Han is a world-traveling serial entrepreneur who worked and lived in 8 different countries. Born in China, raised in Germany, and finally settled in the United States because of his profound appreciation for the Bay Area startup culture after graduating from UC Berkeley. The problem solving ethos embodied by the entrepreneurs here inspired him to develop innovative approaches to founding, running and scaling startups. This has lead him from his first web-based startup directly out of Berkeley to his first IoT hardware startup on Kickstarter to his first non-profit startup in Y Combinator's Summer 2014 batch, and finally to his current endeavor in the Virtual Reality space - Lucidcam.com - a company in the Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator.
How did you get into the industry?
I was working as a program manager on consumer retail imaging products at SanDisk for couple of years. My cofounder was working on robotics and computer vision. Our backgrounds combined made us always look for related opportunities in the consumer VR space, especially since we worked together on robot eyes which capture the world the way our own eyes would see it. As there are no stereoscopic 3D 180-degree cameras for VR, we decided to build one which is small and affordable.
Any emerging industry trends?
The early trends of headsets, platforms and games are still strong in VR, but are starting to saturate, as differentiation becomes more and more of a challenge. Because the VR industry exploded exponentially within months, technical hurdles within the industry have been neglected (which startups increasingly focus more on these days). Examples are in the areas of content creation, infrastructure, VR experience quality and many more. These areas of focus will lead to deeper technology solutions and faster changes in the next few years, driving strong adoption while replacing the early attempts.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
VR content creation is a huge opportunity in the industry, but also a huge challenge at the same time. The challenge is mostly driven by (1) the chicken-and-egg problem of headsets vs. content creation solutions, (2) the misunderstandings among people about the definition of VR content and (3) the user experience of content creation compared to the traditional picture and movie capturing.
To elaborate in detail, since there are more and more headsets launching, people want to be able to consume more content. But because there are just a few games out there and couple VR videos to watch, it is difficult for an individual to invest too much into expensive VR headsets right now. That’s why content creation devices such as VR cameras, 3D scanning devices and VR mobile phones suddenly gained a strong demand.
As competition heats up, the misconception that VR content means only 360 degrees leads to dropping prices on 360 cams. Since most people view 360-degree 2D videos and pictures on their monitors instead of VR headsets, they think it should be VR until they see those flat images in VR and lose interest. But that also leads to more people buying 360 cameras while struggling to actually tell a story in 360-degrees, which, in retrospect, further holds back VR adoption.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The inspiration for LucidCam came from being far away from family all my life. Born in China, raised in Germany and educated in the United States pulled me across the entire world at a young age. The desire to connect people not just through pictures or videos on a little flat screen, but putting that person into the experience of standing next to someone they miss has been always been a dream.
My cofounder and I worked on remote controlled robots in our free time where we became the robot by looking through its eyes with an Oculus DK1. I was fascinated by how much depth and immersion I was feeling. That inspired us to rip off the eyes of the robot to build LucidCam in order to empower everyone to create live real immersive experiences.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We are very excited as we move closer to mass production with our product, but we are even more excited to discover more industries LucidCam can disrupt. We truly believe that VR can become a game changer, when it starts creating value. What keeps us going is our software offering to empower individuals to do more with the content captured than just watching it. Our vision is not just to give you a fun gadget, but a way to leverage 3D data out of whatever you capture through advanced image processing and computer vision applications. That means capture 3D 180 degrees, share it with friends and family over social media and extract valuable information about objects in your content on our platform. The possibilities are unlimited when you tap into the 3D space you captured to find VR, AR or Mixed Reality applications.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One of the most impactful decisions we made was the partnership with Wistron. Building prototypes can be sometimes difficult, scaling them to a handful is even more difficult, but producing thousands in a given time is almost impossible for startups to do all by themselves. That is one of the reasons why so many startups fail in the valley of death between prototype and mass production. We decided early on that this is not our strength, and we would need to find a different way to make it to mass production. We flew to Taiwan and pitched all the big manufacturers. And the most fortunate moment was when Wistron agreed to invest in us as well as mass produce LucidCam. From this we were able to derisk and focus on what we do well, image processing and computer vision, and rely on a partner who can focus on what he does best. Admitting that there are things you are just not good at and finding a solution anyway has helped us to get where we are now.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The most difficult moment at a startup is when you are close to running out of cash and the first people in your team start leaving. Most people work hard for what they want, but not many still do when it really gets painful. In a startup everyone questions your vision and tells you it is impossible. This emotional pressure is what you go through day in and day out as a founder. When we were behind on the crowdfunding campaign in the first couple days, team morale was down. But that was the moment which counted the most, because a startup can only succeed when you can fight through the tough times. That was the day I told my team that everybody is smart and hardworking, but only when tough times hit and you are behind can you really prove to yourself that you are exceptional. That’s the time when your school, your diploma, your grades or exceptional background do not matter, because all that counts is to turn the ship around and move towards your vision, and that’s what we did.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
I have tried many products in my life and most of the time I was impressed by the technology inside, but I was not impressed by the complexity of the user experience. We at Lucid VR wanted to create a product so simple that even a 3-year-old could use it. We focused on taking previous camera systems as a reference point for the user experience and combined it with a mobile phone similar form factor. Now all you need to do is turn the switch on, point at something, capture it, wifi it to your phone and start watching with a Google cardboard. We stayed away from creating tons of settings, multiple buttons and switches, and complicated user interfaces. We truly believe that simplicity will be a main driver for VR adoption.
How do you motivate others?
A great way to motivate others, which worked for me, is storytelling. Day-to-day motivation is always needed in a startup, but I am talking about the motivation and inspiration needed when nothing is working and you are emotionally down. During those times I tell the team a story about the past, how we got to the present and where the future of our company will be. Reminding the team of how hard they have worked to get where they are now and that nothing can stop them helps them envision where we can be and how we can overcome any obstacles along our way. As your team goes with you through good and bad times, you have to remind them of the fights they have won.
Career advice to those in your industry?
We all have to admit that VR/AR industry will probably still take a lot of time to ramp up, and there are still so many uncertainties along the way. Therefore it is crucial to be passionate about what you do and learn to enjoy the journey. If you are in VR/AR for the money or the fame, you should reconsider, because there will be no money and no fame for a long time. If you are in VR/AR for the hype, you should think through if the hype is worth the opportunity cost of being successful in a different industry. If you are in VR/AR for the learning and you want it to change the future, then you are at the right place at the right time, because at the end of the day all you will get out of it for sure is personal growth and a dent on history.