Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Frank Peters Show—Dave Berkus the Uber Angel

One of my favorite podcasts is the Frank Peters Show in which Frank Peters describes the startup scene in southern California. A long-time member of the Tech Coast angels, Frank interviews entrepreneurs, venture capitalist and angels about their experiences. I met Frank last year at the Angel Capital Association summit meeting in Chicago in which he gave a round table talk on generating PR. As a podcast it’s one of the best in both content and production values. It is unique in content since there are very few podcasts that focus on startup investing. This shows up in Frank’s download numbers which reach 25,000 monthly. Frank is also a prolific podcaster as he’s been doing this for about two years and has over 100 podcasts already published on his web site.

One of my favorite shows is the one with Dave Berkus, who Frank called the Uber Angel. In this interview Dave talks about sitting on the board of startups and helping the entrepreneur get the business off the ground. Dave summed it up well when he said that all companies go through three crises. The first is the “funding crisis” which is why the company comes to the angels and VCs in the first place – to get funding for their startup. The second is the “operating crisis” in which the company now has the funding but must hire and put the core processes in place to grow the company. Third is the “quality crisis” in which the company produces a product and places it in the market place and undoubtedly encounters problems that must be resolved. In working with startups in Austin, I found that view rather insightful. If you’ve invested in a startup you can look forward to these three phases with expectation rather than surprise when the company comes back struggling with one of these issues.

I recommend you download a Frank Peter podcast when you have the chance. The interviews with angels and entrepreneurs are quite insightful.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ravi Rao of AnaLogix Making 3D Game Controllers

I had the chance to meet with Ravi Rao of AnaLogix. Here’s a summary of our discussion on his 3D game controller product.

How did the Founder, Pierre Touma come up with this idea?
The idea for the 3D technology that evolved into the 3D motion-controlled game controller was originally a way to map a 2D mouse into the 3D space. The thought at the time was that 3D and holographic monitors would be a natural evolution of the 2D screens and there would be a need for a pointer/mouse that would allow a user to interact with such 3D monitors, hence the need for a 3D mouse. The initial research and development effort was started in the 1990’s and took a few years due in part to it being a self-funded effort and the fact that the concept was ahead of available applications. After an earlier design based on photoelectric technology, the choice of MEMS technology was based on our aim to have a self-contained, accurate yet easy to manufacture technology as photoelectric technology was deemed to be too expensive for a consumer product. A prototype was finally ready in 2004 in the form of a 3D mouse/pointer for 3D CAD/CAM as well as multimedia applications. A field visit at the Media Lab and other companies involved in the development of 3D applications, as well as a thorough evaluation market maturity and economics, made us focus from
primarily on a 3D controller for video games as a first commercial application with a 3D mouse/pointer in the latest phases of commercial development.

So what does AnaLogix do?
AnaLogix is developing Micro Electro Mechanical (MEMS) – based technology enabling innovative devices for entertainment, simulation and navigation / control applications. The technology is based on a highly advanced integration of sensing devices with state-of-the-art signal processing that optimizes responsiveness and reliability.

In the application that I demonstrated to you, this technology has been embodied in a programmable 3D game controller which could be integrated as a stand-alone controller or integrated into proprietary game console systems such as Sony Playstation, Xbox360, etc.

The key differentiator in this product is that it’s based on MEMS technology so it’s a solid state device so we bridge between a controller and the console with 6 degrees of freedom. So the advantage of our product in this market currently dominated by the WII which is a proprietary platform is that our product can work with any PC-based game. Also our 3D game controller is backward compatible with all the older PC games. All I need to do is plug this into the computer and configure it to work with that game and you’re off and running.

How hard is that to do with say a Sony game?
So for the Playstation game which is proprietary we need to work with them to make our technology compatible with their console environment. We need to work out a deal with Sony. The Xbox 360 is going to soon open up their gaming system to 3rd party developers. The WII ships approx. 1.9M units per month and are currently in a shortage.

