe?”