Cameron Chell has been an entrepreneur since age 14 and is currently the CEO of Business Instincts Group, a Venture Creation Firm with a focus on building high-tech startups. Cameron is the cofounder of Urthecast, Cold Bore Technologies, Slyce, Raptor Rig, Trace and Trax. Most recently, Cameron has served as an advisor to KodakCoin, one of the first compliant cryptocurrencies.
In this episode you will learn:
- Being a young entrepreneur
- The issue with ego
- Dealing with adversity
- The big thinking process
- Doing IPOs in Canada
- The crypto landscape
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About Cameron Chell:
Cameron Chell is the CEO of Business Instincts Group, a Venture Creation Services with a focus on building high-tech startups.
Cameron’s success as both a serial entrepreneur and investor has been built on the founding principles of Clarity, Alignment and Measurement.
He spends his time working with entrepreneurs and investors’ determining what is most important in projects and specifically how to get it done. Taking this approach, and his tenacious pursuit of creating possibility, Cameron created Business Instincts Group, focusing their energies on answering “What If?”
Cameron has lead companies and teams to great success including Urthecast which he co-founded, Cold Bore Technologies, Slyce, Futurelink, Raptor Rig, Trace and Trax.
Connect with Cameron Chell:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I think that today we’re going to be really enjoying this interview. It’s someone that has a really inspiring story, a serial founder. Without further ado, Cameron Chell, welcome to the show today.
Cameron Chell: Hey, thank you so much, Alejandro. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Alejandro: How many companies have you built and exited by now?
Cameron Chell: You know, I haven’t actually kept track, but it would be probably in the range of somewhere between eight and nine. And it depends on what you call an exit too. If you call them partial exits or exits whereby they’ve gone public and were part of the team, and it’s been bought two or three times before it’s gone public, I would say a dozen at least, but in terms of just pure, pure like, “We built it once and sold it to one buyer then it would be six, I believe if I’m not mistaken.
Alejandro: So, I guess doing a little bit of a walk-through memory lane, how did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
Cameron Chell: Actually, I’ve just never known anything else. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, and back in those days, they didn’t call them entrepreneurs. They were small business owners. My dad was a rancher, and he was also the local butcher. My mom was the local florist in a very, very small town. Not even a traffic light in the town I grew up in. But that’s what they did. They worked seven days a week. We went to church on Sundays, but they still worked. All three of those industries or those businesses, you had to work every day. I just don’t know anything else. So, I feel very blessed and lucky to have been brought up that way.
Alejandro: What was this small town? Where was this?
Cameron Chell: It’s a little town called Fort Macleod. It’s up in southern Alberta, Canada. I think at its peak, it had about 3,000 people in it.
Alejandro: Got it. By the way, my wife is Canadian, so I love Canada.
Cameron Chell: Oh, wow. I like her already.
Alejandro: So, Cameron, your first company, that was FutureLink. Is that right?
Cameron Chell: Yeah. The first company that I had—actually, the first tech company that I would have had a proper exit from if you will, was FutureLink. I built an irrigation startup in my mid-teens, and also a one-hour photo chain, which I had sold by my early 20s. But in terms of a proper tech startup that had a sizeable exit, and a meaningful kind of footprint to it, it was FutureLink. Yes.
Alejandro: Tell us about this initiative. How did it come together and tell us more about it?
Cameron Chell: FutureLink, I would love to say it was purely my idea, and it wasn’t by any stretch. It was actually my brother-in-law who came up with the notion of being able to run apps in server farms and have the app be accessed via the internet. This brand-new thing called the internet. This is back in ’94, ’95 when we were starting to talk about it, in ’96 when we launched it. We were really without knowing it, obviously, at the time we were arguably the first version of what would have been called the cloud computing company. We called it a computer utility company at that time. We basically were trying to enhance both the upgrade experience for users when there was a software upgrade so that people wouldn’t have to go into the computer land or the computer store at that time and buy all these 3 1/2″ decks, load them into a computer, pop them in and out, and all the rest. Well, why do you even have to do all that? Why aren’t you just accessing the software that sits on the server somewhere as well as mobile computing was really starting to make its mark and following the road? Like, why do I need to carry a laptop? Why don’t we login via what we were calling it at that time a thin client? We were working with a number of companies, everywhere from Oracle and Sun, and Microsoft, and IBM, and Compact because there was this computer utility thin client kind of revolution that was coming. We actually dubbed the industry application service provider industry just to completely date myself which was kind of trying to build on the branding of internet service providers, so we called them actually—sorry, application service providers.
Alejandro: Got it. I saw that at the same time, right at the same time, it’s funny because I got a little bit dizzy because just doing it once is tough, but doing multiple companies at the same time is just unbelievable. So, you were doing also engineering and ASP Industry Consortium. Is that right?
Cameron Chell: Yeah. We launched the ASP Industry Consortium, and that was really a self-serving mechanism to try to get adoption in the industry, but also to try to bring some standards to the space. We had positioned FutureLink as one of the founding companies, and I was lucky enough to take on the vice chairman role there and really became the promoter of that. We also started a company called Engyro which went through a name change. Eventually, that company was sold off to Microsoft separately. I think in true serial founder fashion, I tend to work better if I’ve got a couple of things going on at the same time. Obviously, most everything I do, it’s not the only thing I do, but I’m very lucky to work with very accomplished teams, and they let me lead some of the strategic direction, and then they handle a bunch of the coding, the product design. I like to be involved on the architect side of things. But once we get a layer deeper, I’m either out of time or out of skill.
Alejandro: Engyro. What was Engyro about?
