Thomas Dickerson / Geopipe, Inc.

Start Here Podcast | EPISODE #63 | 01/19/22

Today, we sit down with Thomas Dickerson, co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Geopipe, a company that creates immersive digital twins and rich 3D data about real cities, right here in Vermont.

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#StartHere PODCAST: Episode 63 with Thomas Dickerson of Geopipe Inc.

Thomas Dickerson (00:00):

It’s certainly the case that you are not the only person who has the same idea. And if you’re – if talking to somebody about what you’re doing is going to like, let the cat out of the bag to the extent that like, you don’t have a viable business anymore, right? Like you didn’t have a viable business, before, you just don’t know it.

Sam (00:22):

From Vermont center for emerging technologies, it Start Here a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs. Today we sit down with Thomas Dickerson co-founder and chief science officer at Geopipe a company that creates immersive digital twins, enriched 3d data about real cities right here in Vermont. Welcome. This is Sam Roach-Gerber.

David (00:47):

And David Bradbury.

Sam (00:48):

Recording from the Consolidated Communications technology hub in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Hello, Thomas.

Thomas Dickerson (00:55):

Hi Sam.

Sam (00:56):

How’s it going?

Thomas Dickerson (00:58):

It’s going pretty well.

Sam (00:58):

Thanks for walking all the way over from your desk to the conference room. I appreciate it.

Thomas Dickerson (01:03):

That was a little bit of a haul, but I don’t mind.

David (01:05):

Did you count the number of steps like…

Thomas Dickerson (01:07):

I did not.

Sam (01:07):

I probably could have carried you honestly. So next time.

David (01:12):

Thanks for joining us here. It’s really exciting. I can’t wait for you to share a little bit about your story with us and to Vermont on what you’re doing, cuz it’s awesome.

Sam (01:24):

It is awesome. But I realized after my intro digital twin might sound a little bit creepy, so let’s start with a little clarity. What’s a digital twin?

Thomas Dickerson (01:35):

Yeah. So digital twin is a term that kind of came out the real estate space. And basically the idea is that if you’re managing a building you want to have a kind of a digital replica of that building. So that kind of, all of the things that you’re trying to track, you have some way of representing that in virtual space in a way that’s kind of intuitive and, and easy for a lay person to understand and, and visualize. And for us, what that means is an not just a single building, but it’s an entire city or ultimately the entire world. We want to have a semantic replica of kind of all of the buildings, the trees, the roads, the sidewalks, everything you need to, to kind of have it be recognizable as the real world and with the information associated with that, that you need to build interactive experiences on top of.

Sam (02:26):

So that’s not creepy at all. It’s actually very, very cool. And that’s quite a relief. And so you talked a little bit about this in the beginning when you said real estate who uses these?

Thomas Dickerson (02:39):

Yeah, so our kind of early adopters were in what I would call architecture, engineering, and construction,  a little bit adjacent to real estate. More recently we’ve been really focused on the, what I call the game tech market. And so this is people building experiences on top of game engine technology. And that’s not necessarily sort of the traditional entertaining games that you might be thinking of. Right. Although obviously anyone who’s played like grand theft auto has probably thought about like what it would be if it was like actually their hometown. But the sort of distinguishing feature of game engine technology is a lot of powerful real time rendering technology and physics simulation ability to build interactive virtual experiences that don’t have to be entertaining, right? So this could be training simulations for personnel, right.

Thomas Dickerson (03:30):

If you’re a firefighter and you wanna learn about the existing neighborhood without tying up real world resources, that would then kind of be out of commission if an actual emergency happened. If you want to train police officers to have really kind of consistent responses in stressful environments so that they don’t do things kind of that are supposed to be outside of their training. If you want to train truck drivers, train drivers, or even autonomous vehicles as well. These are all sorts of things that can happen on top of a game engine.

Sam (04:06):

Wow. And making them way more realistic than anything that exists.

Thomas Dickerson (04:11):

Right, exactly. Yeah.

David (04:13):

You got that now, Sam? Easy peasy.

Sam (04:15):

I get it. I get it.

