Has there ever been a tech startup that raised shy of $3 billion, inflation-adjusted for any era, while barely making a ripple with actual customers? Magic Leap just pocketed a fresh $350 million in funding, on the condition that its co-founder and CEO Rony Abovitz, agree to step aside and allow new leadership to take the reins. We chat AR/VR, dot-com flameouts, and why crazy tech is worth believing in.
This episode was recorded before the recent protests, and so does not contain any discussion of current events in the United States. We will touch on it in future episodes, but you can find Stack Overflow's statement on it here.
Ben Popper Huh.
BP Hey, are we all in Brooklyn today? I'm in Brooklyn today.
PF I'm in Brooklyn. Welcome back.
SC Are you?!
BP I am. Thank you.
BP It's been a bit spooky, but I'm enjoying my, I came here for two days. My sons are in kindergarten and first grade and it's kind of hitting them now that like we might not come back in September and so they're having a lot of feels and some pretty deep cries and so I agreed to come back here and hang for a little bit with my son who hadn't gotten a chance to visit recently.
SC Oh, that's nice.
PF They still can't see their friends like it's just tough.
BP Well, I don't even know if I should be admitting this on the show. Maybe we'll cut it out. I'll have to ask my wife. But you know, in in some ways we are breaking a few little rules. We saw a family at a state park on Monday, Memorial day. And we were like way outside and we never went inside and we like didn't let them wrestle but we were all outside with no masks.
PF No. Oh well the no mess is tricky. I mean we've been going to the, there are open lanes for bikes and our kids have been going, they've been wearing their masks but they see their friends.
BP Yeah. I mean we're easing back into a very limited social group and we're keeping it all outside and trying to like, nobody shares food, stuff like that. But I don't know. It's like at a certain point you, I feel like you have to start to accept some risk. That's what a reopening is, is accepting a little risk. Right.
PF We're figuring it out. Anyway.
SC We're figuring it out.
PF We're here for tech.
BP So yeah, let's kick things off. The CEO of Magic Leap is going to leave. They got some more money, another 350 million on top of the 350 kajillion they've already raised. I think this might go down as the biggest, the biggest ever. I don't know. There's been some others. There was Color. I remember. It was a really funny one. I don't think there's ever been a company that's raised billions of dollars pre-product and just, just pooped out nothing.
PF Pre-product is tricky.
SC There's been a lot of those.
PF But not...
SC There's been a handful.
PF Yeah. There've been a lot that...
SC Not billions, you're right.
PF Webvan, uh, the other one, the other one that was amazing that nobody remembers was this thing called boo.com. Sara, do you remember it at all?
SC No, this sounds amazing.
BP Do they jump out and scare you or what happened?
PF No, boo.com was a fashion brand and it was, or it was a, it was clothing retail and they had a little animated avatar named miss boo who was like really cool, really cool nineties fashion. Like actually Sara, this aligns with a number of your interests.
SC [laughs] yes.
PF Um, it's a particular aesthetic that you will crack up at and it's also the complete .com disaster. So miss boo was really cool and she would tell you about things to wear and it was just like an absolute top to bottom boondoggle and kind of famously so, and they put hundreds of millions into that I think. But uh, it happens. Look, it happens, you know, I mean magically what it does like the elephant in the room like that, it'll, it'll actually insert an elephant in your room.
BP You, yeah, you were, you are a small refrigerator on your head and then when you look through it, it looks like there's a magical elephant dancing on your hand. Except that was actually just a, a demo that they cooked up that didn't, that, that was not an actual product demo. That was like a simulated product demo.
SC Okay. Hot take, hot take. I think that AR is really exciting, but it's not going to work until the hardware is small enough for that no one can tell you're wearing it because all of it looks dumb.
PF There's rumors of Apple glasses too. That's, that's coming.
SC Ooooh. Do you think they would do a good job?
BP What if they came in and did the good job like they did with the MP3 player and the smartphone?
PF I mean, the thing is the watch is really small. You could incorporate the watch into the glasses.
SC Oh yeah. And then the hardware and the glasses is so much smaller because it's using the processing of the...
PF Like, we just have that precedent, like for a real, something that weighs, you know, less than an ounce just kind of cranking and talking to your phone. So I could see that. I just like, I love to get excited about new technologies, frameworks and platforms. You know, they're, they're great. And uh, I've been excited about VR and AR for probably about 24 years now. You know, I mean, the one that, same for me with blockchain, like I'm like, Oh wow, I can see why people really, really love that stuff. But then I go to the store and I buy bread with my credit card.
