Ric Fulop

Obsessively looking for the next big thing!

3 months with Glass…a field report (part 1)

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I don’t know about you but ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with human machine integration.  I guess I grew up in a world of MechWarrior’s and Terminator vision so I was ecstatic when I first saw the Google glass.  I feel like I’ve been tracking wearables since the mid 90s when Thad Starner was an MIT student and MIThrill was just a concept.  I’ve tracked efforts for 15 years waiting for someone to build a more effective broad use device so despite all the hype I was genuinely excited to see Glass come into the market.

Getting my hands on glass:

This was not easy!  I didn’t work for Google.  I was late for the #ifihadglass party and at the time I got my Glass it was the peak of the hype. I canvased my network of friends and after a significant amount of effort got my hands on a grey colored #unofficial Google Glass prototype.  You could say my pair of Glass was literally and figuratively “Grey” because I wasn’t supposed to have it.  As an investor I’ve really enjoyed the experience because I see how much potential there is to fund startups and ideas that will take advantage of all the possibilities.

The report:

I’ve worn Glass for about 3 months straight.  Despite what others say I’ve found it to be a spectacular experience with few drawbacks.

Before Glass I was a die hard iPhone user and I rarely used Google+.  The first thing I did when I got my pair of grey glasses was get a Nexus 4 phone so I could have full control of the glasses.  I had played with the Nexus 1 and had a poor taste in my mouth about the early Android versions…I have to say that my perspective was changed 100% by using the Nexus 4 and Android has pretty much caught up to iOS 100% at the operating system and hardware level.  The second daily habit altering pattern was the very tight integration with Google+.  I went from never using G+ to being a full everyday user and moving all my pictures to the service.

I’ve found Glass to be super awesome.  Having a camera strapped to my face 100% of the time is the #1 life changing surprise for me.  I never thought this would be my favorite feature but I’ve truly captured many serendipitous events that I could never film from my phone, especially because its so fast and stealth.

For example, this picture which I took with Glass of my friend Bre, the founder of MakerBot in a heated debate would have been weird to take with a smartphone but with Glass its totally natural.

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Also, here is me landing a jet and filming it with Google Glass for posterity without having to be distracted.  You could never do that with a smartphone.

The navigation and SMS integration has also been awesome and the bone conduction sound system has worked very well.   I would like to see a native app development kit as well as a way to edit messages before sending them.  In the meantime I couldn’t be more pleased with this as a version 1 prototype.

More to come on part 2 of my review but I really can’t wait to see what hackers and hustlers come up with when more of them get their hands on this type of hardware.

Its clear to everyone there is a lot of hype around but as a limited time user I think it definitely has lived up to my expectations.  I will help co-teach a class this semester at MIT helping students come up with applications for wearables and can’t wait to see what they do with this type of hardware once they get their hands on it!!!   

Three Basics the Disqus Founders Do Right

Working with Disqus has been amazing, and I’d attribute much of the great experience to the founders, Daniel Ha and Jason Yan. They’re two incredible entrepreneurs with killer drive, killer brains, and killer ideas…and in founders I work with, those are three key attributes. I’ve been amazed at the rate Disqus is growing, and I feel really lucky to have teamed with these guys (because a lot of the time, that’s what this business of starting and funding businesses is all about: luck).


So what makes the Disqus guys so great? These three fundamental attributes that any start-up founder needs to suceed:

1. Passion.

You can have a great idea for a business, but if your heart isn’t 100% in it, you are drastically more likely to fail. Start-ups are hard. They are draining. They require believing in yourself and your company even when you’re questioning absolutely everything about both. But Daniel and Jason have proved themselves completely committed to and obsessed (in a good way) with their company. They live and breathe it. And that’s what it takes.

2. Putting the user first.

Jason and Daniel never make decisions about their company based on what investors, media, or any other third party will think. It’s always about the customer and what will be the easiest, most satisfying, and most streamlined way to give their user what they want.

3. Being uncompromising.

In the same way they put their customer first, Jason and Daniel put their company first, too. They decide to do what’s best for the future of the company in order to stick to its basic tenets and ideas. They are willing to say no, even to powerful people, when pressured to do something that might not be the best course of action in the long run. They keep the big picture in mind while going about the day to day.