What is the Founder, Pierre Touma’s, background?
Pierre A. Touma is an entrepreneur with 18 years experience in
technology development and commercialization. He graduated from Texas
A&M University with degrees in Electrical and Industrial Engineering as
well as an advanced degree in technology management from Ecole Centrale
in France. In prior professional work he has been involved in the
fields of Telemedicine and E-health and industrial management consulting (Andries Tek, Nasa MCTTC, USIS and ARIG).

What is your background?
I have over 20 years of experience in high-tech management in microchip and embedded technology (Schlumberger Smart Cards, USIS, MedTech, Online Services Corp., IndusRAD, Iyoke), flight simulation technology (CAE Inc.) and Optical Communication (Nortel). I have also worked as a VP – Marketing and Strategic Alliance for various start-up companies (Shakti Solutions, Perfica Solutions, and Sulekha). I established partnerships with Best-in-Class solutions.

Pierre and I previously worked at USIS where we were providing a smart card solution for the healthcare industry in 1999. USIS was one of the first companies in the world to be credentialed for Data Security, Privacy and Confidentiality in France and Switzerland. We were a niche technology provider for the UK NHS and we helped SAIC get the contract with DOD Health Affairs. Since we have complied with the European Privacy standards we were easily able to help companies in the U.S. meet the Privacy, Security and HIPAA standards.

Smartcards never caught on in the USA. Why is that?
There was a cost factor difference. A plastic mag-stripe card costs 4 - 10 cents, but the Smartcard cost around a dollar so it was more expensive. At that time the Smartcard readers were very expensive at $50 so the infrastructure wasn’t there. Today, the reader is very low in cost, but still it won’t catch on until the smartcard provides a multiple application solution. Everyone wants their own name on the card for the branding. When I worked with Schlumberger Smart Cards (now known as Gemalto) we actually came up with a multi application smartcard which we were going to launch in San Francisco with one of the major U.S. banks. It had about eight different applications on it, but the group was acquired by another major bank and the project was cancelled so it didn’t go through.

Another challenge we faced, Austin wasn’t a healthcare community at that time in 1999. Today, it’s different. Austin is much more open to an EMR smart card-based healthcare application like that with three major VC companies taking a foothold and planting their roots here in Austin.

What was your goal in building this 3D Game Controller and future gaming products?
AnaLogix first product is a USB 3D motion-based game controller for the PC. This initial product will be upgraded to a wireless game controller in the next generation controllers. This next generation device will have advanced functions allowing it to interactively interface with games. AnaLogix will then launch an advanced game system on its technology, offering an unparalleled experience to gamers.

AnaLogix will also be embodying its open platform technology in different form factors for the different sports games (tennis, baseball, golf, bowling, etc.) offering gamers an even more immersive gaming environment. In a subsequent development, the company will adapt this system into a robust simulation and training platform for hazardous and unmanned systems.

We wanted to build the next generation of open platform game console and products. It would be built on open platform so everyone could use this to get to the next generation. We’ve tested it out and we are in discussion with a major PC manufacturer for distribution and other channels. We feel were competitive against 2D game controllers, because we can also provide the 3D functionality. We’re seeking for six or seven distribution customers such as major game controller and two major PC manufacturers.

What are the Market Opportunity / Market Size?
The video gaming industry has a 9 % annual growth and market size estimated in 2011 will exceed $54B. In 2007 the market size was $38 B and a $1B PC games market in the U.S. alone.

When will you launch it?
In the next couple of months.

Where are you building it?
We are currently outsourcing the manufacturing in Asia and hope to eventually do it in Austin.

How about the competition?
There are 3D devices out there in the market but they are much more expensive (> $1000). Ours will be at a much lower cost (< $100) that will provide the same functionality as the older generation of 3D CAD / CAM devices.

The company will not be really competing with existing players, but AnaLogix will be charting in new territory where gaming companies will eventually have to follow. The competition would be in existing gaming system companies and game peripheral companies such as Saitek, Belkin, LogiTech, Mad Catz, Kensington, etc.

The company’s patent pending technology is an entry barrier to such players. Furthermore, the company’s innovative advanced gaming system will be complementary to the offering of PC-based gaming systems from companies such as Alienware, Vodoo, etc.

What will be the pricing?
Around $80 to $100 per unit.

Do you have a website?
No, not yet.

Best regards,
Hall T.