My first job out of college was with a company called Scient. Scient called itself the “The e-Buisness Innovator”. I could not have dreamed of a better place to land out of college. A truly transformative place to work. The leaders I worked for. The friends I made. And I ended up meeting my wife there. We worked long hours, hacked with technology together and felt like we could transform the world. We saw the future through technology — mobile devices, peer-to-peer networks, cloud computing, etc. The cohort of college graduates joining Scient in 1999 came from the best schools, were unbelievably talented and became some of my best friends. In the evenings, we would continue the technical conversation at the Buddah Bar in China Town or Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach. Drinks were usually involved. Sometimes we would bring some dice and just hang out playing games. It was true embodiment of Silicon Valley for me.
My time there didn’t last very long in the grand scheme of things — I only worked there for about 2-3 years before the company was consumed by the DotCom 1.0 implosion. Regardless, I look back at those years fondly. During my time at Scient, a small group of engineers started the “Any-to-Any” club. A group that felt that the future was through mobility. The future was through the plethora of interconnected devices like mobile devices and what is now called the Internet of Things (IoT). Keep in mind that in 1999 — the Motorola StarTac phone was all the rage, the BlackBerry had just been released, getting the weather through your Mobile WAP browser was cool and most Americans got their internet via America Online. Little did we know, it was early and we were way ahead of our time.
Fast forward 6 years, Steve Jobs first announced the iPhone in January 9, 2007 — the beginning of a new mobile revolution.
I remember a buddy of mine worked at Apple and invited me to lunch to check it out. At that time, I worked on the Bay Area peninsula so we went to a restaurant just outside the Apple Campus in Cupertino. He showed me the new phone, raving about it. I played with the phone for about 5 minutes and thought this was definitely a game changer. There was something so elegant about the lock screen that felt different than the Blackberry in my pocket. Then he showed me a “jail broken” phone and all of the developer built apps leveraging all the iPhone sensors. Wow. It was like looking into the future. Everything we believed in 1999 was coming true. Then I focused on knowing everything about the iOS Platform and soon to be released Android ecosystems and building mobile experiences. Little did we know, it was early and we were way ahead of our time.
Fast forward 2 years, we looked into the crystal ball again and saw a world where the mobile phones could create immersive experiences overlayed on the real world visually and physically. We were calling it “Location based Augmented Reality” — leveraging the camera and GPS sensors on the phone to create new experiences. In 2009, several of my friends and I decided to try and start Augmented Reality company way before Google Glass (2013), Pokémon Go (2016), Meta (2022) and Apple’s future augmented reality products (TBD). Little did we know, it was early and we were way ahead of our time.
MotiveCast is described on my LinkedIn profile as —
MotiveCast produces fun, social and addictive games at the crossroads of traditional social gaming and mobile — our games represent a generational shift in traditional social game play that will capture the imagination of players by making the world their game board. MotiveCast was the winner of the PepsiCo10 2010 start up competition.
Before it was MotiveCast, the company was named “Kranky Panda Studios”. We had originally founded the company to make immersive mobile games. And then we discovered the fun with Apple’s new mobile location API’s and hand rolled our own location server. And then discovered a future where Augmented Reality ruled the world and hand rolled our own Augmented Reality SDK. So, we were building immersive location based, augmented reality mobile games. We were Pokémon Go in 2009. Pokémon Go was initially released in 2016 and by 2020 grossed more than $6 billion in revenue.
We raised capital. Found a CEO. Brought on advisors. Got the attention of Venture Capital. Won a couple of start up competitions. We even made Fast Company Magazine. But, we ultimately failed. And we didn’t even do what lots of failed starts up do now — claim to have been acquired by another company even though they were just hiring the team. Yup, we just folded. Little did we know, it was early and we were way ahead of our time.
Failing at my own start up was a crushing blow to my ego. It’s one thing to say you embrace failure but its another to tell the world you were taking over the world and then just failing. It took me many years to get over it. Looking back, I cared too much about how others perceived my career. Plus, life isn’t kind to the entrepreneurial journey. So, I found shelter in the comfortable confines of an already established company for the years that followed.
I learned many things through this entrepreneurial journey. Let me see if I can articulate some of them here —
- Be aware of being too early to market — we were so early and the augmented reality market still has not fully come into focus.
- Make sure you wife and family are on board for the journey — your family is a unit. Your unit is going into adventures together. Make sure everyone is on board because the entrepreneurial journey can be very stressful.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things but be aware that failure is part of the process — this may feel obvious but there is knowing this rule theoretically and then practically. You will fail. Be ready for it and focus on what it looks like getting through it.
- Care less about what others think — caring too much about what other people think is wasted energy. Their opinion usually doesn’t matter.
- Building technology is not the goal — we surely built a lot of cool technology, haha.
- Sales and marketing are critical functions — find someone that knows how to do this or be ready to figure it out.
- Iterate faster and more frequently — in hindsight, our iterations were too coarse grained. We needed to find shorter, faster tests.
- Find your focus — we tried to be good at too many things.
- Start up competitions don’t mean anything and can likely be a distraction.
Fast forward to 2023, Apple and Meta (previously named Facebook) are pressing hard into the augmented reality and virtual reality space. They are trying to be that foundational platform that powers these new immersive virtual experiences. Our biggest learning coming out of our experience was that a large company like Apple or Meta would need to crack the space open for others like the iPhone did for the mobile revolution. We saw several points of friction to wide scale adoption —
- Adoption of sufficiently powered devices — in 2010, iPhone penetration was only at ~20%. Now, its closer to ~75%. Huge difference. Meta has to figure out this problem with their new virtual reality rigs. Their latest rig is pricing out at $1499.00 (https://www.meta.com/quest/quest-pro/). This is likely way out of the price range for most casual users.
- Identification of the killer use cases that out weights the awkward social experience — its strange to see someone using their phone in an augmented reality experience. It’s strange to see someone in a VR rig. The value of the experience has to outweigh this awkwardness.
- AR and VR Developer Ecosystems with better defined monetization opportunity — the platforms need the apps and it needs to be easier to build. At the time, we had to hand roll our own AR SDK.
- Motion sickness — early AR and VR experiences were making people sick.
There is no lack of negative press on Meta’s strategy. But keep in mind that Meta is trying to do something very hard and its very easy to pile on there with negativity. I’m more interested in Apple’s AR offering which is set to come out soon. They have had more success creating these huge technology shifts than any other company in recent times and seem to be laying the foundation with their spacial sound and AR SDK. My gut says that Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta won’t be the company that turns the corner with AR and VR but will surely help to move the ball forward. There is too much investor pressure to maintain Meta’s core business and it feels like this shift needs Apple’s thoughtfulness. Apple has a good shot to make it happen. That being said, it could be one of those things that never turns the corner because people actually don’t want it. The real world is actually a pretty nice place to be.
I find blogging to be just as useful for me as it is for those that read my blog. This is one of the first times I’ve been able to thoughtfully reflect upon this journey. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world and hope to give it another swing. But, I’ll share that for a future blog posts.
Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts and comments.