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Something that we do internally, we name our use cases after the people who needed our drones that day, so we have the Tamir Rice use case. Okay. We have the Philando Castile use case. We have the Walter Scott use case. Sometimes the bad guy is the cop and the cops know that. They eagerly anticipate a day where our technology will assist them in weeding those guys out.
Jay Clouse: 00:00:23
The startup investment landscape is changing and world class companies are being built outside of silicon bound. We find them talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to upside.
Eric Hornung : 00:00:51
Hello. Hello, hello and welcome the upside podcasts first podcast, finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Hornung and I’m accompanied by my co host, Mr. Airport selfie himself, Jay Clouse.
Jay Clouse: 00:01:03
Ah, you’ve caught onto my trend.
Eric Hornung : 00:01:07
Caught on. I. I’ve been trying to ignore it for so long. I’m trying to make it a thing.
Jay Clouse: 00:01:12
Every time that I fly anywhere from the Columbus airport, John Glenn International Airport, I go up to the nearly broken kiosks that have what is called a postcard feature where you can take a essentially selfie with this kiosk and it frames it with one of like 16 stock images that are all bizarre bad looking frames I think that are just ripped off of designs of postcards. But I do it every time.
Eric Hornung : 00:01:41
Do you think that you’re the only person who does that?
Jay Clouse: 00:01:44
I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.
Eric Hornung : 00:01:46
It’s true. So what really bothered me is like we put out some great content on twitter, like, oh, there’s this great thread with all this detail and thought and you post the stupid airport selfie and it gets like 25 likes.
Jay Clouse: 00:02:01
You got a lot of engagement and the camera itself is so broken. It seems like it’s an old webcam. It looks like inside this thing and there’s no way to adjust the height of this camera and all the chaos just seems like the camera has broken and is facing almost down to floor. So for me to even get in that photo, I have to contort myself and look up at this thing so.
Eric Hornung : 00:02:24
it doesn’t, it doesn’t. No, it doesn’t look like it doesn’t look natural at all. It looks like you’re like, I don’t know, like there’s a scanner like facing the floor and you are literally getting under it. It is, it is. It’s fantastic.
Jay Clouse: 00:02:35
The like a voluntary mugshot at the airport. So if you guys are interested in seeing that, find me on Instagram.
Eric Hornung : 00:02:41
Yeah. So where were you flying?
Jay Clouse: 00:02:43
Flying to Vegas for CES. Where we’re sitting here still at the Blue Audio Podcasting suite.
Eric Hornung : 00:02:52
Yeah. We are here in Vegas and our interview today actually has to do a little bit with flight, doesn’t it?
Jay Clouse: 00:02:58
Our interview today is with Leah La Sala who is the co founder and CEO of Astral AR. Our Astral AR builds drones that stop bullets and save lives regardless of visibility. They work with public safety officials, SWAT rescues schools and other large venues. Their drones are unbiased by design on behalf of public safety and they’ve given full insight into their technology to the ACLU and they’ve been endorsed by black lives matter along with the American College of Emergency physicians. This is intense sounding technology. Eric.
Eric Hornung : 00:03:34
This is not light. This is not. This is like a real issue that it feels like, like I feel like a lot of times we’re solving here and upside, you know, a marketplace that can be more efficient or cuddle clones. It’s like something that’s light and airy and makes you feel good. This is something that’s scary and real and a big point of contention in the United States today.
Jay Clouse: 00:03:53
Yeah, and I love this concept of, you know, so, so many people are heavily in the gun control debate, right? And the foregone conclusion seems to be we need to craft public policy to change this. And Astral AR is basically saying regardless of public policy, we’re going to do something about this and it’s through a solution which on its surface sounds crazy and bizarre saying.
Eric Hornung : 00:04:22
Insane, absolutely insane.
Jay Clouse: 00:04:23
If you look at their website, all their messaging, we build drones at stop bullets. Crazy.
Eric Hornung : 00:04:28
Yeah. There’s a video of like one of the drones taking a 50 caliber round and it just exploding. Yeah, the bullet obliterates yeah, it’s. I still don’t really get it and I think that that’s something that hopefully we learn a little bit more about the interview.
Jay Clouse: 00:04:42
Hopefully. The company is based in Austin, Texas was founded in 2015 by Leah and her co founder Jose. They’ve raised $650,000 in convertible debt to this point from friends and family backstage, capital treehouse capital and Monero.
Eric Hornung : 00:04:58
So it’s interesting you mentioned that they’re endorsed by black lives matter and
Jay Clouse: 00:05:02
American College of Emergency Physicians
Eric Hornung : 00:05:05
American College of emergency physicians that are working with police and they’re in a very pro gun state in a very liberal town in a pro gun state. So it’s. I feel like that location has to matter for astral.
Jay Clouse: 00:05:20
I would think so. And you know, we’re sitting here in Las Vegas where there was the tragedy at the country music concert. I remember reading an article that was kind of an op Ed from a physician at one of the hospitals here in Las Vegas after that event happened and it was a very graphic description of the human body in the wake of this type of automatic weapon being used because what they talked about it was, it was an argument for gun control in public policy, basically saying in situations where there are shooting victims, handguns cause a different profile of damage than automatic weapons and it described what automatic weapons due to the organs, the different pieces of the body that physicians are simply can’t do anything about because it absolutely destroys them and there’s no way to reconcile it. It was horrific describing this where they said, you know, I’ve been on call when handguns had been used and there’s an entry wound, there’s an exit wound. We can fix that with automatic weapons. Organs explode and there’s just nothing we can do about it.
Eric Hornung : 00:06:27
So I think that kind of sets the stage for what is going to be a pretty intense interview. Are you ready for this?
Jay Clouse: 00:06:32
Yes. Let’s do it.
Eric Hornung : 00:06:35
Hey guys, wanting to cut in here real quick and let you know about something. Jay and I have been getting ready behind the scenes in 2019. When we started this podcast, Jay and I said that you the listener, will have an opportunity to learn in real time to think like venture investors with us as we meet a wide variety of personalities, examined a wide range of industries. Well, now we’re going to share something new and it’s a little different. This new idea is called the update. It’s a carefully curated quarterly publication of editorials, trends, and stories happening outside of Silicon Valley. Jane and I will be writing stories about what we’re learning about on the podcast. Have guests editorials on interesting topics and share news and updates from our podcasts and some cases we may even share some exclusive content or first looks. Our goal is to stay at the cutting edge and of course bring you along with us. We’re super excited about it and know you’re going to love it. If you want to be the first to hear about our Q one launch in subsequent letters, go to upside dot FM slash update to get on the mailing list.
Jay Clouse: 00:07:43
Leah , welcome to the show.
Leah La Salla : 00:07:45
Hi Guys. Thank you so much for having me.
Eric Hornung : 00:07:47
Great to have you here here at CES.
Leah La Salla : 00:07:48
Yup. You know it, we want a free booth, Indie Go Go 2019 innovative product award
Jay Clouse: 00:07:53
We got a free booth too, but it wasn’t through anything as impressive
Leah La Salla : 00:07:58
You know, it is what it is.
Eric Hornung : 00:07:59
Yeah. So we looked to start here on upside with a background history of the founder. So can you tell us about the history of Leah?
Leah La Salla : 00:08:05
I can tell you a little bit. Let’s see. I just work here. I know, right? So I am the CEO and technical founder of Astroglia ours, but 15 years as a software developer. Before that I spent five years as a fed. Yeah. So that helps a great deal in navigating our way through the bureaucracies that we, uh, that we have to deal with in order to get our technology into play.
Jay Clouse: 00:08:23
Can you talk to me more about that? I mean, then I have some ideas, but what does that look like
Leah La Salla : 00:08:27
Bringing our technology into play or just to briefly touch upon my, uh, my co-founder is Jose. He’s not here with me today, but uh, he is the only member of the air force I’ve ever met who’s been shot and this is totally relevant. Okay. I know, right? Look at that face. Yeah. Yeah. No, he’s a tough guy. He wanted me to, but he’s a tough guy. Iraq, Afghanistan, air force veteran offsite communications.
Jay Clouse: 00:08:44
Can you tell me more about your time as a fed and what that role looks like and what it’s
Leah La Salla : 00:08:48
not really, but yes I can. I was IRS. Yeah, actually I was a compliance services and collections operations. I was the person who saved you from the long and remarkably sticky fingers and Uncle Sam. I was the person who would intervene and try to get you set up with a payment plan or deferred or. Yeah, you get the idea. So my, like I said, my ability to navigate bureaucracies is non par.
Jay Clouse: 00:09:08
And so where did you grow up? You’re in Austin now?
Leah La Salla : 00:09:10
I am from Chicago. I’m actually from a small town just outside of Chicago, which is actually more violent than Chicago. It’s called Rockford, Illinois. You may have heard of it. Yeah. In in the Batman series. Gotham. Yeah. Rockford is blood haven.
Eric Hornung : 00:09:24
I, I actually lived in Chicago for a little bit, so I am familiar.