David (04:18):

Lets back to the roots here, you grew up in Addison county. Right. is entrepreneurship, is that, was that always in the family or how did you end up starting a business?

Thomas Dickerson (04:30):

Yeah, my grandfather actually was doing a tech startup like decades ago, way before that was even what anyone called a tech startup. He started a company that built educational computers based on designs by Claude Shannon who’s a fairly famous computer scientist at MIT. He eventually sold that company to radio shack and then went into managing independent bookstores. Neither of my parents are entrepreneurs at all. My dad’s a professor at Middlebury. My mom stayed at home, took care of my siblings and I did a lot of volunteering in the community. So there wasn’t entrepreneurship kind of in the nuclear family, but the extended family, there is definitely a tradition there.

David (05:30):

And what gets you excited about an entrepreneur? It’s not for everybody to start a company – like God you’re ballsy. Like why?

Thomas Dickerson (05:41):

I think a lot of it for me has to do with having intellectual freedom to pursue things that I think are interesting problems. I did a computer science PhD and, and the stereotypical route for PhD graduates is to go out and get professorships. And I’ve spent enough time in and around academia that I knew full-time teaching wasn’t really what I wanted to do. And research in sort of the academic environment where the incentives are much more around making sure that you’re publishing on a certain cadence to get tenure. I, I think doesn’t incentivize working on, on the sorts of hard problems that I find really interesting. Incentivize working on problems that you think you can get a result in a certain timeframe and pitch in a way and get into the right venue.

Thomas Dickerson (06:44):

And I was much more interested in, in solving hard problems that would be usable by people in the real world. And sort of the, the deep tech venture space has a tradition of backing people, doing hard research that is gonna translate into something that people are gonna use down the road, but being respectful of the timeline that like maybe you’re not necessarily getting something every six months at the beginning, there’s a pretty long lead up time to product.

Sam (07:19):

Would you still get your PhD? Had you known you were gonna start Geopipe?

Thomas Dickerson (07:24):

Oh yeah, absolutely. So I actually started Geopipe halfway through my PhD Christopher, my co-founder had just wrapped up his PhD and was doing a postdoc at NYU at the time. And I think that the skillset that you get from doing a PhD is learning how to become an expert in a field much more usefully than like any of the individual, like bits of knowledge that you learn while, you know, whatever field you may become an expert in, in the process of doing your PhD, the meta skill of how do I become an expert in this, in a field is really useful for starting a business.

Sam (08:06):

I’m so glad to hear that. Cause that sounds like a lot of work of if you had regretted it.

Thomas Dickerson (08:11):

No, no.

David (08:12):

We’ve had a few lawyers in here or former lawyers that are now like – like Runamuck Maple was one, right? We were like wait you’re maple sugar, what, but with a lot degrees, like I still use it.

Thomas Dickerson (08:21):

Yeah. You know, there’s, there’s a lot of pressure actually when you’re starting a company if you’re still in your educational process in some capacity to maybe consider leaving or taking a leave of absence and then coming back to it later or and I was pretty confident in my ability to juggle both Geopipe and doing a PhD at the same time. And I think that panned out.

Sam (08:50):

Good. Yeah. It must have also felt so much easier when you were done with your PhD.

Thomas Dickerson (08:55):

Yeah, no, it was. I joke with academic Twitter there, you hear a lot of horror stories about people talking about like, oh how rough like grad school can be. And I always tell people like the first two years of, or first two and a half years of grad school, when I wasn’t doing Geopipe were in a lot of ways, kind of the, the most relaxing time period of my life.

Sam (09:21):

It’s all relative.

Thomas Dickerson (09:22):

Yeah. It really is. It’s all, all relative. Yeah.

Sam (09:26):

And you did mention briefly your co-founder. Can you talk to us a little bit about how that partnership came to fruition and how has been important for Geopipe?

Thomas Dickerson (09:37):

Yeah, so there’s actually kind of a long backstory there. So Christopher and I met on the internet in high school through a online community for people programming graphing calculators to make like games on your like T.i. 83 plusthis is obviously-

Sam (09:53):

You can’t make that up.

