Originally aired on August 4, 2022 @ 6:00 PM - 6:30 PM EDT
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Weston Lim and Philly Tan, co-founders of dashlabs.ai, a DIY end-to-end medical lab software company. The company focuses on small and mid-sized labs to accelerate access to quality healthcare for everyone, and make labs even smarter. In doing so, dashlabs.ai is accelerating access to healthcare by automating the manual and tedious processes of laboratories, so that labs can achieve a lower cost and faster operations.
to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more! Founder Spotlight hub Hi everyone, I'm Marianna and I'm the Internal Events Coordinator here at Cloudflare. Welcome to Founder Spotlight, a very special week here at Cloudflare TV where we shine the spotlight on the stories of startup founders from all over the world. Today we have the founders of DashLabs, my friends Weston Lim and Philly Tan. Weston, Philly, thank you so much for coming on our show. Great, thanks for having us. Thank you for having us as well. And speaking of all over the world, this is a very global call. I'm based in San Francisco, Weston is in the Philippines right now and Philly is in Vancouver. Is that right, Philly? In Canada. Global right here. And fun fact, DashLabs are Cloudflare users. These are DDoS protection and Cloudflare for Teams. So West and Philly, welcome again. Very briefly, can you tell us what your startup DashLabs does? Yeah, so we are DashLabs AI. We write software for diagnostic labs. Basically anything you need in the diagnostic lab, we'll build for you and we'll deploy it for you. Diagnostic labs meaning like medical testing, scientific testing, that's what we're talking about, right? Okay, awesome. So let's say you need the blood test or an x-ray or an ECG, you would go to the diagnostic lab for those tests. That means you can't get to the hospital, you go to a small clinic and we'll give it for you. I love it. Okay, and so can you tell me a little bit more about how you, as co-founders, met and started this incredibly relevant right now company? And it's not just you two, there are more than you, right? There are five co-founders, is that right? Yeah, that's true. Okay, tell us your origin story. Yeah, okay, the two longer than Rita is we're all old friends and we were unemployed during the pandemic. And when the pandemic happened, we just got together and built COVID software. But the long story is, when the pandemic started, my dad being a boomer, got really scared and insisted that we go out and shop for toilet paper, so less like other groceries. So when I tripped out, I noticed a bunch of military checkpoints in my neighborhood, which is pretty cool. So when I got back home, I took a screenshot of my area in Google Maps and started annotating the different checkpoints. I sent that to my friends and my friends. Can you explain to us what checkpoints are? Because we didn't have checkpoints in neighborhoods here in the States, but I know we did in Manila. So the checkpoints were set up by the military. They were trying to control your movement. So if you don't live in that area, you cannot enter. It's like their way of trying to enforce movement restrictions. So those are the checkpoints. And people were worried because they didn't want to go through the military checkpoints. We started plotting things out, we were helping people try to divert their path home. And so my friends liked it. They started updating that one picture. And I realized it doesn't scale so well. So I'm like, you know, screw this, let's make a web app. So we did. And I launched on Facebook. Then Martin, my high school teacher, saw the post and he was like, hey, can I join as your mascot? I'm like, hell yeah, join. So he came in. And then we worked on the app together until we had scaling problems. And Martin was like, I know the guy is just for this. So Philly, our infrastructure guy, and also a huge Cloudflare fan, joined the picture. So Philly came in, scaled our website. He pulled Brian in. Brian's my high school debate teammate, actually. So he came in, he started working on different data points. And then I pulled Miguel in. Miguel was an intern for Dapper, a previous startup I worked in. And now he's a co-founder. So we worked on this mapping software for a few months. Eventually, the Philippine army heard about us. They're like, hey, we really like what you do. Can you help us with our free shuttle program? So it's a different product already. We got 10 cell phones from a local belco. We programmed a mobile app that gets your GPS and uploads it to our site. So we started tracking free shuttles for healthcare workers. So if you're a healthcare worker and you need to go home, you can pull up our app, and you'll see where the free shuttles are. A little after that, the office of the presidential spokesperson heard about us. And he's like, hey, we really like what you do. Can you build out COVID19.gov.ph? So we did. And fun fact, we have emails like handsome at dashboard.gov.ph. Just having fun with the government domain. After that, so it happened around the same time. A lot of diagnostic labs started needing help with their operation. So you have contactless operations. At the same time, Red Cross helped building out the COVID software. So Brian went in the Red Cross and