Bo Hu ‘04 is Co-Founder and CEO of Circolo, maker of the Circolo Mirror, a versatile smart home fitness device. Bo has led world-class engineering teams at some of the most recognizable technology companies, including Facebook, Dropbox, Uber, and Lime. Like many of us, 2020 was a pivotal year for Bo. The pandemic compelled him to do something to empower people to live healthier and happier lives, which led to the creation of Circolo.
Bo earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UC Santa Barbara in 2004. Prior to UCSB, he received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Tsinghua University, a leading university in Beijing, China.
In this Graduate Alumni Spotlight Q&A, Bo shares how his career has come full circle with the launch of Circolo.
You no doubt considered a number of doctoral programs for Electrical & Computer Engineering. What was it about UC Santa Barbara that brought you to the central coast?
The major reason was the graduate program itself. I found Professor Sadowska’s (now Professor Emerita) research lab aligned with what I wanted to pursue. While in the EE program, I became very interested in algorithms and programming. Her research lab offered me a perfect mix of those disciplines.
What was your research focus at UCSB? Do you have any professors or colleagues that stand out from your time here?
My research at UCSB was focused on design automation for chip design. In particular, I spent years researching the algorithms to efficiently layout millions of transistors on a computer chip. I owe a lot to my advisor Professor Sadowska. She made my 5 years at UCSB fruitful and memorable.
How was your experience as an international graduate student?
I definitely felt very welcomed and supported along the way. I have only good things to say about my life at UCSB.
After graduating from UCSB, you have shared that you worked for three startups in 5 years, all of which folded. What lessons did you take from that experience?
Startups are very hard! But I was impressed by the passion and the drive of every founder I had the chance to work with. To be successful, you have to believe you are doing something very special and the world will be a better place if you succeed.
After spending time in the startup world, you worked for a number of established tech companies including Facebook, Dropbox, Uber, and Lime. How did you find the corporate cultures compared to the startups? Did you find that you missed any aspects of the startup culture when you headed to these larger companies?
These more established companies offered different perspectives and experiences that helped me continue to grow as a professional. It was here that I learned valuable skills on scaling, organization, people, culture, etc.
It looks like your career has come full circle (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) with the launch of your company, Circolo. What led you to want to pursue a startup?
It’s always about how I can make a bigger difference. Plus, I have a passion for fitness and wellness. I want to help people to live an active lifestyle and stay healthy and happy. The pandemic was a trigger. I felt compelled to start “today” rather than waiting for tomorrow.
Home Fitness products have had quite a surge in popularity with the recent pandemic forcing gyms to close. Companies like Peloton have seen demand for their products and services dramatically increase almost overnight. How does the Circolo Mirror, described as “the most versatile smart fitness device,” fit into this increasingly crowded market of home fitness products?
Our vision is to help everyone. There are many market segments, which have not received attention from big players like Peloton. For example, senior fitness. Older people need more specialized programs and experiences due to aging and other conditions. We want to build an open fitness platform to tackle all those underserved segments first.
What do you like to do for fun in your spare time (when you have any)?
I am a pretty dedicated soccer player. My most memorable moment was in 2018, when I scored the game winning goal in the annual soccer tournament championship in the Bay Area. I am also undertaking the “Gaining a 6-Pack” challenge under the guidance of Katherine Yip, a fantastic trainer and fellow co-founder of Circolo.
You recently became the first member of the UCSB Innovators Circle, a recently launched network for UCSB entrepreneurs (including alumni, faculty, students, and staff). What motivated you to join and why do you think it’s important for alumni to give back to UCSB?
I attribute a lot of where I am today to the opportunity I received from UCSB. Many times the only thing people need is an opportunity. I feel happy and honored to provide that same opportunity to current and future students by giving back.