BP It turns out boo.com was kind of early AR you dragged your clothes onto a virtual 3d body and you could view it from whatever angle you wanted.
PF Yeah, they tried to build everything. They had everything. Yes.
BP They spent 135 million, which was in nineties dollars might be a lot.
SC That's a billion.
BP But it still doesn't even touch now. It doesn't matter. I think Magic Leap has raised 3 billion. We'll look it up. I mean it's banana as Paul would say.
SC 3 billion? That's insane.
BP I know, I know.
PF Actually in the nineties we didn't have currency. We just exchanged pogs is what they were called and so I was just paid in pogs at my first startup job.
BP Yeah, absolutely. What was the one that was actually really good? It was like called a .com bust and everybody made fun of it. But now it's, Oh Cosmo where they would like bring you a pack of gum if you ordered it and there was like no surcharge, you could just order a pack of gum and...
PF Pets.com is another one. Right? Like they were. What they did is they said, look, there's no point. I've made some great predictions in my life. They're totally pointless, right? Like unless, unless you are into a curve where people are able to actually take action. You know, so that's the thing like yes, Cosmo totally made sense, but they didn't have that really efficient marketplace and the distribution and the understanding and the, the base of consumers that you have.
BP Yeah, so it says here, boo.com you know, was a great idea. Unfortunately the homepage was several hundred kilobytes, which meant users had to wait minutes for it to load.
PF It's true. It was for like a 56 K modem. Like they just were a little too far in the future and they were, if I remember a little full of themselves, like it was a lot of marketing and it just was like a, you know, it just did the thing. It's just whenever the, they get in there and they're like, well we don't really have a product but we need to promote it. You start to get into that like bad sitcoms situation where, where dad's coming home and you have to like get everybody out of the house and clean it up before you finds out what you did.
BP But yeah, so we'll see what happens in magic leap. We wish you the best of luck. We don't want any technology to fail. And certainly some of their ideas about AR were cool. The, the charismatic and then supposedly brilliant inventor is going to stay through the transition, then step aside and they're going to bring in a real professional CEO to manage the billions that have been investing
SC So they're going to keep going just with someone new.
BP Yeah, they got to, Ronnie Abramowitz has got to step aside and they're going to keep going and we'll see what happens.
PF You know, there, there is a Google glass like business to business function that's been going on for awhile. Like AR is great and industrial applications. It's super good for telling you where the air, you know, the airplane parts were supposed to go. And so to me I feel like, you know, and nobody wants that. Everyone is say no, no, no, no, I don't want to build. And I'm like, ah, look at Salesforce. No, no, go build the Salesforce of AR man.
BP Well that's the thing like what is a HUD, you know, like a heads up display has been a thing for a long time. And in certain situations it's really great. You know, if you, if you need to monitor a couple of critical inputs while you're working on something in the real world, like that's a good jam. You don't call it AR, you call it, you know, a HUD on a, on a fighter pilot, on a fighter jet or whatever, but it's cool.
PF Or good. I mean, people with disability, so on and so forth. It's just like they can't get that consumer marketplace and that is just breaking. Everybody wants, that is the person that you have written so many love letters to, it just won't write back.
SC Yeah. It's really easy to think about like really specialized applications of it, but just imagining like the average person always having, it's really tough.
BP Yeah. It's more like you've been on five or six or seven first dates with different companies and it just, it's not clicking quite yet.
PF It's just not working. No and then you went and then you, you fell in love when mobile came out. The consumer and you were in love. It was magical. They were like, I can't get enough of this every day. Every moment of my life is perfect. I just want to be here. And you're like, Oh, well what about I gave you that? But I put it on your head and they're like, absolutely no freaking way. Get the hell out of my house. We're done. Just you can just see like Sergey Brin just going like, I don't understand. I thought we were friends.
BP But when you're, when your Sergey Brin, you wear those glasses and nobody tells you that you don't look cool. Right. Everyone's like, wow, Sergey those glasses look...great.
SC Does he not have any teenage children? He probably just doesn't have any teenage children. Cause they tell you.
PF He might, but you know, there he has a, each one gets an Island and so.
SC They don't really see each other.
PF You don't speak to your mother that way, you go to your Island. [Sara laughs]
BP But I do think, I don't know, have you guys ever had this experience like a year after year after year. Although after Google glass often I'll be walking down the street or in a moment I'm like, damn, I wish I could just because I wear glasses. I could just tell my glasses to take a picture right now because I want that picture and I don't have a camera on me or I don't want to like show a camera like that one feature. The hands free...