started working on diagnostic lab software. And at first, we started building glorified forms where people can sign up and have their information ready for the lab's use without any paper forms. And that scaled up to integrating with different machines. And then now we send results out. And we just built a full-on lab information system. Since then, we've scaled, and we're very happy. That's quite a story. Sounds like from your brain child, just to solve your own and your friend's problems, it turned into this like definition of teamwork makes the dream work. Company. Yeah, which is just amazing and really inspiring. And I think proof of how much talent and drive there is in Southeast Asia right now. Obviously, I'm biased. I'm from Southeast Asia. I'm also from the Philippines. But yeah, it makes me proud to be Filipino. And so you started basically at the start of the pandemic. We're almost two years into the pandemic, not quiet. But how far along are you on your startup adventure? Tell us about the number of employees, your funding milestones. I know you just had a big one, your customers, whatever metric you want to brag about. This is your time. So since we started Dashboard Philippines, we've been here for a little over a year now. And since then, we're able to scale from what was like some small team just volunteering their efforts on this COVID mapping software into around 130 to 140 and more employees right now. And over the past few months, we were able to close our seed round, raising around 1.2 million US dollars. And as for our product, we're able to achieve millions of tests done through our platform. So these tests can range from COVID tests or other tests provided in our software. And lastly, we're able to process millions of dollars of USD transaction volume per month. And this is all in the Philippine diagnostic market. And this is through e-commerce solutions. That's amazing. 1.2 million dollars. I can't wrap my head around that. Was that 1.2 million dollars overnight? How did that change things? Not overnight. I know it is a long journey for you. But if you could give us a little bit, paint a picture of how that really changed things for you. Did you realize like, oh, oh my gosh, like this is serious. This is global. Yeah. So money changes the way you think. When we started out, and we were cash strapped, we were trying to bootstrap the whole thing. If someone needed a laptop, it would be like, hey, Brian, can I get your old laptop? Clean it up and send it to this person. And then when we got our first round of pre-seed funding, the calculus changed. So whenever someone needs a new computer, we're like, let's just buy a new one. And then when we raised that 1.2M, it changed from, can you do this extra work? Why don't we just hire someone for that job? And so I imagine like after every funding round, the way you think and the way you make decisions would change because you know you have more resources to do that. That's a really good illustration. And I can only imagine, speaking as someone who I used to work in the nonprofit realm, coming into tech, there was a very stark contrast. So I'm really glad that you are experiencing that success in your very socially impactful work that you guys are doing. Awesome. Could you also tell us a bit more about your startup's work culture? Because from zero employees, or just Weston and his brain, to now 140 employees, that grew pretty quickly. Tell us a story that illustrates something about your company's culture. The viewers want to know since you're hiring, right? Yeah, we are hiring. So there's two aspects of our culture. The first part, let's talk a little bit about the hobby culture side of things. In our company, we try to build a foundation where we just try to let people do whatever they feel like doing. So we have groups such as, we have a gaming group, where they would play games such as Valorant, Dota, Pokemon, all these other big name games. And we also have like a music group, where they would either share or even create their own music. There would also be a small group where people would just make memes about each other in the company, just to spread banter and all that stuff. But more importantly, the other side of this is, we try to build a foundation of learning within DashLabs. We try to promote a culture of coding, in the hopes where we're able to help those who don't have a coding background, and we're able to provide them assistance and teaching them learning how to code. Our goal for this is, if you don't know how to code, you might as well code with us. That way, you'll be able to learn from professional experiences. And through this, we're able to have, we have a few people who came to the company, and they didn't know how to code, and now they're very successful coders. And I want to give a shout out to Martin. We owe it all to him. He was able to build this culture of education within our company. That's pretty much the culture we have in our company. And just to remind the viewers at home, Martin is one of the five co -founders of DashLabs, and he used to be the teacher in high school. Is that right? Of all the other four co-founders. What was Martin's subject that he was teaching you guys in high school? So he spent, I think, like over 10 years in Xavier, our high school. So during my time, he