David (09:56):

Of course you did. We hear that all the time. Sorry.

Thomas Dickerson (09:57):

Yeah. Obviously this is kind of a niche hobby. There weren’t too many kids in rural Addison county making calculator games much less trying to like get calculators on the internet or using them to like solve cryptography problems.

David (10:14):

Or had a 2,400, baud modem or whatever you were dialing up on at the time.

Thomas Dickerson (10:17):

Right. And, you know, Christopher was growing up in Manhattan where obviously there is a kind of much more thriving set of diverse hobbies that are, you know, maybe accepted, but it’s still pretty niche hobby. And so we worked together on a lot of projects both in the calculator space, hobby, game development, kind of anything that, that struck our fancy ran a community for teaching kids programming skills, using graphing calculators as a platform. And then in college, when we were sort of at that age where meeting someone random off the internet, wasn’t weird anymore, we became real life friends and about four or five years later started Geopipe.

Sam (11:07):

So you were building games on graphing calculators simultaneously, I was learning how to type boobless into a regular calculator. Just put everything into context here.

David (11:20):

So you started Geopipe, like what’s the secret sauce in a nutshell for Geopipe?

Thomas Dickerson (11:27):

Yeah, so I think the secret sauce is in some ways,uthe philosophy that we’re using to approach,uthe problem. Putting the real world into virtual space, right? There’s a lot of computer vision that you have to do to look at the raw imagery, the raw sensor [inaduible] and figure out what’s actually here. Ubut the approaches that we’re using,uthe kind of philosophical influences of how we’re structuring the problem are fairly different from what you would see in sort of the typical computer vision,uliterature and research community,uand the kind of diversity of intellectual backgrounds on our team. UI think really contributes to having a novel approach to solving the problem.

Sam (12:17):

So it’s not all just computer scientists on your team?

Thomas Dickerson (12:21):

It is not all computer scientists. It is very largely computer scientists, but even within computer science there’s a lot of different subfields. And so we’ve got people coming from computational geometry backgrounds, robotics backgrounds actual computer vision backgrounds, computational geometry. I think I already said that high performance computing scientific computing, all kind of all these different backgrounds that together give a much more holistic view of how to solve problems from a computational lens than just one person who did research in one subject area.

David (13:00):

And the philosopher. As well. Right. Yeah. So your team was here VCET working this last week and, getting together. And at one point Sam was like, well, I bet that’s the highest cumulative IQ we’ve had that room in a while. So I hope you got some good stuff out of that.

Sam (13:18):

I mean, Dave, you and I had lunch in there the other day, so I don’t know what you’re talking.

David (13:21):

That’s true. That’s, that’s totally, you know what, you’re right. I’m sorry. Sorry about that. So, I tell people, one of the reasons when we were looking at making a small investment here this past summer was they do stuff at scale at speed and at an attribute level that leads to cost and, sort of um, this vibrancy of model that no one else is really doing. Yeah. Did, did I lie? Is that, is that true?

Thomas Dickerson (13:49):

Yeah, that about sums it up.

David (13:51):

All right. Awesome. what is the metaverse? Why should we care? And are you in it?

Thomas Dickerson (13:58):

That’s a great question. So the slightly extended backstory here is there’s a novel called snow crash by a kind of cyberpunk science fiction author named Neil Stevenson. This was a super popular novel in the nineties and it coined the term metaverse. And in the context of this novel, the metaverse was kind of this online VR experience. It was kind of like this alternate version of the world where people were kind of, regardless of what, how they were living in the real world could connect to the metaverse and like have this online persona that had its whole own life and own set of rules that it was falling within the metaverse.

Sam (14:48):

Like Sims?

Thomas Dickerson (14:49):

Yeah. Or second life. Right. These were I think actually fairly heavily influenced by the idea of the metaverse. But kind of within mainstream pop cultur it was actually, The Matrix was kind of the semi dystopian cyberpunk franchise that, that really took off and like captured kind of our cultural imagination. But kind of the older generation of, like hackers and kind of VR enthusiasts and internet enthusiasts were, I think were still like very taken by this idea that metaverse, which was much more like decentralized collaborative and allowing people to unlock their imaginations rather than just like locking them into-

David (15:39):

Like a construct.

