Seattle Times business reporter Akash Pasricha and photographer Steve Ringman recently visited our hardware development facility in SoDo to meet with several First Modizens, learn about our engineering work, and get a feel for the team and culture we’re busy building here at First Mode. The result was a business profile published in print and online over the weekend, featuring details of several current First Mode projects as well as notes on the unique flavor of our workplace.
In the last year, the team has doubled its headcount to nearly 140, outgrowing its Sodo facility so fast it has makeshift offices in parking-lot trailers outside.
Like any other build, there’s been pressure. “It’s hard enough to build a functional prototype that’s going to go out in the field,” said Voorhees. “We’ve been building the organization at the same time.” There was no deadline, but the expectation was “as soon as possible.”
The time pressure meant First Mode could use only parts that were already on the market, and couldn’t build any major components from scratch. Local shops helped, with Boeing suppliers nearby. But the company ordered fuel cells from Canada, batteries from the U.K., electronics from Switzerland, and hydrogen from Germany.
Still, First Mode keeps the mood light. Office employees are greeted by a stormtrooper and coffee table depicting Han Solo frozen in carbonite. A warehouse crane has two baseball-sized googly eyes. Trailers are decorated with ornamental lights. The hydrogen battery engine is nicknamed “Tonka,” and two closet-sized electrical converters are named Hans and Franz after a 1987 “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
“We work on pretty ridiculous things,” said Voorhees. The company’s space roots are still very much alive, having just shipped hardware to California to be tested and installed on NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft to help it communicate with Earth using lasers. “We take it seriously, we just don’t take ourselves too seriously.”