3D printing, Robotics, Pharmaceuticals. Federico Parietti, Co-Founder and CEO at Multiply Labs, tells the lessons the startup has learned

Multiply Labs is a tech startup at the intersection between robotics and pharmaceuticals. We build and operate robots that can 3D print customized capsules, able to release the exact schedule of medications and supplements required by a customer. For example, if a customer needs Vitamin D and Omega 3 in the morning and a caffeine boost a few hours later, our robots can pack that specific supplement program into a single daily pill.

We developed the company’s core technology when we were students at MIT in Boston and at the Università degli Studi di Milano. Our research publications on the release performance of the 3D printed capsules won numerous international awards, including the Best 2015 Paper Award on the Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology. Excited by the potential of this technology – it holds the promise of finally making personalized medications a reality – we formed Multiply Labs in the spring of 2016. The founding team included Fred Parietti (CEO), Alice Melocchi (CTO), Joe Wilson (head of product) and Tiffany Kuo (head of marketing & ops). Multiply Labs was admitted to the 2016 Summer Batch of Y Combinator, the leading startup accelerator in Silicon Valley.

Multiply Labs Team

During the journey of this startup, we have learned many important lessons. The most significant are:

Importance & difficulty of hiring in the Silicon Valley talent race

A technology startup needs to possess all of the technical skills necessary to create its core product, and it also needs to deliver results at a much faster pace than a traditional company. This means that hiring talented, motivated, technically proficient employees is one of the most important priorities in the early stages of the startup. This task is complicated by the scarcity of technical (especially in hardware/robotics) talent in Silicon Valley. More precisely, while the Bay Area is full of talented engineers, the competition to hire them is fierce among both startups and established companies. The key to hiring top employees is to have an exceptional founding team with a clear vision, and to work on a technology that is both new and with a real impact in the lives of its customers.

Importance of team-first mentality

The startup world requires a very high level of technical skills, commitment, and hard work. This usually means that people who work in startups are young, motivated, and used to lead and succeed in every stage of their career. Bringing together so many “alpha-types” has the potential to generate extremely creative solutions, but can also lead to conflict and misunderstanding. In fact, one of the main reasons why startups fail is because their teams dissolve or stop being productive. At Multiply Labs, we foster creativity and avoid conflict by enforcing a “parallel” team structure. Everyone in the team is encouraged to contribute and share even the wildest ideas he/she thinks could benefit the company. We also share the issues that we face with the same openness, so that no problem goes unnoticed and we can immediately start working on a solution together.

The value of hard tech in today’s startup ecosystem

Hard tech startups, a category first proposed by Sam Altman, have been enjoying increasing success both in terms of fundraising, and in terms of exits. When Multiply Labs joined Y Combinator, in the summer of 2016, more than 10% of the startups in the batch were working on innovative hardware/AI technologies, well beyond the realm of straightforward software/apps. This percentage is predicted to grow significantly in the subsequent years, a rapid rise would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago. Cruise Automation, for example, was one of the first “hard tech” startups Y Combinator backed (in 2014). Cruise was acquired by General Motors in 2016 for about $1 billion, one of YC’s largest exits to date. As the venture capital community and consumers start to look for technologies and products that can solve real, hard challenges, they turn to “hard tech startups” operating in robotics, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals. At Multiply Labs, we’re very happy to have met investors like P101, that share our vision for the future of personalized medications. And the reaction of our first customers has been equally enthusiastic!

The value of customer experience & feedback

When developing new, cutting-edge technologies, it is important to never lose sight of customers and their real needs. At Multiply Labs, customer experience and feedback have been key focal points since the beginning of the company. We have interviewed hundreds of customers and potential customers, and we’ve always pushed the development speed of our products to its extreme. Getting early versions of our products, packaging, and site in the hands of our users means that we can collect their feedback on all aspects of the product and improve the overall experience. We use this invaluable information to inform the development of the product, from the ingredients chosen to every custom subsystem in the robotic manufacturing system.