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Burning Questions with New England Based Innovators: Perch’s Founder, Jacob Rothman

Updated: Apr 19

Jacob Rothman and his co-founder created Perch, a company with the goal of making the world a stronger place. Perch enables athletes and coaches to effortlessly quantify weight room performance through a camera enabled device and software. This provides groundbreaking insights to their clientele through the use of AI in their tech stack.

Perch currently provides its product and software services to many high-level sports organizations, including the Georgia Bulldogs Football program, the Miami Heat and the Minnesota Twins - just to name a few. Perch landed its first large customer, LSU Football, just a few years ago in 2019. The potential for Perch is limitless, and Startup Boston was lucky enough to chat with Perch’s founder about his journey and plans for the future.

Can you give me a high-level timeline of Perch going from an idea to where it is today?

My friend and I first conceived the idea during our time at MIT, around 2015- 2016. He and I were both out in California the summer after our junior year - he had an internship at Tesla and I was at Apple. Neither of us really enjoyed working at these big companies - where we were cogs in this big machine - so we started to brainstorm what it would look like to start our own company when we returned for our senior year - I had taken a bunch of entrepreneurship classes that year and fell in love with startups.

During this time my cofounder and I came up with the first idea for Perch. We really just combined our love for technology with our love for sports – both of us were varsity athletes at MIT and had a true passion for fitness and technology.

Our original idea was much different than the one that exists today – it was a smart weight rack. We created a prototype of a squat rack that had been engineered so that the safety arms (which stop the weight from dropping to the floor) moved up and down automatically as a person squatted. We showed the prototype to a bunch of people, and everyone seemed to think it was a pretty unnecessary product. However, people were interested in the camera we were using to track the lifters’ movements and the data that it was collecting. There was – and still is – a gap in the market where wearable devices were capturing cardio activity but nothing was really tracking strength training. So that’s when we decided to go from this smart-weight rack idea to a camera device and software that could quantify strength.

From here, we researched the market and decided that elite/ professional sports was the best starting point for us. So we began cold-calling folks, interviewing people and just learning a lot about that space. This is when we uncovered a hole in the market and began trying to build products for elite sports organizations. We were prototyping the product while simultaneously trying to sell it for about 18 months - our first partner being LSU Football. We worked with them on their 2019 National Championship run and they saw a lot of potential in what we were doing and helped us improve the product. We are now working with several organizations across the sports industry and are continuing to grow and develop.

What was the process for building the first prototypes?

We definitely had a bit of a unique route for building the product. I am a mechanical engineer and my coworkers were electrical engineers and computer scientists, so we were able to design the product and software from scratch.

To then have the prototypes built, we were able to find ways to utilize the machine shops at MIT to work with metal and build the actual prototypes. From here, we started sending the products we made to customers.

Today, the unit assembly and software engineering are still done in-house in Cambridge, with us managing our own global supply chain and receiving components delivered directly to our headquarters. We are continuously building new features and finding ways to improve the product. As our demand continues to increase over the next few years, we will likely contract a company for manufacturing and assembly.

What was your route for securing funding?

MIT has a lot of great resources, so we were able to get some seed funding from MIT grants for early-stage startups. From here, we bootstrapped it for a while until we got into the TechStars accelerator program, based in New York City, in 2018. After that, we were able to raise capital and have since raised about $7 million. It was definitely hard work to raise the capital, but it has been awesome to use that capital to fund our growth and bring great people into the company.

Why did you choose to have Perch’s headquarters in Cambridge - and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the location?

After college, my cofounder and I ended up moving to Cambridge and eventually got our first office space in a co-working space right by where we lived – initially renting just a few desks. We are still in this same building today, though now we occupy the whole building.

The main advantages for us are that the location is accessible for our team and that there are so many talented individuals in the area. With that said, we do have a flexible work environment - with most employees coming into the office 2-4 days a week - and it can be a hassle for some individuals who live in the suburbs to commute to the office. The main drawback is simply the higher cost of office space when compared to some other cities. But if we were to move to a cheaper city, it would be much harder to raise capital and recruit talented employees for our technical team.

What are the goals of Perch for the next 5 years?

Our goal is to make the world a stronger place - and our plan to do that is two-fold.

For one, we want to continue to do what we are doing but grow into new markets globally. For example, selling to high schools and even the military. Basically, keeping our current product, continuing to improve it and making as big of an impact as possible in the performance world.

The other goal is to go into down-stream markets – selling to consumers, health clubs, gyms and physical therapy centers. To do this, we are working on designing new products and software that make our product more accessible to those markets.

These are our main goals over the next 5 years.

About the Author - Parker Julian, a former college basketball player, is a writer and coach whose aim is to mentor and educate individuals about holistic approaches to personal health. Additionally, Parker is employed by Grant Thornton LLP as a consultant, where he is focused on designing and testing Information Technology risk strategies for large institutions.


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