More on Entrepreneurship/Creators
4 months ago
A 19-year-old dropped out of college to build a $2,300,000,000 company in 2 years.
His success was unforeseeable.
2014 saw Facebook's $2.3 billion purchase of Oculus VR.
19-year-old Palmer Luckey founded Oculus. He quit journalism school. His parents worried about his college dropout.
Facebook bought Oculus VR in less than 2 years.
Palmer Luckey started Anduril Industries. Palmer has raised $385 million with Anduril.
The Oculus journey began in a trailer
Palmer Luckey, 19, owned the trailer.
Luckey had his trailer customized. The trailer had all six of Luckey's screens. In the trailer's remaining area, Luckey conducted hardware tests.
At 16, he became obsessed with virtual reality. Virtual reality was rare at the time.
Luckey didn't know about VR when he started.
Previously, he liked "portabilizing" mods. Hacking ancient game consoles into handhelds.
In his city, fewer portabilizers actively traded.
Luckey started "ModRetro" for other portabilizers. Luckey was exposed to VR headsets online.
“Man, ModRetro days were the best.”
Palmer Luckey used VR headsets for three years. His design had 50 prototypes.
Luckey used to work at the Long Beach Sailing Center for minimum salary, servicing diesel engines and cleaning boats.
Luckey worked in a USC Institute for Creative Technologies mixed reality lab in July 2011. (ICT).
Luckey cleaned the lab, did reports, and helped other students with VR projects.
Luckey's lab job was dull.
Luckey chose to work in the lab because he wanted to engage with like-minded folks.
By 2012, Luckey had a prototype he hoped to share globally. He made cheaper headsets than others.
Luckey wanted to sell an easy-to-assemble virtual reality kit on Kickstarter.
He realized he needed a corporation to do these sales legally. He started looking for names. "Virtuality," "virtual," and "VR" are all taken.
If Luckey sold a hundred prototypes, he would be thrilled since it would boost his future possibilities.
John Carmack, legendary game designer
Carmack has liked sci-fi and fantasy since infancy.
Carmack loved imagining intricate gaming worlds.
His interest in programming and computer science grew with age.
He liked graphics. He liked how mismatching 0 and 1 might create new colors and visuals.
Carmack played computer games as a teen. He created Shadowforge in high school.
He founded Id software in 1991. When Carmack created id software, console games were the best-sellers.
Old computer games have weak graphics. John Carmack and id software developed "adaptive tile refresh."
This technique smoothed PC game scrolling. id software launched 3-D, Quake, and Doom using "adaptive tile refresh."
These games made John Carmack a gaming star. Later, he sold Id software to ZeniMax Media.
How Palmer Luckey met Carmack
In 2011, Carmack was thinking a lot about 3-D space and virtual reality.
He was underwhelmed by the greatest HMD on the market. Because of their flimsiness and latency.
His disappointment was partly due to the view (FOV). Best HMD had 40-degree field of view.
Poor. The best VR headset is useless with a 40-degree FOV.
Carmack intended to show the press Doom 3 in VR. He explored VR headsets and internet groups for this reason.
Carmack identified a VR enthusiast in the comments section of "LEEP on the Cheap." "PalmerTech" was the name.
Carmack approached PalmerTech about his prototype. He told Luckey about his VR demos, so he wanted to see his prototype.
Carmack got a Rift prototype. Here's his May 17 tweet.
John Carmack tweeted an evaluation of the Luckey prototype.
Dan Newell, a Valve engineer, and Mick Hocking, a Sony senior director, pre-ordered Oculus Rift prototypes with Carmack's help.
Everyone praised Luckey after Carmack demoed Rift.
Palmer Luckey received a job offer from Sony.
It was a full-time position at Sony Computer Europe.
He would run Sony’s R&D lab.
The salary would be $70k.
Who is Brendan Iribe?
Brendan Iribe started early with Startups. In 2004, he and Mike Antonov founded Scaleform.
