Founder Profile - Jose Gomez, CEO of Fluid Power AI: A Disruptive Business Built From Grit, Passion
Hydraulics run deep in Jose Gomez’s family. Jose grew up accompanying his father to fix complex hydraulics systems for refuse trucks, cranes and forklifts, which his father had been repairing and maintaining for decades. Jose was raised with the same appreciation for these complex systems, and he picked up the trade quickly. At 12 years of age, he was tearing apart hydraulic pumps; and, by age 16, Jose could assemble anything that used hydraulic fluid.
Jose went to college and received his degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley. Afterward, he went right back to hydraulics, opening a business in Baja, California with his father. Within a few years, they had 20 employees and served companies throughout the peninsula. In hydraulics, customers maintain their own equipment, and downtime can cost a fortune for a 400-ton mining loader or a 1,600 ton molding machine. Few AI programmers and telematics engineers understand that like Jose.
Jose truly understands the people who own, repair and maintain hydraulics. He’s been in their shoes. He sold them parts out of his dad’s garage when he was 14. He drove across Mexico to fix their machines in his 20’s. He’s climbed all over their cranes and under their trucks in the dark. He understands what downtime means to them, and why they are their own last line of defense.
He also knew to apply more advanced technology to hydraulics in order to scale the family repair shop. After working on hydraulic systems for some modern equipment companies, Jose met his current business partner and co-founder Francis Toglia, with whom he is “quantum coupled;” which is engineer-speak for “close friends who finish each other’s sentences.” In 2019, they decided to leverage all the combined AI, IoT and embedded systems experience they had to solve problems in hydraulic systems. They saw a market that was old-school, unsexy, blue collar and being ignored by everyone else. And, in Francis, Jose found a business partner with complimentary skills that fit like a puzzle piece.
They developed a black box that can bolt right on to any hydraulic system - truly plug and play - and allow the operator to know everything he needs to know - how the system is performing, when it will need maintenance, and what parts will be needed. They applied for and were granted a patent. In 2020, they built the full stack of the product they call the “Heart Beat,” which has proven to optimize system performance and provide one thing hydraulics operators need the most: reliability. After some successful pilot programs and interest from industry behemoths, Fluid Power AI needed to scale.
All that progress required capital, which is where Pasadena Angels came in. Through a mutual connection, Jose was introduced to some of the members. After some preliminary steps of screening, Pasadena Angels member Mike Krebs took on the role of Deal Lead for Fluid Power AI. Mike led a thoughtful and thorough due diligence process, which left him extremely impressed with Jose’s experience and innovation. Mike acted swiftly to get the Pasadena Angels involved in Fluid Power AI’s funding round. Describing the Pasadena Angels, Jose explained, “they understood the value and they understood how they could help.” The Pasadena Angels helped Jose close his round and give him the resources he needed to reach his goals without being forced into the next round too quickly. Jose’s experience with the Pasadena Angels demonstrates the importance of well-structured and thorough due diligence: he described how the due diligence process with Pasadena Angels was transferable to other investor groups such that he was able to simply take his Gust profile and the resources he provided and submit them to future investors and interested parties. These connections allowed Jose to take more time to manage the dozens of other tasks and responsibilities that come with the role of startup founder and CEO.
Another key advantage the Pasadena Angels provided to Jose and Fluid Power AI was engaging Pasadena Angels member Larry Uhl. After participating in the funding round, both individually and through the PA Fund, Larry guided Fluid Power AI through the syndication process that led to receiving additional funds from Tech Coast Angels Orange County and the Cove Fund, based in Irvine on UCI’s campus. Jose mentioned that “[Larry and Mike] were the guys asking the hardest questions!” Larry and Mike were invaluable as an independent validation that the startup was hitting its marks, and ultimately helped Fluid Power AI raise $1.5M in their recently-closed funding round.
In most cases when engineers create and run a startup, pitching to investors and applying for funding are not top of mind. For Jose, applying for and receiving investment from the Pasadena Angels has shown him the value of strong mentorship, feedback and good questions from investors. As he goes through all of the ups, downs, and sleepless nights that come with the job, Jose is encouraged that “the Pasadena Angels are there every step of the way.”