Keeping Time with Quantum Technology: Vector Atomic Co-Founder and CEO, Jamil Abo-Shaeer

Aug 23, 2023

Season 3 - Episode 6

In this episode, host Yolanda Fintschenko, executive director of Daybreak Labs and i-GATE Innovation Hub, talks with Jamil Abo-Shaeer, atomic physicist, co-founder and CEO of Tri-Valley startup, Vector Atomic.

Jamil is focused on transforming abstract research into practical devices.  With 20+ years of research and development (R&D) experience within industry, government, and academia, he is leading Vector Atomic to productize the advanced quantum atomic clock technology that has only been demonstrated in the lab.

Vector Atomic products will transform industries from transportation to telecom. By harnessing the extreme stability of atoms, their clocks and sensors deliver performance for tomorrow’s world.

Read the Episode Transcript


Today, we’re here with CEO and co-founder of Vector Atomic, Jamil Abo-Shaeer.

Welcome to the pod. 


Thanks for. Thanks for having me. I’ll tell you, to be honest, this is the first podcast I’ve done, so I’m a little nervous myself. Go easy on me. We’ll see how this goes. 


I’ll do my best. So I think the easiest thing to do is to start with telling us a little bit about your company, what you do, and also without, of course, revealing trade secrets or something. What’s so special about your company and why you’re the best company to do what you do? 


I wouldn’t say we’re the best.

Maybe I would. Okay. So yeah, no problem. So Vector Atomic is developing a quantum technology for navigation and timing. And that might sound esoteric, this quantum technology, but it already has been impactful in our everyday world. Our financial, our transportation, energy, defense sectors. They all rely fundamentally on GPS. And GPS has enabled $1,000,000,000,000 in economic impact in the U.S. alone.

And GPS is enabled by 1960s atomic clocks. And so we are trying to build that next generation of quantum technology to hopefully unlock that next trillion dollars, hopefully, of economic impact. And so we come from a world that myself and my co-founders built a lot of this kind of quantum hardware as graduate students and postdocs. And in these laboratories, these are the best measurement devices on the planet, bar none.

The clocks are good to a second in 50 billion years. The problem is that they’re large, they’re fragile, they’re expensive, and they’re typically manned by a small army of grad students and postdocs. And so we want to build commercial versions of these that are portable, that can go out into the world. In order to do that, we need to focus on things like integration, operability in real world environments, reliability, and certainly things like cost.

So in doing that, we started this company, we’re a little over five and a half years old. It was just the three of us to start. No, no money, no lab space, no nothing, just a couple of laptops when we got going. But things have blossomed. We’re now 42 employees and we’re located in Pleasanton, California, in the Bay Area.

Why are we good? I think we’re really focused on getting the technology out into the world. I think we’re zealots about that. We’re certainly no one would accuse us of being titans of business. We really want to develop the technology, build it and show that we can take it out in the world and it can be impactful.

And I think because of that, it’s really focused us. We’re really technology first and with that in mind, we just grind through everything COVID, any anything that’s thrown at us. We’re all playing by the same rules as everyone else. It’s a real challenge, but we are intent on getting the technology out in the world and we do whatever it takes to make that happen.


Great. So it sounds like your inspiration was really taking advantage of the technology that quantum technology offered and your recognition that the only way for it to become influential in our day to day lives by transforming something like GPUs and the atomic clocks was to take something that’s normally very esoteric and research and productize it. And that’s what kind of motivates everything, everything that you’re doing.


Yeah. So the universities have lived up to their end of the bargain, and that’s the world we came from. They’ve kind of developed the core technology, the techniques, but what they have, I would call it like a quantum Rube Goldberg machine if you’re familiar with, with. Yeah, those are very complicated devices, but demonstrably incredible performance.

And so but they’re kind of building these  these devices up with kind of the legos of our industry. And we want to purpose build things, make them small, make them cheap. Yeah. So I would say it’s an evolution of where we came from and we just want to keep on going with that. I think, when we were grad students and postdocs, we would never think I worked on a very esoteric,   part of this technology known as Bose-Einstein condensation, cooling atoms down to very low temperatures and looking at their properties.

And I was very excited to kind of contribute to the world’s knowledge base. I’m very excited now that we can take a lot of those tools and techniques and bring them out into the real world and potentially impact  half the world’s population on a given day through things like GPA. So our clocks aren’t in right now.

But, that’s our goal in the next 5 to 10 years is that when we’re walking around somewhere on the planet and you see, some other country and you see someone using their GPS data to get somewhere, we can know that our technology is underlying that. That’s really exciting for us. That’s how as atomic physicists, that’s kind of maximally impactful, right?