Thomas Dickerson (15:40):

Right, exactly. And I think what people mean when they say the metaverse now, particularly in like the last, like four or five months is kind of unclear it’s kind of nebulous. There’s kind this aspirational idea of this online, like all encompassing virtual space where you can do anything, be anyone and have kind of interesting interactions, but I don’t think it’s really defined yet. What specific people mean when they say we’re building part of the metaverse…

David (16:16):

So when Zuckerberg at Facebook says we’re meta, right. That’s one thing. Or when IBM says we’re committing to the metaverse or when everybody’s got a version, it, it seems like it’s like the cool thing you want.

Thomas Dickerson (16:29):

Yeah. So I think, certainly think having a digital copy of the real world in a space that you can build interactive experiences on top of is an important component to sort of the metaverse of the future. We generally try to avoid using kind of hazy ill defined buzzwords because nobody really knows what you’re talking about.

David (16:54):

But Sam and I live on those buzzword just so we can fake it till we make it.

Thomas Dickerson (16:58):

You know, if someone tells us that we’re a metaverse company and we’re happy to say, yeah that that’s totally true. And someone says, no, I don’t think you’re a metaverse company. We’re like, oh alright.

Sam (17:09):

Huh. That’s good to know. I think I’ll try to throw it around a little bit less casually now. Yeah.

David (17:18):

I thought I was rolling with the current stuff.

Thomas Dickerson (17:20):

It’s the same thing with when we started Geopipe, everyone was really big on, VR. And I think most of what people mean by the metaverse now is some like weird combination of like blockchain and VR. And I don’t really know what that means, but even five years ago people would say, are you a VR company? And say, no, we’re not a VR company. We make 3d content, which you can put in VR and is really cool in VR, but you can just as easily send it to a 3d printer or do like traditional  2d renderings that you throw up on a computer screen or like make a movie from it or, put in a video game engine on a flat screen.

Sam (17:58):

It’s like asking a marketing company if they’re an Instagram company. Right.

Thomas Dickerson (18:02):

Yeah, exactly.

David (18:04):

I haven’t seen a VR headset anywhere near your stuff so is that not relevant to where you’re at today or where you think your customers wanna be?

Thomas Dickerson (18:14):

Yeah, certainly I think a lot of our customers are interested in VR experiences. But we haven’t really found the need to build those VR experiences for ourselves. Right? Like we provide, the way that we described this is we’re the missing link between data acquisition and data presentation. So, data acquisitions are the people that are going out, driving cars with cameras on, top flying drones, launching satellites. Right, exactly. Kind of any of these sensor platforms. And the data presentation people are the video game engines, the VR headsets, the, 3d printing maker spaces, whatever you have it. And what’s missing is a way to get that raw sensor data into a useful form for the presentation. And that’s where we kind of slot in.

David (19:06):

Cool. I told someone the other day, they do a fucking awesome graphic package on main street. And they looked at me like, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I think I’ve confirmed that.

Sam (19:18):

No worries. That’s why we have Thomas in the house. So your company, you just mentioned to me, like the other day, when your company was all at VCET, it was the first time everyone was together, which is, I think we’re hearing that more and more these days you all are primarily based in Vermont and then New York. Can you tell us a little bit about how that has been and how y’all are making it work?

