William Leonard

Hey, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. I’m William Leonard, your host and investor here at Valor Ventures, a leading seed-stage VC firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Today, I’m really excited to sit down with Garrett Langley, founder, and CEO of Flock Safety. Garrett, welcome to the podcast. 

Garrett Langley

Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on. 

William Leonard

Awesome. Well, I must start by saying congratulations. I saw the team just announced Series D funding led by Andreessen. You got to go on this journey a few years ago, how does it feel right now to have series D funding under your belt?

Garrett Langley

It’s a bit surreal. I remember we were at my dining room table or my kitchen table four years ago and we said, “Look, if this thing is gonna really work, we’re gonna have to raise at least $100 million.” It’s a hardware company, there’s machine vision, there’s software, it’s an inexpensive business to build. It’s not a pure SaaS play. It’s very weird to now be looking at our carta information and see $230 million in total capital raised. Alright,  I guess it’s working pretty well if we’ve done this.

William Leonard

For sure, man. That is a huge accomplishment not many can say. But yeah, let’s kick it off. We’d love to you dive into a little bit about what you’re doing. I would love for you to take it a step further and educate our listeners on what Flock Safety practically doing?

Garrett Langley

Four years ago, my co-founders and I were sitting at our dining room table asking the question, “Why does crime exist?” Or by bluntly, “Why should crime exist?” And I think if you remove the evil, the truly evil people in the world, which unfortunately do exist, crime is largely an opportunistic problem. It exists because people believe they can get away with it. We challenged ourselves to say, “What if we could build a company that was focused on using technology to help fight crime?” If you look at the data, as a market, it’s incredibly underserved the generations before us and the two generations before us. The law enforcement industry was largely looked up to. If you follow the news today, that’s largely not the case anymore. It is an industry that doesn’t have the kind of allure it used to have and the ramification of that is a lot of people like you and myself, don’t want to go build technology companies with all that. Insurance, that’s got a bunch of technology. Finance, it’s got a bunch of technology, real estate technology. Nothing’s happening in public safety. That was kind of the genesis of, “Let’s go build a public safety technology company.” The first product was what we call our Falcon. It’s a car. It’s a camera that’s designed to read license plates and track cars. In the high-level use case, I have a flat camera in my front yard. Let’s say, unfortunately, someone stole my car. As soon as they drove past my camera, a few seconds later, the nearest police officer gets a notification in their vehicle and says, “Hey, Garrett’s Toyota Prius GT 698 was just spotted. It’s a known stolen vehicle. Go get them.” What’s cool is today, we help law enforcement make about 185 arrests a day, which accounts for just over 1% of all arrests in America.

William Leonard

That is really interesting. I would assume that you encountered some issues yourself personally or within the family that really led to you saying like, “This is enough. We need a solution here.”?

Garrett Langley

Like many communities in Atlanta, and just in urban or suburban environments, my neighborhood was the victim of a pretty organized evening. Some gang came in, broken into what seemed like every single car in the neighborhood. It was really frustrating because I could tell by the look on the face of the officer who came to my community to talk about it, “I want to help. This stinks for you, and it stinks for me because I can’t do anything.” You have a grainy picture from a doorbell camera. That’s great. But what do you want me to do next? That’s it. It was like, “Okay, light bulb.” You can go look at this person’s salary. That’s not like they’re pulling in crazy money. He did this job, joined this career because he wants to make an impact on his community as a police officer. Yet he doesn’t have any evidence, he doesn’t have the tools. It’s really this idea of how we can build the tools our law enforcement needs to be more objective, to be more ethical, to be more transparent, and then also go solve a bunch of crimes?

William Leonard

Yeah. What’s your background, Garrett? I know you’re from the metro Atlanta area. Where did you go to school? What did you do prior to building Flock Safety?

