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Call Me OpenROV

We often refer to Moore’s Law as a force, a curve, a wave. Exponentially increasing transistor capacity at ever-decreasing costs means that more and more industries have become ripe for lower-cost innovation. This wave has crashed over consumer Internet, enterprise SaaS, next-generation infrastructure, hardware and devices, all since we founded True in 2005.

Now we’re seeing this wave impact other waves—real waves, as in those things that comprise 71% of the world’s surface and 95% of the world’s water: our oceans. 95% of the world’s oceans remain unexplored, and what little that has been explored to date has been done with enormously expensive underwater vehicles, funded by government and large research organizations. Yet the ocean contains unknown wonders for mankind and, likely, solutions to many of our largest social problems, such as hunger, thirst and climate change. Cracking open this explorer’s scientific bounty and making it accessible to all is the mission of OpenROV, which announced its financing by True on Tuesday.

This announcement is important to me for several reasons, most of which revolve around the role I believe venture capital must play in the global creative ecosystem. In addition to supporting two brave and brilliant Founders at the heart of today’s “Hardware Revolution,” OpenROV represents what venture capital needs to do more of in today’s economy: support the brilliant creativity of Founders daring to do big things.

The OpenROV story is very similar to how we meet many True Founders, and it is near and dear to our hearts. At TED 2013, Ayah Bdeir, the brilliant Founder of littleBits, pulled me aside and told me I had to meet one of her fellow TED Fellows. (Ayah has the honor of being a 2012 TED Fellow and a 2013 TED Senior Fellow). I met with David Lang that very day. I was so excited by the grassroots story of OpenROV, and by their clear vision of empowering exploration and curiosity, that I sent my partner Phil an email that described the company and ended with “Wow, I love what we do.”  My partner Tony Conrad swears he’s rarely seen me more excited about a big, bold idea.

OpenROV makes low-cost, open source underwater robots capable of bringing cameras and other sensors to depths of 100 meters. Not only has OpenROV brought underwater exploration within the reach of anyone with a computer or smartphone, but the company has also already fostered a global community of explorers. Today, around 250 ROVs are in the hands of everyday explorers, ready to swim and take video that can be shared with anyone via the Internet. Video of places we haven’t seen before. Video of the oceans previously unexplored. Video and images of nature’s beauty. The company’s vision is to power a community of global ocean exploration, and make this exploration available to anyone with an Internet connection. Imagine waking up in Palo Alto to find your 8-year-old piloting an underwater robot submarine with 360 degree views around the South China Sea. This is where we are going with OpenROV, to embark on this fundamentally human quest of exploration, discovery and better understanding of our world.

OpenROV exemplifies True’s approach to venture capital: founder-based, powered by bold ideas and unafraid of the unknown. We funded two incredibly brilliant Founders, Eric Stackpole and David Lang. Their dream is big and audacious: empower everyone to discover the oceans. They are leading a movement that will change the world, and in many ways one that already has. This is why we formed True Ventures, and this is what we believe the world needs much more of: brilliant ideas and people brave enough to fund them.

Was this an “easy” venture deal to do? For us it was, but for others, not so much. “What about the revenue model?” “Wow, but isn’t it too early?” “Is there really a market for underwater drones?” were all questions we heard from others along the way. While these are all wonderful questions, and intelligent ones, they just aren’t the questions that are possible to answer at this time.

In our view, venture capitalists are charged with helping great Founders answer these (and other) hard questions and emboldening them to take the biggest risks. It’s the job of our capital and our people to help answer these questions, not just ask them.

This is True venture capital, and we feel honored to team up with so many brilliant Founders changing the world. We’re incredibly lucky to have the chance to partner with Eric and David as they enable ocean exploration for everyone. It’s why we do what we do.

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