It’s been a wild ride so far, and as I said, I consider myself lucky to be working with guys as great as Jason and Daniel. I learn something new every day.

Welcome to The Third Industrial Revolution:

When I was a kid I was inspired by a book called the Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. In the book the protagonist lives in a future where it will become possible to print 3D objects made out of diamonds - the world’s stongest material. In this future we won’t need factories and the largest and most powerful companies are those that make the tools, software and services to enable that vision. Kids learned CAD in school just like you learn languages or trigonometry.

Most of you who know me think of me as an entrepreneur that made batteries or was in the software or wireless business, however few of you know that when I was 18 years old I was dumb or crazy enough to start a company that built the first parametric 3D modeling package for the Mac.  The software was called DenebaCAD and was inspired by the vision behind Diamond Age.

Recently, I read another New York Times best-seller book that reminded me we are solidly on that path.  That book by Jeremy Rifkin is called The Third Industrial Revolution and I think its thesis is spot-on.  We are on the cusp of a major shift enabled by 3D technology that will provide a long boom with lots of investment opportunities.  This boom will reshape economies and geopolitical forces like the first industrial revolution or the Internet did. 

The 3D market has been a long time in the making, but it finally feels like the ecosystem has matured to the point where we are about to see an inflexion point.  A good analogy is looking at the Internet from 1975 to 1995 where things were too expensive and impractical for the mass market.  That’s what the 3D market has been like for the past 20 years “a land that time forgot” where the core tools are only for engineers and cost thousands of dollars per seat.  This is very rapidly changing with services like Proto Labs or Shapeways where anyone can get parts quickly and inexpensively, with the advent of affordable desktop 3D printers and new 3D software tools or platforms like GrabCAD and Onshape.  This revolution won’t turn the world upside down overnight and perhaps it will be another 10 years until 3D printing and manufacturing in the cloud is completely commonplace but one thing is for sure, the momentum is now unstoppable. 

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The recent advances in 3D Printing, laser sintering and multi-axis CNC are completely going to change manufacturing forever in the same way that inkjet printers changed photography forever!   No longer will you need to tool products in order to manufacture them or coordinate with multinational logistics.  R&D parts will be as good as full production parts and they will be a lot less expensive.  Moreover, for the first time enterprises will easily be able to offer customized products on a mass scale. This will be the ultimate global playing field leveler and is critical for U.S. competitiveness.  Today’s modern airplane wings are no longer riveted.  They are built from composites, cut on multi-axis CNCs and sent straight to curing.  Our portfolio company Proto Labs (NASDAQ:PRLB) that we took public in 2012 is well on their way to building a multi-billion dollar business as the worlds largest provider of “manufacturing on the cloud” services.  Companies like General Motors and Lockheed Martin use Proto Labs for everything from R&D to production parts.  Engineers go straight from CAD to production parts in one day simply by clicking print!  They are the enterprise equivalent of other exciting companies like ShapeWays that are doing a great job democratizing access to advanced manufacturing.  I am convinced 5 years from now this market will be 100X larger than it is today and that created huge opportunities. 

My firm, North Bridge, has been investing in 3D for close to 20 years.  We’ve probably made more pure play 3D investments than all other east coast firms combined.  This stems from our legacy as an original investor in SolidWorks.  Today SolidWorks is the leading platform used to design 3D parts in the world!  Last November, Jon Hirtschtick and Jon McEleney who founded and ran SolidWorks called to say they wanted to do it again and we led a $9M Series A for their new startup Onshape (previously under the stealth name Belmont Technologies) which aims to bring 3D design to the cloud.  This was followed by a $25M Series B round led by NEA three months later and a $30M Series C six months after that.

Over the years we’ve also backed Revit, SpaceClaim, NewForma and other leading technology companies that today are key components of this 3D ecosystem. 

This movement has many names.  Some call it the maker movement which is the equivalent of the consumerization of 3D, some call it 3D Everywhere or 3D printing.  I call it the dawn of the Third Industrial Revolution and I can’t wait to see what happens when we start to teach 3D or CAD in middle school!

"Welcome @SmartAsset the newest member of the @north_bridge family. Looking forward to building a +$B business"

Had a great talk with with my partner Michael Skok yesterday at the Harvard iLab. I wish my grad school profs were as smart as Michael is.