So that’s what drives us, gets us up in the morning vector, atomic, inside. Yes, that’s hope.


So I have kind of a two part follow up question. What was, what was the spark where you and your co-founders said, now is the moment where we’ve done this research, presumably worked to some degree at something and you’re like, okay,   what? We’re  done with relying on just doing very fundamental research.

It’s time to take this and make it part of people’s phones, part of satellite. Sure. And then so what was the spark and then what do you feel in your background prepared you to take that spark and actually create a company? 


Sure. So, the spark we had was out in the world, so we had these backgrounds and the co-founders and I, we had worked in industry, we had worked in academia, I had worked in the government.

So we had a lot of experience with the technology and it was very promising. But I think for us, we really wanted to focus on near-term technology and that’s what was exciting for us and it just came to a point where we were all kind of looking for the next thing to do and started interviewing for other jobs, things like that.

And we thought, why don’t we just give this a shot? Let’s just, why not? We’re going to take basically the idea was we’ll get together, we’ll do this for six months, We’ll see if there’s any traction and if we can’t get any will, try to go get jobs at a big tech company or something.

And fast forward five and a half years later, it did take off. Some days I wish it hadn’t. And we were working for that big tech company when we’re dealing with things like COVID. But it’s been really amazing. So I think we kind of you really just have to take that leap.

And we were just at points in our life where, I mean, it was interesting. We had, everyone had young kids or kids on the way and we just said, we’re just going to dive into this and try it. And I think we knew we had the safety net, that there are a lot of jobs in this area.

So if it doesn’t work out, someone will hire us. So we went in full bore and I think that was really important. We weren’t dipping our toes and we just started one day and we just started grinding away,  as hard as we could on this kind of singular focus. And so we started out trying to win small business grants, things like that.

And we kind of had some success and things blossomed from there. I’m forgetting your other follow up question was?


What do you think prepared you to actually seize the day? 


I think that the training there’s obviously the direct training of being an atomic physicist and working on atomic physics. And my two co-founders do more of that day to day.

I do less of that in my current role. But when you go and you get a Ph.D., it kind of teaches you how to tackle any kind of problem. So, yeah, we were doing quantum physics, but  what I was really doing in graduate school is plumbing, electronics, data analysis, all these kinds of things.

And quantum technology is built from classical technologies. And so you just kind of learn to deal with things. We worked very hard. So, you learn kind of working at these extreme levels. When I was an undergraduate, I thought I could never work as hard as I’m working now. And I went to graduate school and I was wrong.

I could work a lot harder. And that was great. And it, I think that kind of discipline or what you’re capable of, and then also looking at these problems and just saying, yeah, this is a new problem, but I can solve it. I’m no longer solving problems in quantum physics. I’m personally solving accounting problems.

Right. An uninteresting problem. They actually are interesting, but very different. But, these problems come in for a second. You’re scared and you think, I don’t know anything about this, but I think the approach is  how do we look at the problem? How do we take it apart? How do we solve it?

And that personally, for me, that training has helped in my current role. So you’re your academic training and the discipline that it took in order to get your PhD in atomic physics. It sounds like what you feel like it did is give you and your co-founders the skills to pretty much tackle any problem with the same rigor.


So whether that problem is,I need to form a business, what’s step one through? And the problem is we have formed a business and we promised that we would develop it to this point and we’ve hit this technical challenge. How do I solve it? So you’re taking that same training and applying it with equal rigor to the business side and the technical side of that?


Yeah, I think that’s true. Like I said, the co-founders, they’re practicing atomic physics. And I wouldn’t say I have nothing to do with that work anymore. My job is really to take these complicated ideas now and distill them down and kind of package them in a way that’s, that is that the customers can understand that can resonate with them so that they are willing to, put their dollars toward essentially kind of investing in our development with the hope that we’re going to, in the end, deliver products that they can that they can use and can solve their challenges.

So absolutely, that the training is direct. The training is also has been indirect. So hearing you talk about your co-founders and what the division of labor that you’ve described, you’re all three of you basically have the same background in atomic physics. How did you decide who was going to be the CEO, who was going to be primarily the CTO, and how did you feel about it?

Yeah, it was a different, different experience. We had gone into different roles, we had different backgrounds. So one of the co-founders is his background was directly in atomic clocks, one of the other co-founders. It was in these atomic inertial sensors for sensors, rotation sensors. I had worked in the government and a big part of my role was kind of advocating for technology.

