Twelve years at Occipital

Today, I’m announcing that I’m no longer in an operational role at Occipital, the company that I co-founded with Vikas Reddy in 2008. Vikas is also making a similar announcement today. I’m incredibly sad about this. Occipital was the place I had planned to do my life’s work, but I hope to have a hand in the company’s future through my continuing role as a board member, as well as via Arcturus Industries — more on that later.

The basement

Twelve years ago, Vikas and I were holed up in a basement office (“the bunker”) in Boulder, having recently joined Techstars. Occipital was born.

The 2008 financial crisis hit. Investors were scarce. We burned through our personal savings on rent and food. Rather than give up, we took a $20K loan from my mom, and spent our early days reverse-engineering iPhone camera APIs. We built our own app called ClearCam, and partnered with the team behind Snapture, which allowed us to repay the loan, and develop our next app — RedLaser.

RedLaser and 360

RedLaser, a barcode scanning app, was not an early success, but we iterated. I remember demoing it to my grandma, and realizing how unusable it really was. We re-built the tech, replacing photo capture with realtime capture. Even that was not enough. But once we built in a kind of confidence estimate to increase accuracy, the app went viral, reaching the top of the App Store and was featured in a prime time iPhone TV ad.

RedLaser was acquired by eBay in 2010, and we launched a new app called 360 Panorama, which followed a similar trajectory, with version 3.0 going exponential.

AR Engine → Structure Sensor

We then raised funding in August 2011 on the premise of building an AR engine (essentially ARKit/ARCore with elements of the “AR Cloud.”) We had been inspired by PTAM, among other things.

We quickly realized that 2011 smartphones, including their onboard sensors, were not ready for an AR engine. I spent a weekend playing with a Kinect and Skanect 0.1, and I called Vikas to share a sketch of a gadget affixed to the back of an iPhone. That sketch eventually became the Structure Sensor after 18 months of exhilarating, intense development by a team of 13 people. Along the way, we acquired Skanect.

Structure Sensor went on to power hundreds of applications, including 3D printing and education, and found a special home in the medical world, bringing 3D scanning to orthotics and prosthetics, and things like blood loss monitoring. It also played a big role in academic research for 3D computer vision, being used in ScanNet (cited 500+ times) and numerous other projects. We reached profitability, then doubled down with another funding round. We went on to acquire Paracosm for LiDAR mapping, and the product team who built GeoCV, to supercharge our velocity.

Canvas

Recently, I’d been focusing more of my energy into Canvas. The premise behind Canvas is that home 3D visualization (like what you see on HGTV) is going to be standard in a few years, for every home project from furnishing to remodeling. To do that, you need to capture and manipulate 3D spaces, and that’s what Canvas does. But Canvas was restricted to iPads with Structure Sensors attached, an $800 investment.

Not anymore. In February, we demoed the future of Canvas, which runs on any smartphone. Pulling this off is extremely difficult, but it unlocks orders of magnitude more potential. Now, Occipital needs to execute on that potential, which will be equally challenging. I’m extremely excited for this product and I hope to support the Canvas team, including Alex, Sergey, and Anton.

Changes

Amidst the achievements over these twelve years, there were also numerous painful setbacks, like a critical supplier being acquired in 2013, and departures of beloved team members.

And as things go in the business world, sometimes companies decide to change leadership, even if that means the founders have to depart, and that’s what happened to us. I’m excited that our vision remains intact, and with the search for a new CEO underway, I hope Vikas and I can have a positive relationship with whomever is selected. (If you know anyone who Occipital should be considering for the role of CEO, I’d love to pass them along for consideration.)

I’m lucky

I never would have made it through any of this if it weren’t for Vikas and my wife, Myra. Vikas has been an incredible friend and partner through all of this. He is someone I can trust in any situation. He’s unafraid of new challenges, and is always excited to brainstorm the future, no matter how difficult things had been. Myra provided incredible support in the difficult times, but she’s done so. much. more. She helped us take care of Occipital’s team in so many ways, including designing most of our original swag, and creating tenure awards and special gifts for the team. She fully designed (and often hand-assembled) each of Occipital’s offices in SF and Boulder. Twice. She even started her own company using Canvas to do 3D interior design, to align our passions.

There are numerous members of the team whose passion was contagious and with whom I loved working. I hope to reflect more on our times together in the future. The infamous Israel trip. The China hydrochloric acid incident. The Terry Gou booth visit. The sell-high, buy-back low, sell-high again business strategy. And I am grateful for the friendships that persist after Occipital.

Announcing Arcturus Industries

I’m happy to announce that a group of us from Occipital are starting something new: Arcturus Industries. Our team includes longtime Occipital alums, like Nicolas Burrus (7-yr), and Miguel Algaba (5-yr), and eight others. This could not have happened without their incredible support.

Arcturus Industries is extending Occipital’s SLAM technology in an exciting way for AR/VR.

Stay tuned. We’ll soon have a lot more to say.

making spatial computing happen. co-founded @occipital. now working on http://arcturus.industries.