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Roboflow Co-Founder Looks Back at Building a Growing, Successful Startup

Roboflow Startup Stories

September 1, 2021


Brad Dwyer, co-founder of Roboflow, discussed the past 18 months for the company and how the business has grown to what it is today.

A serial entrepreneur, Dwyer started his first company, Hatchlings, while a student at Iowa State University. His parents knew he’d be an entrepreneur after attending a wedding where Dwyer learned about supply and demand. He sold his parents quarters to park for $2 each, his first profitable business. He was five years old.

Getting Into Tech

Dwyer’s father was an early adopter and had various computers throughout the years. So Dwyer spent most of his time online, eventually learning flash development and finding a community of flash developers to learn from at the age of 13. One of them taught him PHP and other database information, leading him to student hackathons in college. 


Roboflow, in layman’s terms, helps teach computers how to see, essentially helping their customers apply computer vision. When Roboflow was built, their target market was undefined. What Dwyer has come to realize is that it solves different problems for different segments of users, including data scientists and developers. For computer engineers, it accelerates their processes and makes them more efficient. For software engineers, visual data is now accessible for them to assist in building out innovative tech they weren’t able to build before. 

The Last 18 Months

Since its first product launch in 2020, Roboflow has grown to more than 50,000 developers who have used the software so far, including Walmart, USG, and Amgen. Since Dwyer’s last Small Business and Startup Stories podcast visit in 2020, the company has been part of Y Combinator, raised $3 million in a seed round and expanded the team in Greater Des Moines (DSM) and remotely. Dwyer said that the Y Combinator program allowed the company to get connected to mentorship and advisors who have built billion-dollar companies before, as well as the investors who can offer a lot more than just funding. The money raised from those investors — $150,000 initially, $500,000 leading up to the Y Combinator Demo Day and $3 million in the seed round — goes a long way in DSM due to being in a lower cost of living location. 

Navigating How to Structure a Growing Startup

Dwyer shared how Y Combinator allowed them to find supportive mentors as they continue to navigate product-market fit and how to structure teams internally. They surrounded themselves with great angel investors, including lead investors strategically chosen during the seed round, teaching Dwyer and the Roboflow team things they would have had to learn the hard way. 

Dwyer also shared insights and trends in the computer vision industry today, tech education and more.

Listen to the entire podcast above.

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Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.