Like I said kind of trying to explain it in simple terms, distill it down. But, really be able to explain the impact and kind of managing these larger programs. So I think the division was fairly natural. I think what’s great is that those divisions are not hard divisions.  ,not everyone is always willing to help.

I mean, this is the big  ,if you found a company with people you trust and people who are going to show up, it makes things a lot easier and a lot less lonely. I think if I had tried to start a company on my own, I never would have actually considered it. I had two people that I had a lot of trust in, and  ,what I’ve learned and covered would be the biggest example of this.

But there are a lot of minor issues that come up. There’s just minor crises, things are going well, but there’s always something bad happening and that you have to address. And it’s are you doing that on your own or are these other people going to step up? And I’ve just, we just found ourselves in situations that midnight where we’re asked for some information or we realize there’s a proposal we could turn in.

And they’re never like, that’s the CEO’s job, right? They step up and they really the question is like, how can I come in and help? And the three of us tackle the problem and we make it through. And so it’s  ,the three of us have been there from the start. So we’re deeply  ,we really understand what’s going on under the hood and we’re deeply invested in making it work.

So as we grow, there’s a challenge of kind of shedding some of these responsibilities.  ,Marty is no longer doing HR Matt is still doing it, but we hope to not have him do that. And it’s just like these things are happening.  ,there’s the stuff we like to do that happens on ours and the stuff we have to do to run the business.

And that’s like what’s happening off hours behind the scenes, right? So it sounds like a lot of the role definition was you leaning into existing experiences. And then it’s been very fluid because you are functioning more like a team. And now as your company has gone from three people to 42, you are having to say like put some boundaries and say maybe, maybe this is more mainly my job.

And  ,the atomic clock person is also not going to do the hiring package. Yeah. I mean I think it’s a tradeoff. It’s really challenging because again, we know every part of our business and things like hiring, we take it very seriously. And so we really want to kind of get things right.

There’s this, there’s this change that happens when it’s the company is ten people and the CEO is filling the drink refrigerator store or doing this kind of stuff. And that’s good. We’re all in the mix. And that people feel like, okay, we’re all here willing to contribute in any way we can.

But then you become a 40 person company and people look at that and they’re thinking, this isn’t what the CEO should be, should be doing. And so that transition is hard. And when you’ve done all that stuff, that transition is hard for me. I like doing some of those things. But yeah, your time is better spent. And I think we’ve kind of hit these milestones when we went from ten people or we got up to ten people, we realized we needed some administrative help.

When you get up to 20, you need more. You. And each time we kind of get to these friction points where we have to change the way we do business, we have to adapt. And it can’t be that we’re doing all the things that we’re doing and people can shed those responsibilities and there’s enough work to focus on what’s what’s important.

And so that doesn’t mean that that work isn’t important anymore. It’s just that we can hopefully find people who are actually better than just doing the job. And that’s what’s exciting for me, that we have an organization where we plug in new people and they’re hopefully better at purchasing than I am, and they 100% are are better at that,  ?

Yeah, reconciling all the accounting and that’s their focus. And so that’s exciting. As we kind of grow up, we run a very lean organization. So of those 42, 38 and a half of them are doing technical work and that’s what allows us to really punch above our weight. We’re taking money from the government and we want to make sure that as much of each dollar they give us goes into the technical work.

That’s what they’re paying us to do. They’re also helping pay our operational costs. And we just want to keep those low. We want to really be frugal in the way we do things. And put the resources toward what is ultimately the goal for the company. So, so many follow up questions are popping into my head.


Based on what you said, I’m going to zero in on the last thing you mentioned because it speaks to your business model. So you are delivering value to your customer, which at this point is the government, and this is how you’re funded. So talk a little bit about the decision to take government funding and your business model and taking government funding versus investor dollars.


Sure. Yeah. So I think that is very much how a startup like ours, in particular in this area, differs from a lot of the other startups, is that we’re 100% funded on federal government contracts and so we have no outside investment, we have no debt.  ,we are a revenue positive company, but we are also very much like these other startups in that we’re trying to develop technology we want to be.

We don’t see ourselves as a government contractor. We see ourselves as a product company, but it just takes some time to develop those products. So why did we go the government route? We did that because that was the world we came from and that’s what we knew how to do. So I would say we were very savvy in that area, but it is harder to build up those resources than, say, getting a single pot of the seed money.

So we figured we would try that first again, see if we got some traction. And if not maybe we could also look into external or VC funding. But we’ve been able to get enough traction to build up and operate a 40 person company. It’s more of a grind. I think it’s maybe a slower progression.