Garrett Langley

I have a running joke that I’ve never had a real job. I got hooked up with some guys right out of high school who were Georgia Tech grads. I went to Georgia Tech, electrical engineering, but it wasn’t my plan. I actually met these guys. They had taken the company public in the 90s. We’re starting another company and I was like, “I want to work here.” I didn’t really know what startups were. This is back in the early 2000s. I got the itch. In the world I grew up in as a kid, people didn’t start companies just like that. That’s a foreign idea. You don’t raise money, you just go get a job. I had met these guys and they started companies. I thought I didn’t know that was a career path. I kind of got the itch there, it was, fortunately, a financial success. We went up selling the company to Qualcomm and started another company with the same group of guys. That was another success. And really, there was like, “Alright, I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.” Like the fact that you can just have an idea, make a little bit of progress, and then find people like yourselves, who can give you a little bit of seed money, get a bit more traction. That ecosystem is just, I think it’s the definition of like the American dream. I guess you can start with nothing and actually end up with a whole lot of something and make a dent in the world.

William Leonard

Yeah, that’s so true, man. Being a founder is an interesting journey. I can’t relate to it but I speak with founders every single day. I can just see you lining up with passion in your eyes and in your voice and how excited you are to build every single day. It rubs off on others, you know.

Garrett Langley

What I think that’s not talked about very often and I’m not sure why, at least in the venture community, I think in the bootstrapped world it’s more talked about. I was talking to one of my colleagues in LA, and he’s one of our technicians. He was like, “This is the best job I’ve ever had.” And I was like, “Whoa, right.” Like, as a founder, you think about we raised all this money, we built this really cool product, but you forget that there’s like a flock, no, there are just over 300 people who I hope I’ve created an opportunity for them to have the best, most rewarding job of their lives. That’s a part of the founding experience that maybe I took for granted before. But now, as we continue to kind of get into later stages, it’s a big part of what keeps me excited. The impact that I can have in the company, can have on our teams’ lives. In his case, his family’s life as well.

William Leonard

I agree. I think it’s appropriate to dive in a little bit here. You just closed or announced that at the series D round, you’ve raised some rounds of capital prior to that. Navigating the fundraising rounds is difficult. It’s not easy. It’s time-consuming. It’s daunting in some cases. Do you have any advice for early-stage founders who are going out, maybe raising a pre-seed or seed round? How can they more effectively navigate the fundraising process? How can they really pitch their value to VCs in these interactions?

Garrett Langley

We did a seed round, we did our Series A or Series B, did our Series C and just closed our series D. We’ve raised a lot of money. And any other something that I don’t think enough founders talk about, which is not every funding round, is going to be a home run. Our seed was a home run. Our series A was a home run, our Series B was a struggle. I thought we were ready to raise capital, the market didn’t agree with the milestones we had hit. Our Series C was a home run, or series D was a home run. Looking at companies like Facebook, they have a crappy route and had crappy rounds too. They had flat and down rounds at Facebook known as an honest way to be a trillion-dollar company. I talked to a lot of early-stage founders and the thing that was good was you got to have one of three things to raise money in a seed stage. One, have a successful exit beforehand. Because then it’s really easy to go raise money, pattern matching. I’m going to assume that 99% of people listening have not had a successful exit. Let’s move that one out. The second one is like you gotta have real traction. That’s hard. Because if you’re raising a seed stage, like the question is, what is enough traction? I was talking to someone recently whose product goes live this Friday. He was like, “What’s enough traction?” My point to him was investors invest in emotion, not rationality. It’s a lot about your conviction. My question to him is, “What’s enough traction for you to have a different point of view on your business?” Like for me at Flock, we had seven customers, $25,000 in ARR, and we raised our seed round. Because for me, like my personal conviction, which would be conveyed through the pitch had fundamentally changed. I was like, “Holy smokes. There are seven strangers who believe in this product, and we’re doing something.”
The second, I think, actually has a lot more to do with the founder, like the traction level, but some traction. And then the third thing that I think is maybe the most important personal opinion on the seed stage is like, what’s that hook, right? As a VC, you probably see a dozen companies a week, a day, a month, whatever. You have a lot of deal flow. The question becomes like what is truly unique? And every business has to have that. We always used to call it a cocktail party test. What’s that one slider? What’s that one line that when I’m at a cocktail party later tonight, I’m like, “I met this company and this happened.” For Flock, we were fortunate in our seed stage. We had one slide in our deck and it was a mug shot. It was a picture of the person that we had put in jail because of the camera. I can guarantee you that every single investor I pitched talked about that deck, they’re like, “You’re not gonna believe the company I met. I don’t really know what they do. They’re putting people in jail. They’re actually making arrests. Their whole pitch is like, do you believe everyone wants to be safe?” And if you do this, companies make a lot of money for us. I think a lot of people focus way too much early on how big the market is, or why this product is so great. That actually matters. Find that one thing that’s truly special about your business, and lean all the way in, but you’re gonna come to a point like where we are now, what’s your month over month growth, and what’s your quarter? All the metrics. I’ve got a data room with 1000 spreadsheets. Early on, as an investor, what’s gonna get me super excited because I know that there’s a 95% chance your company’s not going to make it. I want to be emotionally connected.

