Six months ago I wrote When The Big Companies Show Up about Sony releasing their first holographic display and what I thought about that development, given my role as an investor via Foundry and board member in the 40-person purveyor of fine holographic interfaces in Brooklyn called Looking Glass. In that post, I wrote:
“When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.”
That future is coming fast, and last week I was involved in several discussions about holograms.
The first was with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass, reporting that by the summer they will have shipped a personal holographic display to 10,000 people around the world.
The second was a chat about Google announcing a holographic system of their own at Google I/O. Following is a brief excerpt from one of the articles floating around about that announcement:
“Pichai said “We have developed a breakthrough light field display,” probably with the help of the people and IP it scooped up from Lytro, the light field camera company that didn’t manage to get its own tech off the ground and dissolved in 2018.
Light field cameras and displays create and show 3D imagery using a variety of techniques that are very difficult to explain or show in 2D. The startup Looking Glass has made several that are extremely arresting to view in person, showing 3D models and photographic scenes that truly look like tiny holograms.
Whether Google’s approach is similar or different, the effect appears to be equally impressive, as the participants indicate.”
Needless to say, the Looking Glass community has some strong opinions about this new development.
Will Google or Sony or Looking Glass or some other contender deliver on the full potential of the holographic future we’ve all been waiting for? While my bet is on Looking Glass, this future now feels more inevitable than ever.
If you’re interested in building out this future with the band of misfits at Looking Glass, drop me an email and I’ll connect you.
In February, we announced our investment in Gig Wage. After some entertaining back and forth, I encouraged Craig Lewis, the founder/CEO of Gig Wage, to write up a quick story of how things unfolded, as he remembered them, and I’d post it here. I love founder stories, and origin stories, and always learn something from reflecting on them. So, in Craig’s words …
Two tech guys from Dallas walk into a bar…
Before I met Brad in person, I had known about him because he’s pretty much startup-famous from his books and from co-founding Techstars, but I didn’t know much about Foundry Group. I hadn’t even read any of his books at the time, but I knew I was interested in meeting him.
Brad and I first met at an event two years ago at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), where he would be speaking. We met at the bar, I had my favorite go-to drink, the “Black American” (my concoction, inspired by a White Russian), and Brad was having water since he doesn’t drink.
My first impression of Brad was that he’s freaking brilliant. You can tell when someone’s done a lot and is smart from their experience. I figured, ‘this guy’s seen it all from A to Z and has probably seen it from Z to A and then back again.’ And he could have easily been not cool, but he was totally humble and down-to-earth, and we just kind of vibed. When we spoke, it didn’t seem like an investor-entrepreneur thing, just two guys from Dallas talking tech.
Fast forward to about a year later, we had recently received an investment from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Revolution. Entrepreneurs who are part of his portfolio take part in a quarterly book club, where we all read a book and one entrepreneur is chosen to interview the author of the book. I happened to be able to interview Brad when we got an early look at the latest edition of his book Venture Deals. Between meeting Brad and interviewing him, he had set up a few introductions for me, which was cool of him, and when we got to the interview, it was casual, like we knew each other from around and had kind of been in touch before. We did a live webinar Q+A for all of the entrepreneurs in the book club. After getting through all my questions about his book, we ended up talking about entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.
That’s when I started to realize that he’s a prolific investor, and I started to understand the Foundry Group a little better, although it didn’t fully click for me until we went through Techstars and I met Jaclyn Hester. She was able to quickly get up to speed on the company we were building and my vision for Gig Wage. Funny enough, we still didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the managing director for Techstars (who I later ended up hiring) told me that Foundry Group is super legit. Eventually, we connected the dots and realized that my relationship with Brad was just organically building up to an investment from Foundry Group. As it was happening, these events just seemed like different moments, but looking back, it’s obvious that every piece of it mattered and eventually led us to where we are today.
When looking for an investment, it’s more about who wants to invest in us and what steps they take to invest in us than the other way around. We typically aren’t going around reaching out to see whose investments we can secure. What happened with Brad and the Foundry Group came down to them showing excitement for Gig Wage, not by me strategically or intentionally pursuing them by any means. I realized our goals aligned, and that’s pretty much how it happened.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve been involved in and advocating for legal immigration since 2010, when, with a half dozen other VCs and entrepreneurs, I co-created the Startup Visa initiative. Since then, I’ve been involved in many immigration-related activities, including the Global EIR program, a docu-drama called For Here or To Go, and direct involvement in helping many immigrants to the US get their visas and green cards.
When PSL started ideating on Boundless, I was lucky to be at the PSL office and participate in one of the extended sessions. I introduced them to Doug Rand, who I’d worked with during the Obama administration on several things, including Startup America and the USCIS EIR program. Shortly after, I met Xiao Wang, the entrepreneur PSL recruited to be the founding CEO of Boundless.
Working with Xiao and the team he’s built has been incredibly rewarding. In early 2017, the US government posture toward immigration took a strong negative turn, and from that point forward, Boundless faced massive headwinds at every turn. Rather than complain or fold up shop like several of their early competitors did, Boundless focused on a long-term vision of being the best possible resource for legal immigration into the US. As a result, their business grew with extremely high customer satisfaction while navigating the endless changes and stresses coming from the US government around immigration.