It doesn’t seem that way. It’s a lot of people over five years, but it’s just the world we came from and it’s kind of where our savviness was and and we were able to first kind of win small contracts and good ideas and and now I think we’re now we’re winning larger contracts based on our performance and taking just basic ideas to subsystems to systems, to boxes that are operating out on ships in the in the real world.


So what I think I’m hearing you say that kind of similar to the way you decided what your roles would be is, again, looking at where you already had experience and leaning into something you were already comfortable doing, you had developed skills and doing probably relationships and doing and starting from there and recognizing the tradeoff, which is you’re going to have to cobble together a series of contracts or rather than get a single pot of money from an investor.

And really it was piloting it where you started and said, I think we can do this, so let’s try this first. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll try something else. But the first thing worked. 


So yeah, and I think we can look at it in retrospect and say there was more thought that went into it, like what you’re saying.

And I think to some extent we were like, Let’s just try this and see what happens. And one of the co-founders, Matt Cashen, and  ,something I really respect in him is he will just go after something. There’s things that are scary or they’re hard. And I’d sometimes look and say, Man, we can do that.

And you just or someone isn’t doing it. He’ll just go and do it.  ,it’s not that he just really takes action. And I think at the time when we were thinking about starting a company I remember we were walking at some meeting and he was like, should we start a company? Like, we’re going to go start a company now?

And I was like, okay, I guess because I wanted to respect that and then I want it. And I was like, This has served him well. I should do this.  ,I should be like this too. I mean, my friend in grad school also he would always say, I don’t know where it came from.

Like, there’s no idea. That’s too or some ideas are too bad not to try. And that was kind of the approach we took where it’s just like, okay, throw caution to the wind,  ? Right. And let’s see if we can do this. We’re all  ,I think the thing about the three founders in the company in general, we want to win.

 ,we want to do really well and we’re competitive. I think we’re competitive in a friendly way. But we really we’re excited and we  ,we want to be out there doing good stuff. And so that really was the motivation. I don’t think we expected it to grow as fast as it was. We thought we would be out in the wilderness for a little bit longer and we would kind of slowly build up the company.

But I think it’s a testament to the work that those two guys have done and the good ideas that they have. I mean, I  ,I did a good job of packaging their ideas, but they’re the ones who actually deliver it. And then the team we’ve built out to do it, we really have an extraordinary team.

And I know everyone says their people are their most important.  ,the staff is the most important. I think that’s true. And it’s certainly been true for us. And we painstakingly try to find the right people recruit the right people, retain them to do the work we’re trying to do because it’s very hard and they need to have that kind of same attitude as well.

As  ,this is hard. And I may be a little bit scared, but we’re just going to go and we’re going to tackle it. We’re going to solve the problem. I’m curious, based on that experience of applying this competitiveness and also just commitment to trying just acting, as you said, acting and looking at and I don’t know, maybe you can talk about a little bit too about how long your timeline was as you were looking at developing the company.


How long did you think you’d be in R&D versus product and for the founders out there who are looking at maybe a similar timeline, how I don’t know if you feel like you could, but like what advice would you give in terms of evaluating like based on this timeline? Do I start with government grants? Do I go straight for I’m going to pitch this just and I know you didn’t have the experience in pitching, but I’m curious how you looked at the timeline and how that influenced you.


I think we have been involved in technology for many years in one way or another, and you have to be realistic about what the timeline is, especially since we’re building hardware. We’re not building a dating app or something where everyone will get some pizzas and we’ll all stay up overnight for two weeks.

And there’s no hackathon that’s going to solve this. Yeah. And knock it out. Yeah. It’s you got to be in it for the long term. And that had been our experience. So I think what’s really important is that you are realistic about that. So you can there’s nothing I certainly wouldn’t criticize taking the seed money. I think that’s great.

The challenge you have there is that you sometimes end up making promises that ultimately might be driven by the VCs. They want to see progress on a time scale, kind of set maybe 18 months or two years. That isn’t always compatible with the reality of the technology. And that’s fine.  ,everyone there’s a certain amount of salesmanship you do to sell the project, but then the money comes and   that that money will run out over 18 months or two years, and then you have to pay the piper and that’s that’s a real challenge.

So really trying to be realistic with for us, it’s a little bit different. Maybe the program ensures that the funding agencies have really said this is what we can do. They have ambitions. We all have the same goal in mind, which is to get this technology out into the world and so kind of helping it’s important for us to be realistic because if they’re promising their boss that this technology is going to be there in two years, then we don’t deliver it.

It’s not helpful for them. It’s certainly not helpful to us. So it really has got to take a very kind of metered approach and you have to really go through and try to solve every piece of it.  ,we all have kind of the parts we love about the job and people will fall back on focusing on those things.