Leah La Salla : 00:09:27
Yeah. Rockford. It’s a, it’s a great. He’s. Yeah, he’s all back in a way, right? Because she might mug me. You never know, you know, a Rockford. It’s a great place to be from.
Eric Hornung : 00:09:36
Before we dive too far in the interview, there’s a what looks to be a cast on your arm.
Leah La Salla : 00:09:40
That is correct. So the day that I flew out to CES, I managed to fall off of a, of a four and a half foot loading bay door, landed flat on my palm, broke my wrist, got on the plane, and here I am. And the reason for that is, uh, I will see a doctor. I will see a doctor after the event and I have to be here because this is more important. Quite frankly, people are dying.
Eric Hornung : 00:09:58
I really appreciate that dedication because that’s not even a real cast. That is
Leah La Salla : 00:10:03
a bandage, today’s bandage, ace bandage and Ibuprofen on a broken wrist because you know what, there are worse things in this world quite frankly as far as all things are considered, I got off easy and I’m grateful for that. So here we are.
Eric Hornung : 00:10:15
Tell me about how you came to this. Let’s talk about the mission before we get to the idea and the technology and the business itself.
Leah La Salla : 00:10:22
How do we get to drones that stop bullets? Yes. How don’t you get the right. So actually we were building drones to begin with, but we did not have this focus right off the bat. We had some vague design, some vague aspirations that really coalesced when someone asked us if we could make our drones somehow help the people in Baltimore. So lots of. How were you making drones? Give me, give me back there. So. Okay. So I had a. I had ruined the IRS. You were to. No, 15 years as a software developer, right? Fifteen years. I program in nine languages. I, my students are typically a senior developers at this point. Yeah. And so what actually happened was I was shoved off the glass lift I and a couple of my, uh, of my women friends, because we all know each other, right? We’re all talking the same slack channel. No, really, that’s the thing. And there’s one woman on every team, so we’re kind of like a spy network. It’s great. So a couple of my closest friends had also been laid off and just at the same time and the three of us together, like I have an idea, I just so happened to be, well a friend of mine dropped a link to a pair of AR to an AR adviser, dropped it, just somebody come up with an excuse to use these. And I just so happened to be looking at a, at a library for modifying a parrot AR drone programmatically. And as I have an idea, somebody else dropped a link to an EEG monitor. Electrodes, telegraphic monitor pretty spike emotive. We managed because because we were, you know, we had a university connections at that time, University of Maryland. We were able to secure a very small grant from the University of Maryland that purchased the first hardware, the AR visors, the EEG sensors, and the drone, and the very first thing that we built was a drone that you fly with your mind in augmented reality. So you think bank left and the drone banks left? Yes. This is all subject to patent. Yes, it absolutely works. It is extremely accurate. I can strafe my co-founder within an inch from his face without touching him. I know, right? Yeah. I think bank left and the drone banks left. I’m probably the most skilled pilot that we have because I built it. It took me about six weeks. It was lots of fun. I got to tell you, it was less fun for my co founder because his job was to catch the drone. I was learning how to fly it as I was inventing it. It was kind of an adventure. I assure you. My bears, the scars of being used as a shield.
Eric Hornung : 00:12:25
When you think bank left in that scenario, you thinking bank left three feet. Are you thinking bank left to a certain location?
Leah La Salla : 00:12:31
You’re because you see from the drones perspective and augmented reality, you think left until you don’t want it to go left anymore. It’s, it’s extremely intuitive. You think of where you want the drone to go the same way you think of where you want your body to grow. That’s really the best analogy I can give you is that it’s kind of like if you just grew a second body and one of you can fly smaller. I mean no really honestly you get. I have to say like there’s gonna be a whole, like weird field of psychology is going to be created as a consequence of this because you get real weird about the drone. Like you get offended when other people touch it. Just reach out and grab it. Like you want to slap them. Like get your hands off my drone,
Eric Hornung : 00:13:11
My appendage to attach the right.
Leah La Salla : 00:13:13
This is a part of. It’s like it’s a, it becomes a part of your body and somebody just, you know, and you just, you just want to slap the shit out of him. Like, can I say that? Can I say that? Whatever you want. Oh, don’t tell me that. Right. I will turn the air purple. I’m a software developer. Come on.
Eric Hornung : 00:13:26
One thing you did say earlier is glass cliff. It’s not a term I’m familiar with. Can you explain what that is a little bit?
Leah La Salla : 00:13:33
I mean. Okay, we’re going to go into the weeds. It’s a. This is a. If you’re familiar with the work of Dr. Margaret Rossiter. Her field of work is on the situation of women professionally and one of the terms that she invented was the term glass cliff, that a woman will rise in her career to a certain point. She will become. Once you get past a certain point, you will be the only way to proceed past that point is to accept roles that are extremely precarious that no man would want is basically it’s a glass cliff waiting for you to fail and shove you off. It’s not a glass ceiling, the glass cliff, and you will eventually inevitably be shoved off the glass cliff. So at this point I was about his height light I had reasoned about is high in my career as one can without entering into the c suite. I was strictly engineering, did not want to go into the, into the business aspect of this at all. I was originally our CTO is my original two co-founders churned out. Both of them were women. Neither one of their husbands wanted them to be involved in a startup. I swear to God.
Jay Clouse: 00:14:26
So you just mentioned that you were originally the CTO. Now you’re in the CEO role, at what point did you see yourself being an entrepreneur?
Leah La Salla : 00:14:36
So I had a really hard time. First off, I had a really hard time convincing the other two that this was real or could be real if you’re. If you’re familiar with the analogy of the pig and the chicken, the chicken and the pig that story. Okay so there a. there’s a startup analogy above a pig and chicken and the chicken comes up with this idea and we should start a restaurant. We’re going to call it bacon and eggs and I’ve got all these spreadsheets and everything’s going to be great and I’ve got it all worked out in the margins. Going to be perfect and let’s do this. Let’s do this and the pig is like, I dunno man, as far as I can tell if we do this, I’m committed you’re involved. Okay. Yeah, I was committed. They were involved. So I’m a disabled single teenage mother of color in both of them are. Yeah, it’s totally different situations for them, for me to, to be, to throw myself into this was has always been. I have absolutely nothing. Nothing between me and the ground. There is no safety net and no one is going to catch me. And so that was the situation that I was facing. I was our CTO originally because I was the most skilled. Technically the two of them have, you know, I mean both of them are excellent engineers, engineers, but both of them have other different strings, much stronger than me in a lot of business ways and I ended up, I just, I took us seriously and they did not.
Eric Hornung : 00:15:46
So we left kind of the story with you developing a augmented reality piloting system and somewhere in the middle what we get the drones at the end, but somewhere in the middle. What something happens that you know where we
Leah La Salla : 00:16:01
We pivot, pivot, so it started with Baltimore, it started with Baltimore. Think of a way to help the people in Baltimore and that’s when we started thinking about shield drones. Okay. That’s when we started thinking about drones that that would somehow heal people. The original design for this was just ridiculous and I’m not even going to talk about it because it’s just so just don’t ask. Okay. But it was inspired by the protesters in Hong Kong. Hands up, don’t shoot. Okay. Where they were trying to shield themselves from incoming tear gas and then I had the brainwave of Mike Brown would not have happened if the cop had known that he was unarmed to begin with. There would have been and also if there were some way to shield him to shield that situation. You just there. There is. You think about it. You think if you. If you break down the problem, you debug it. If you will break it down to its smallest possible to its smallest possible size. What you find is that the problem is the bullets. You need a wall. What you need is a wall. You need one now. You need one right now. That’s what inspired the, the shield drones and finally settling on the armor that we were able to source less than half a gram per cubic centimeter capable of stepping up to a 50 caliber round. So as you can imagine, a 50 cal will knock the drone completely out of the sky or you would. You would think we have designed the arbor in such a fashion that this is not necessarily the case and anything smaller than that is not going to. Is Not going to take the drone down. How do you source armor? There is a woman researcher, all of us women, we all know each other. There’s a woman researcher in North Carolina who happens to be working on extremely lightweight drone are extremely lightweight armor. That’s where we first started with this. One of my interns just so happens to have been a student of a researcher in Columbia who is working on very similar armor. It’s actually lighter. It’s not quite. Doesn’t have quite the same level of strength for impact and things like that, but it is lighter and in the case of the police we don’t necessarily expect them to come to to come up against a whole lot of howitzers, so we are in favor of the lighter weights armor that is perfectly capable of stopping the arms that they we expect them to run into. I want to make sure I’m tracking on timeline. What was the timeline for starting with the piloting software and then when did you pivot towards the. We pivoted, I want to say early 2016. It was south by southwest actually. That was when we actually met the police. We showed them what we had built and they asked us to adapt this to become a flying tri-quarter.
Jay Clouse: 00:18:13
What’s the tri-quarter?
Leah La Salla : 00:18:15
You know, like Star Trek, tri-quarter. I’ve never watched star trek get out. You’re going to have. This is my show. I’m so used to being the CEO. I’m all, you’re fired. Get Out. Dammit. Dammit. I can’t fire fine. I quit. Seriously. A tri-quarter flying. I’ve never had anyone respond with. I have no idea what that is. I don’t know how to help you.
