P | P | P – our chat with Flow Bio
We caught up with Stefan van der Fluit CEO and Co-Founder of Flow Bio as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Flow Bio Technology’s wearable patch captures athlete’s sweat to interpret key biomarkers starting with hydration in real-time. Built in collaboration with elite athletes.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success this far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Thomas @ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?
Stefan van der Fluit: I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Flow Bio Technology. My background is in the commercial and product side of things, I have built 3 tech companies and scaled existing products, whilst working at Facebook. I have spent the last 8 months as a Founder again, embracing what I really enjoy, developing products and companies! We have designed a real time biosensor that analyses biomarkers present in sweat. We have started with hydration; the electrolyte composition of sodium/potassium, as well as total body fluid loss. The product has just had its first on-body wearable test and will have testing with elite athletes in January, with the final design phase in May/June. We are looking to release to market in October 2021.
The thing that makes us unique, is the combination of extreme product obsession and user knowhow, having personally done over 10,000 hours of training, I have a good idea of how this product should perform to add value to the end user. We also have a community of 150 athletes including Olympians, world champions and record holders such as Tim Don, who are helping us develop a very on point experience. Those points alongside Giovanni’s, who is the Co-Founder and CTO, technical experience of having developed 4 bio-medical devices, helps us provide a unique offering.
Thomas @ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and service/product?
Stefan van der Fluit: Having worked up from amateur athlete to Dutch National Iron man Champion in my age category, I really learnt how to squeeze that marginal gain from the body. Having a background in competition meant I always wanted to create a consumer sports product. From there we started speaking with endurance athletes and learnt that the majority of these athletes are data obsessed, who track roughly 98% of every session they do. We then looked at what data points these athletes have access to and we stumbled across this whole molecular understanding and real time sweat analysis.
One of the biggest things for us, is that Flow Bio is the second iteration of the product. We spoke to users about our first product and after the feedback, we concluded that people didn’t really want this product. This was tough to take, because it had always been a passion of mine to get a consumer hardware product out there! After this, I was speaking to my girlfriend and she said, ‘what is more important to you? Building this product? Or building a successful company?’. From there we realised we had to focus on a more difficult problem and tackle something that users actually wanted and would use as part of their routine. When we spoke to athletes in the initial concept phase, we realised that they felt lethargic after training and dehydration was a problem across the board.
Thomas @ADLIB: Speaking of people, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with the same issues?
Stefan van der Fluit: As a venture funded company your investors are expecting that when they put money in, they will see that money grow. The way you achieve that is with progress and the real driver of progress is people. Securing talented individuals quickly is something myself and Gio (Giovanni, Co-Founder) have always been looking at, to keep the momentum. We wanted to make sure that once we had secured funds, we were in a position to bring in talented individuals straight away, instead of getting the funds and then spending 3 months sourcing those people. To get around this problem and reduce lost time, our approach has been one of forward hiring. This approach has meant we are constantly in conversations with candidates who could help move the business forward, if it is from a technical, operational, sales or marketing focus. This approach also helped speed up our onboarding process, because the candidate joining the team was already aware of so much about the company! In turn, this has meant we can keep the speed of development as high as possible, to allow the company to grow as the investors and ourselves want.
Thomas @ADLIB: Moving to product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycle?
Stefan van der Fluit: Its kind of two parts for us, because we are really a bioinformatics platform. There is a whole second piece of this puzzle that is kind of under the radar, that is the 3rd parties that can utilise the aggregated (anonymised) data and add value to that. We had two validations to do, the first is to understand if people will actually use this product, if not there will be no data for 3rd parties to use. So the consumer side was always the first port of call and we initially spoke to around 150 athletes, where they walked us through their day to day activity and we established how this product could benefit them.
On the platform side of things, it was more of a conventional B2B style approach, where we went to Premier League Teams, Formula One teams and other professional organisations and pitched our idea to them. The feedback we got was very positive and very quick, where a lot of these teams and organisations wanted to trial the product. This was a big tick in the box of validation because we had so much backing from professionals. This backing gave us a lot of confidence because professional athletes are just consumers but to an extreme level. Knowing that if we got it right with professionals, it would work for amateurs as well.
Thomas @ADLIB: Then to potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a product/service offerings with potential?
Stefan van der Fluit: Immediately 2 things come to mind. The first one, which was a complete oversight on our side, as this is both Gio and my first time building a DeepTech/BioTech company. Our first hire was Dr Barry Silver an Electrochemical Engineer who had built a lot of these sensors and shortly before he started, he gave us a list of 15 chemicals he needed to build these sensors. Obviously, there isn’t an Amazon for chemicals, for good reason probably, and being a 4-month-old company and having a bank account with nothing in it, we knew we were never going to get a company to provide these chemicals for us. So we had to create a data pack to go back to the suppliers to prove we were a legitimate company, who are trying to build sensors, but it was a battle!
Number two was the lockdown situation. How do you build a company that required a physical premise during a period of lockdown? Firstly, we were hot-spacing out of our investor Entrepreneur First’s Space, which came to an end and we moved to our advisor’s lab at Imperial. This didn’t work too well with the COVID-19 restrictions, so had to secure an office that could facilitate our needs during a lockdown. We didn’t anticipate having to do this so early on, but we managed to secure a new place within a week of leaving Imperial, again thanks to my girlfriend who really stressed the need to have a plan ‘C’ in-case of a second lockdown. This was the second time she saved Flow Bio.
Thomas @ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups and scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around the best approach?
Stefan van der Fluit: Having done this now for the fourth time, raising third party funding is so much easier if you ask yourself the question, ’should this be built?’. I appreciate this is useless advice if you are well into the development stage, even then still consider this for the future roadmap, but this is this first thing you need to establish. You need to understand if you should build something. ‘Is there a market for it?’ ‘Are the consumers fickle?’ ‘Is it Defensible?’ ‘How expensive is it to acquire customers?’ ‘What is its lifetime value?’ So you need to have a 10 year plan before you get to the investors, you need to think in the same why as your investors, not just have a great idea. I speak from experience with a previous company, where the product wasn’t solving a tangible problem and although I think it would have added value somewhere, that wasn’t good enough for the investors. I could have avoided all of that by thinking like an investor, figuring out the longer-term plan and understanding if the product was needed.
So as an example of our longer-term plan, we wanted to understand how our technology can be used in bigger and bigger markets over time. We want to extend beyond athletes and hydration, so both the data acquisition and biomarkers need to scale into larger markets that we can tap into. Sweat will allow us to gather analytes like glucose, lactate, cortisol etc. Overtime, once you have a larger panel of biomarkers, that becomes interesting to the general consumer, medical applications, industrial applications and military application. This process and understanding of our long-term plan means we can be more than just a sports hydration biosensor.
A lot of the main things are simply common sense, you have to think from your end user’s perspective. This involves being brutally honest with yourself and admit to yourself that your ideas/approaches aren’t always the best and you might have to go back to the drawing board. This is something we have done at Flow Bio and as a result we have created a great product with an excellent market!
Thank You for your time!