Alex Pachikov of Sunflower Labs: How to demo during the pandemic

Ganda Suthivarakom

Oct 20, 2020

Alex Pachikov, CEO and cofounder of Sunflower Labs, dreamt up a drone security system after being awakened too many nights by unidentified noises. The company announced the launch of the first fully autonomous residential security drone at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2020, right before the pandemic took hold. Since then, Pachikov and his bicontinental team have had to find new ways of building a physical product safely, working with each other across video, and demonstrating their system to potential customers and investors. We talked to Pachikov about how mmhmm has helped his team rise, like an eye in the sky, above those challenges.

An illustration of how the sunflowers, bee, and beehive would be placed around a home.

How did Sunflower Labs get started?

We founded the company in 2016. I live next to a forest, and in the forest behind my house there are constant noises — there are animals, teenagers party in there sometimes, so it's always been a source of anxiety and apprehension. My wife used to wake me up all the time in the middle of a night because she heard something. We did have security cameras, but we couldn’t see anything useful with them. 

So I basically decided, with my co founder, Chris [Eheim], that it would be cool to see if we could build a drone, that would be the eye in the sky for our security system. We realized that not only would we need to build a drone, but we would need to build the base station for the drone to live in and to land in; and we would need to build a set of sensors in order to detect what is going on so the drone knows where to go. We wanted to build a complete solution.

How has your business changed with the pandemic? What are some of the challenges that you faced?

One is we had two offices—one was in San Francisco and one was in Zurich, Switzerland. And several other employees and I would regularly go between the offices. Obviously, that became very difficult and somewhat impractical to do with quarantine. 

Another is that we are a physical security company. It's not something that you can just buy online, and install on your computer. We would need to come out or our installers would need to come out and install a system physically at a particular location. When the pandemic hit, many of our demos were delayed.

How have you overcome those challenges, and how has mmhmm helped?

I think being able to build the company so that we're better at working remotely has generally improved our communication and the way that we can be productive, independent of working hours. 

Using mmhmm has definitely helped us do demos of our system remotely. And this is a huge thing for us because, you know, even, even in the normal situation we can't do every demo by sending a drone and a bunch of sensors to people at their house. We needed to be able to demonstrate our system remotely, and mmhmm allowed us to do that. And we had to develop that method in a crash course because otherwise we wouldn't be able to have any sales at all. 

One of the challenges for us in this time is fundraising. And one of the ways that mmhmm was specifically very helpful was in doing the pictures and the demos of our system. We don't just have a slide deck when we're presenting to somebody; we want to show them a live demo of the system. So, using mmhmm, we’re able to not only show slides but also to actually tap into the live video directly from the drone. And I can show both the physical product in my hand as I'm sitting in front of the Zoom screen, but then also show how it's operating and show how it's flying. I can just switch between slides, a video of me, and the live video directly from the drone. We also have the footage of our external camera which shows the landing. 

I can just switch between slides, a video of me, and the live video directly from the drone.

Without mmhmm it would have been extremely difficult to do this. It was kind of a one man show. I did dozens of pitches sitting in my home office, while simultaneously doing a presentation and controlling multiple video inputs into the presentation. 

What kind of reactions have you gotten to those remote presentations?

One reaction is, “How are you doing that?!” I am not kidding, I have spent a lot of time in investor presentations explaining mmhmm to people because they are extremely fascinated by how I’m doing this so effortlessly. I actually ran out of all of my beta invite codes because I ended up inviting the people I was pitching.

Another reaction I get quite often is when I do a demo, people ask me, “Is this live?” Because I'm effortlessly switching between video of me and video of the drone and the slides, they think this is all canned, like a karaoke singalong. Because you can actually see me from the footage of the drone, you know, which is outside of my house, people realize that it's actually live.

What's a positive thing that has come out of the pandemic for you?

In the past, we had seen our system as a bit of a luxury. Now with the pandemic, it's just much harder to provide security physically by hiring security guards. We found that our system really can kind of provide remote security, functionality and capabilities that didn’t exist before. More than 1,000 people have reached out to us and said, We have these remote sites and we can no longer have people do any monitoring on them; they're completely insecure, and we need some way to keep an eye on them. And so we found this new mission. And we think that even after the pandemic, this trend will continue. We're happy to be at the forefront of it.

The Sunflower Labs security drone system