Jay Clouse: 00:18:37
Just help me explain the form factor, like how it plays into the story
Leah La Salla : 00:18:40
A tri quarter is a handheld device that scans a situation or a scenario and relays situational awareness to who ever the user is usually of a medical nature, but sometimes of just simply a situation. Are there people in the, in the area, what’s going on?
Jay Clouse: 00:18:53
And so what did you show them at south by southwest? What was the form factor of the technology?
Leah La Salla : 00:18:57
Then they actually guided that conversation because we brought up Baltimore that we’ve been asked and we were working on this, this, you know, the shield idea and they’re like, you have to talk to the cop who flies drones. And that was uh, I, I can’t say his name, protect his privacy, but we’ve been working with them ever since. They told us exactly what they needed us to build. We had technology already in hand that proved to them that we were capable of, of producing what they were asking for. So we built it and we showed it to them one year. Exactly, one year later we showed it to them. And have you ever been picked up off the ground and hugged by a cop? I mean hug, bear, hug. Twirled. I’ve barely been hugged by anybody I can. Oh, okay. All right. So. Okay. So I, I got twirled by a SWAT cop. Okay. I got to tell you, that’s intense. These guys are. When you think about what they have to go through, quite frankly, the psychological fortitude that is necessary. One of the things that we did for this officer, um, and we did this expressly because quite frankly, we value him, we value his life and we value the work that he does in ways that are hard to describe. He is the cop who gets called out to find little dead girls when they drowned in Lake Austin. That is what, that’s amongst the things that this officer has to do. This child, this, this poor child, she drowned over Memorial Day. She was six years old. She fell overboard. People were drunk. No one noticed and she drowned. It was a tragedy. It was an absolute tragedy. It was a complete accident. You know, God bless her parents, the officer was tasked with with recovering what he could, this individual, this child, she drowned in about 100 feet of water. There were fully grown pecan trees down there. If he goes down there, he’s going to join her. So he asked if
Jay Clouse: 00:20:52
Now that you’ve been so close to law enforcement, I would love to take a, a very shortest side here to hear from your perspective what life is like for these individuals now because some, some bad actors are what? Get a ton of publicity and now there’s a ton of public belief. What does that feel?
Leah La Salla : 00:21:09
So the cops. So let me preface this with the cops that we work with are there first off their swat cops. These guys, they’ve seen it all. They have never killed anyone and all they want is to make it to retirement. With that record, unbroken. Okay. That’s that. That is one of their main objectives in life. Okay. These guys, there is a metal that the cops can get for basically for not beating the shit out of people. Even if they could get away with it. These guys have that metal. Okay. Which is saying an awful lot. These guys are. They’re extremely tough. I mean that’s their job, but they will hurt you unless they. Unless you make them and also yes, they can read your mind. Lying to the cops is completely off the table. Just don’t even try. That is my advice. They are aware that there are some bad actors. They are absolutely in favor of getting rid of them. They. They know what the price is that that is. They’re acutely aware. Every time there is a police involved shooting. They are desperately hoping that the individual who was who was shot or killed will have been in possession of a firearm, will have been in in a fence of the law and it. It affects them psychologically in ways that are difficult to describe. They’re hoping for this because they, they, they have a shared sense of responsibility. You may have heard of the Blue Line. It is a real thing. They have a shared sense of responsibility and that is very obvious and it’s very. We have to be very careful to make sure that they’re aware that we’re not judging them, that we understand that they don’t want to have to do this, but they will if they have to.
Jay Clouse: 00:22:31
For the listeners, what is the Blue Line if they haven’t heard of it?
Leah La Salla : 00:22:33
Okay, so the Blue Line is a. The only thing that stands between society and chaos is a thin blue line is the same. The Blue Line is sometimes it’s called the Blue Wall of silence. It’s not. These guys are not the blue wall of silence. That’s not what. That’s not how they role, but that is also a thing that can happen when you have too many bad actors. They will work together and that can be a thing that makes these guys, I mean it puts them at risk it. They know that all they want to do is they just want to come home tonight. That’s all they want to do and toward that I didn’t get shot so it must’ve been a good day. No one died on my watch. It was great. That’s these are. These are their goals, their, their, their landmarks and for example, our drones are incapable of discerning the difference between friend and foe. They’re not capable of distinguishing the difference between the police and the police and there are some very good reasons for this. First and foremost, if a bad guy gets a hold of one of our drones and it can tell who is or isn’t a cop, all that bad guy has to do is stand outside Walmart. If that guy wants to do a cop, here is the opportunity. This is how he’s going to do it. We’re not going to help that guy. Do that thing, so we do not allow the drones to be that smart. They are like a drug dog. Okay. If if you walk past a drug dog with a kilo of cocaine in your hand, that dog’s gonna light up and it doesn’t care if you’re a cop. It doesn’t know any better. The drones, we do not allow the drones to make decisions that need to be reserved for human intelligence. Like for example, the use of a Taser or pepper spray or any other competition, escalation of force. We do not allow the drones to make those decisions under any circumstances. That is reserved for the police officer. Defensive, yes, it is just a shield. Now, the thing that our groans do for them is very important. They know that the drones not going to let anything happen to them. That’s what it’s there for and that is, I mean that is very important, but even more important than that is simply the situational awareness of knowing whether or not there’s a gun involved before they even get out of the car is so useful to them because they changed their stance. You are, you have the right to bear arms, you have, you have, you have rights, but if they know that there is a gun involved, they will change their stance and they will change their approach in a way that is respectful of your rights but also protects themselves and that is so powerful. What a cops hate more than anything else. Surprises. They do not. They cannot handle surprises. And that’s usually what gets people killed. Before you get deeper down that path, can you step back and explain astro ar today and how it works? Right? So let me talk a little bit about the drones. What do we do? How do we do it? When we say we build drones that stop bullets, everyone wants to know how so they want to know usually technical. What does the technical answer? Okay, so first off, we have developed a sensor array that is capable of detecting guns and bombs through walls. So we can see at this point we can see the individual rounds loaded into a gun. We can tell the difference between a fake gun and a real gun, a loaded gun, and an unloaded gun. We can tell you how loaded a gun is. We can read the writing on the backs of the shell casings loaded into the gun and this is extremely important. Something that we do internally. We name our use cases after the people who needed our drones that day. So we have the Tamir rice use case. Okay. We have the Philando castile use case. We have the Walter Scott use case. Sometimes the bad guy is the cop and the cops know that they eagerly anticipate a day where our technology will assist them in reading those guys out. Okay. So with that in mind, I just, uh, I have to throw this out there. Cops are trained to shoot using electroshock. Okay. If they don’t shoot fast enough, they get shocked. And the reason for that is right now without technology such as ours, if they don’t, they will get killed. That’s why they train them like that. But that’s a Pavlovian reflex. Do you really want to associate killing someone with a pet lover? And I mean, that’s, that’s insane, but that is what we are. That’s what we’re up against right now. Our technology will change that. I’ve never heard that. And it seems unbelievable to me that I’ve never heard that yet. Why do you think that is not a fact that is made more public? Because demonizing the police’s easier than digging for why? Quite frankly, demonizing the police, dehumanizing the police and not seeing the fact that they are afraid for their lives. Literally the minute they wake up in the morning to the minute they go to bed, anyone they pull over could be that guy. This could be their lucky day. Okay. This is a fear that lurks in the back of their minds at all times and they are like this for a reason. The reason is to, to save themselves. I have, I have pictures on my phone. I have that I cannot show you that our law enforcement situations that, that demonstrate why they do this and individual having barricaded themselves inside of a house. You have no idea. You can’t see them. You have no idea whether they’ve been wounded. They’re ready to give up. Do they still want to fight you? They have traded 300 rounds with police. The police have executive, the neighborhood. What do you do? Do you go in there? Do run in their charge and their face first and you know, face plants on a bullet. Would you do that? Let me check. No, raise your hand if you want to get shot. They don’t want to get shot anymore than you do. Ask My co-founder. That hurts. They will wait until they know for a fact that they’re not going to get killed. Even if that means that someone inside is going to die because quite frankly the there is no use to throwing away their own lives. I mean, that’s not going to save anybody. It’s not going to bring anybody back from the dead. I digress. How many police involved shootings are there in the US and a year? Do you know? A lot. I don’t even know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I know that every time there’s a police involved shooting in in Austin, we think of our police officers, the ones that we work with, we worry about them. We’re like, you know, are you okay? There have been times when I will text them because I’m concerned about their safety. I’m concerned about them psychologically because we actually do care because quite frankly these guys are. They’re human beings. They have wives and kids. They have lives and every single day it could be they’re lucky day.
