Five Flute annotates hardware product development into the current millennium

Product managers for software have a pretty thankless job — figuring out which features to put into a development sprint, how to prioritize what the developers work on and collecting requirements from internal teams, external customers and figuring out what the company can use in its marketing materials — it’s an endless game of balance and compromise. As hard as that job is, though, at least software PMs have a stack of software to help them do their jobs. If you’re working in hardware development, there’s not a lot of options for collaborative work — at least not until Five Flute came along.

In a nutshell, Five Flute is an issue-tracking platform for anyone that develops physical products. I spoke with the company’s CEO, and (spoiler alert!) you’ll be able to see the company’s full pitch deck as part of Thursday’s edition of my pitch deck teardown series.

“As soon as we rolled out the web version of Five Flute last year, we started getting questions from our users about how we could connect with CAD. We’ve seen firsthand that mechanical engineers and industrial designers want more collaboration and visual communication capability directly in CAD,” William Burke, founder and CEO of Five Flute said about the launch of its SolidWorks plug-in. “Engineers don’t want to log into a separate web app, find the right project and then describe complicated engineering issues in a place that is completely disconnected from their design source of truth. We heard stories from frustrated engineers on teams that were split between Asana, PowerPoint design logs, and Post-it notes, with no clear way to know if design feedback was actually implemented at the part and assembly level.”

The company today raised $1.2 million on a SAFE note, led by Baukunst, the Fenton Founders Fund, Christian Thönes (CEO of metal manufacturing company DMG Mori), Andy Palmer of Koa Labs and others. The investment is particularly noteworthy, as Axel Bichara, who led the investment of Baukunst, was one of the original investors in SolidWorks, which today is one of the industry standards of computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), along with a string of other investments in the CAD space (the investments include some of the earliest cash into Join, which announced a $16 million round recently).

“With the rise of connected devices, physical product development has become increasingly multidisciplinary. Mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and industrial designers are spending huge amounts of time working in siloed, discipline-specific desktop applications that are not multiplayer products,” said Burke. “Five Flute gives these teams the ability to collaborate seamlessly around engineering issues without ever leaving the native 3D design programs where they already work.”

Five Flute is planning to invest the jolt of cashflow into expanding the engineering team and growth marketing efforts. Over the next 18 months or so, the company is putting all its product-eggs into its issue-tracking platform basket.

“The near-term focus is on building out our core issue tracking platform and a small subset of CAD integrations. We have a slew of collaborative features in the pipeline that will help engineers discover and resolve issues quickly while giving engineering managers more visibility into team progress than they’ve ever had before,” said Burke. “For engineering technicians, assemblers and manufacturing engineers, Five Flute allows them to quickly connect issues with prototypes and early production units they impact. For technical program managers and hardware leadership, this means their design and manufacturing engineering teams will discover and resolve more issues per iteration, helping them deliver more functional products in less time.”

The company’s ultimate goal is to make Five Flute the default collaboration platform for developing physical products. “Everything from can openers to satellites, and everything in between,” Burke laughs.

The company’s name itself is a wonderful nod to the prototyping process. The cutting edges of a milling tool (used to machine blocks of metal) are called “flutes,” and high-speed, high-precision milling tools come in any number of flutes, and machinists can nerd out for days on the right tool for the right material. As an amateur metalworker myself, it made me smile — and if you’re going to name your company something that prototype engineers will recognize and remember, why not that!

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