But if we’re going to make a product, our products kind of have three things. They have mechanical systems, they have lasers and optics and electronics. If we’re going to make these things small and cheap, we have to do all three. We can’t just say we’re going to do the thing we love to do as graduate students.

So it’s kind of really laying things out and making sure that your ideas are realistic. I don’t think we had a timeline. We knew he had been in the game long enough to know this is going to take some time. And so it’s important for us and I think we do this on our own to show progress to our customers that we really are on the right track.

So things like operating these devices out in the real world. We took, I mentioned ,we took a groove emitter out on a ship. We were scheduled to do that. But then there was the opportunity on that ship. There was some free space. And so we really pushed to get our clocks on board, too. No one asked us to do that, but it was important to demonstrate the technology.

And so we kind of scrambled and went out of our way to do that. So really it requires you’ve got to be stoic. There’s one   what? You’re right in the proposals or what you tell the VCs. But  ,when the money comes, you have to know exactly what you’re going to do.

And do enough that someone’s going to want to write another check, whether that’s the V.C. or the government two years later or three years later when the program ends. So it sounds like really what you’re advising is first, be realistic, but also really understand what is the return on investment that whoever you’re asking to invest in, what you’re doing is looking for.

So and and can you achieve that in areas in the timeframe that they expect you to? So it really comes back to matching people’s understanding expectations, understanding how they’re rewarded. Yeah. And making sure that you are contributing to their success so that they feel like their money was well spent. Yeah, absolutely. And I think everyone is well intentioned.

Everyone has the same ultimate goal in mind.   what they might ask for. Maybe that’s too hard to do and it’s up to us to say, okay, that’s we see what you’re trying to do. We have the same goal in mind. And let us do this slightly different thing and the chances of success are much higher for us, right?

And you’re going to get something out of it and we will all. Yeah. Benefit from that. So there is a kind of a lot of shaping of what we’re doing and really we try to be very honest with where the technology is because it can win you something short term, right? But  ,long term you’re going to I’m trying to think how to say it in words appropriate for this podcast.

You’re going to frustrate people in the long term and they’re not going to want to do business with you. And so it’s very important for us to convey where things are and try to convey it honestly. And if things aren’t going well  ,say that or just take a more metered approach to developing the technology.


Yeah. What I think as I listen to what you’re saying as well, what you’re really underscoring is the importance of treating your thunder or your customer as a relationship, first of all. And also that it’s something that you’re in conversation soon with. So you’re not— I think there’s a temptation for people to look at funding as some kind of blessing.

Right. Like someone agreeing that your idea is good. And what you’re saying is it’s a relationship. It starts with a conversation. Part of what we bring to the relationship is our own understanding of our technology, what’s hard and what’s easy. And that might mean having the conversation that says what you were asking for is too hard and we can do this thing that moves us closer to what you’re asking for. If you adjust your expectations, it’s better for everyone. 


Yeah, that’s the thing. We won’t sign up to do something when we sign up for some crazy things because we didn’t know any better, we signed up to build an atomic gyroscope for space in two years. We had no background building anything for space.

Typically, these things can take several years, but we just again, sometimes you’re too naive. We just delivered it yesterday to the congratulations you were super excited about that. I mean, really an amazing job by a very small team on our end. But ifyou don’t, it doesn’t benefit anyone or  you. There can be these short term gains for people not to have a realistic idea of the technology.

 ,they’re looking at us to be honest about where things are and we won’t sign up for if the numbers are the requirements are crazy. We know, it can be frustrating, but we won’t sign ourselves up for that. We’ll go back and say here’s what’s challenging about this and here’s what we can do.

And still ambitious, still risky, but not impossible. And I think that that is respected.  ,people, no one’s trying to ask for the moon. And sometimes they might not understand that they’re asking for the moon because they’ve heard somewhere else that the moon is attainable right now. And it’s not good for them. And it’s certainly not good for us to build a doorstop.

 ,in the end, we spend get some contract for millions of dollars and not finish it. And there’s just a beautiful piece of non-working machinery propping a door open. It’s much more important to take the stuff out, show what it can do in the in the world. And that’s yeah, that’s the focus.


And so you’ve alluded to a couple of things that I think would qualify as surprises. I’m curious, what are some of the things that surprised you most in starting a company? 


I mean, I think I already said this. No one could have prepared for for sure if I had a crystal ball and I looked into it and saw COVID was happening, I would have never in a million years agreed to, yeah, to start the business. So there are large things like that, and there were big surprises along the way that kind of challenge all companies associated with that. First, how do we work together? We’re a company that’s building hardware and there are a lot of restrictions, and we operate in Alameda County, one of the most restrictive counties in the country.

