Two companies emerging in the business scene with really interesting visual technology are Personify and Matterport. Personify makes 3D videoconferencing technology that can create more compelling presentations and more deeply immerse audiences in content. Matterport makes a product that virtualizes physical places and will soon release an enhancement that allows novices to alter these virtualizations to reflect anticipated changes. Both of these technologies are game changers, but any game-changing technology developed by a small firm has a high probability of failure.
Luckily for these companies, AMD Ventures not only supplied funding to both firms but contributed expertise to assure their success.
We often don’t focus on the venture arms of technology companies. But they perform critical roles in the corporate birthing process. So I interviewed the CEOs of Personify and Matterport to find out what made AMD Ventures such a critical part of their success. First, though, I want to explain a bit about the companies because both are kind of fascinating. I’d actually found Personify earlier and later discovered that one of the ex-CMOs from Intel was assisting Matterport by giving them resources from both AMD and Intel—something you don’t see that often.
With the emergence of low-cost 3D cameras like Microsoft’s Kinect, there has been a bit of a rush to see where they can be better used. The most obvious first pass was in capturing images for 3D printing. Instead, Personify uses its 3D images to put the speaker into presentations. You typically have three bad choices when doing a presentation on the Web. You see the speaker and presentation at alternating moments, you see them at the same time in very small windows, or you just see the presentation and listen to the speaker. The problem with all of that is you are generally missing much of the speaker’s gestures and facial expressions, which add to the overall presentation.
Personify puts the speaker in the presentation so it looks like the speaker is standing in front of what they are presenting, much like if you were seeing them present their information live. The solution works with WebEx, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Lync. You do have to design the slides so that you aren’t blocking critical information, but the end result is a blended experience, which you can record and place on the Web for later if you like. What I think may be cooler, though, would be a set of video streams from unusual places like a palatial office, which might convey an interesting alternative—particularly if you’d forgotten to actually create the slides or were speaking from a crappy hotel room.
Now, Matterport is even more interesting. They use a special 3D camera to scan a room and build a virtual representation of a physical place that you can then wander through and explore using a Web application. The process for a home takes around an hour to scan and then another hour to render. For a realtor doing virtual open house events, this apparently is a very effective sales tool. For a home owner, this could be incredibly useful to do regularly as part of their disaster recovery process because it would show an insurance adjuster in great detail what was actually lost in a fire or other catastrophe. A future enhancement will be to allow the user to add or delete items in the virtual space—something that Amazon and other retailers who sell furniture are aggressively exploring as sales tools. The company would create 3D scanned images of products (e.g., furniture, appliances, etc.) and the prospects could see how the items would look in their homes before purchase.
This could save thousands of husbands’ backs because the wives could digitally place the items until they find just the right spot, saving the number of times the poor guy has to pick it up and actually move it. This is an incredibly powerful technology that I plan to use to both record my house and help sell it when that time comes.
AMD’s Value Add
Both companies told similar stories about how AMD Ventures came in with financial and technical support to assist them in creating their products. AMD engages as a board-level member, but moves beyond technical advice to provide operational help, introduce the firms to critical contacts in their industry, and husband their company and products through the birthing process. AMD Ventures helps promote the companies as well, putting some of their corporate might behind assuring that the firm is visible and able to create demand. In the case of Matterport, AMD was actually instrumental in the hiring of their CEO, assuring a good skill match between the firm and that executive.
What makes this interesting is that unlike a lot of VCs, AMD’s venture group isn’t invasive. They don’t try to take over the company, nor do they leave the firm alone to live or die on its own. They instead provide a balance of needed advice and technical resources to assure the company’s success without being overly heavy handed. Often when doing a review of a failed young company, part of the cause is either a lack of help from the VC or an excessive amount of inexperienced control, both of which kill the firm. The balance that AMD’s group showcases stands out in this regard and is comparable to the best VCs—best being related to their success rate.
Wrapping Up: Cool Tech, Great Help
An internal venture arm for a tech company is missioned not to just look for ways to spend money, but to specifically look for ways to spend it so that a good deal of the return is enhanced by sales of their own products. AMD Ventures showcases this practice in that both Personify and Matterport require high-performance processing solutions and are designing around AMD’s unique product advantages. But if they fail, that will do the firm no good at all.
This is why AMD moves at both a board and an operational level to assure that both of these companies succeed. For a firm that uses a vendor’s technology, starting with their venture arm for funding might be a better choice than using a more traditional VC. As the companies’ VC organization, AMD Ventures is even more motivated to assure the products are successful—more so than a firm simply focused on the profit potential. AMD also typically knows more about the technical problems the companies will face and it has a marketing arm they can leverage. These are just some points to think about if you ever want to launch or expand your own small technology company.