Scaleform created high-performance middleware. This package allows 3D Flash games.
In 2011, Iribe sold Scaleform to Autodesk for $36 million.
How Brendan Iribe discovered Palmer Luckey.
Brendan Iribe's friend Laurent Scallie.
Laurent told Iribe about a potential opportunity.
Laurent promised Iribe VR will work this time. Laurent introduced Iribe to Luckey.
Iribe was doubtful after hearing Laurent's statements. He doubted Laurent's VR claims.
But since Laurent took the name John Carmack, Iribe thought he should look at Luckey Innovation. Iribe was hooked on virtual reality after reading Palmer Luckey stories.
He asked Scallie about Palmer Luckey.
Iribe convinced Luckey to start Oculus with him
First meeting between Palmer Luckey and Iribe.
The Iribe team wanted Luckey to feel comfortable.
Iribe sought to convince Luckey that launching a company was easy. Iribe told Luckey anyone could start a business.
Luckey told Iribe's staff he was homeschooled from childhood. Luckey took self-study courses.
Luckey had planned to launch a Kickstarter campaign and sell kits for his prototype. Many companies offered him jobs, nevertheless.
He's considering Sony's offer.
Iribe advised Luckey to stay independent and not join a firm. Iribe asked Luckey how he could raise his child better. No one sees your baby like you do?
Iribe's team pushed Luckey to stay independent and establish a software ecosystem around his device.
After conversing with Iribe, Luckey rejected every job offer and merger option.
Iribe convinced Luckey to provide an SDK for Oculus developers.
After a few months. Brendan Iribe co-founded Oculus with Palmer Luckey. Luckey trusted Iribe and his crew, so he started a corporation with him.
Brendan Iribe and Palmer Luckey launched a Kickstarter.
Gabe Newell endorsed Palmer's Kickstarter video.
Gabe Newell wants folks to trust Palmer Luckey since he's doing something fascinating and answering tough questions.
Mark Bolas and David Helgason backed Palmer Luckey's VR Kickstarter video.
Luckey introduced Oculus Rift during the Kickstarter campaign. He introduced virtual reality during press conferences.
Oculus' Kickstarter effort was a success. Palmer Luckey felt he could raise $250,000.
Oculus raised $2.4 million through Kickstarter. Palmer Luckey's virtual reality vision was well-received.
Mark Zuckerberg's Oculus discovery
Brendan Iribe and Palmer Luckey hired the right personnel after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Oculus needs a lot of money for engineers and hardware. They needed investors' money.
Series A raised $16M.
Next, Andreessen Horowitz partner Brain Cho approached Iribe.
Cho told Iribe that Andreessen Horowitz could invest in Oculus Series B if the company solved motion sickness.
Mark Andreessen was Iribe's dream client.
Marc Andreessen and his partners gave Oculus $75 million.
Andreessen introduced Iribe to Zukerberg. Iribe and Zukerberg discussed the future of games and virtual reality by phone.
Facebook's Oculus demo
Iribe showed Zuckerberg Oculus.
Mark was hooked after using Oculus. The headset impressed him.
The whole Facebook crew who saw the demo said only one thing.
This surprised them all.
Mark Zuckerberg was impressed by the team's response. Mark Zuckerberg met the Oculus team five days after the demo.
First meeting Palmer Luckey.
Palmer Luckey is one of Mark's biggest supporters and loves Facebook.
Zuckerberg wanted Oculus.
Brendan Iribe had requested for $4 billion, but Mark wasn't interested.
Facebook bought Oculus for $2.3 billion after months of drama.
After selling his company, how does Palmer view money?
Palmer loves the freedom money gives him. Money frees him from small worries.
Money has allowed him to pursue things he wouldn't have otherwise.
“If I didn’t have money I wouldn’t have a collection of vintage military vehicles…You can have nice hobbies that keep you relaxed when you have money.”
He didn't start Oculus to generate money. His virtual reality passion spanned years.
He didn't have to lie about how virtual reality will transform everything until he needed funding.
