First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mike Lahiff: Thank you for asking. We’ve actually been doing pretty well given the current climate. The most difficult adjustment for our family was transitioning our kids to a virtual school environment. It was a difficult pivot for the younger ones in particular, but we’ve been slowly adapting to this new style of learning.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ZeroEyes.
Mike Lahiff: After the 9/11 attacks, I decided to drop out of college, and enlist as a Navy SEAL. I finished my degree on active duty, where I remained until 2013. Leaving the military, I went on to pursue an MBA from Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, as I’d always been drawn to entrepreneurial ventures. Even as a kid, I’d frequently dabbled with side gigs and hustles.
But, my transition back to civilian life was challenging, being bombarded by the scenes of senseless mass shootings on the news. Watching this occur on an ongoing basis, in the very country that I’d set out to protect, made me feel hopeless. My kids were coming home from school, distraught after active shooter drills. I began asking myself, “Why isn’t someone watching this and doing something about it?”, without realizing that I could be the one to offer a solution.
It was a natural course of action that led me to combine my military experience with my education to found a startup with a dedicated mission to end mass shootings. With the help of several other co-founders, composed of former military veterans, consultants, and technologists, we combined our collective experience to launch our weapons detection platform, ZeroEyes, in 2018.
How does ZeroEyes innovate?
Mike Lahiff: In our company, innovation happens by figuring what works and why. We trained our AI model to adequately detect threats by capturing thousands of proprietary images and videos of the most common weapons used in shootings. This process didn’t happen overnight, but it gave us the most comprehensive and superior technology in the market. We perceive innovation as an ongoing process, which is why we are continuously experimenting with new ways to improve our AI model and provide an additional layer of advanced security capabilities for existing surveillance systems.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Mike Lahiff: Fortunately for us, the pandemic hasn’t had a negative impact on our business. Our company was already offering the ability to work from home, so it was a smooth transition to a fully-remote office. As our business has ramped up, our efforts have shifted towards expanding our team and progressing with installations of our technology across a variety of verticals, including education, retail, and government sectors.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mike Lahiff: One of the most essential lessons I’ve learned is that your team is the core foundation of your business. It’s important not to rush through the hiring process, but take time to determine which candidates are a true fit to your company culture and embody your mission. On the other hand, if someone clearly isn’t working out and you’ve done all that you can to coach, counsel and set clear goals to an employee, it’s probably for both parties to part ways. It can be a difficult decision, but ultimately one that is best for that person to find another role where they can thrive, and also for you to work with the team that can best enable the business to flourish.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and ZeroEyes in the future?
Mike Lahiff: When faced with anxiety, I always turn back to the basics: maintaining a healthy diet, going for a walk, and getting sufficient rest, combined with meditation have been key practices to keeping me grounded. As an entrepreneur, every day presents a new set of challenges along with a new set of lessons; so maintaining blocks in my schedule to wind-down has been the bedrock for getting me through high-stress situations.
As mass shootings continue to increase in number and severity across the U.S., I project that ZeroEyes will become ubiquitous across every camera in the country. Offering proactive solutions to gun violence before shots are fired will set the industry benchmark for weapons detection over surveillance cameras. It ultimately will help us achieve our goal of saving lives.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mike Lahiff: There are a small number of companies that offer weapons detection. However, other solutions also include facial recognition (which we do not do), or other types of object recognition. At ZeroEyes, we are solely focused on weapons detection to help save lives. Continuing to innovate and execute our products are our primary strategies for staying in the game. Still, our primary focus will always be on delighting our customers and meeting their physical security and business needs.
Your final thoughts?
Mike Lahiff: Being an entrepreneur is strikingly similar to being in the military in the way that you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable – especially in the beginning. Starting out may feel a bit like jumping off a cliff without knowing if the parachute will open, but you can’t allow these challenges to become an overriding factor or a stumbling block on the way to your success.