Jake Rockland is the co-founder of Somatic Labs, a Phoenix technology startup that pushes the boundaries of the human sensory system. Like any other startup founder, Jake wears a lot of different hats at Somatic Labs—on any given day, you can find him writing code, doing design work, or creating new marketing copy.
What part of Arizona do you call home?
I’m originally from Tucson, which will always be home to me. However, I moved up to Phoenix in May to move in with my co-founders and work on Somatic Labs full time, which is where I call home now. Though downtown Phoenix is much different than the part of Arizona that I’m used to, I’ve found myself falling in love with the city already.
What was your very first entrepreneurial venture?
Growing up as a kid, my parents had an Asian imports business that I would often help with. A few times a year we did trade shows like the Gem & Minerals show in Tucson. This was my first introduction to entrepreneurship. However, it wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year of college that startup culture really struck a chord with me. It was then that I started doing software development for Ebook Glue, a web application and API that simplified the creation of ePub and Mobipocket files, which was founded by my now-co-founder, Shantanu Bala. It was the newfound passion for entrepreneurship that I developed when working at Ebook Glue that led me to co-found KorkBoard, a digital bulletin board for college campuses.
What is your favorite part about running a business?
My favorite part about running a business is the deep fulfillment that I get from doing work where my efforts have an integral result-driven impact.
How did you come up with this idea?
My co-founder Shantanu came up with the initial idea for Moment after doing years of research with haptic technologies and recognizing their potential outside of the research space. Ever since he first told me about the idea, I’ve been beyond stoked. When he reached out to me and Ajay to join him in co-founding Somatic Labs, I was immediately ready to jump onboard.
What was the biggest challenge in executing this idea?
Our biggest challenge is definitely the mental barrier to entry we face due to our technology being so different from what is currently on the market. Our sense of touch is one of the most fundamental ways that we interact with the world around us, but when it comes to technology, that tactile component has been relatively underutilized. Changing that bias in people’s minds is a big initial challenge that we will face.
How did you get started in the tech industry?
I’ve always been interested in technology and gadgets since a young age, though I didn’t actually start programming until relatively late in the game for some developers (when I was 18). I jumped around somewhat in my studies from optical sciences and engineering to math, then to electrical engineering, and then finally landed on computer science.
How long have you lived or worked in Arizona?
I’ve grown up here in Arizona, but it wasn’t until starting university that I really noticed the tech community we have. Since then, in the past few years the excitement in the air has been very palpable—I think Arizona has the potential to compete nationally as a hub for startups, and I am excited to be a part of creating that future.
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
Arizona has a very interesting and unique cultural heritage and its one that I feel really fortunate to be surrounded by.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
While we have some amazing institutions with Arizona, overall our state always ranks among the worst states in education—something that I find to be a great embarrassment. Education is an investment in a better future, and until this is something that we recognize on a statewide basis, I think it will continue to be my biggest beef with Arizona.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
While criticizing the investment landscape is Arizona is often a popular thing to do, it is becoming easier and easier to raise funding outside of your geographical location. It’s somewhat of a chicken-and-egg problem that I think the market will correct in the long-term. Something I’m much more interested in is how we can leverage the great universities we have here in Arizona to keep more talent in the state post-graduation.
While Arizona State and the University of Arizona both have stellar entrepreneurship programs, I think there is room for growth in our universities by developing co-op programs and more easily accessible online classes that allow students to pursue professional development without sacrificing too much progress towards their degrees.
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
When down in Tucson, I’m a huge fan of the French toast at the Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens. Up here in Phoenix, I am a big lover of the breakfast burritos at the Phoenix Public Farmers Market.
Image by Phoenix Public Market.
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
Short Leash Hotdogs: I’ll take the vegetarian Oliver dog.
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
As a vegetarian, I can never pass up a Big Wac from Green.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city aside from your office?
Definitely a tough call to be made between Giant Coffee and Lux Central, depending on what time of day it is.
Best place for a meeting over drinks?
Angel’s Trumpet Ale House in downtown Phoenix is awesome.
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
Every time that I visit Sedona makes for a great memory; the red rocks never seem to lose their shimmer.
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
We don’t all carry revolvers.
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Stay hydrated! It’s more important than you realize.