was teaching Chinese computer. Like, how do you type in Chinese on a computer? But then during it's different. What did he teach you, Billy? So during my time, Martin was helping lead the innovation lab in our high school. So you can think of this as like a small club, in a way, of like-minded coders. And all of us would try to build projects to help benefit our school in one way or another. So was that a class, or was that an extracurricular? No, it's an extracurricular activity. To the viewers at home, kids who like coding, it's not a waste of time. Do it in your free time, or not. Do whatever you want. But know that your passions, not just your homework, can lead to success and joy. Just a little advertisement for all the people back home, all the kids watching. Because we do have, I believe, a few that really like high school kids who follow Cloudflare and watch Cloudflare TV and say that it gives them ideas to be founders at such a young age. Which is super cool and inspirational, in my opinion. Great. Thank you for sharing that. And so again, you're just getting started. It's been 1.5 to 2 years, but so much has happened. What has been your biggest lesson that you've learned so far in this journey? Philly, do you want to start? I'm sure you probably have different answers. Sure. So in my startup journey, the biggest thing I've learned is to start small and think big. When you're building a product, try to focus on building something small scale. Focus on building a minimum viable product first. And then from there, you're able to gain improvement and iterate it over time. How about you, Weston? What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned so far? Or lessons, if there are multiple? OK. My biggest lesson is just keep things simple. What I notice about most fresh graduates is that when you get in the workplace, you think the more complex idea, the better it is. And because we were trained to write complicated essays or make complicated diagrams, and you get hydrated for that. So we had to unlearn a lot of that complexity and just learn how to make simple goals, do simple projects, write simple code. So that's the biggest lesson, just keep things simple. It's interesting that you say that because Dash Labs, what Dash Labs has accomplished is anything but simple. You scaled so quickly in just a very short time. The cool thing is when you have simple goals and you just solve one simple goal for a week, things add up pretty quickly. So I guess we're able to scale because we had simple goals all throughout the journey. I like that. Yeah, it does keep things simple. And it makes it, for me at least, it's less overwhelming. Even if something is complicated, sometimes I lie to myself and I'm like, this is simple. Look at the big picture. It stops things from being too overwhelming. One step at a time, right? Great. So keeping it simple sounds good in theory, but when there are five leaders in a company, how do you keep things simple when there are so many decisions to be made? Do you have any advice surrounding that or how do you handle that as co -founders? Well, yeah, thank you for asking this question. This is really sensitive because when we started it out, we kept fighting. We would stay up till 3am just arguing over Discord or Google Meets and things would get really bad. About what? About the song color? Yeah, like how a button looks like, what ranges you'd have for your corner edge. Like Philly and Brian and I would fight over these small things. And it got really messy. I would talk to Philly for days or Philly would just disappear or I would just piss off and not be friendly to talk to you for a bit of time. But what eventually happened was we realized each person has their own domain. So Miguel is really good with sales. Martin is really good with HR and operations and design. I'm good with product. Vinny is good with infrastructure and scaling. Brian's really good at making relationships and finding new business opportunities. So what we did was, if there is a controversial question, we first assigned that question to someone's domain. Everyone else would give their feedback and their thoughts. But ultimately, the person who has the most domain knowledge makes the final decision. And everyone else would just trust and move forward. You know, that's so funny that you say that because that reminds me of something that Matthew and Michelle, the co-founders of Cloudflare, a very successful company in my unbiased opinion, always talk about. They're very much open books when you ask them about their startup journey. And Matthew always talks about how one of the reasons he believes that his working dynamic with Michelle and the other co -founder, Lee, who is no longer with the company, was so good was because they had such different domains. This isn't the way that you phrased it, but it does make me think of how, in terms of diversity and inclusion, it literally makes your company more successful when you have people from different backgrounds and people with different expertise. Less conflict, you solve things faster, more brains. And that's Matthew and Michelle. Even though they both went to Harvard for their MBA and that's where they met, they have very, very, very different domains. And speaking as someone who has been with this company two and a half years, I