Eric Hornung : 00:28:12
So what was the impetus for you to say, I’m going to take the route of being involved and it is full time you left, uh, you have to software engineering career. That was probably pretty, pretty great. So what was the decision to do this full time
Leah La Salla : 00:28:27
Uber for cats. I was, I mean, show me an APP, show me a website, show me an e-commerce platform, blahdy, blah, whatever. That is. Not Uber for cats. This is a wicked problem. I got this. I cannot escape. I cannot escape this. I will die trying. I will bring this into the world where I will die trying. There is no escape from. This is a wicked problem. Okay? This is not Uber for cats. Show me one other. God bless ces. Show me one of their startup here that is solving a wicked problem. People are dying. This is Las Vegas. We could have prevented Las Vegas. We designed this technology. This functionality was designed with Sandy Hook in mind. Okay? That is hell on earth. That is a waking nightmare. We have a solution to this right now. You and honestly like I’ve mentioned, second amendment rights. No new legislation needs to be passed in order for this to be adopted. I mean this is ready to rock and roll right now. It is a solution where everyone wins to the point where we’re endorsed by black lives matter, the fraternal order of police and the American College of emergency physicians because Cpr doesn’t work if all the blood on the ground.
Eric Hornung : 00:29:43
Talk to me about after you had that conversation with the officer at South by southwest, what has development look like this point? How have you guys built this and what does technology look like today?
Leah La Salla : 00:29:52
So if we weren’t developers ourselves, this would not have been possible. I have to tell you, because we are engineers. Overwhelmingly, most of the money that we have raised has come from other engineers and as you can imagine, most of it’s gone to hardware. If we had to pay for engineering a long, there is no way we would have succeeded, but because we ourselves are capable of producing the technology, we threw ourselves into the science. All of us have thrown ourselves into the science and that’s how we were able to do what we were able to do. We filed a permanent patent. And just to be clear, a lot of this comes from the material support that is provided by corporations. Like for example, we are in video inception startup. While there’s some things that I should probably keep to myself just at this time, but yeah, we have partnerships with major players. We received material support from those organizations. For example, arrow and D, three. We’re extremely proud of our, uh, of our partnership with Arrow d three is producing our production ready hardware. Silicon is custom, silicon is being rolled. That’s based on the video Xavier’s and incorporates our sensor array directly onto the silicon so that this will, it has to function fast enough that you would bet your life.
Eric Hornung : 00:30:56
I, you showed us a video here that obviously the listeners can’t have the benefit of seeing. Can you give me kind of a play by play? Paint the video with your words a little bit if you can have a situation or one of the use cases you named and how
Leah La Salla : 00:31:10
Okay. Sandy Hook. Right? So first things first. We have been, yeah, there were 19 schools in central Texas. Okay. Nineteen schools that are lined up for this and that’s because the director of emergency services has decided that she wants this everywhere that we will give her drones to put it. Okay. So all schools at this point have choke points. Entry points. Okay. They all have metal detectors at this point that are of mixed yell. Somebody will prop a door open and let their friend. And you know, that’s, that’s always the fear. Our drones will patrol, there will be a lot less invasive, they will be a lot less. There will be exponentially less of an invasion onto the lives of the students as you don’t have to be wanted to go to class.
Jay Clouse: 00:31:47
And what’s the size of this?
Leah La Salla : 00:31:49
We use a standard Intel aero and then we retrofit it to use all of the technology that the armor and so forth.
Jay Clouse: 00:31:54
If you could relate it to the size of some common object as might see
Leah La Salla : 00:31:57
slightly bigger than a textbook in terms of its dimensions and probably less than a foot tall.
Jay Clouse: 00:32:02
Okay. So this is patrolling the area around a school?
Leah La Salla : 00:32:06
Yeah. So this is patrolling, I would say not the perimeter of the school, but those choke points in particular, unless the school is particularly small geographically, but the entry points, the choke points and all of the places that are deemed to be a security, the security necessity and what they are looking for and their range is pretty substantial. They’ve got about. They have about a 20 meter range where they’re used in conjunction with one another. They have 20 meters, 10 meters when used alone, so about 30 feet to 60 feet. They can see the approach of an individual and they will what they’re specifically trained to look for his guns and bombs. Anything that any incendiary there looking for. You know what? I can’t really get into too terribly much detail and so police have asked us to be less forthcoming with that, but our white papers were published very recently by the I triple e.
Eric Hornung : 00:32:48
couple questions on that. Can it see through clothes?
Leah La Salla : 00:32:50
Yes, but it can only see guns. It can only see bombs. It cannot see your body.
Eric Hornung : 00:32:56
One other technical question on just kind of like the specs. One thing that I’ve understood about drones and I could be wrong, is that the physics behind them makes like battery life very hard.
Leah La Salla : 00:33:06
We have our batteries custom prototyped by a research facility in North America.
Eric Hornung : 00:33:10
So how long does the battery last?
Leah La Salla : 00:33:12
It lasts about as long as the average better. It’s three times as powerful, but it lasts about the same amount of time because we’ve loaded up all of this. We’ve got the armor and the weight of the array. It lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, 45 on the outside. One of the things that we do is we require that schools set up a robotics class. If they don’t already have one, the robotics class will be charged with keeping the drones. It’s basically pit stops and that will be the responsibility of the robotics class was just extremely therapeutic for the students. It allows the students to be directly engaged in their own wellbeing and their own safekeeping, which is. It’s Cathartic quite frankly. So if I’m a school, if I’m a school and I only need one drone, I don’t have. There is no such. Yeah. You said the smaller fleets of five? Five, so Pharma school and I have five drones or five drones spots. Do I have to get then like 10 drones since they have to be charging every 30 to 40 minutes so the batteries can be. Can Be rotated out. The batteries have to be charging the drones. Do not have to be taken out of commission. The batteries can be removed and replaced instantly. The drugs are right back in the year like a nascar pit stop. Exactly. So and also this has the added benefit that we’re training our own interns. I know, right? He goes, that’s so awesome to see the CEO and I, I actually, I guess I have a knack for this. I was asked to speak at Harvard. It was great. Yeah. Apparently I’m going to. Being a CEO is weird. I never would have expected it either, but yeah, it’s literally like a nascar pit stop who operates this. There is a completely autonomous or semi autonomous. The drones capabilities are semi autonomous. The actual operators are police officers who have been trained by police officers that we work with. We don’t train them. We see that that is. We work at the direction of the police, not the other way around. And they train other officers, other first responders, firefighters, EMT to be able to, to fly our drones. Uh, we anticipate that they will also be training students at some point. I don’t know when that’s when they plan on starting that, but that’s the thing that they’ve been talking about
Jay Clouse: 00:35:03
And who is the customer primarily for Ashley AR?
Leah La Salla : 00:35:07
Are so in a sense. I mean, raise your hand if you want to get shot. I know, but aside from that we say police departments that we focus our efforts on police departments, fire departments, directors of emergency services are the ones who usually who bring us on. Obviously we have to present this to a county commissioner’s Court. There are various steps that we have to move through in order to get this adopted, but it comes down to the police departments, fire departments. We actually expect that they will probably be housed by the fire department, not necessarily by the police department. That again is up to the discretion of the responders and how they decide to manage things.
Jay Clouse: 00:35:38
I think it’s still pretty nascent from a policy perspective of how drones are able to be operated. So what’s that landscape look like?
Leah La Salla : 00:35:46
Right, so actually I’m glad you asked that. One of the attorneys that assists us, she writes the legal opinion for a Vsi, so we’re absolutely able to, uh, to solicit her for assistance on aviation law toward that, at the state level at least we have secured. So we download for the governor’s office and the governor’s office. What they actually gave us from that was if there are any legislative or policy, regulatory roadblocks, barriers, speed bumps in our way to, you know, seek the, about solicit them work and they will work with us. They will work with the authority of the governor’s office to call a special session. So we don’t have to wait two years for a legislative session to try to change the law. They will do that. And I mean, who’s gonna who’s gonna say no to this. I’m like, that doesn’t make any sense.
Jay Clouse: 00:36:27
So everything you’re saying like clear, clear need, obviously I want these things protecting me.
Leah La Salla : 00:36:33
You want them in your child’s school.
Jay Clouse: 00:36:35
There are bound to be some people who, whether they just like to be contrarian or whatever, are going to point out some sort of. This is another form of big brother.
Leah La Salla : 00:36:42
They tried that. They try that. That happens. We, we’re, we’re used to hearing that it is not capable of surveillance. It does not have the range we make to make that. We actually had this on our website. We call this the no list. Okay. There is a list of things that we will not do. I will not make weapons. I will throw this in the Gulf before I’ll turn it into a weapon. I can’t stop anyone else necessarily, but I will not do it for you. So that’s, you know, first things first, we do not work directly with Darpa. We will do things for dod through our partners or we do make this available to, but with the colgate, it was not designed for the battlefield, so making it available to the military in those scenarios in which it can be used. On top of that, this is not capable of surveillance. It’s not capable of. It cannot. It doesn’t have things like like I can’t recognize you. It’s not. It does not distinguish between friend and foe. It has no idea who anyone is. It can distinguish individuals as unique from one another, but does not know who you are. It doesn’t need to. Okay. What it needs to know is where the gun is and where the hand is and that is all it does. That’s another thing that we, we, uh, we make the sheriff’s departments that we work with, aware of that if they want to use this with border, please let us know so we can come and get it because we will not allow this to be used in border situations. Again, it does not have the range to be useful in a border situation. It does not. And, and also we’re not going to step in that
Jay Clouse: 00:37:56
this is wild to me and there’s so many places I want to go with it. This, this ability to call a special session and work with legislators to make this happen. If there are any roadblocks, amazing. I would actually kind of expect that to be the case with something that has such lifesaving implications. Forgive me for being a little bit jaded with policy in general or is there any fear of, okay, we’ll scratch your back. Will help make this available, we’ll remove this roadblock, but what if they have some asks that they come to you with and say like, well, we want you to do this now.