And so how do we do that? How do we still build hardware? We can’t just send everyone home. I mean, in some cases we send people home with hardware and Guy has an atomic clock on his kitchen table that he’s the best place for that he’s building. Yeah, Yeah. But again, that’s just like, okay, everyone has everyone who’s building an atomic clock, right now has the same problem we have.

What do we do about it? Right, Right.  ,so the first challenge is, yeah, how do we, how do we operate with that? The next thing that became a challenge was hiring more people in COVID. A lot of there’s a lot more opportunity to work from home. Wanted to do that. There was a time when all the tech companies were just getting as much talent as they could.

Yeah, and again, people could work remotely. And so being able to find people and still grow. So just doing the work and figuring out how to do that was a challenge. Figuring out how to continue to hire people. It wasn’t easy and we didn’t necessarily have as many people at all times as we would like, which is starting to get better now, which is really encouraging for us.

And then it’s then you can’t order parts things like this. You read these things in the news about all these chip problems and I just don’t even think about how it affects us. And then we can’t none of the none we’ve designed boards and things like that of with all these various chips in them and they’re not available and everything needs to be redesigned and really just kind of several challenges along the way.

So those were all big surprises. And I think, again, it’s kind of how relentless these anywhere from pretty big stuff like that to just small things come up that even in times in generally we’re in things are going very well for us that there are always these minor crises that are popping up that we have to address.

So there’s never a time when  ,sometimes I’m like, man, this is an easy day for me. I don’t really have much to do. And that’s pretty atypical and guaranteed something will come up too, to fill that time. So just always all the things that one needs to address along the way to to operate a business and to operate a business of our size and to grow it.


So do you feel like having done this for a few years, that what you’re seeing as that what may qualify as a surprise has been normalized where where you’re maybe you’re still surprised but   to expect surprises.


I, I wouldn’t yeah I would say you have a maybe it’s just like a low level dread that these things are going to happen.

And so yeah I’m less I’m not necessarily surprised. I’m like, yeah, another unknown unknown and it’s  ,maybe what is, is, is a surprise. But   it gets you coping with dread though. You just realize that the problems are solvable. They’re not fine. And you’re like, okay, I got to figure out this or I’m going to have to do this.

But it does really help you with problem solving. And it makes it hard and it grinds on you, but it does also make you feel like you can kind of solve mostly we operated and built hardware through COVID. We come out of that. We’re like, we can do things. Yes. Like what’s the  ,what can you throw at us?

I’ll give you another example.  We try to be very disciplined and run a sustainable business. We do make some small profits off these contracts. We squirreled all that money away in the bank and we were very proud, had all the cash flow to operate the company, the bank, we put it in with Silicon Valley Bank.

And so that yeah, it’s one day we’re flying high and this is an issue and we’ve solved all our cash flow issues and we can operate this business long term. And we’re proud of the fact that we’ve kind of saved all that money and then it’s gone, right?  ,and it’s how am I going all of a sudden like you’re starting from scratch?

How am I going to make payroll? This stuff was all resolved in over a couple of days, and then it ended up not being impactful. It broke my brain. I said, and I’ll never fully recover from that. But there was 15 minutes where I was in shock. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I just didn’t know what to do.

But then you kind of take a breath and you think about it and what are we going to do? How are we going to make our next payroll?  How are we going to operate long term? And we worked hard over the weekend and we had a solution. We were going to be fine if the money never came back, which was most of our money, we still had some customers to the bill and we were going to be fine and it was going to be like, Money’s all gone.

We still show up to work on Monday and we just keep marching along the you we’re playing the long game here. Mm hmm. That’s such a great and very visceral example. Yeah, it’s. I know we didn’t have any VCs telling us to pull our money out of the bank. That’s where it doesn’t pay to not have easy money.

We were the only ones putting money in the bank. 


So this  your stick-to-itiveness and your ability to continue I know must rely a lot on your team. And you’ve talked a lot about that and you’re in Pleasanton. You’ve built your company here. Can you talk a little bit about the resources in the Tri-Valley and how that,  kind of why the Tri-Valley?

This is the Startup Tri-Valley podcast and I’m really interested in how this place has factored into your success. 


Yeah, there’s and it definitely has in the, in the talent pool, there’s a very specific and kind of narrow talent that we’re looking for in these atomic physicists, and they’re recruited from all over the country universities.