Thomas Dickerson (19:40):

Yeah, so I think a lot of people, their first experience with sort of remote work or like hybrid work was with the pandemic. And I think geo pipe actually had a little of an advantage there because we’ve been a distributed team since our beginning. I was based in Providence finishing up grad school at Brown. Christopher was in New York. And the first couple years I spent a lot of time on the train going back and forth to New York, but also working from home in Providence supervising interns at our Providence location simultaneously with having interns in New York. We had to do a lot of Google Hangouts. We were really excited when zoom came out, cuz a lot of co-working spaces don’t have reliable internet. And so being able to dial in with like a phone number and like have reliable audio was like a godsend when you’re working in New York city, especially where like there’s like 2000 wifi networks that show up and they’re all competing with each other. And so even if you’ theoretically have a good internet connection, right-

Thomas Dickerson (20:50):

Your laptop’s never gonna get a single back to your router. And so it was just like miserable trying to use kind of these traditional video conferencing platforms in that environment. And so we were really excited when zoom came out we started playing around with zoom and then like the pandemic hit and every one was like, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom. I was like we’ve been already been living this life for like three years at, at that point. Yeah.

Sam (21:16):

That’s so crazy. And I literally, like, I just had a flashback to when you moved back to Vermont, right. And you reached out when we had our space down in Middlebury and were like, Hey I’m Thomas my company’s, Geopipe like looking for space. And I like, remember looking it up and being like, oh my- holy shit. I think I sent it to Dave and was like, this guy wants to work out of VCET. We’re like, hell yes.

David (21:39):

Like I hope he doesn’t break the internet. What he was doing.

Sam (21:43):

Yeah. So it’s, really cool to see how your team has grown since, and I remember you telling me, like, we’re hiring rapidly. That must have been, I don’t know, three years ago or so.

Thomas Dickerson (21:52):

Yeah. And so I think when we moved into VCET at mid summer 2019, the team was like four full-timers.

Sam (22:03):

It was like, you David, Christopher.

Thomas Dickerson (22:06):

Yeah. And I think Bryant was kind of our original engineer who then left for grad school. And we are now at 10 full-timers with another person joining in January. And like three more open positions that we’re hiring for. So the scale of the team has really grown rapidly in the last, actually even this year we went from, I think, five at the beginning of the year to 10 at the end of the year.

David (22:32):

That’s pretty awesome. Any secrets in finding people that you’ve discovered? Cause you’re pretty specific of what you want, right?

Thomas Dickerson (22:43):

Yeah. So hiring has probably been, the single hardest part. Far more than like the research problems. We are pretty confident in our technical roadmap and what we’ve really been missing out on is just like human power to execute on it. Part of that is we’re building, we’re solving problems that are pretty mathematically sophisticated. So there’s a certain base level of math knowledge that we need that you don’t necessarily expect from like everyone coming out of a computer science program. And then the other thing is that this is a really hot job market right now. And so, we’re competing with all of the formerly fan companies, I guess-

David (23:35):


Thomas Dickerson (23:37):

Well Facebook Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and now it’s more likeman, cuz Google turned into alphabet and Facebook turned into meta. Somebody made that joke on Twitter that it’s now, [inaudible] man. Yeah. It’s hard to compete with that scale of company on sort of the financial resources that you have at your disposal as a company at our stage. And so finding people who’ve been really motivated by solving hard problems and by our specific problem has been really important.

Sam (24:26):

I’m sure it’s like your world is probably pretty small when it comes to people at that level with that interest. And so you can kind of know who they are by name I’m sure.

David (24:35):

You go find the calculator builder channel. And now you have these fancy new hoodies that you broke out this week, so that’s gonna help a ton.

Thomas Dickerson (24:44):

It’s actually funny you mentioned the calculator programming channel. We have started having people who learned programming on our calculator, community website, applying for jobs at Geopipe.

David (24:57):

That’s really cool,

Thomas Dickerson (24:57):

It’s pretty funny seeing that come like full circle.

Sam (25:00):

Very heartwarming. Also I’m super flattered, but I think my math experience is just like a little bit too high. I’d be a little overqualified. So I’m gonna have to say no, but I appreciate it.

David (25:13):

Good side hustle, Sam. You mentioned financing the company along. How did you and Christopher do it,uthrough the years? I mean you’ve used a…I mean I’ll let you explain.

