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 3, Lemnos’s Eric Klein speaks with Jon Hollander, CEO, and Eric Gregory, VP of Engineering, of Seriforge, a Lemnos portfolio company.
Why did you start your hardware company?
Jon: My process was kind of unusual. I was at an art exhibition on mathematical knitting. This mathematician, she had knitted these incredible three-dimensional shapes out of yarn, Klein bottles, Möbius strips, all these really complicated three-dimensional curved manifolds. I thought that she had just reprogrammed this machine that they used to make fighter planes or racecars and just reprogrammed it to make these mathematical sculptures. I was talking to the artist and she’s like, “No, I did these all by hand. I think everything like that is made by hand, to be honest.”
I didn’t believe her. I didn’t really know too much about the field, so I went online and started looking for a YouTube video of this mysterious machine that was being used to make all these carbon fiber parts. It didn’t exist. It was General Electric making fan blades by hand—1,700 pieces of carbon fiber, 300+ hours to make these fan blades. I thought, “This is insane. This is a 21st century material. You’re literally making things that go into space and you’re doing it using the same skill set as 19th century, pre-industrial revolution craftspeople!” Where are the machines that they use to make these composite parts? I thought, “This would be an interesting problem to crack.”
Had you worked on hardware projects before this startup?
Jon: Growing up, my family had a small aluminum foundry, so it was aluminum die casting, giant presses and furnaces in a machine shop. I grew up around machine tools and factory manufacturing processes, at least on the metal working side. We were always mechanically facile. I studied electrical engineering in college, and I went to law school as well. But I always like building stuff on the side. I bought a CNC mill and made widgets and things on the side just for fun.
Eric: Like Jon, always a tinkerer. Always built a lot of small things, mostly electronics. I tinkered a lot. Even my background formally is software. I’ve always dealt in the hardware/software realm.
How did you decide what would be your first product?
Eric: When Jon started down this process, I kind of watched from the sidelines. I was really intrigued. It was in early 2014, when he called me and said, “I need to show you what I’m working on.” He showed me the CAD models of this machine. I said, “God, does this really work?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “That’s fantastic. This is something I would leave my job over.” Through that year, we worked on the idea together. We actually dove into the business because we really wanted to understand the market and make sure we weren’t creating a technology that didn’t have a place. We convinced ourselves that there was a real need for this. And by fall, I said, “I need to do this,” left my job, joined Jon, and we founded the company.
What kind of engagement did you have with mentors, peers, or incubator colleagues early on?
Eric: Fortunately, we have good