have seen up close how they really contribute to their success. They really respect each other's domains and are very open to hearing input, but they present a very unified front. It's really cool to see people getting along in general. That's so nice. Yeah, thanks for that. I mean, it's always reassuring that more successful companies, you're doing the same thing that they're doing. And one day we hope to be as successful as Cloudflare. So that motivates us. You'll get to ring that bell in the New York Stock Exchange. Hey, you never know. Cloudflare started in like an office above a nail salon in East Palo Alto, like 11 years ago. So you never know. You really never know where you'll be in 10 years. And we do have, fingers crossed for you guys, we do have a couple of questions from the audience. Are you ready for this? One is from a fellow Filipino who is tuning in. They say, hi, Western and Philly. Do you have any tips for young Filipino founders who live in the Philippines, who live in a developing country, but who want to start a startup that has global impact? That's a big question. Do you have any thoughts on that? I guess the biggest advice that I would give is try to be as technical as possible. But if, or if you do not have the technical skills, find people who are technical. Because in my opinion, the more technical people you have, the more you'll be able to gain a mindset of building things as fast as possible. Do you have anything to add to that question? Yeah, I totally agree with Philly. My bias is when you're building a file company, you have to be a scientist. If you're building a tech company, you have to be technical. That's really what the product is. But the beautiful thing about tech is it's free. All you need would be a cheap laptop and Internet access, and you can study any programming language you want. So money is not going to be a problem. It's about how much time and discipline you put into learning code. When you get that done, you'll realize you can build anything. So the next step would be finding a problem that you want to solve. And when you find that, things would just go their way. So yeah, the LDR, just be technical and put in the time and discipline and find your product. Speaking of that, you said something that I a founder say, find a problem that you want to solve. For you, Weston, this is your second round as a founder, right? Yeah. Yeah, with first you had Tabber, which was software for debate. Weston and I, fun fact, Weston and I met in high school in debate, like 15 years ago or something. But so my question, my follow-up question, Weston, is what was it for you? Did you find a problem you wanted to solve and then become a founder? Or did you think, I want to be a founder, and then look for a problem? Chicken and egg, I guess. So it started off with, I just wanted to code. And I had to find something that was pretty cool to code for. You're right. Back then, we were debating. Debating was a bit messy. Like you had to write your paper scores and send them over to a central room and someone types it in. You also have to have people write the registration forms and someone types in the system. If you think about it, the way debating Tabber and Diagnostic Labs, Dash Labs work, they're quite similar. You have someone who comes in some sort of system, they register, they submit that information. And then during a test, that could be an actual debate round or blood test, another person would read your results, write it down and send it to a central system. So the problem we're really solving would be how do you organize information? So in Dash Labs, it's like you're running debate tournaments or any competition, but for healthcare. I hope that makes sense. That does. So when you really strip it down to its core, it's about efficiency. It's about streamlining. Yeah. So you don't have to write on paper. People just write on their cell phones and everything gets sent to a central database and we print out results for you. I love that. Easy, efficient. One of the many things that the Philippines really needs a little more of. Speaking as someone who grew up in a developing country and now lives in the US, the privilege of having automated systems is not one that I take for granted. So thank you for working to bring. That's true. Yeah, for sure. We have another question here from our viewers. Do you have any networking tips to find more groups to work with? I think if I'm understanding this right, it's probably referring to earlier in our chat, you were talking about how first it was the Philippine president's office and it was the Red Cross or how does that work? Did you strive to put yourself out there? You have like zero marketing budget, right? Like early, early on. How did you spread the good word of the Lord regarding Dash Labs? Okay. So this is a bit counterintuitive, but the less noisy you are, or the less, I guess, attention seeking you are, the more attention will come to you. I guess our biggest pet peeve would be people in the startup scene who don't really have a product, but they keep talking about their product and they try to look big. It's just really a waste of time. I guess we were fortunate enough that we all put our heads down, you know, coded like 16 hours a day. And then when your product goes live, that product speaks for