Last summer, Boundless acquired RapidVisa and significantly expanded its business and types of visas that it could support. Whenever a company acquires a similar-sized business, tough choices ensue as the two companies are integrated. The teams at Boundless and RapidVisa made these choices deliberately and thoughtfully, setting Boundless up for growth from a more meaningful base.
With the new Biden administration, the US government’s posture on immigration has shifted again. As a result, Xiao now finds himself as the CEO of the largest company in its category, with huge tailwinds after navigating and surviving four years of headwinds. I’m excited to be part of the next phase of Boundless’s journey.
“Either this is madness or it is Hell.”
“It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, “it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions: open your eye once again and try to look steadily.”
-Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I’m not a fan of prognostications. In a collision of complex systems like what we are all living through right now, predicting the future is especially pointless.
That’s why I’m happy when I don’t need to make a prediction when something long promised in science fiction futures arrives in the present.
That just happened today with holograms.
For anyone who watched Minority Report the first time and wondered when they’d be able to make their own holographic home movies; for those of you that work or play in 3D; and even for anyone that bought the iPhone 12 Pro because it has a LiDAR scanner, today you can get your first personal holographic display, Looking Glass Portrait, for the radical price of $199.
This is meeting a moment when millions of phones can already capture depth maps sufficient to generate a holographic image every time they snap a Portrait mode photo. Compute is so cheap that with clever techniques even lightweight computers like a Raspberry Pi can be coaxed to run holographic media. And 3D modeling and 3D design are becoming so standard that it won’t be long before the “3D” distinction fades away (just as we no longer have to say we work on computers with “color graphical user interfaces”).
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when 2040 rolls around, I know I’m not going to be spending 12 hours a day in 2D videoconferences. And I won’t be viewing 3D information on flat screens. In all of the chaos of 2020, it’s a welcome diversion to know that the holographic future is arriving, and I’m delighted to be an investor in a company like Looking Glass Factory that’s making it happen.
Get your first personal holographic display here today.
I find it fascinating when a large company enters a new arena.
Some of you will remember this happening back in 1981 when IBM announced it was getting into the personal computer market. This was a field that up until that point had been completely dominated by smaller players like Apple. Steve Jobs’s response was the now-infamous full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal welcoming IBM to the game.
Fast forward to today. Sony just announced they are going to start shipping a holographic display. This is the first large company entering this nascent field that I’m aware up. And, as far as I know, the only company actually shipping a product at this point is Looking Glass (I sit on the board, and Foundry is an investor.)
As the quote attributed to Mark Twain says (but ironically unclear whether he actually said it), “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
In an effort to rhyme, Looking Glass CEO Shawn Frayne’s welcome letter to Sony, inspired in font and spirit by the original Apple 1981 ad, follows.
When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.
Let the games begin! Looking Glass has some fun stuff up their sleeves that they are releasing on December 2. Sign up here to be the first to know.
Historically, almost everything I do uses a network model. Foundry Group runs as a network. If you take a look at the Foundry Group partner funds or talk to us about our investment strategy, you’ll immediately see the texture of a network. Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. All of my ideas around Startup Communities incorporate network theory. If you are involved in any organizations I’ve helped create, such as Energize Colorado, you’ll immediately recognize the network model underlying them.
For me, a network is very different than a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now that my entire life has shifted to a virtual one, I’ve been playing around with a lot of new network concepts and how they apply to work.
My long time friend Matt Blumberg just launched a new company today called Bolster. It’s a new way to scale your executive team and board. Fred Wilson, also a long time friend of Matt’s, has a great detailed post up today about it titled Bolster Your Management Team And Board that goes through Bolster in detail. A key section from Fred’s post is:
The Bolster team believes that scaling a high growth company means that you need to adapt, grow, and supplement your management team continuously along the way. And a big part of doing that is accessing “fractional talent” which means people that don’t work for your company full-time and permanently. All of this is outlined in the Bolster Founding Manifesto which explains why they started this company.
Sign up for Bolster if you:
- are looking to fill executive or board roles
- are looking for a flexible executive role
- are an investor who is looking to connect your CEOs with flexible executive talent
While we are not direct investors in Bolster, we are indirect investors in three of Bolster’s investors: High Alpha, USV, and Costanoa. It’s a great example of our investment strategy around a network model.
I know the near term plans for Bolster and there’s an enormous amount of value coming quickly around executive and board hires, especially on the dimension of networks, inclusion, and diversity. I encourage you to give it a try and get involved at the beginning.
Misty Robotics’ goal is to create a robot platform (hardware and software) that any developer can use to build useful and immediately applicable robot applications.
A number of early customers have started building solutions. When the Covid crisis hit, companies started to realize that to be safe, checking people’s temperature on entry into a building would be a powerful preventative measure. So, Misty decided to build a specific application for temperature screening.