BP Yes, but I'm not, okay, fine.
SC Yeah, that is kinda... that is kinda...
BP I was thinking more about like a perfect shot of a bird. But fine.
PF I know. I'm with you. I mean we will actually find out just like we found out that it's sort of like there were no aliens and cops could be abusive. We learned that when all of a sudden a cell phone started to get cameras, we're going to learn terrible things when everyone can take pictures all the time.
SC Yeah, that's the thing. Like you think of this beautiful invention with this amazing application to change the world and no, Nope. People are just using it for nefarious reasons.
PF Look, we know that now. Like, you know, we didn't, we just didn't know it before and I, I history won't believe that history will just be like, what?
SC Look at these idiots, yeah.
BP No. The development of this, of this critical technology that takes you to the next stage of civilization was delayed by Robert Scoble shower selfie and the one dude who walked into a bathroom in Austin, Texas during South by Southwest with this Google glass. Those two guys ruined it for the rest of us.
PF The Google PR moment when that shower scene comes out and they're just like, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh...
SC Wait I missed this one. I missed this one.
PF Oh no, Sara. Sara. Sara.
BP Sara, don't look.
SC Should I be thankful?
BP Look away. Look away.
PF Even in you, I know you enjoy a good, ironic, terrible situation. You, you don't...
BP Nobody needs to see this Scoblelizer in the shower.
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SC It's living at home. Cause of corona virus. That's really...
BP Got a beautiful convertible and uh, working on us.
PF And you know maybe some Python over here, a little django, a little rails and then ka-bam. We all got just sideswiped. It's intense. So.
SC Crazy town.
PF It's only getting more support from the big vendors. I mean I think Apple is still like, yeah, no we're, swift, come on. But Microsoft increasingly doesn't care like vs code and all that stuff. And I was just here, go to town, have a good time.
BP But that was the best part of boo.com was waiting 10 minutes for it to load.
PF Be mindful. They didn't take away the asynchronous abilities of the language.
SC Yeah, no, no. And that's true. Like it's still there. It's still under that, but when you're writing it, you don't get to see that. And that makes me sad.
BP Yeah, that makes sense.
PF Fair enough. Except boy callback style is painful at scale.
SC I mean yeah, it's a huge pain in the ass.
BP On the shoulders of giants, on the shoulders of giants.
PF No just all on your know your value in the labor market. Oh no. Yeah, you're less, you're less value. Oh, callbacks. That's very exciting grandma.
SC Yeah. It's a real engineering manager attitude as well. Right? Cause like I'm not the one writing the code. So like I get to be like, Oh my weekend project I miss, I miss callbacks. It's really sad.
PF You know, like they don't understand what's going on under the hood. That's what's really valuable. And it's, I mean the irony is, you know, Stack, I mean it's just like, it's the opposite of that. It's like let's just get this thing done. Let's just make the pain go.
BP Right. The blank page at the novel is a real killer. But also interesting that TypeScript now is the number two most loved language mood up over Python and that obviously is, you know, a different way to do that same kind of stuff. So we've seen that be probably the biggest one of the biggest trends of the year.
PF Oh really?
BP So Sara, nodeJS 11th anniversary. Where is it at? Is it like something that's changing a lot still in real time? Is this something that's pretty stable? Is it something that has good governance? Like, where's nodeJS at?
SC Good question. We're actually going to have Robin Ginn on next week who's the executive director of the OpenJS foundation, which is the foundation that sponsors nodeJS and there's still a lot of activity on node, you know, and it's, it's not huge changes, right. But there's a lot of uh, open source work being done on node. There's a lot of people sending pull requests, making improvements, suggesting new things. It's, it's a really healthy thriving ecosystem. I've had the privilege to see a lot of it in the governance part in action. The openJS foundation has a lot of open meetings that I've been going to and you know, seeing a foundation that has so many projects that it sponsors, it's wild how far the open source governance model has come because there's a lot of infrastructure around these things now to make sure people can be successful, which is really neat.
PF You know, in a, in a sort of Broadway, you just don't see as many fights as used to. It used to be like opensource was just warfare circulating up to blogs.
SC Yeah. It's really neat.
PF And it just seems like, yeah, there's still drama but nowhere near like here's like four really good pieces of open source drama a year and there used to be like four a week.
SC Just constant. Yeah.
PF Oh my God, it was endless. People were just fighting over everything. So it feels like maybe the governance is helping. There's certainly more open code than ever, ever.