The company's success was an unexpected bonus. He was merely passionate about a good cause.
After Oculus' $2.3 billion exit, what changed?
Palmer didn't mind being rich. He did similar things.
After Facebook bought Oculus, he moved to Silicon Valley and lived in a 12-person shared house due to high rents.
Palmer might have afforded a big mansion, but he prefers stability and doing things because he wants to, not because he has to.
“Taco Bell is never tasted so good as when you know you could afford to never eat taco bell again.”
Palmer's leadership shifted.
Palmer changed his leadership after selling Oculus.
When he launched his second company, he couldn't work on his passions.
“When you start a tech company you do it because you want to work on a technology, that is why you are interested in that space in the first place. As the company has grown, he has realized that if he is still doing optical design in the company it’s because he is being negligent about the hiring process.”
Once his startup grows, the founder's responsibilities shift. He must recruit better firm managers.
Recruiting talented people becomes the top priority. The founder must convince others of their influence.
A book that helped me write this:
The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality — Blake Harris
*This post is a summary. Read the full article here.
2 months ago
After working at seven startups, here are the early-stage characteristics that contributed to profitability, unicorn status or successful acquisition.
I've worked in a People role at seven early-stage firms for over 15 years (I enjoy chasing a dream!). Few of the seven achieved profitability, including unicorn status or acquisition.
Did early-stage startups share anything? Was there a difference between winners and losers? YES.
I support founders and entrepreneurs building financially sustainable enterprises with a compelling cause. This isn't something everyone would do. A company's success demands more than guts. Founders drive startup success.
Six Qualities of Successful Startups
Successful startup founders either innately grasped the correlation between strong team engagement and a well-executed business model, or they knew how to ask and listen to others (executive coaches, other company leaders, the team itself) to learn about it.
1. Co-founders agreed and got along personally.
Multi-founder startups are common. When co-founders agree on strategic decisions and are buddies, there's less friction and politics at work.
As a co-founder, ask your team if you're aligned. They'll explain.
I've seen C-level leaders harbor personal resentments over disagreements. A co-departure founder's caused volatile leadership and work disruptions that the team struggled to manage during and after.
2. Team stayed.
Successful startups have low turnover. Nobody is leaving. There may be a termination for performance, but other team members will have observed the issues and agreed with the decision.
You don't want organizational turnover of 30%+, with leaders citing performance issues but the team not believing them. This breeds suspicion.
Something is wrong if many employees leave voluntarily or involuntarily. You may hear about lack of empowerment, support, or toxic leadership in exit interviews and from the existing team. Intellectual capital loss and resource instability harm success.
3. Team momentum.
A successful startup's team is excited about its progress. Consistently achieving goals and having trackable performance metrics. Some describe this period of productivity as magical, with great talents joining the team and the right people in the right places. Increasing momentum.
I've also seen short-sighted decisions where only some departments, like sales and engineering, had goals. Lack of a unified goals system created silos and miscommunication. Some employees felt apathetic because they didn't know how they contributed to team goals.
4. Employees advanced in their careers.
Even if you haven't created career pathing or professional development programs, early-stage employees will grow and move into next-level roles. If you hire more experienced talent and leaders, expect them to mentor existing team members. Growing companies need good performers.
New talent shouldn't replace and discard existing talent. This creates animosity and makes existing employees feel unappreciated for their early contributions to the company.
5. The company lived its values.
Culture and identity are built on lived values. A company's values affect hiring, performance management, rewards, and other processes. Identify, practice, and believe in company values. Starting with team values instead of management or consultants helps achieve this. When a company's words and actions match, it builds trust.
When company values are beautifully displayed on a wall but few employees understand them, the opposite is true. If an employee can't name the company values, they're useless.
6. Communication was clear.
When necessary information is shared with the team, they feel included, trusted, and like owners. Transparency means employees have the needed information to do their jobs. Disclosure builds trust. The founders answer employees' questions honestly.