Thomas Dickerson (25:25):

Yeah, so pretty early on we went through a couple incubator programs which we brought, pulled in about 60,000 in funding between the NYU Summer Launchpad Program New York city media Labs Combine Accelerator which is kind of more structured like an incubator. And then we also, we took a small convertible note from Rough Draft Ventures, spending the Thomas as a student I think pretty hard, a lot of these student backed venture funds are really looking at undergrads. But as a grad student I’m just like, Hey, no, I’m like, I’m a student look!

Sam (26:07):

I have homework. I swear.

Thomas Dickerson (26:08):

Yeah. And then we won the 100K Tech Category First Prize at Stern Business Schools, 300K Challenge, which is basically like a year long pitch competition. So that was a huge chunk of liquidity at that stage, no strings attached at the same time. We also brought in a national science foundation, SBIR Phase One Grant for 225,000 brought in. And then we also got into Techstars, which was like another 20,000. We actually turned down the Techstar Star Power note because we had just gotten a 100,000 with no strings attached. We were like, we don’t need a hundred thousand. That’s gonna like show up on, that’s gonna show up on our cap. Right. So the 26% is the, is the like 20K which is pretty steep, but the real value is the Techstars network not the cash.

Thomas Dickerson (27:11):

And then the Star Power Note raise is basically like a safe style thing that down the road will show up on your cap table when you raise equity. We did a safe kind of preseed round like a year and a half later. We were definitely the earliest stage company on our Techstars cohort. So we weren’t really well positioned to use the demo day platform to launch a round. But about a year after that we started raising. We did the Genius, New York competion that brought in a million dollars. Also kind of got a little seed of a team up in Syracuse. Got our SBRI phase two and then just finished raising kind of a formal seed round led by village global. Obviously VCET participated in that round.

David (28:12):

And some other notables that you announced, right? I mean, this is the folks who wrote the first checks to Oculus Control lab, right?

Thomas Dickerson (28:20):

Yeah. So we got a couple big institutional besides village global we had Alexa fund Matrix PartnersAmay Cloud, which is some ex Yahoo guys. And then we also had a lot of people within sort of the control labs ecosystem invest personally. Our new COO or I say new, Ben’s with us almost a year now. Ben Jones was previously the COO at control labs. That network was really useful for us as well.

David (28:56):

So it seemed like it just happened overnight and was pretty easy. That’s my takeaway. So what didn’t you use? What program didn’t you actually us that you tried to? Like Y Combinator or…

Thomas Dickerson (29:10):

No, we didn’t apply to YC. We did apply- we actually turned down ERA cuz we got into them at the same time as Techstars. There’s a couple other accelerators that we had applied to as sort of backup options. ERA was definitely on a similar tiers as Techstars at that point in terms of brand value. But we realized it was kind of structured the opposite way from what we needed. So Techstars was really good at giving technical founders kind of the backing on the business side. And our impression from going through the interviewing process with ERA was that they’re much more focused on giving kind of business oriented founders backing on the technical side. So that, that was part of our decision there. Honestly our preseed was a slog.

David (30:04):

A lot of friends and family and-

Thomas Dickerson (30:06):

It was a lot of friends and-

David (30:07):

-Long time safety.

Thomas Dickerson (30:08):

There was a lot of…there’s a lot of like weird accidents where people would like commit and be like, I’m writing you $300,000 check tomorrow. And then like three days later they’d email to me like my mom has cancer and like I can’t participate right now. And this happened like, variations on this of just like weird flukes where like would’ve closed their round and then like they had to drop out. It happened like five times.

David (30:41):

Let take some resilience and look in the mirror.

Thomas Dickerson (30:44):

Honestly like the first time something like that happens you’re like, “are you just blowing me off?” But these were people who we take pride in kind of trying to build a relationship with our investors from an early point so that when we come asking for money they’ve noticed, they’ve seen what we’ve been doing. It’s not like, who are you? Why are you here asking for money? And so we knew these were like people. They weren’t just blowing us off. They like legitimately had things going on in their lives where it was like, this is outside of their control. You can’t participate at this time, but it was hard being on kind the other end of the table.

David (31:19):

Yeah that’s a lot of years.