They’re doing postdocs and  ,in that small world they have some awareness and they apply. And so they’re coming from all over the place. The rest of our staff is coming locally. And I think the really great thing is that we don’t need 42 Ph.D. atomic physicists. Most of our first hires were, but now most of our hires are engineers, different people with different skills.

And I had mentioned the technologies that go into this, there’s nothing really you don’t need to know about quantum mechanics to be able to build lasers, design all the mechanical parts and things, things like that. We need very skilled people. And those people are actually here. They’re just working on other things for other companies.

And not only are they bringing these talents, they have been in the industry longer than some of us. They might understand different parts of things. They’ve worked for companies that have fielded real devices that are going out in and operating in very challenging environments. So they’re even bringing skills that we don’t have, and that’s very exciting for us.

So we have a lot of veterans of the industry all the way down to our administrative people who have worked at other startups, seeing the good and the bad, and they can give me advice and be like, don’t do this.  I’m like, this seems like a good idea. They like to start up again.


Exactly. I have seen that in my last company. 


And that advice is very helpful. So yeah, all that talent is here and that’s  ,veterans of the industry. That’s very exciting and that is going to allow us to really kind of pour gasoline on the fire and grow faster than we would have expected. 


And in terms of so you have your business in Pleasanton, you also live in Pleasanton.


Right. And how how has the again, the place it sounds like in terms of recruiting it’s been great. So people who are already living here and you’ve also been able to attract people to come here and I’m just interested in how the place has been from more of a whole person standpoint. Pleasanton. And why did we choose Pleasanton?

None of us lived here. I lived in Oakland, Marty lived Sunnyvale, Matt lived in Gilroy at the time and we kind of looked around on the maps. There’s a couple of reasons, but we were really trying to optimize. We were all at points in our lives we had lived in kind of all of us had lived in the Silicon Valley area and it’s kind of hard to start your life.

It’s very expensive to live there, to buy homes and things like that. And it kind of stunts your growth on the whole person level as the work is good and interesting, but you’re living in a small apartment, these types of things. And so that’s one of the things that made Matt move out to Gilroy.

He wanted a house. He wanted to build stuff and have a garden and all this kind of stuff. So he kind of just bit the bullet and did that. So when we looked, we really tried to optimize for where housing is affordable. Yeah. And finally affordable and   where there are good schools.

We all had kind of young kids and it was where we found a positive place to raise our families. We also had a link to Lawrence Livermore when we first started. They gave us some space. They have kind of an incubator, some incubation space there, which was really helpful. This is the ammo. Yes.

Yeah, Yeah. And so they were great. And that kind of also drew us into this area. So we looked here, we looked kind of at Walnut Creek, other areas, and we settled on this area and I think we were right. The first couple of people were able to buy houses. I think COVID and all these challenges made it really hard.

A lot changed. So for me, we were starting a business and we were financially tied to the business and there were still some risks.  My wife and I stayed out in Oakland with the idea that we were going to buy a house, basically right around the time that COVID came.

And that kind of threw a big wrench in the situation. And that was because the timeline is a real challenge.  ,and it was a real challenge actually, to buy a house out here. I’m the CEO of the company and I’m having challenges with that. So we really liked the place. Housing is a challenge. I think COVID, it pushed people they could work further from Silicon Valley and it almost kind of extended the  valley into this area.

So that’s been frustrating. It’s a great place. I love the schools that my kids go to, all this is very positive. I like riding my bike to work a couple times a week, but I’m hoping that some things shake out so that all our employees can live the same dream, Right?

Good. It’s good for them. It’s good for us because they also become more sticky there. They’re here working for the company that’s transient. At some point, people might look and say yeah, I love working here. And we’ve heard that sometimes, but it’s expensive in the area and I want to buy a house so it’s a challenge.


Yeah. No, this area that’s a really interesting point. The stickiness and the fact that so   you, you’ve located your company and and a great place to live if you can afford to live and with access to things like the Advanced Manufacturing Lab and in Lawrence Livermore National Labs that can help   give a new company a space or access to tools and all these kinds of things.

And at the same time, you are still really close to remembering what what made you feel like your your personal life could be stunted, which is if you even if I have a great job, even if I’m doing exciting work, working with great people, my my personal life has to be able to move on. And if the region doesn’t support that with things like housing and and I mean other resources diminished a little bit and you lose the stickiness that you have.


Yeah.  We pay salaries that in 99% of the country you could buy a very nice house and we happened to be maybe in the 1% of the country where you can’t. So it’s great but we want to be providing jobs where people can buy a home, not just because of the stickiness, but because it’s great.

It would make us proud that we’re running a company and people are using their salaries to pay mortgages and buy homes and things like that. And they’re going to be long term employees. Positive situation for everyone. So I think we’re hoping that things will adjust in a way that more people can realize that.