Leah La Salla : 00:38:23
Well, we own the patent. I mean, what are you going to do? Well, what do I have to threaten? I will. I will dissolve the company and reforming Costa Rica. I mean I’m. It’s a free country. You can’t stop me from throwing it away. Okay. If I have to. Ultimately that is exactly what we will do and our principals have a lot to do with a lot of the VC backing that we have has an awful lot to do with the fact that we. There are certain, there are certain things that we stand on that I will die on that hill and quite frankly that’s. That brings me to another point. Would you bet your life is something that I’ve said a couple of times. We mean this quite literally, I will be the first one who bets their life. I will be standing on the business end of that drone. When the trigger is pulled the first time, it’s going to be me. Yeah. You got to be a certain level of nuts in order. Yeah, and in order to be the CEO of this company, that’s. That’s what that. That’s what it takes.
Jay Clouse: 00:39:10
What’s the timeline for a test like that?
Leah La Salla : 00:39:12
Jay Clouse: 00:39:15
Is that going to be like a live stream?
Leah La Salla : 00:39:16
Oh Jesus. God has. I mean, who wants to see me get killed? I know right now this is absolutely going to work. We will not. I’m not going to do this until we know that for a fact. Actually, that’s an excellent question. We were actually planning on doing it onstage.
Jay Clouse: 00:39:29
This is like a spaceman type display here.
Leah La Salla : 00:39:32
Yeah. Ultimately where. I mean when you stop and you think about the considerations of setting up a demo that where you deliberately fire a gun at someone, the legal implications alone. This is why we have a bunch of attorneys that help us with things like this.
Jay Clouse: 00:39:47
Even without the development costs that you guys, you know, you guys are putting sweat equity into this seems very capital intensive. You’ve mentioned VC funding. What does that look like? To what level have you?
Leah La Salla : 00:39:56
If we had some. I know right now if if we had to pay for for development, we have. We’ve done all of this. Everything that I just described, we’ve done this on 750 grand. Wow. I know. Right? The world needs this. Quite frankly. Everyone wants us to win. Everyone wants us to win and because of that we are gifted with a certain level of assistance in material and immaterial ways. And when I say material, I mean we are. Sometimes we are given things. Sometimes we are given labor, sometimes we have attorneys will volunteer pro bono. I mean people will do things at cost and we are able to get things done that we shouldn’t have been able to get done because the thing that we are doing is it is what it is. You mentioned earlier that, and this is off, this is beforehand, so you mentioned that you guys had to close your pre-order round due to excessive demand. You mentioned that there’s 19 schools in Texas that are 16 agencies, 19 schools and agencies, 19 schools all extremely interested. They’ve all, they’ve all signed on, they’ve all signed up, so schools and agencies aren’t known for paying their bills incredibly fast. We know. So how do we do that? Yeah. So yeah, we raised a private grant. Yeah, so we have, we have private funding available to pay for the first several regions that we deploy to and we’re doing this not because people won’t pay for it, but because we cannot wait. The world cannot wait. People are dying. So we raised this money expressing as, as you mentioned, I mean police chiefs are extremely cautious. There’s three only measured. They’re extremely intelligent. They’re extremely risk averse obviously. So one of the things that we do to ensure that this is to eliminate friction and you know, to accelerate the adoption is we bring the money, we bring the money with us, the financing with us when we walk up, when I walk up to the Commissioner’s Court, they’re like, so you want a grant for this? And I’m like, no, I’m bringing you a grant has no, no. Here’s the money to pay for it. To which the response is any city manager and the mayor and the police chief throw them in the truck. I’ll take to, you know, where do I sign? Absolutely. And like I said, this is absolutely private money that we’re able to, to pull together aside from the funding for the RND that is explicitly and exclusively earmarked specifically to implement our technology and provide that to these, to these agencies.
Eric Hornung : 00:42:11
So if this were to gain mass adoption, 10,000 schools, 10,000 agencies in the United States, is this something that you would have to re? I mean, you can’t grant your way to.
Leah La Salla : 00:42:20
There’s no way we would even try. Yeah. No, the regions that we’re, uh, that we’re doing this for, this is a skeleton of the, the initial program. We’re just, we’re literally standing up the nation promises. None of them have a, have a drone, a robotics program to begin with. So that’s part of what our partners are providing to them, the backbone for the, for the program that is going to continue on into the future. In one sense, one of the things that we will sometimes refer to this, this is the new Crown Vic
Eric Hornung : 00:42:44
talk to me more about the timeline. If you’re going to do this test in July 20, 19, you had these agencies lined up when when would you expect this to be out in the world actively,
Leah La Salla : 00:42:53
so we will have the first prototypes ready by summer. Twenty, 19. And would it say prototypes? These are prototypes. They are production level prototypes. We will be fully into production in q one or q 2 2020. And that’s when we will be mass production ready. We will be able to deploy at scale. That’s another thing we simply can’t anticipate. We can’t expect to deploy at scale in any earlier than that. How are you guys building these? Is it a vertically integrated workshop that you have or is it like outsource this so degree of the engineering, like for example, a hardware engineering. We are partnered with aero and d three. Like I said, we’re very fortunate. We’re very honored to have been selected for that and Arrow is our logistics partner at this point.
Jay Clouse: 00:43:31
I’m sure you answer this question all the time and you would love to answer it. How do you guys protect against other people getting remote control over? It?
Leah La Salla : 00:43:38
Asked me what happens when somebody hacks the drones.
Jay Clouse: 00:43:40
What happens if they hacks the drones?
Leah La Salla : 00:43:41
I know, right? This is actually going to be the subject of a def con talk, so one of our investors is one of the lead developers at RSA and he’s an investor and I was expressing so that he can come work for us. He will be our CSIO. I know that’s world class. That’s hard to top. Yeah. You should ask me about the rest of our team. Wow. They make us, they make me look like a pipsqueak. So the drones. We do have a security scenario. So my. I have a very strong security background and my, you know, obviously it’s never a matter of if. It’s always a matter of when I have always been blue team and toward that I am very good at this. So when the drones are inevitably hacked, the question is what happens next? That is always what you need to concern like that. That’s where you need to focus your planning, so the drones, we’ll all go home, so the one that was compromised will go home, which is now your face. It is now headed straight for the individual. It’s going if you don’t have the control mechanisms necessary that I can’t detail those out, but there is specialized custom hardware that is necessary. If the drone identifies that it has lost connection to this, it will simply go home. It is now headed straight for your face and if it was part of a fleet or a swarm, the rest of them identified that one of their members has suffered a critical malfunction and they are now headed straight for your face. With machine guns because quite frankly, it’s kind of like trying to, I don’t know, trying to throw a ball for a canine. I assure you that the police are not going to be thrilled with you there. Now, hot in pursuit of the drones as the drones will have identified that they have suffered a critical malfunction, the cops are now going after them to retrieve them.
Jay Clouse: 00:45:12
What’s your estimated cost of production
for one unit?
Leah La Salla : 00:45:14
For one unit, obviously this fluctuates at this time it’s not perfectly jelled, but somewhere in the neighborhood of about 25 grand. Yeah, they’re not cheap. Sorry. We’re working on it. We’re trying to. Trying to force the costs down. Obviously this is always a consideration once we can get them down to under $10,000 a unit, at that point we will be ready to mass produce and at that point hopefully hopefully we will see a at least nationwide adoption.
Eric Hornung : 00:45:37
What’s the largest costs in that 25k? Because it seems like most of its variable if you can think you can get it down to under 10. So what is like, what’s so
Leah La Salla : 00:45:48
Eric Hornung : 00:45:49
It’s just mass production.
Leah La Salla : 00:45:50
Yeah, it’s A. Yeah, it’s very much so. It’s
a lot of mass production. It’s because quite frankly, if, if you’re assembling each of these, these components in these sensors by hand, you have to. There’s. There’s a point at which you have to stop and manually. Right now we have to manually flash the hardware. That has to be. There’s a, there are fpg considerations that have to be, and if you’re, if you’re familiar with Fga development is the setup is, is extremely intense. I’m a veteran program read and it takes me half an hour just to spin up a board. Just that alone, getting it ready to, to, to accept our hardware, to start running our, our technology takes. It takes me all day. So yeah, it’s mass production. That is absolutely what we anticipate. Arrows going to solve that for us because they are wizards. What do the margins look like on this? Is this because you’re selling to the public so there’s going to be publicly disclosed, is it? So? Yeah, we, what we offered specifically to public agencies, all public agencies, we give them what. Okay. So what we normally do for Bob on a 12 months, they get 18 months, so they get, they get 33 percent more of this technology than, than commercial customers. And so that’s, that’s pretty much. And also we have, I can’t go into too terribly much detail, but we have a system for offsetting the costs of, of all of these, because we believe very strongly that these need to happen. We have a way of offsetting costs. So we are still determining just how far we can offset
Jay Clouse: 00:47:08
how much do you have to that train if somebody purchases, how much time is spent in your manpower from your team to train them how to use this?