Sam (31:21):

I think you make such a good point there of like building the relationship and building the trust. Like you guys have some killer, killer investors now really, really big time. And can you talk a little bit about like how you approach those folks in the beginning and how you sort of build the trust to get them to eventually write a check?

Thomas Dickerson (31:42):

Yeah. A lot of the bigger investors look at accelerator programs for like intros of like who to watch. And the investors basically all want to have data on like what your company is doing before they write a check. And so the easiest way to do that is just like every six months, A get on your distribution list so they get updates and if you’re being diligent about actually sending out updates about like, this is what we’re doing, you’re not just like in stealth mode. That’s really helpful. You can put asks in those updates being like, Hey this is what we’re doing right now, this is what we need, can anybody help? And, and that actually gives an opportunity for you to [inaudible] the investors too.

Thomas Dickerson (32:29):

A lot of the value out of the investors is not just the check. It’s what else they bring to the table. So if they’re able to kind of informally help out when you have requests of like, Hey yeah, there’s someone in my LinkedIn network, happy to make a connection, stuff like that. And so it’s a two-way street, right? Where you’re giving them insight into how the company’s developing. Obviously like the intro usually needs to come. Its kind of gotta be a warm intro most of the time to be taken seriously. Sometimes you get lucky with cold emailing if it’s a perfect fit, but most of the time you want a warm intro. But it’s a two way street cuz you get the feedback of like how is this person going to be for us? What do they bring to the table for us?

Sam (33:16):

Right. And I think too, that’s such a good point to show your progress and ask for help because I know at VCET we’re always looking for coachability, right? People that are willing to take criticism or to show the progress that they’ve made. And I think the instinct is kind of stealth mode, right? Like, oh, we need to have this perfect before we release this to the world. And that just couldn’t be further from the truth. You wanna see what they’ve been doing.

Thomas Dickerson (33:45):

So some of the best advice we got early on was don’t be cagey about what you’re doing.That it is certainly the case that you are not the only person who has the same idea. Yeah. And if talking to somebody about what you’re doing is going to like, let the cat out of the bag to the extent that you don’t have a viable business anymore. Right? Like you didn’t have a viable business before you just don’t know it.

Sam (34:17):

So true. It’s- yeah. I mean- we get folks all the time that are like, Hey I’d love some advice. Can you sign the NDA? And we don’t sign NDAs. We just say, don’t tell us anything you don’t wanna tell us. Cause we can give you plenty of advice without that. And most people are like, oh, okay, great. But every once in a while, someone’s like, no, I can’t!

David (34:35):

Well, to your point, we want talk about the markets or your customer insights or the team strength that you have have versus the schematic.

Thomas Dickerson (34:44):

Right, right.

David (34:44):

Protein sequence or whatever you’re doing.

Thomas Dickerson (34:46):

Right. Like nobody needs to browse my source code, but if you’re not browsing my source code, there’s not a whole lot that I can tell you, that’s going to put us at a competitive disadvantage.

David (35:01):

Yeah. Make that a t-shirt, nobody should browse my source code. Like that’s a winner right there. Alright. I’m gonna go back to this sort of preseed stage, cuz it does come up time and time again we met with 389 company founders like you last year, which was a big increase. Because you were trying to describe something you haven’t yet built in a world that was sort of threatening to come. Is it easier to raise on promise of what you’re gonna build and do or performance of what little kernels of data or customer feedback you have. Promise or performance?

Thomas Dickerson (35:40):

I think there’s a huge cultural gap there between east and west coast. So coming into this, like we’re doing a tech startup, all you hear are like the stories of Silicon valley companies that like literally have nothing but a pitch deck and like someone- like two smart people pitching someone who’s been in that situation before and walking away with like 200 million cash, no questions asked. And you constantly hear as a preseed company, right? Like early stage investors are investing in the team. They’re not investing in the traction metrics, right? What they wanna know is like, can I trust like that these team members are capable of doing what they say they’re gonna do?