It’s a challenge everywhere in the country. So I’m not I’m not picking on this area. The area is great. 


I mean, to not bring it up would be to be excruciatingly blind. Yeah, it’s just as obvious. And it’s and it’s worth talking about because it can create problems and it kind of leads me to my next couple of questions, which is looking at the next five years, clearly Vector Atomic is really laser-focused on getting a product to market.

So what do you see as the opportunities and what is this? What do you see as the challenges in doing that and in doing that here in the Tri-Valley? 


I think again, it’s adding the rest, the talent and the right kind of talent. And I think it’s here there are very there are adjacent industries we’re seeing that  ,we are seeing the benefit of some industries that are having challenges and now we get a lot of people from the from those industries now applying to work for us, people who we wouldn’t have thought we could get.

And we’re really excited about that. So that part is great. I think we see in the next five years that we are really going to be focused on building products.   what, one thing I haven’t mentioned is when we talk about these things, these are the kind of devices that will initially go into infrastructure where their high value, high cost devices, we’re not making 50% of all the things that go into automobiles.

Ultimately, we would love to do that, but that’s a 10 to 15 year goal. So we’re building, our goal is to ultimately build these things first in kind of the tens than the hundreds, then hopefully up to the tens of thousands. And for those first ten or 100 devices, those will be built.  Our intent is to build those in Pleasanton, California.

We want to really figure out the recipe here. But if we’re going to scale up manufacturing, it’s probably gonna be in another part of the country that may be contracting manufacturing. Mm hmm. But we see this is where the talent is, and this is really the hub where we will develop the products. So we intend to be here.

We’re looking at new space right now to expand. We’re in kind of tight confines and we’re looking to kind of triple that space and add the infrastructure for small scale manufacturing like that. So that’s what we’re going to be doing over the next couple of years, is we’re going to be building the first prototypes, first commercial devices.

We already started doing that and getting those out into the world. So our intent is to be here. People have kids in school and things like that. So that also there are practical issues as well.  ,we’re here to see. That’s fantastic. So looking at expansion is very exciting. And I know manufacturing here is something that is wonderful and I think every region has again, referencing COVID blur and the lesson of if you can’t support manufacturing in your city, or certainly at least in the country, there can be real, real problems.


Yeah. So anything I didn’t ask that you thought I should? 


I  want to talk about, I mean, maybe I would just say at a high level, we’ve built these things and they can make real contributions. Are the sensors we’re building or operating at the state of the art for their form factor. The technology is hard, but if you’re disciplined  you can make it real.

And so it’s not a technology that’s far out in the future. We have things right now and we have to figure out how to duplicate them and make them cheaper. But now the kind of the form factor is there. The performance is there. And we’re getting people who are like, Great, can I buy one of these?

And now we have to build up the capacity to build ten of the devices. They’re very complicated systems. But it’s not a question of whether it can be done at this point. It it it it can and in some cases has been already done. It’s just now we got to build more of them.


So before we close out any words of wisdom to the Startup Tri-Valley community founders?


Founders, I would, yeah. I would say I’ve seen that if you’re going to do it, just do it. Just jump out in the ocean and you’ll swim or you won’t, and probably someone will throw you a life raft. But if you dip your toe in the water, you’re just going to be it’s like when you’re first jumping into a pool, you’re always cold.

If you slowly walk in, you just jump, jump into the deep end and go for it, and you’ll quickly find out whether there’s traction or not. But people want to play it safe and maybe do things on the side while they have their job. I understand that. But it’s going to be hard to get going.

The good thing for us when we started is day one. We didn’t have anything to do. Yeah, we were free. Nothing And so all our focus was on that. The other thing that I would say is I think it’s very important to find people to work with that you really trust,   that and you’re kind of you have a shared vision or just a shared mindset.

I don’t know that our vision was even totally shared, but everyone was willing to work hard. Everyone was really honest. And I’ve seen other situations where people will kind of get together without knowing each other. So you pick the right people and at least if things are going bad you’re in the foxhole with them, they’re not jumping out of it.

So I definitely, definitely recommend that you just go for it. 


So it sounds like I’m going to encapsulate it as: “ Jump in the deep end, bring a friend.”


Yeah. And hopefully they know how to swim if you don’t. 


Well, I think we’ll close there. Thank you so much to me all for being on the pod. This has been amazing and I love the Vector Atomic T-shirt.

Right. And thank you for joining us today. 


Appreciate you wearing iit.


It is my favorite.


Thank you so much. Really appreciate you inviting me here.