Leah La Salla : 00:47:14
Zero. It’s our partners who do. So our partners, the police who train other cops to fly drones, they’re the ones who cover that. It is a three month. So let me explain that just a little bit. Also NDA’s, there’s only so much I can say about their program. It is the only, kind of like it in the world. They are the best drone pilots that exist. The ways that. So you think about how people drive cars, right? You have to go and you know, driver’s Ed, right? The way that people go to driver’s Ed. And how long does it take to get through drivers? I can get your driver’s license now. Think about how cops drive cars. It’s kind of like being a stunt driver, except all of this is real. Okay. It’s exactly the same with with how they fly drones. They fly drones in ways that no one else even thinks about flying drones, they have to get. They have to do things with, with, with these aerial craft that I cannot describe. They could get people to respond to them in certain ways. As a consequence, they can achieve certain effects that you wouldn’t even, you wouldn’t even think about. They have, they have 15 years of experience in producing these effects and it takes about three or four months to get through their program. It is extremely intense. It involves going out in the field in order. You can’t pass. You can’t pass their tests without having gone out in the field. You have to be able to maintain control of that drone, just like the vehicle that they’re driving. They have to maintain control of it even when they’re flipping it around, you know, crashing into things on purpose and trying not trying to ensure that no one gets hurt.
Eric Hornung : 00:48:32
So the shield part of this system is to get in between the bullet and the person and block it.
Leah La Salla : 00:48:40
Eric Hornung : 00:48:41
How often does it work or how? What’s the efficacy of two bullets being fired in rapid succession in? So I always hit the second bullet. Does it like.
Leah La Salla : 00:48:52
So you will aim for the drone. Okay. That’s a human reflex. It is extremely. If you remember in Terminator Two were a Sarah. She’s running through the hall. She tosses the keys to the guard and the guard, he reaches his hands up and catches him. He knows how dangerous she is. He knows, and yet he does it anyway and she sucker punches him. Yeah. That’s where. That’s the reflex that were exploding.
Eric Hornung : 00:49:14
A follow up to my question that kind of answers my question in terms of like a handgun, but what about something that’s sprays a little bit more
Leah La Salla : 00:49:21
so like a shotgun?
Eric Hornung : 00:49:23
Sure. A shotgun or even just like a bad drone
Leah La Salla : 00:49:26
Your drone is going to be so annoying that like it’s like seriously getting around it is you will not be able to swing that gun with any degree of accuracy fast enough for you to be able to shoot around the drone. The drone is extremely agile. That’s one of the reasons why we use them.
Eric Hornung : 00:49:39
Yeah. That was my question because I. I could imagine multiple bullets.
Leah La Salla : 00:49:43
Yeah. At a. quite frankly, once you’re in that situation, even a trained competent is only thinking about getting rid of the drone and that is the drones job is to be gotten rid of this, to be the task that impedes the task, becomes the task which gives you the human, the opportunity to do something, throw your shoes at them, you know, tackle them, pants them, whatever. You gotta run away, whatever you have to do. Get out of there. If you see our drones coming past, you need to go the other way.
Eric Hornung : 00:50:06
If a drone takes impact, does it need to be replaced or does it like how tends to stay in service?
Leah La Salla : 00:50:13
That depends, and we actually, we don’t really have a firm upper limit of how much damage they can take before they’re defeated. You can defeat this with your t-shirt. Quite frankly, if you throw your shirt on this thing and you’re going to follow the road, it will let you. It will let you, the capital arrest you, but it will allow you to do so. It’s just like a canine you can throw a ball to a cane on. The canine will probably react and the cop will arrest you for messing with their dog.
Jay Clouse: 00:50:34
So obviously you’ve publicly said here that you would bet your life on the technology if it’s in service, is there any type of liability on the company of Astral AR, some sort of insurance you have to carry?
Leah La Salla : 00:50:45
We positioned ourselves like Taser and how is that? Quite frankly, Taser is what does it taste or for a taser is for electrocuting people in order to stop them from doing whatever it is that they’re doing. Taser is not responsible when, if if police like for example, misuse a taser or if there is a malfunction or just a freak accident or whatever happens happens and someone loses their life or is seriously injured because that is absolutely something that can happen with a taser. They’re not safe. They are weapons. If that happens, Taser is not liable. We positioned ourselves like Taser so and by the way, yes, we absolutely do have legal representation and insurance in, in those for those scenarios, but it’s real hard. It’s real hard to sue Taser too.
Eric Hornung : 00:51:25
So when we left geography, you were in Baltimore, you had gone to south by southwest, now you guys are in Austin, is that correct?
Leah La Salla : 00:51:32
We were always in Austin. Oh, you were always in Austin?
Eric Hornung : 00:51:34
Yeah. Okay, so I misunderstood that.
Leah La Salla : 00:51:35
Yeah. This had to happen in Austin.
Eric Hornung : 00:51:37
I know where he’s going about location, what Astral means to you guys. I want to touch on your team real quick as you kind of said, and I want to start with one more question on, on you running this company as a ceo. Now you’ve mentioned that you’re one of the most talented people from a technical standpoint to develop this. How do you prioritize your time in active development?
Leah La Salla : 00:51:56
There was a, there was a point at which I was, like I said, I be able to prototype and the original prototypes, that was only. We are long past a point where I can devote anytime towards anything other than I was an architect. Okay. That was it. I mean designing these things is that in these systems, the functionality and knowing so intricately what this is, what it’s capable of, how long it should take and how much it’s gonna cost was absolutely what. I mean. That was my career for at least five years and so that is what I, what I, I stepped up to the whiteboard and it needs to do this, it needs to do that and here is why. Okay. And then soliciting other engineers because I mean the cool thing about having such a strong engineering background is that you can’t blow smoke up my ass. It doesn’t work. So when I’m looking for other engineers who can assist me, I know exactly what their skill set needs to be and I know what, yes, you can help me. No, you cannot. And if you cannot that’s okay. That’s nothing personal, but quite frankly people are dying. I’ll get back with you. So yeah, when I’m looking for someone who can pick up and actually write the code, I know what the code looks like that needs to be written. I do not micromanage people that I know better than to try and be a manager who modifies the code base. Yeah, I’ve worked for that guy. Oh my God.
Jay Clouse: 00:53:02
So tell me now about the other members of your team and we can’t get too deep into it because we don’t have a whole lot of time, but give me a high level. Who else is rounding with the team?
Leah La Salla : 00:53:10
Right. So, um, obviously my co founder, Jose Laplaca Amigo, veteran of the US Air Force College of the air force and so forth, myself, and let’s see, our CPO is Mary Kelly and she comes to us from several, several substantial startups, strong SV background. She was a project manager, she actually has a legal assistant background and I got to tell you, that is awesome. Yeah. So, uh, we’re able to leverage that as well. We are being joined by a Alexis Station, COO. She’s coming on as our coo. She was the, uh, the former vp of ops for Blackstone and yeah, right. We’re also being joined by Dr Donald. Do Low and I cannot express to you if I were going to hand over the CTO reigns to anyone, it would be Dr. Dula. Dr Dula is the dean of Sophia College. She’s dean of the College of the Coast Guard and she invented the masters to Phd. Juris doctor. We’re just waiting to get going. She has more master’s degree degrees then fit on the cover of the book. She wrote the law book on Aviation Law in the United States as it pertains to yes and suv. She is extremely influential in terms of crafting policy. She is the legal opinion for AVSI and as an engineer, as an engineer, as an Oh my God, I want to be just like her when I grow up. Yeah, she’s so cool and also she invented the master’s degree for Suas SUAV software engineering as it exists in the United States. Yeah. She ended up May Jemison Dr Mae Jemison does that, does that name sound familiar because not everybody gets to grow up to be an astronaut. Yeah. Mae Jemison, Dr Jemison and Dr Dula had competing space initiatives. Yeah, they were. They were rivals at one point for their space initiatives. This woman I know, right to be joining our team in a technical sense. Q One, 2019.
Jay Clouse: 00:54:53
Are all these people full time are going to be full time or is this like most. Some are full time.
Leah La Salla : 00:54:59
Yes full time. Full time, yeah. Yeah. We also have Joe Dobson. He is our CFO, MBA BSCS MBA. I know, right?
Eric Hornung : 00:55:07
You raised $750,000 and you have a pretty senior team coming on. What is burned look like? What does runway look like? Are you get the raise again?