Information accessibility decreases office politics. Without transparency, even basic information is guarded and many decisions are made in secret. I've seen founders who don't share financial, board meeting, or compensation and equity information. The founders' lack of trust in the team wasn't surprising, so it was reciprocated.
Finally. All six of the above traits (leadership alignment, minimal turnover, momentum, professional advancement, values, and transparency) were high in the profitable startups I've worked at, including unicorn status or acquisition.
I've seen these as the most common and constant signals of startup success or failure.
These characteristics are the product of founders' choices. These decisions lead to increased team engagement and business execution.
Here's something to consider for startup employees and want-to-bes. 90% of startups fail, despite the allure of building something new and gaining ownership. With the emotional and time investment in startup formation, look for startups with these traits to reduce your risk.
Both you and the startup will thrive in these workplaces.
2 months ago
R&D, S&M, and G&A expense ratios for SaaS
SaaS spending is 40/40/20. 40% of operating expenses should be R&D, 40% sales and marketing, and 20% G&A. We wanted to see the statistics behind the rules of thumb. Since October 2017, 73 SaaS startups have gone public. Perhaps the rule of thumb should be 30/50/20. The data is below.
30/50/20. R&D accounts for 26% of opex, sales and marketing 48%, and G&A 22%. We think R&D/S&M/G&A should be 30/50/20.
There are outliers. There are exceptions to rules of thumb. Dropbox spent 45% on R&D whereas Zoom spent 13%. Zoom spent 73% on S&M, Dropbox 37%, and Bill.com 28%. Snowflake spent 130% of revenue on S&M, while their EBITDA margin is -192%.
G&A shouldn't stand out. Minimize G&A spending. Priorities should be product development and sales. Cloudflare, Sendgrid, Snowflake, and Palantir spend 36%, 34%, 37%, and 43% on G&A.
Another myth is that COGS is 20% of revenue. Median and averages are 29%.
Where is the profitability? Data-driven operating income calculations were simplified (Revenue COGS R&D S&M G&A). 20 of 73 IPO businesses reported operational income. Median and average operating income margins are -21% and -27%.
As long as you're growing fast, have outstanding retention, and marquee clients, you can burn cash since recurring income that doesn't churn is a valuable annuity.
The data was compelling overall. 30/50/20 is the new 40/40/20 for more established SaaS enterprises, unprofitability is alright as long as your business is expanding, and COGS can be somewhat more than 20% of revenue.
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10 months ago
Framework to Evaluate Metaverse and Web3
Everywhere we turn, there's a new metaverse or Web3 debut. Microsoft recently announced a $68.7 BILLION cash purchase of Activision.
Like AI in 2013 and blockchain in 2014, NFT growth in 2021 feels like this year's metaverse and Web3 growth. We are all bombarded with information, conflicting signals, and a sensation of FOMO.
How can we evaluate the metaverse and Web3 in a noisy, new world? My framework for evaluating upcoming technologies and themes is shown below. I hope you will also find them helpful.
Understand the “pipes” in a new space.
Whatever people say, Metaverse and Web3 will have to coexist with the current Internet. Companies who host, move, and store data over the Internet have a lot of intriguing use cases in Metaverse and Web3, whether in infrastructure, data analytics, or compliance. Hence the following point.
## Understand the apps layer and their infrastructure.
Gaming, crypto exchanges, and NFT marketplaces would not exist today if not for technology that enables rapid app creation. Yes, according to Chainalysis and other research, 30–40% of Ethereum is self-hosted, with the rest hosted by large cloud providers. For Microsoft to acquire Activision makes strategic sense. It's not only about the games, but also the infrastructure that supports them.
Follow the money
Understanding how money and wealth flow in a complex and dynamic environment helps build clarity. Unless you are exceedingly wealthy, you have limited ability to significantly engage in the Web3 economy today. Few can just buy 10 ETH and spend it in one day. You must comprehend who benefits from the process, and how that 10 ETH circulates now and possibly tomorrow. Major holders and players control supply and liquidity in any market. Today, most Web3 apps are designed to increase capital inflow so existing significant holders can utilize it to create a nascent Web3 economy. When you see a new Metaverse or Web3 application, remember how money flows.