your work. And if people use your product, people want to know who built the product and that's how you get attention. We were lucky to work with the Office of Professional Spokesperson, not because we had connections, because we don't, but it's because our website helped a lot of Filipinos and the government was like, Hey, we can work with these kids to make it easier for everyone else. Very cool. It sounds like a lot of luck and humility combined played a part. Yeah, no, that's awesome. Billy, do you have anything to add to that? No, I do not. Actually, Weston pretty much said all that was in my head. Okay. Well, I have another question that is super relevant and that I'm also wondering about. I think it's relevant because of our super increasingly global remote workforce, how do you deal with running a company asynchronously? I think they probably picked up on the fact that Weston, you're in the Philippines, Billy, you're in Canada, people are all over the world using your service. Do you just not sleep? Do you just drink 1000 milligrams of coffee? What's your secret? Tell us your secret. So back when we first started, what we did was since we were a very small team, probably less than 30, and this was, I would say around June of 2020. During that time, I was the only one on the other side of the world. So while I was building product, I was also trying to help out in the customer support side of things as well. And every now and then things would get a lot messy. Eventually, we're able to grow. We now have a team in Canada and several other places in the world. And through it, we're able to keep delivering and keep pushing software as well through it. Cool. Weston, do you have anything to add to that as a leader of this vastly growing company? Yeah. The answer is don't be clingy. Don't be clingy in the sense that when you send a message to someone, don't expect a reply. That guy's probably sleeping or that girl's probably in a meeting or working or doing something else. So we learned to be not clingy. So when I have a message, I'm like, hey, Phil, you used the plug. And I'll wait three hours and Phil will respond. Also, we try to avoid meetings because meetings are truly a waste of time. You get 10 people with one Zoom call. Eight other people would probably be playing games or doing something else, and the other two would just be engaged in a meeting. So we just do everything over Slack, write things down, and we get things done. What I'm hearing, even though you didn't use these words, is trust and empathy. You're like, I'm going to respect that person's time. I'm not going to wake Philly up at three in the morning. He's busy. That man has a life. Let him have some sleep. But also, I trust him to do his work, even though I can't see him doing his work. Would you agree with that? Yeah, that's mine. I was an English major, so I'm always looking for the deeper meaning and the themes that you're saying. And that's right here, trust and empathy, which are good qualities for leaders to have, I would say. Well, thank you. I mean, you would get a good sense if someone is slacking off, right? I don't know. I'm not a startup founder. You tell me. Well, if you work in a group and everyone puts in their chair, you could roughly tell if this person is carrying this for weight or just slacking off. Fortunately, Philly is a hard worker. I think I'm the guy slacking off. I don't believe that for a second. No, I disagree with that. And I think we have time for one or two last questions. I like this one. What has been the most surprising thing about your founder journey? Not your company, your founder journey. So this person is asking about your individual reflection, I guess, and experience. You can tell us a story about something that you never thought you'd have to deal with or anything like that. I guess I could start with this. So actually, before in the Philippines, I was very, very, like, I was very involved in the hackathon scene there. So I actually did my first hackathon back when I was around 15 years old. So it was around grade nine. And then since then, when I started university, my goal was, you know, work a bit in a company and then help build a startup. I think the biggest surprising thing for me personally, is I did not expect for it to be sort of like, you know, flipped over in the sense that I did not expect that I would actually be working in a startup first. Funny how life moves in mysterious ways. Nice. Well, we are running out of time. I have had a wonderful, wonderful conversation with both of you, Weston and Philly. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day. For Philly, he's in, spoiler, he's in undergrad, actually. This brilliant young man is in the middle of finals, and he finds time to run a company and conduct an interview here on Cloudflare TV during Founders Week. It has been such a pleasure having you, shining the spotlight on the super impactful work you're doing in the Philippines, and very soon to be beyond. Weston and Philly, if people are interested in applying for Dash Labs, what website do they go to? If anyone's interested for applying to Dash Labs, you can go to careers.dashlabs.ai you'll be able to find our careers page over there. Perfect. Perfect timing. Have a great night, everyone. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.