It took about 30 days to go from idea to beta application that is validated in office environments. The application includes:
- Automated, contactless, and touchless temperature screening
- Interactive health question survey with configurable screening questions
- Customizable greetings
- Immediate pass/fail result determination and recording
- SMS or email notifications/alerts
- Web-based administration and reporting
- Choice of 25 languages
- Polite and engaging interaction experience
I think it’s an awesome alternative to the approach of having a human being do the screening. The idea of having a human greeter temperature screen people on entry into an office environment just sounds like an unsafe, tedious, and uncomfortable job to me right now.
Misty is in beta with this and already has several paid beta customers. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for a demo.
We just announced our investment in Meru Health. If you recognize Meru Health, it’s because I wrote about it in January as part of my explanation of Freestyle’s Leadership on Mental Health. I highlighted what Josh Felser and his team at Freestyle were doing, which included underwriting 100% of the cost for two programs – Meru Health and Hoffman Institute, for all of their founders.
We got to know Kristian Ranta and his team at Meru Health through Josh. Freestyle is one of our 32 partner funds (where we are LPs) and most of our new direct investing activity is in conjunction with one of our partner funds.
Forbes wrote a detailed profile of the company and the investment in Foundry Group And Slack Are Backing A Virtual Therapy Startup That Raised $8.1 Million and we are excited to be part of Meru Health.
Over the past two months, I’ve been asked almost daily if “VCs are investing during the Covid crisis.” Generic questions like this are impossible to answer, as “VCs” are not a singular archetype (there are many types of VCs with different strategies, goals, personalities, and constraints.) So, I answer it from the frame of reference of what we are doing at Foundry Group.
In general, I think the best answers are examples.
For me, the Covid crisis started on March 11th. This was the first day I worked from home and haven’t left my house since then. We were planning to have our CEO Summit in Boulder on March 12th and 13th but cancelled it on March 9th. My parents were coming to Boulder on March 12th for a long weekend and to celebrate my dad’s 82nd birthday. My brother Daniel and I decided to cancel their trip and told them the night of March 11th. Bryan Leech at iBotta hosted the first “Denver Business Leaders” call the morning of March 11th. So, when I look back and mark this moment in history, it started for me on March 11th.
Since then, Foundry Group has closed three new investments.
- Fritz.Ai (partner fund: Uncork): March 25th
- Code Climate (partner fund: USV): May 11th
- Meru Health (partner fund: Freestyle): May 13th
We generally make about 10 new investments a year. While it’s not spaced out monthly (we don’t try to manage timing that granularly), if you look back to when we started Foundry Group in 2007 we’ve done a maximum of 14 new investments in a year and a minimum of 8 new investments.
When asked if we are investing, I answer “yes – on the same pace as we always have.” We have a deeply held belief that time diversity in investing matters, and the key is to keep the same pace of new investments no matter what is going on in the macro.
Today, I’m delighted to report that another science fiction dream is becoming real. Take a look at this insane video of the Looking Glass 8K Immersive Display, which is the world’s largest and highest resolution holographic display.
Foundry invested in the Looking Glass team in 2017. Since then they’ve shipped thousands of desktop holographic developer kits. But the Looking Glass 8K is something different.
The Looking Glass 8K is more like the looking glass that Alice stepped through. It’s a holographic window for groups of up to a dozen people, connecting the world of atoms we inhabit with the world of 3D digital space. In tribute to the sci-fi dream, the holograms in this new iteration also aren’t bound by the physical volume of the device itself – they can extend in front of and behind the glass.
And this all works without VR or AR headgear.
The Looking Glass 8K is in production now in limited quantities, with units shipping in volume in Spring 2020. Arrange for a private demo to see one for yourself by going to look.glass/8K.
I think it’s the universe telling me to get ready for Season 4 of The Expanse.
I’m a proud investor (and crowdfunding backer) in Misty Robotics. As of today, Misty Robotics has started shipping Misty II to its crowdfunding backers.
The team at Misty Robotics has been hard at working getting Misty in shape to ship. The backers now have a key role in the next step of Misty’s journey, as they get the first crack at Misty II and her SDK in advance of Misty’s general availability in the market later this year.
There have been numerous approaches to a personal robot in the past few years. Most have failed. The team at Misty has taken a different approach, emulating the one that the Apple ][ took around the launch of the personal computer, which is to build a platform that anyone can extend with hardware and software.
Misty has been purpose-built as a developer’s platform, with the tools and docs developers need to easily build robot applications which we refer to as “skills”. Misty is a bundle of serious tech that includes:
- Facial detection and recognition
- Expansive field of view
- Mobile sound localization
- Image and graphic display
- Audio playback
- Voice integration
- Capacitive touch
- Obstacle avoidance
- Photo capture
- Hardware extensibility including Arduino and Raspberry Pi
- Audio recording
- Wake word (hint: it’s “hey Misty”)
- Robust Locomotion
- Raw sensor access.
- Programmable personality
While all the hardware is done, some of the software is still in an alpha form, including spatial awareness, video capture, and 3D mapping/SLAM integration. The neat thing is that Misty is “software on treads” so all of this will rapidly iterate as well as be extended by the developer community.
Misty is still available at a pre-order discount, so if you are a developer who wants to explore robotics and become part of the Misty community, jump on board!