CastAR is an augmented/virtual reality system created by Technical Illusions. Recently the company gained $15 million in funding from Global Playground, the Venture Capital (VC) firm of former Android CEO Andy Rubin. I spoke with castAR Co-Founder and Chief Hardware Engineer Jeri Ellsworth to find out what castAR plans to do with this fresh round of funding.
Andrew Terranova: How will the new funding affect castAR?
Jeri Ellsworth: We had $1 million from our original Kickstarter, which goes quickly when you start paying wages. We couldn’t have much staff and had to be super cautious with every piece of hardware. This infusion of money will let us move faster.
AT: So you will be hiring?
JE: I was handling the job of three engineers (optical, FPGA design, and more) plus some of the business stuff. We will be hiring across the board, but we’ll be pretty cautious with how the influx of people affects company culture.
AT: What impact has your CEO David Henkel-Wallace had since he joined?
JE: David helped us refine our product roadmap from the Swiss Army knife approach and focus on a consumer product that is fun, tangible, and social. It wasn’t painless; Rick Johnson (Co-Founder and Chief Software Engineer) and I had to let some of our big dreams go.
AT: What was finding funding like?
JE: You only get a few minutes to get your message across with the VCs. Luckily David had been through this before and Paul Denton, our CFO, helped present our financials. David scheduled some VCs early on that he knew probably wouldn’t be a fit. They gave harsh, candid feedback and helped us refine our pitch.
Once we presented our big picture, we were able to demonstrate all the interactions we had talked about to the VCs. Many of them were as excited as kids with a new toy.
Andy Rubin from Playground Global swooped in at the last minute. Andy’s group uses a technology incubator concept, except for more grown up companies. They provide money and resources, and can even assist with engineering. Once we met with him there was no way we’d go with anyone else.
AT: What does the future look like for castAR?
JE: First we have to deliver on our Kickstarter commitments. The Kickstarter backers provided feedback to help us make a better product. (“Ouch, it pinches my nose.”, “There’s too much heat.”, etc.) They also taught us what type of game interactions people wanted. That will probably ship in the first quarter of next year, and people will be able to buy that version afterwards.
The next generation will blow kids’ (and adults’) minds. I can’t share too much yet. The dream is a mass-market product kids can open as a gift and play immediately, but that won’t be ready this year.
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