We caught up with Lucas Cao, founder and president of Squid Industries. A long time customer of ours, Squid Industries exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit.
Tell us a little bit about Squid Industries, your team, what you do, and how you got started?
Squid Industries is a manufacturing company with a focus on the butterfly knife (balisongs) and trainer industry. We’re a team of young individuals (average age is 25) who are passionate about the balisong flipping community. Squid Industries was founded in 2016 and originally started as a side gig while I attended community college. We outsourced our designs to local machine shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the fall of 2018, I dropped out of UC San Diego’s Mechanical Engineering program and purchased a Haas VF2SS to pursue the Squid Industries full time. We’ve now grown to an 8500 sq ft facility equipped with 9 CNCs and an amazing team of 34 people.
Can you describe what a Balisong is, and what makes them so unique?
Balisongs, more commonly known as butterfly knives, are characterized by their two-handle design. These two handles rotate on a pivot which allow them function as a sheath or as a handle for the knife. This unique design allows them to be tossed and twirled around which people refer to as “flipping”.
Andre Mayo from Squid Industries demonstrating a back hand aerial.
Growing a business can be difficult, did you ever second guess your decisions?
The biggest and most difficult decision I made at the start was dropping out of college. I didn’t second guess that decision because I knew that I was onto something that had huge potential. A majority of that was intuition, but I also checked the data to reaffirm that the business was going to be viable long term.
What has been the most difficult aspect of your journey so far, and do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
The number one challenge that I face on a day-to-day basis is dealing with people. Every person has their own personal challenges so I try my best to be as understanding and supportive as I can be. My advice to other entrepreneurs is to open minded and receptive to criticism from both customers and employees. Also, delegation is the key to making sure that you’re using your own time wisely.
What kinds of materials do you work with, and do you have a favorite?
We work with PVC, Acetal, 6061 Aluminum, 7075 Aluminum, 6al-4v Titanium, and a variety of specialty knife stainless steels. My favorite material work with is 7075 because it machines beautifully and it’s great for anodizing.
Tell us about the machinery used to create your custom Balisongs, did you ever intend on learning to run CNC machinery?
We are currently equipped with two Haas VF2SS, two Okuma Genos M560-V, one Doosan DNM 4500, one Brother S700X2, one Citizen Cincom L12 Type VII, one Okamoto SA1, and one IPG Photonics LaserCube. I knew from the start that outsourcing our products wasn’t going to be a long-term solution if we wanted to radically expand, so I had the full intention to run CNCs when I started.
Squid Industries hosts a blade flipping championship in California, how has the experience been?
We host an annual flipping competition called WCFC, or the West Coast Flipping Championship. The event is hosted at Blade Show West which has moved locations three times. It will be held in Salt Lake City, UT this year and hopefully for future years as well. Hosting a small competition is extremely challenging especially because we combine it with our preparation for Blade Show West. Working with sponsors, creating marketing materials, and building an exciting experience for both the competitors and spectators is an incredible amount of work. Overall, I think it’s a worthwhile experience because I know that the balisong flipping community enjoys WCFC immensely.
All competitors from WCFC 2019 celebrating the fun of balisong flipping
Do you have a favorite project on which you have worked?
The Tsunami is the pinnacle of our manufacturing experience. From machining to finishing, that project has really pushed our understanding of materials, cutting conditions, and fixturing. Machining hardened stainless steel at approximately 61 HRC and obtaining nearly mirror polished finishes right out of the mill took us over 6 months to dial in. Each 6al-4v TI handle is machined precisely and receives a long sequence of hand finishing. Every detail on the Tsunami is scrutinized and we’re very proud of each unit that is produced.
The Squid Industries Tsunami, a balisong knife with a starting price of $775
Squid Industries is highly active on social media, and has a large community surrounding your Balisongs, how has this shaped your business?
Can you talk about a time that Octane Workholding products or support really came through and helped you?
A large majority of our products are aluminum, so we generate a large number of chips each day. We take care of our machines and generally wash down the insides each day, so the Octane Chip Guard has been instrumental in making that process easier. Those who have air gunned chips out from between two vises need to invest in the Chip Guard. Since chips don’t get into the t-slots, vise changeovers are also greatly accelerated.
Chip Guard in a Brother S700X2
Chip Guard in a Haas VF2SS
Chip Guard in another Haas VF2SS
Where do you see Squid Industries, and the Balisong community in general going in the future?
My vision for Squid Industries has always been to vertically integrate. While we do a majority of manufacturing in-house, there’s still quite a number of machines that we need to acquire. I also plan to release more products to encompass the entire price spectrum between $0 and $1000 so that people of all skill levels and budgets can find the perfect product for them.
The balisong community is growing every day as more and more people learn about it through social media or word of mouth. I’m hoping that our efforts will reduce the stigma about butterfly knives in that they’re meant for fun and not for violence.
Is there anything you would like to share, or advice you would give to readers knowing what you know now?
Communication is the key to success in all aspects of life. In both my personal and professional life, most of the major issues I’ve experienced can be attributed to poor communication from one or both parties. Listening is often more important than speaking.
Founder and President of Squid Industries