Leah La Salla : 00:55:15
Yeah. No, we’re absolutely. We are raising, we are raising at this time. The fact that we’ve been able to make it this far has everything to do with our team is so dedicated to making this happen that we have this thing at Astral. Right? We were covered by Forbes. Whomever had read about that. Yeah. Everybody had asked what gets paid the same, which means right now that nobody had asked me to get paid anything. Jose and I haven’t been paid in almost four years. Hey, it’s whatever. We have to do this. So everyone at Astral feels the pain and everyone in Astral is working towards this. Regardless. We are raising around because that is just ridiculous. I mean for God’s sake, why I should be able to get some funding and some backing for this rights. Our white papers were just published by the I triple e. One of the things we get is, oh, I don’t believe you. I don’t care. The police understand that this is real and that’s what I care about. They will be betting their lives, not you, and if you don’t like it you can step off. But toward that, yes we are raising and like I said, you know, if you can, you can disbelieve me if you want to. Our white papers were published by the I triple e peer reviewed. We presented at the Global Humanitarian Tech Conference and if you think that I can blow smoke up the assets of an entire convention full of engineers, that’s just adorable. Okay. I mean, I’m flattered, flattered.
Eric Hornung : 00:56:24
Last question for me being an Austin, obviously you were already in Austin, which is why this is there now, but how has that impacted Astral ? Like is is Austin a naturally good place for this type of company?
Leah La Salla : 00:56:35
Austin is probably the only place where this could have taken place because first off you have to have the Texas, you know, Texas for God’s sake. Everyone in Texas loves her guns. This is absolutely true. Everyone in Texas has at least five guns except for me, but yeah, so it had to be in Texas because everyone in Texas loves the guns, but it had to be in Austin because Austin is the blueberry in the tomato soup. Okay. It’s the place where everyone is, is you know, liberal enough to be like, we’re going to solve this as long as you don’t take my guns, so don’t get me wrong. I Love Austin. I love Texas.
Jay Clouse: 00:57:06
I can’t think of a worst sounding soup. Crackers on that.
Leah La Salla : 00:57:14
That’s right up there with brushing your teeth and drinking orange juice.
Jay Clouse: 00:57:18
Well, Leah, thank you so much for joining us. After the show, if people want to learn more about your Astral AR, where should they go?
Leah La Salla : 00:57:23
Go to the website. You will not see anything technical about the website, but you can contact us through the website and make your case and we will send you the white paper’s.
Jay Clouse: 00:57:30
Eric Hornung : 00:57:33
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Jay Clouse: 00:58:24
All right, Eric we just got done speaking with a very intense Leah La Salla of Astral AR. Now let’s get your deal memo. Let’s talk about Astral as an investment opportunity. Leah, as a founder, where do you want to start?
Eric Hornung : 00:58:38
Let’s take a walk down adjective. Allie, you started with intense. If you’re going to define astral and Leah and a couple adjectives, what would you use besides intense?
Jay Clouse: 00:58:49
Eric Hornung : 00:58:51
I wanted to use intense too, but you started the deal memo off with intense, so now we’re going down a whole different path. I’m looking for second level thinking here, Jay.
Jay Clouse: 00:58:59
Okay. One would be urgent. I felt a real sense of urgency here.
Eric Hornung : 00:59:04
I like that I would go with driven. There is a sense of no matter what question we asked, it always came back to the mission of astral.
Jay Clouse: 00:59:13
I would agree with that. Very purposeful, very convective
Eric Hornung : 00:59:16
look at us adjective,
Jay Clouse: 00:59:18
Eric Hornung : 00:59:19
as a new segment here on upside. But to bring it back to Leah and Astral, I would say that she says that they are solving a wicked problem and no less than five times. She said people are dying and this is a real problem and it definitely made the interview intense and wasn’t something that I was used to on upside, but I respect and understand her level of conviction and drive and intensity because of the real nature of the problem.
Jay Clouse: 00:59:53
Yeah. These are. These are serious issues that we’re talking about here and I’ll tell you the biggest struggle I had through this interview and we’ll probably have here in the deal memo is the personal cognitive dissonance between the need to address these problems. The problems that Astral is addressing and my inability to wrap my head around the business model for Astral .
Eric Hornung : 01:00:18
I wrote down at the top of my notebook after we finished our interview, how do I separate emotion from facts? So I think it is very real for both of us, and I’m going to project, but I would guess the listeners that there is a emotional tie to the message and the meaning, but it is our job to still make to think about this from the point of Angel Investors, pre-seed investors, seed investors, think about the opportunity in front of us because it’s our job to be stewards of capital in this hypothetical space that we sit
Jay Clouse: 01:01:00
that’s right if, if we were sitting here as philanthropists, different set of questions, different line of thought, but I mean I think you can hear it in the interview. We are still hitting the questions that we would be asking any founder and we’re saying, okay, tell us about the customer. It tells about the model. Tell us about how you’re going to scale this. Tell us about how this reacts in different situations because we’re looking to see, okay, can we see how this becomes a sustainable business? You know, I’m not, I’m not saying it can’t be, but I’m just saying as we go this deal memo, I know I’m going to be struggling with this dissonance between, like you said, fact in emotion and understanding the value proposition here versus understanding the revenue model and cost structure here.
Eric Hornung : 01:01:43
So I think one way to get around that is to not start with Leah. We’ve already done a little bit of an adjective walk, but let’s start instead with some shadows. Let’s break down our cognitive dissidence with critical thinking and start with the shadow and build ourselves either backup or to some other end goal. There is a saying that if it sounds too good to be true than it is, and this idea sounds. I believe Leo use the word magical and I would agree with that. It. It feels too good to be true. It’s a defense mechanism. It spots guns and bullets through walls and can find things in chambers and they come with the money so like cities don’t have to pay. They have private grants. They, they’ve thought through all the hacking, everything just feels too good to be true. And I’m curious on your thoughts on that.
Jay Clouse: 01:02:41
Yeah, I got the same vibe in mostly I buy the technology I buy that they’ve had success bringing grants to cities and saying we can help pay for this. I don’t understand how that scales up and to what degree. Because those are very overhead intensive things in terms of people time and relationship building. I think, you know, maybe maybe they hit it big with so much pr that some huge partner comes in and just says we are going to back this because we know that black lives matter back this, that the fraternal order, the police backs this. I could see that happening. But to this point, you know, you heard the frustration in his voice. At one point she would. She said you would think I’d be able to get some funding for this. Right. And to me that’s a shadow of. I think we’re not the only ones feeling these, these things and maybe other people know more than we do. I just have unanswered questions. Like I don’t feel like I have my own sense of conviction for the model and the opportunity while also feeling a sense of conviction for if this is working and it’s worth testing if it’s working like we want these things active and solving real problems.
Eric Hornung : 01:03:54
Right. Is your hesitation around the operational side of the model, the financial side of the model? Where would be an area that you’d want more clarity? Because I think we got some clarity everywhere but not full clarity. Almost anywhere except for the team.
Jay Clouse: 01:04:13
This is the frustrating thing because on its surface you would think the technology aspect of this is the most complex, but that’s where I have the least questions. I have questions around just about everything else, the financials, how they employ it, how the team scale this up. I mean a unit cost $25,000 to produce at the same time. You know, they’ve, they’ve done everything they’ve done to this point on $750,000, which sounds impressive. The team is doing it without having taken a paycheck and four years. Leah is clearly extremely solid technically as I. I believe her team is, but I feel like I just didn’t get super specific answers to a lot of our questions. How many police involved shootings happen in a year? A lot. How big is this market opportunity? Raise your hand if you want to get shot. These aren’t helping me with my questions as an investor. That being said, 16 agencies, 19 schools, those are numbers that are compelling. Tell me more about that. Bringing the cost under $10,000 by partnering with Arrow. I agreed. I see. That’s what I’m saying. There are some pointers to specificity that that helped me believe in the magic, but I keep coming back to this idea of it feels almost like too good. There was. I don’t remember if it was actually on our show or if it was a different podcast I listened to with a venture capitalists. Nope, it was. It was the episode. We quote all the time of invest like the best with Josh Wolfe where he was talking about founders and you mentioned there are some founders that are super technically competent. There are some founders that are great salespeople in great at getting buy in for their vision and there’s some founders that are both in the founders who are both are like the real magical founders that you you want to and have to back. I believe Leah is extremely technically competent and for the most part really got me on the vision too, but there’s that little bit of a humble. I wasn’t completely sold to understand how this all ties together and how it’s all going to work. That I think was missing here, which is you know, where a lot of my hesitation is coming from
Eric Hornung : 01:06:19
Let’s transition away from the hesitancy and into the market size. It feels like this is just because of the price point going to be a large market, but I think we need to think about the implications of selling to police firefighters in schools. I don’t know that it’s the most profitable side of things.
