Founder Friday: Alan Besquin of Somewear Labs

Welcome to Founder Friday, where we learn about the people behind the Highway1 startups.

Today we’re getting to know Alan Besquin, CTO and co-founder of Somewear Labs.

Alan Besquin, co-founder and CTO of Somewear Labs

HWY1: Tell us a little about your background.
AB: I was born and raised in San Diego and went to school at Northwestern University, where I graduated with dual degrees in engineering. The first was in Manufacturing and Design Engineering, which is very much about product development; you learn about design thinking before you jump into the more technical aspects of product development. I paired that with a classical Industrial Engineering degree, which can be defined as systems engineering. A good example of applied industrial engineering is airline operations, understanding things like:

  • How do you actually manage reservations?
  • How many planes do you need in your fleet?
  • At which airports do they have to be and when?

It’s optimization, modeling, and operations research. This is useful for anything from manufacturing operations to financial analytics. There’s a lot of applied math; it’s very business-related.

What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far at Highway1?
One product can get you to market, but even before that product reaches market, you have to know what comes next. It’s gotten us thinking about how we move past our first product while we’re still designing it.

Since joining Highway1, have you found anything changing about your approach?
Coming from an academic design background, we always understood that human factors and designing for the user are important, but once you’re in it, it changes. The simple things you know become more difficult to apply. People often lose sight of the core user needs, but they’re critical to the success of any product.

What are your goals while you’re at Highway1?
We want to define how Somewear provides an experience beyond emergency scenarios. We started out with the idea of building a safety beacon; we’ve realized that’s great, but it’s what people expect. Emergency beacons exist. There’s a bigger opportunity to tap into other application layers and use our product as a broader communications tool rather than just an emergency one. So our goal is to hash out what the experience and application layer we can put on top of existing satellite technology really look like. We want to push ourselves into providing an awesome experience for our customers and set up a platform for us to expand into a larger audience.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get started in the hardware space?
Truly understand the need of your customer; really get it. You need to understand why you’re important to them and why your product solves a real problem for them. As soon as you’re not solving a real problem, you’ll realize people don’t actually care. If you have a legitimate problem you’re solving, you can build upon that, but if you don’t, it’s going to be much harder to build a product off what may seem like a great idea to you.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in hardware?
Time. I had this experience at Tesla and a year-long internship at Apple. It takes time to make things. To all startups: if you don’t have the money to push past the mistakes, you only really get one or two shots at doing something no matter how fast you want to push. Things are going to take time, because you don’t have that many people, and you can’t afford to mess it up.