William Leonard

I think that’s excellent advice. I think that that whole key takeaway like you said, investors may not understand what you’re doing. But if you have that one little tidbit in your deck that draws their attention and makes them want to share that deck or talk about it with other investors. Sometimes a lot of decks do miss out on that but I love that insight from you, Garrett. As a founder and a leader, you’re managing hundreds of people, the company is growing. How many employees do you have right now? 

Garrett Langley

Just over 300.

William Leonard

Wow. So just over 300 people. As founders are raising seed, Series A, capital, what are some tips for company building, hiring, building a culture that is inclusive and that people really want to work in day in and day out?

Garrett Langley

It gets back to the mission. This is the third company I’ve been a part of and then said, a founding capacity. The two that did the best were the two that had the strongest missions out of the gate. Because I think at the beginning of a company, let’s talk about the first 100 employees, definitely, the first 10 or 20 employees, all you’ve got is your mission. Your product’s probably not where it needs to be, your revenue’s not where it needs to be, you don’t have a lot of cash to throw around for salaries. You’re really selling people the dream and if your dream is, “We’re gonna all go make a bunch of money.” Odds are, that’s not gonna happen. When something goes wrong, you’re going to lose everyone. Most likely, at an early stage, you’re going to have more things go wrong than right. For us, it’s always been, you’ve got to define why you exist. You’ve got to define what the future world you think should exist, and how you’re going to get there. If you have that, I think it actually winds up being really easy to recruit. Because your top of the funnel becomes very narrow very quickly because it’s like, do you fundamentally believe in this mission and what we can accomplish in the next decade? And if you do, then like jump on board, we’ll figure out the details later. But if you don’t, it’s like you should just go work at a much bigger company. There are great companies out there. That’s for us. What’s always been super important early on is like, everyone needs to look at a company like Flock, y we’ve got employees in just over 20 states. We have different educational backgrounds. We have different races, different religions, different sexual orientations. We got the whole thing covered, but we all believe crime shouldn’t exist. That’s our common denominator.

William Leonard

I love that. That’s a great insight. For the business, who is your aim customer? Are you selling to municipalities? Are you selling to consumers? How is Flock Safety practically being used here?

Garrett Langley

We sell to three primary groups. The first is municipalities. If you’re in the Atlanta area, that’s the city of Atlanta, Sandy Springs, it’s College Park, it’s Union City. It’s DeKalb County, Cobb County. It’s municipalities. We sell to them. We also sell to pretty much anyone inside of that municipality. If you go to a place like Sandy Springs, we have neighborhoods, we have in-town suites, we have a parking lot. If there’s a part or a piece of dirt that you care about, you’re a potential Flock customer. We really break it up into those. Those two big buckets are to municipalities and then the citizens of that municipality who want to be protected.

William Leonard

Gotcha. You just raised that capital, the company is growing, you have over 300 employees, what does success look like for you all for the rest of this year?

Garrett Langley

Yes. We should, knock on wood, double the company again in terms of revenue before the end of the year, which would be great. We’re on track to do that. That’s on revenue, not on employee headcount. That’d be a lot of people. We’ll probably add another 100 and 150 people to the company. But for us, what we always go back to is, we don’t lead with revenue or headcount, we lead with crime. What I look for is, how many of the cities have trusted us with the job of helping them stay safe. How many of them see a significant reduction in crime? I was talking to the folks over in Fort Worth, Texas, and they doubled their clearance rate, which is a really strong indicator they’re gonna have big reductions. The clearance rate is the measure if a crime happens, what’s the likelihood it gets solved? They’ve seen that double since working with Flock. What we see exotically is that once you drive a higher clearance rate, you eventually start to see a crime reduction because criminals are relatively smart and don’t want to get arrested. I get excited when I see places like Marietta, or places like Cobb County, or places like South Fulton, throw up some just incredible stats in terms of overall crime reduction. My hope is that every customer in the back half of the year sees a big drop, particularly in violence, which we know has seen an uptick this year since COVID.