What is the use case?
What does the app do? If there is no clear use case with clear makers and consumers solving a real problem, then the euphoria soon fades, and the only stakeholders who remain enthused are those who have too much to lose.
Time is a major competition that is often overlooked.
We're only busier, but each day is still 24 hours. Using new apps may mean that time is lost doing other things. The user must be eager to learn. Metaverse and Web3 vs. our time? I don't think we know the answer yet (at least for working adults whose cost of time is higher).
I don't think we know the answer yet (at least for working adults whose cost of time is higher).
People and organizations need security and transparency.
For new technologies or apps to be widely used, they must be safe, transparent, and trustworthy. What does secure Metaverse and Web3 mean? This is an intriguing subject for both the business and public sectors. Cloud adoption grew in part due to improved security and data protection regulations.
The following frameworks can help analyze and understand new technologies and emerging technological topics, unless you are a significant investment fund with the financial ability to gamble on numerous initiatives and essentially form your own “index fund”.
I write on VC, startups, and leadership.
This writing is my own opinion and does not represent investment advice.
2 months ago
The Unlocking Of The Ultimate Clean Energy
The company seeking 24/7 ultra-powerful solar electricity.
We're rushing to adopt low-carbon energy to prevent a self-made doomsday. We're using solar, wind, and wave energy. These low-carbon sources aren't perfect. They consume large areas of land, causing habitat loss. They don't produce power reliably, necessitating large grid-level batteries, an environmental nightmare. We can and must do better than fossil fuels. Longi, one of the world's top solar panel producers, is creating a low-carbon energy source. Solar-powered spacecraft. But how does it work? Why is it so environmentally harmonious? And how can Longi unlock it?
Space-based solar makes sense. Satellites above Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) enjoy 24/7 daylight. Outer space has no atmosphere or ozone layer to block the Sun's high-energy UV radiation. Solar panels can create more energy in space than on Earth due to these two factors. Solar panels in orbit can create 40 times more power than those on Earth, according to estimates.
How can we utilize this immense power? Launch a geostationary satellite with solar panels, then beam power to Earth. Such a technology could be our most eco-friendly energy source. (Better than fusion power!) How?
Solar panels create more energy in space, as I've said. Solar panel manufacture and grid batteries emit the most carbon. This indicates that a space-solar farm's carbon footprint (which doesn't need a battery because it's a constant power source) might be over 40 times smaller than a terrestrial one. Combine that with carbon-neutral launch vehicles like Starship, and you have a low-carbon power source. Solar power has one of the lowest emissions per kWh at 6g/kWh, so space-based solar could approach net-zero emissions.
Space solar is versatile because it doesn't require enormous infrastructure. A space-solar farm could power New York and Dallas with the same efficiency, without cables. The satellite will transmit power to a nearby terminal. This allows an energy system to evolve and adapt as the society it powers changes. Building and maintaining infrastructure can be carbon-intensive, thus less infrastructure means less emissions.
Space-based solar doesn't destroy habitats, either. Solar and wind power can be engineered to reduce habitat loss, but they still harm ecosystems, which must be restored. Space solar requires almost no land, therefore it's easier on Mother Nature.
Space solar power could be the ultimate energy source. So why haven’t we done it yet?
Well, for two reasons: the cost of launch and the efficiency of wireless energy transmission.
Advances in rocket construction and reusable rocket technology have lowered orbital launch costs. In the early 2000s, the Space Shuttle cost $60,000 per kg launched into LEO, but a SpaceX Falcon 9 costs only $3,205. 95% drop! Even at these low prices, launching a space-based solar farm is commercially questionable.
