Trailblazers: Meet Damon Henry, CEO of Asylon
We partner with Trailblazers, founders whose innovative ideas are reimagining their industries. This series aims to highlight disruptive companies and the leaders who built them.
Damon Henry, Co-Founder and CEO of Asylon, speaks to the challenges of being a first-time, technical founder and the value of building a strong team culture. Asylon is an American-made, full-service robotic perimeter security company.
How did you get started with Asylon?
My background is in aerospace engineering: I graduated from MIT back in 2010 and was in industry for about six years working for GE. I ultimately switched over to Boeing, where I was working on small UAVs for the military. I enjoyed it, but back in 2015, the industry really started taking off right as Amazon announced drone delivery, and all of a sudden, the world was flooded with drone companies. I remember walking around a conference with my co-founder, and everybody was working on the drone. With our experience from aerospace, we realized, for this to be truly scalable, you have to automate the entire solution. It's great that the drone can fly itself, but you still have an operator velcroing the battery and swapping the SD card at the end of the day, so it’s not truly automated from that standpoint. That’s what really sparked Asylon when we set out to automate the back-end infrastructure and it's grown into the full stack robotics security solution that we provide today. It's been six and a half years now that we've been running the company, and it's been a fun ride.
As a first-time founder, could you expand on what that experience has been like? What advice would you have for other first-time founders?
As a first-time founder and for me, being a technical founder, everything's new in my entire journey. I'm always out of my comfort zone. But it's great because I'm learning a lot. As far as advice, coming from the technical side, find folks that are good at things you're not. We focused very heavily on the hardware and software aspects of the business for the first few years and not enough on the sales and marketing side and how we were going to deploy it. We got lucky early on. About two years into the company, we started working with a consulting group on the sales side, and we actually brought them in as our chief revenue officer and our VP of sales. That marriage for us as a company has been excellent because we bring the technical side, and they bring the sales side. That’s been key to our success. Finding that early on and recognizing where your strengths and weaknesses are is super important for the business holistically.
What’s been the biggest surprise of running the business over the last six years?
Every day is a surprise. I tell everybody, whenever I sit in on interviews and we hire new folks, the one thing I could promise you is that no matter what happens, it'll always be interesting working in a startup. That's always held true. Being a technical founder, realizing how important the team culture is to the business, particularly as you scale, was surprising. We are engineers — roll up our sleeves, put headphones on and get to work kind of people. In 2020, we were 11 people and now we're just past 50. We’ve had a lot of growth in the last 18 months and the culture has been key to who we are. Other surprises, just in general how hard running a small business is in COVID or with natural disasters, like the flood that happened last year.
Last year, Hurricane Ida caused major flooding in Philadelphia, where Asylon is based. Could you speak to the challenges you faced?
Back in September, when Hurricane Ida came through it caused a lot of damage but in very small areas, and Philadelphia was one of the hard-hit areas. Our office flooded about six feet on the first floor, pretty much wiping out everything in our office from the carpet to the walls. Equipment literally floated down the river. That was a huge challenge. We had to rebuild the office from scratch, rebuild equipment, work through the FEMA grants, and more while also keeping our business running. We're a security company so we operate 24/7. Even though our office was destroyed, we still had obligations to our customers. It’s a challenge I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
What factors do you think enabled the company to be resilient and move forward through those challenges?
We have a lot of people that are very motivated and passionate about drones in the aerospace industry, and they take everything they do to heart. To have an office destroyed makes people worry the office is shutting down and that their jobs there are over, but when it’s the team’s product and this thing we’ve all put our blood, sweat, and tears into is at risk, we just have to dive in and fix it and keep it going.
The next day after the flood, everybody came in with shorts and gloves and was ready to work and pick through the mess. We got back up and running in the office and within six weeks were fully rebuilt. A week after the flood our manufacturing line was back up, literally just guys and folding tables building drones with flooded equipment around them. Due to the decentralized nature of our software service, our customer operations never ceased, even on the night of the flood.
I’m very proud of the team effort and just how much people care. It's not just a job, but this mission of what we're trying to accomplish in the space. Despite an overweighing disaster, everybody really pitched in. And across the board, investors, suppliers, you name it, corralled together to support us.
If you’d like to learn more about Asylon, please visit their website to schedule a demo. This article is part of an ongoing series by Blu Venture Investors to celebrate leaders in innovation and spotlight portfolio companies. Please click here to read more articles on the BVI Blog. Answers have been edited for clarity.