BP I mean maybe also like you guys were saying before, you know like kind of a turning of the wheel where like it used to be all about the hot gos and who was fighting who on the blogs and who had the best blog roll and now it's all about love and community and dev dev.2.
SC Yeah, I was thinking like the last night I was thinking about this because it feels like it's such a mature world full of people that want to improve the world now. And like 15 years ago it was just like Stallman eating stuff out of his toes and everyone yelling at each other on the internet and like it was really just like such a different world and now it's a real opportunity for anyone that wants to get involved to improve lots of things about them.
BP I mean, yeah, like it was kind of a closed off world in a much, it was a much more closed off world before the web. Right? Like it was harder to become an engineer. You had to have like when you read back and you're like, why did Bill Gates do so well, when you're like, Oh, his parents were professors at this place and he got to work on machines when nobody was working on machines. And it's even true for Joel. Like his parents were professors at the university of New Mexico and he got mainframe time and punch guard time and all this time. And so he got good at it. Like it was like you had to get lucky and have access to a machine and then the nineties and the web and you know, Dell came around and it was like all these people can jump in the pool, but it got pretty, it was a pretty riotous party for awhile.
PF No that's real. I mean, a lot of the, uh, many of the early stories of computing superstar engineered genius billionaires to start with, and it happened that I had access to a $1.5 million machine whenever I needed it.
BP Right. I got the 10,000 hours, the Gladwell 10,000 hours by luck between the ages of 15 and 18 or whatever.
PF Yeah, we are. It's just not as, I think, you know, I think like there's lots of drama when things get kicked off and everybody wants to kind of own the future, but something like node at 11 years old, you're just, you can come in and say, this is all wrong. You should do it in this way. And they're going to go, well, we can't do that. It'll break everything and then you're going to go away and you're going to make your own language or whatever. But earlier stage things, I think there's still plenty of drama but nobody's paying attention to them. What doesn't feel like Stallman would just swoop in and kind of blow up his own world over and over. Those those behaviors just aren't, I think people get tired. I think everyone started to like, you know, either having kids or getting mortgages and they're like, I can't do that.
SC Yeah, yeah, that's definitely right.
PF You write half of your, you start to write like your 20 page email response and you get like two paragraphs in and you go, Ugh, God, I just, I gotta get up tomorrow. Like I need to go from my bike ride and, and then
SC And there became a lot of money involved too. Like I think that kind of changes the ecosystem a bunch. When you see things like NPM and platforms like GitHub, getting serious funding and there's a lot of open source work involved, it really starts to change the dynamic where it's no longer we're doing this for the pride of our project, but you know, we have to have infrastructure and legal infrastructure around this because of, you know, how much money is flowing through this project.
PF Arguably Microsoft is now the single largest funder and supporter of open source in the world.
PF Yeah. And, and what you're, you're not looking at a company that deep down wants to create a new techno order and destroy capitalism.
PF In fact, you could argue that they're kind of on the side of capitalism overall with there being Microsoft and all. So it's just, I mean that, that's the strangest co-optation like I actually, when you think about history being written, you know, it's, I think about this era, I think like the history, what is the page on 2020 it's a lot of really awkward graphs that don't show a lot and like, you know, Microsoft sort of co-opting open source and just, just weirdness like that. It's just growing up and sigh...
BP Yeah it's going to be fun to go back and read the history books on that. Right. It's like one of those epical changes that you have to watch in real time. It's hard to say exactly what's happening in 20 years. It will be clear, Oh, they made this turn and then things went this way and we all embraced the open source, whatever.
PF If we survive, yes.
BP If we survive, if we survive.
BP Thanks y'all for bringing so many great topics this week. It was a hot topic episode and I loved it. I'm going to read a lifeboat and then we'll say our goodbyes.
BP Oh man, there's so many good ones to choose from. I will go with awarded yesterday to Prana Lee in Java. Why string is non primitive data type. Hmm. There you go.
PF It's a classic.
BP Classic, so thanks Prana Lee for the answer awarded yesterday, a lifeboat badge for helping get a question answered and saving it from the dustbin of history. I am Ben Popper, director of content here at Stack Overflow and you can find me on Twitter @BenPopper.
SC And I'm Sara Chipps. You can find me @SaraJChipps on twitter.com and I'm the director of community here at Stack Overflow.
PF I'm Paul Ford, friend to coders everywhere and to Stack Overflow and you can find me at @Ftrain on Twitter or at Postlight.com, that's my company.