Thomas Dickerson (36:42):

And if I believe in that, right, then it’s like, okay, here’s money if you don’t believe it. And it walked away, but coming into this from sort of the New York ecosystem, it’s a lot of very traditional like wall street, show me your month over month revenue increases, show me like your 36 month business plan. All of this stuff, that’s like this isn’t relevant. And so there’s a pretty substantial cultural mismatch for us between sort of the- particularly coming in as a deep tech company where it’s like, we’re not trying to get traction in the way that you want us to measure traction for probably another year. But we’re well past the point of like, we’ve got enough proof of concept that this should be like a slam dunk for a preseed investment.

David (37:51):

Yeah. I would say you’re right. Although lightning does strike. I hear that day in the hallway at VCET. I was like, oh, here’s Cory and Kevin Ellis, meet this guy. And you guys would chatter for 20 minutes. He walks out. He’s like, he’s like Zuckerberg, but nice. We’re in. I was like, okay, that’s awesome. He’s from Maine, so that’s as far east as you can get here. So really, really, really cool. And I think really important to share for others that are in the trenches on particularly working on tougher tech.

Thomas Dickerson (38:22):

You have to find the investors who match…you have to match the investors to your story. Right? Investors are not interchangeable, is I think the takeaway here, right? You have to find somebody who’s investing in companies that have the same trajectory and founders that have the same trajectory as what you’re doing. And that takes research and like digging around and pushing through your social networks to find.

Sam (38:52):

Yeah. And I think we try to remind entrepreneurs all the time, like investors are on your team, as soon as you take that check they’re on your team. And you have to think about them just like you’re hiring someone on your team, right? Dave, it’s time. Unfortunately.

David (39:12):

We could talk about this all day long.

Sam (39:13):

I feel like I just blink and that went by.

David (39:16):

I think we’re doing pretty decently Sam for our first one back here, Thomas hasn’t left. He’s awake.

Sam (39:21):

He’s awake. He’s here.

David (39:23):

Pretty informative. Okay. So this is magic wand time where you have superpowers and actually given what you do, you probably think you already do have superpowers. So let’s, let’s accept that. If you could change one thing in Vermont, what would you change?

Thomas Dickerson (39:39):

So the easy answer here is…on the food scene. We need way more restaurants that aren’t just bougie new American. Not to like diss on bougie, new American, but it’s like every single restaurant in a 30 mile radius. And after spending six years in Rhode Island and a lot of near Johnson and Waleswhich has a great culinary program and a great food scene and traveling down to New York all the time and moving back here, it’s like, my options are off like $15 hamburgers. It wears a little thin. It’s not that it’s a bad hamburger. It’s just that sometimes you want something other than the $15 hamburger.

David (40:24):

They’re all farm raised!

Thomas Dickerson (40:25):

Yeah. The more serious answer is there’s a lot of academic talent here. We’ve got Middlebury, we’ve got St. Mikes, we’ve got UVM, we’ve got Norwich, were not that far from Dartmouth. But very few people stick around. I think there’s kinda the perception that there aren’t tech jobs here which maybe historically has been true. But certainly Burlington doesn’t have the cultural cache of Silicon valley or even New York or Boston. And so figuring out how to pitch talented undergrads, right? You can stay here, you can and build a career here and you can solve hard problems here, is something that I think we need to work on. We don’t have the sort of senior engineering talent either and that’s much harder to build railing. Like that takes the time of first convincing all the seniors graduating this year to stick around for 15 years so that the companies coming down the road will have them on tap.

David (41:45):

Sam, if only there were a digital twin of our cities that would show the businesses that are here and a student could just visit and see what was going on, that would be a pretty cool use of Geopipe.

Sam (41:58):

See, I think you just bring in the good food and then the second problem gets solved, right? Yeah.

David (42:04):

Thomas, thank you so much for taking time with us today and talking about your journey it really is helpful and inspiring. The bad news is however many years you’re in you’re kind of just getting started at this next phase. That’s really exciting. So we’ll have you back when you’ve got the next iteratio of lessons learned.

David (42:27):

This has been Start Here, a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs. This series is supported by the Vermont Technology Council and Consolidated Communications. If you like, what you’re hearing, share us, follow us. Tell a friend, let’s get back to work.