William Leonard

Definitely. Transitioning here a bit, Garrett, you’re a Georgia Tech grad. You grew up here. When you started Flock, was there any instance in your mind that you would build elsewhere, other than the city of Atlanta? Or was Atlanta always top of mind for you?

Garrett Langley

We contemplated moving the business to San Francisco four years ago. That was quite normal. I think it’s become less normal, especially with COVID. But my team and I sat down and said that it feels a bit disingenuous to say we’re going to build this company that’s focused on solving crime and then we’re just going to say, like, peace to our own hometown when all three of us are largely from Atlanta. It felt wrong to do that. We kind of had that. This is what we should do. We stuck it out. We’ve been in Atlanta ever since. 

William Leonard

I’m glad you all didn’t leave the city. I agree. It’s home, man. What are some of the network effects that you’ve seen building here in Atlanta? Network effects are often the term synonymous with Silicon Valley in the Bay Area but I feel like Atlanta’s ecosystem has its own set of network effects. What are some that you’ve seen and experienced in the business?

Garrett Langley

I can’t speak to other cities but when I think about Atlanta, one thing that has really changed over the last four years is the amount of camaraderie between founders. I’m on a text message group with most of the VC-backed startups here that are, let’s say, post-Series B. That’s awesome. What an incredible resource because it’s not a zero-sum game. We’re playing talent tight, but it’s not that tight. There are great people everywhere. We’re better off just convincing the larger technology community, whether you’re at Home Depot, or Delta, or Coca Cola, to come to join an early-stage company because you and I talk about a place like Flock being later stage, right? We have 300 employees. I’m a small regional division at Coca-Cola, right? We’d recently brought on a leader from Home Depot, and she’s incredible. She was leading a team of 200 people when she left Home Depot, and she’s moved to an IC role. That is a total of 180. I think the more people we, as a VC and technology community, can show some of our fortune 100 friends that there’s a place for them as well in this community, the better off we are. I think that camaraderie has been something that’s really special that I don’t think exists. Maybe it does exist everywhere, but I love that we have in Atlanta.

William Leonard

I think as you said, the talent pool here is so ginormous. You think about the universities, Georgia Tech, Georgia State. Morehouse, Spellman, you have all the apples in town that are just putting out consistent cohorts of talent. There’s not a shortage, it’s going to continue to grow, continue to feed, and really accelerate the ecosystem I believe. As we’re wrapping up here, Garrett, word on the street is that you’re a big wine connoisseur. 

Garrett Langley

You got to find ways to take a break. There are two things I love in life outside of work and my family, and that’s working out and drinking wine. Those go hand in hand really well together. To me, there’s something to be said about celebrating life and nothing does that better than a bottle of champagne. I’m in the camp that champagne is for every day, because every day is worth celebrating if you’re alive, and you’re healthy. You have a healthy family and I’m fortunate to have that today and really for a long time. I’m a big wine guy. I can’t get enough of it.

William Leonard

Well said, Garrett, well said, I think this was a really great conversation. I love your advice around early-stage fundraising tips for company building and how the mission is really the driver of getting talent to the team and it’s so important to really portray and articulate that mission. Really appreciate you joining me, Garrett and I hope we can do this again soon, man. Congratulations on the recent funding round as well. 

Garrett Langley

Thank you. Likewise, and have a great rest of your day. 

William Leonard

Cheers.

Lisa

Thank you for listening to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. You know, we’re not just a podcast, we’re a community, and we’d love to see you at one of our digital or physical events, go to valor.VC and sign up for an event that makes sense for you. We have events for founders and the investors who back them. Another event you might enjoy is Startup Runway. The Startup Runway Foundation is a Valor organization that provides $10,000 grants to founders who are women or people of color building next-generation software products. Applications are free and we’d love to hear from you at startuprunway.org. And as always, thank you so much to the organizations that make this podcast possible. Not only Valor Ventures, but also Write2Market, a tech marketing and PR agency in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Startup Runway Foundation and Atlanta Tech Park Valley’s headquarters, and also headquarters for over 100 local entrepreneurs, building global businesses. See you next week. Please bookmark the podcast and join us.