Jay Clouse: 01:06:43
I think it’s large from the standpoint of users and people who are benefited and I think it’s large in terms of revenue potential, top line revenue potential. It doesn’t necessarily seem large to me in terms of actual customer number, why not because of your customers and maybe I just am an underestimating the number of agencies in schools nationwide and potentially globally, but if your customers are schools agencies or municipalities from the municipality side of things. I know when I was knee deep in smart city technology and smart city startups, it was hard for me to see a lot of compelling smart city technology plays because it was just a naturally small market and when you’re selling to ms dot municipalities, you’re also limited to their budgets. You know? That’s why Leah said, we come, we come with the money and there are certain levels of budget that if you fit within, it’s easier to get approval at south by southwest. Last year I went to a panel where they talked about selling startup technology to cities and one of the founders on the panel spoke about how every founder, he talks to his designing their solution to be $10,000 because that’s what they can fit into a municipality budget. In another founder that I talked to in Michigan said what Leah said, which is basically to sell to municipalities. I go to them with the buyer, with the founder of our technology, and then they take it so from a pure customer size, if we’re looking at the market from the number of customers, I do think it is less big than what it would feel like. When you think about the number of people this protects
Eric Hornung : 01:08:17
So if you include every college, campus security department, tribal land unit, Sheriff Office, local police department, State Police Department. In every federal agency you get to 17,000, 985 police departments in the United States. You figure fire departments is roughly that amount as well because that’s a proxy from his capacities. It’s probably a little less for fire departments and schools is probably about the same as fire departments. Maybe a little less. So really you’re looking at a total customer base of somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 potential customers.
Jay Clouse: 01:08:50
How many of those are going to have budget? How many of those are going to see the real risk? I mean, larger cities, we’re seeing the risk and we’re seeing the implications of not having protection. We’re seeing the implications of our accessibility to firearms in this country, so my question is how many of those municipalities, schools, agencies are going to say this is something our municipality school needs and how many years? Hopefully until we have better protection from a like societal and policy level that we don’t have a private company saying this is at a mission critical. We’re going to do something about it now.
Eric Hornung : 01:09:36
Yeah. I think your point on big cities might be a little off. I’m thinking about watching cops growing up. That was never in big cities. The standoffs that were in there. I’m thinking about hearing about meth labs and shootings in London, Ohio in Mansfield and cities that are smaller or in the sticks. I think that this problem exists outside of big cities. I think it exists kind of everywhere that guns are present, which is most places in the United States to be honest, so I don’t think that I would limit the scope to big cities for the police department side of things. I can see where you’re coming from on the school side of things because school budgets are going to be a lot harder to crack, but the the sales pitch to a municipality of, hey, we don’t want your police officers to die and this is a very effective way to help mitigate the potential that police officers are killed in action. That to me is a very promising sell regardless of price point. It’s why the police by tasers and it’s why they spent a lot of money on guns. They don’t want their officers put in a position to die. I also think that swat units would be huge buyers of this and very quick buyers of this because if you can. Swat units are the ones that get called in for school shootings. They’re the ones who called him for all this. If they could identify where a gun is or a bomb is behind a wall, that’s going to help them dramatically. I also think when we’re talking about market opportunity, it’s something that Leah touched on, but we didn’t dive down his military implications. I don’t know the extent to which they have looked down this path. She said they don’t do anything with Darpa. They don’t do much with the DOD, but to me this seems like, and I’m not a military guy, the furthest I’ve gone, like in terms of military understanding is like playing call of duty, so forgive me if I am ignorant at all on this, but walking down the streets and having to dip into houses, I feel like this would be a very valuable technology to have if they could see through walls and you knew what it was kind of happening inside before you went in there or maybe they already have that technology. I don’t know.
Jay Clouse: 01:11:49
Yeah, she said that they made it. She had a very specific phrase that I don’t want to pretend I’m saying verbatim, but I believe she said along the lines of we made it accessible to the DOD, but we will not allow this to be turned into a weapon. All throw it into the Gulf before it is turned into a weapon and I think it’s hard to explore the military space while maintaining enough control that it won’t be turned into a weapon. I think given her conviction and her values and virtues, I just don’t think it’s a fit.
Eric Hornung : 01:12:18
Does that give you pause? I think that as an investor, not a let’s, let’s separate that emotion from the fact
Jay Clouse: 01:12:25
I don’t think it gives me pause if I can prove that there is opportunity outside of that. I do think that it could be a compelling market to sell a technology solution to, but I do think that it would be used or they would want to reserve the rights to be able to use it in use cases that Leah does not intend. So I just don’t think that she’s going to go down that path and I don’t think it’s gonna give me pause and as an investor actually really like that. If I’m an investor who’s investing in this for the reasons that Leah is building it for, but I just, I just don’t think we can really look at that as much of a market potential for, for Astral .
Eric Hornung : 01:13:00
Let’s close this off with Leah and her team. What’s your take on Leah and her team?
Jay Clouse: 01:13:07
Very impressive individuals and it seems like they’re really, really bought in to the cause. She mentioned her founder who has been shot and has been working with her in the trenches for four years. Neither of them have taken a paycheck. They’re very strong engineers. Have the strong engineering background, Leah talking about the autonomous drone piloting software she built. That’s wild. That’s crazy. That’s awesome. That could be a product in and of itself that she goes and tries to market and sell, but she’s really staking her life’s work right now on this, which I really, really respect, so the conviction for me is there. If I’m going to be a little bit critical, I think what’s missing for astral in closing this round in getting funding and going and just continue to do this at a higher and higher level is what’s missing from our interaction from Leah. You know, we’re not sitting here saying like, Yep, this is a killer opportunity. I would throw my money at it right now and that’s not to say that it isn’t and that they don’t have the answers and the potential in front of them. I just don’t think it was a message to me and as a CEO and as a founder, you have to be able to message that so that we’re sitting here saying, yeah, where do I where do I send the check? So I think the team needs that person. Even if it’s that person who’s preparing notes in messaging that Leah works from and is that what you want to see in the next to 18 months? I want to see growth in that area for sure, and I think it might be seen from who, who else comes in and supports this financially and what are their motivations if someone comes in financially as a philanthropic effort, I don’t think that changes my stance right now as a venture investor, but if I start to see real venture investors coming in and backing this, I think that’s powerful. If I see a financial forecasts and projection that shows me how this works at any level of scale, that would change my mind as a venture investor and you know, this is. This is maybe the most critical I’ve ever been in a deal memo because I feel so conflicted about this because I want to sit here and say, yes, this is her. This is magic. This sounds magical and I’m. I’m completely signing off and saying I believe in the black box. That is the technology, but I. I just did not get the answers I needed in the interview to say like, this makes sense as a financial investment.
Eric Hornung : 01:15:35
Jay, I completely agree with you. This is definitely a little more critical than we usually aren’t deal memo, but I think that when you really get a wicked problem and you get some emotion behind it, you want it to really, really work. I want this to really, really work, so I agree with everything you said in the next six to 18 months. I look forward to seeing what Leanne, our team create. I look forward to seeing the live stream of the first product launch in July, which is crazy and as Leah said, you have to be a certain level of nuts to go stand up there on stage and get shot at and I think that Leah, the team and the idea is a certain level of nuts and I look forward to seeing it all work out. So Jay, if people want to talk about this episode or Astral AR, where can they do that?
Jay Clouse: 01:16:22
I can’t believe we didn’t touch on the live stream demo of being shot at in this deal memo until this point, but that was definitely a mic drop moment in the interview. Wild. If you guys have thoughts on this episode, please tweet at us @upsidefm or email us at email@example.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps go a long way in bringing on high quality guest to the show. We’ll talk to you next week. That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s guest, so shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on twitter @upsidefm. Will be back here next week at the same time talking to another founder and our quest to find upside outside of Silicon Valley. If you or someone you know would make a good guest for our show, please email us or find us on twitter and let us know and if you love our show, please leave us a review on iTunes. That goes a long way in helping us spread the word and continue to help bring high quality guests to the show.Eric and I decided there were a couple things we wanted to share with you at the end of the podcast, and so here we go. Eric Hornung and Jay Clouse are the founding partners of the upside podcast. At the time of this recording, we do not own equity or other financial interest in the companies which appear on this show. All opinions expressed by podcast participants are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinions of Duff and Phelps LLC and its affiliates Unreal Collective LLC and its affiliates or any entity which employ us. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. We have not considered your specific financial situation nor provided any investment advice on the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Debrief begins: 58:25
Leah La Salla is the co-founder and CEO of Astral AR.
Leah is a self-taught, polyglot software architect and inventor. She spent much of her free time during high school years working in her dad’s super-precision tool-and-die machine shop – and got started in tech long before there were any initiatives trying to bring women into development.
She studied CAD design in college and then spent a decade in software engineering – including five years as a Federal employee – while teaching herself to program in an additional 9 languages, and mentoring around a hundred in women in coding. Leah’s worked on wide range of technically unusual products including fabrication application development, industrial printing, and more conventional app development and app security.
She built Astral’s original prototype in between assembling the company team out of the personal and professional network she has built over the course of the last fifteen years. As the inventor of neuromechanical drones with a permanent patent filed on 9 inventions, she hacked NASA with a toaster.
Astral AR builds drones that stop bullets. Their integration of technologies is unbiased by design and exclusively for deployment by uniformed first responders (police, fire, emergency managers) on behalf of lifesaving public safety and search and rescue at scenes of potential or active gun violence.
They bring situational awareness, anomaly detection, and an autonomous bullet-stopping flying shield to traffic stops, schools, large public venues, structure fires, and hostage rescues as well as in disaster zones.
Astral AR was founded in 2015 and based in Austin, Texas.