Day 5 – Friday, March 29: Ouster
We all feel a rush of excitement when we think about tech startups. Imagine making technical breakthroughs on daily basis, growing from a few buddies working in a garage to a proper company with multiple divisions, capital flooding in from a series of funding rounds, and developing customers in different parts of the world. Ouster is living the excitement right now.
Started by four people in a warehouse three years ago, Ouster is now a shining star in the LIDAR sensor industry: having their revolutionary sensors ready to ship, renovating a new building for the growing company, finishing up Series A funding with a recent investment of $60 million, and attracting customers from more than 15 industries.
The MSL EnTP team had the honor of visiting Ouster on the final day of our trip to the Bay Area. We were welcomed by NLaw alumni Myra Pasek – who joined Ouster as General Counsel last year – and has worked as the second lawyer at Tesla, and the first lawyer at Impossible Foods during her remarkable career, and Natasha Chu – who recently joined Ouster’s business development team after working at Wilson Sonsini. Following Myra’s introduction to Ouster, we learned what makes a tech startup a truly great one, what are some common struggles for new companies, and how legal teams safeguard a company’s rapid development.
Breaking through with ready-to-go products.
LIDAR technology has been around for decades, yet the world is still waiting for a breakthrough for it to be truly adaptable for future 3D mapping, autonomous vehicles, drones and robotics, and the building of smart cities with better traffic monitoring. There are many companies competing in the market right now promising to give the perfect solution. The problem is that they just can’t deliver a real product to match their promises – Ouster can.
Ouster has recognized a competitive advantage by having their products ready for customers after a period of secretive development. They have not only figured out a revolutionary design by innovating the semiconductor technology, but also delivered a final product that is much better in quality, much lower in price, and much easier to implement.
Trialability plays a huge role in an invention reaching the widest market. Ouster is happy to ship one or two products to customers who want to experiment. In fact, their sensor can be easily integrated with any existing system by connecting a few cables. They never avoid live demos, and they are confident enough to make their raw datasets publicly available.
The founder must let go of something as the startup grows.
It is now the third time that Myra has supported entrepreneurs in the startup stage of their companies. Each company has its own opportunities and issues, yet there certainly are similar patterns that they all go through, and that future entrepreneurs should watch out for.
Speaking from her experience, Myra thinks one challenge is that the founder has to learn to let go of aspects of the operations at certain points. At the initial stage, one person can be in charge of all facets of a company, from technological improvement to sales and finance. But as a company grows larger, the founder has to resign to a more specialized role and delegate other responsibilities to capable professionals. This transition proves to be hard to many entrepreneurs, but it is crucial to organizational management and future growth.
Being a general counsel is sometimes similar to being a project manager.
As the General Counsel leading legal and business endeavors of the company, Myra has a lot of responsibility. Her mission is not just to solve problems promptly when they arise, but rather to mitigate possible risks ahead of time and to clear out unnecessary confinement for future prospects of the valuable technology.
Intellectual property is a significant asset for tech companies. Myra recognizes her role as a project manager when it comes to patent portfolio management. “I may not know everything myself, but I know who are the best to bring on the team.” With rich experience in the legal industry, Myra is an expert in evaluating lawyers, and her job is to make sure they are working with the best in the industry, who can add the most value to the company.
Ouster is such an exciting company. It is what one imagines when they envision sophisticated Silicon Valley startups. Behind a plain white door in an ordinary alley is a whole team of talented people, working to deliver a revolutionary product, to bring 3D sensing to the masses, and to lead the future of LIDAR mapping that could tremendously change the way people live, work, and play. The MSL EnTP team really appreciate this opportunity, and we wish all the best for Ouster. It was the perfect capstone to a tour of the Silicon Valley innovation and legal ecosystems.