Energy transmission efficiency is half of its commercial viability. Space-based solar farms must be in geostationary orbit to get 24/7 daylight, 22,300 miles above Earth's surface. It's a long way to wirelessly transmit energy. Most laser and microwave systems are below 20% efficient.
Space-based solar power is uneconomical due to low efficiency and high deployment costs.
Longi wants to create this ultimate power. But how?
They'll send solar panels into space to develop space-based solar power that can be beamed to Earth. This mission will help them design solar panels tough enough for space while remaining efficient.
Longi is a Chinese company, and China's space program and universities are developing space-based solar power and seeking commercial partners. Xidian University has built a 98%-efficient microwave-based wireless energy transmission system for space-based solar power. The Long March 5B is China's super-cheap (but not carbon-offset) launch vehicle.
Longi fills the gap. They have the commercial know-how and ability to build solar satellites and terrestrial terminals at scale. Universities and the Chinese government have transmission technology and low-cost launch vehicles to launch this technology.
It may take a decade to develop and refine this energy solution. This could spark a clean energy revolution. Once operational, Longi and the Chinese government could offer the world a flexible, environmentally friendly, rapidly deployable energy source.
Should the world adopt this technology and let China control its energy? I'm not very political, so you decide. This seems to be the beginning of tapping into this planet-saving energy source. Forget fusion reactors. Carbon-neutral energy is coming soon.
2 months ago
Trading Volume on OpenSea Drops by 99% as the NFT Boom Comes to an End
Wasn't that a get-rich-quick scheme?
OpenSea processed $2.7 billion in NFT transactions in May 2021.
Fueled by a crypto bull run, rumors of unfathomable riches, and FOMO, Bored Apes, Crypto Punks, and other JPEG-format trash projects flew off the virtual shelves, snatched up by retail investors and celebrities alike.
Over a year later, those shelves are overflowing and warehouses are backlogged. Since March, I've been writing less. In May and June, the bubble was close to bursting.
Apparently, the boom has finally peaked.
This bubble has punctured, and deflation has begun. On Aug. 28, OpenSea processed $9.34 million.
From that euphoric high of $2.7 billion, $9.34 million represents a spectacular decline of 99%.
OpenSea contradicts the data. A trading platform spokeswoman stated the comparison is unfair because it compares the site's highest and lowest trading days. They're the perfect two data points to assess the drop. OpenSea chooses to use ETH volume measures, which ignore crypto's shifting price. Since January 2022, monthly ETH volume has dropped 140%, according to Dune.
Further OpenSea indicators point to declining NFT demand:
Since January 2022, daily user visits have decreased by 50%.
Daily transactions have decreased by 50% since the beginning of the year in the same manner.
Off-platform, the floor price of Bored Apes has dropped from 145 ETH to 77 ETH. (At $4,800, a reduction from $700,000 to $370,000). Google search data shows waning popular interest.
It is a trend that will soon vanish, just like laser eyes.
NFTs haven't moved since the new year. Eminem and Snoop Dogg can utilize their apes in music videos or as 3D visuals to perform at the VMAs, but the reality is that NFTs have lost their public appeal and the market is trying to regain its footing.
They've lost popularity because?
Breaking records. The technology still lacks genuine use cases a year and a half after being popular.
They're pricey prestige symbols that have made a few people rich through cunning timing or less-than-savory scams or rug pulling. Over $10.5 billion has been taken through frauds, most of which are NFT enterprises promising to be the next Bored Apes, according to Web3 is going wonderfully. As the market falls, many ordinary investors realize they purchased into a self-fulfilling ecosystem that's halted. Many NFTs are sold between owner-held accounts to boost their price, data suggests. Most projects rely on social media excitement to debut with a high price before the first owners sell and chuckle to the bank. When they don't, the initiative fails, leaving investors high and dry.
NFTs are fading like laser eyes. Most people pushing the technology don't believe in it or the future it may bring. No, they just need a Kool-Aid-drunk buyer.
Everybody wins. When your JPEGs are worth 99% less than when you bought them, you've lost.
When demand reaches zero, many will lose.