Cameron Chell: Engyro was a billing payment system. What it ended up pivoting to was a billing payment system in particular for the Dotnet World. It went through a couple of iterations to get to that point, but that’s where it ended up. It was two management teams after us. We were still involved strategically, but two management teams after our initial initiative that eventually got that sold off. Again, we were, without knowing it, we were very lean centric, and of course, it wasn’t called lean then. It was basically called survival back then, and it wasn’t really an accepted practice in terms of how you built startups. The accepted practice of the day was raise a bunch of money, build a whole bunch of infostructure, and hope the customers show up. We were never huge, huge capital raisers. We were builders first, which I think is often quite characteristic of founders. We would end up getting a customer first, and then build the product around their requirement. That’s just how we’ve built things always. As Eric Reese and that whole lean startup moment really came in. It was really exciting and familiar to see. We didn’t even recognize that that’s what we were doing. So, we’d become pretty strong proponents of what that is and how that works. It was interesting to see somebody from outside our organization teaching us what we were already doing.
Alejandro: What was the founding team of this initiative?
Cameron Chell: I’m sorry. The founding teams?
Alejandro: No, the founding team. So, did you have co-founders for these different initiatives?
Cameron Chell: In every single case, I’ve had co-founders. I would say in the early days, much to my own character defect, I would stand out in the front, and I would say, “I was the founder, and the reality is I wasn’t.” I wasn’t the only founder. I think I was a really important part at times to make a number of these organizations work, and not everything has worked by any stretch of the imagination. But there has always been, not just like two co-founders, but really a co-founding team when we really get honest about that. The co-founders I tend to gravitate towards tend to be either technical or operational. Previous to this they were much more financed. My role tends to now have skewed over the years to a much more finance role and a strategic direction role. So, the co-founders that I get to mix with if you will tend to be more technical tend to be more marketing and a bit more operational, though I really do enjoy the operational tactics of things.
Alejandro: Obviously, the timeframe was the same one for FutureLink and Engyro and ASP Industry Consortium. What was the outcome for these initiatives?
Cameron Chell: Engyro through a couple of iterations ended up getting sold off to Microsoft. I don’t recall the amount. It wasn’t a huge exit. I think it was probably an 18-million-dollar total sale. We weren’t large shareholders at that time. FutureLink was very successful and quite fortunate for us. It ended up having about a 3 1/2, maybe about a 3.2-billion-dollar market cap. This is back when a billion dollars was like not what a billion dollars is today. It seems like there’s a lot of companies with a billion-dollar market evaluations. Not to take anything away from any of them. But it was a really big deal for us. So, we were a company that had Fortune 500 customers in terms of the software that we had onboarded into the data centers that we had built, and we were serving those softwares up to their customers. Our customers were people like Microsoft, Great Plains, and Citrix. Great Plains is now the dynamics accounting software system inside of Microsoft. Citrix was a customer. Companies like Compact, HP, Microsoft, and some great firms out of New York. They all became shareholders. All of this was happening, and we were driving great revenues. Then there was this other thing happening that we were relatively kind of almost ignorant to which was called the Dotcom. We caught a hold of it, and we just ended up happening to be a startup that had some fundamentals behind it and with beneficiaries of a great market. It was as much luck as it was just—I don’t know if we’d be doing anything different anyway. We were building something that we were really passionate about.
Alejandro: So then, basically, what happened with FutureLink?
Cameron Chell: What happened with FutureLink is I had hired a chairman at the insistence of the financers, and who had a very experienced chairman. He came out of the Telco industry, and he came in, and unbeknownst to me, when he took on the chairman role, he actually started acting like a proper chairman. I was quite insulted by that. He obviously didn’t understand who I was or how important I was as a 20-some-year-old founder and CEO of this company. So, you can imagine what ensued. And what ensued was me getting fired for being an arrogant little ****. It was absolutely one of the best things that could have happened to me, but I was still too stubborn to recognize what a great lesson and opportunity it was. I took my arrogance and channeled it completely inappropriately; sued the company, and started a competing company, and did all the absolute junior mistakes that one would expect from a complete *** ****, which is what I was at the time. The other thing that was not of benefit, though I thought it was great at the time, was because I was fired, a bunch of my stock nested; a bunch of my stock didn’t nest; some of it did, and I was liquid. I was liquid before the crash. So, I was able to garner a little cash, not as much as one would think, but I was able to get a decent little nest egg out of it which gave me some firepower to start a bunch more companies and create more problems for myself ultimately. But if it wasn’t for that, I’m sure I would have never sold the share and rode the thing right into the ground. So, ultimately, the company did fail in the Dotcom boom, though I can’t take credit for that. I’m not saying it would have succeeded if I had stayed at the helm, but it was a high-flying Dotcom. All that being said, I do want to point out that this was a company that had approximately if I’m not mistaken at its height about 80 million dollars of revenue. So, again, back then, it was a sizeable number, and everybody was focused on building a real business. It wasn’t a Dotcom pipeline. The attitude inside was not a high-flying Dotcom business.
Alejandro: Got it. So, after the World Trade Center events happened, your psychological health took a little bit of a downturn. Could you tell us a little bit about this experience?
Cameron Chell: Yeah, sure. I went on and kept building a bunch more companies. Some were moderately successful. Some were complete disasters, but in 2001, I was at the base of the World Trade Center on 9/11, and listen, my life whether I knew it or not at the time, it was headed for a major catastrophe because I was just running completely out of control, and just totally self-centered. But by the end of the day on 9/11, I was in complete disarray wondering why I was alive, and other people weren’t. It was probably the first chunk of my self-centeredness being at least somewhat corrected. I realized that I wasn’t in control of things. So, all this great value and brilliance that I thought I was creating, which was absolutely not the case, for the first time, I really started to question it. Within a very short time, I was drinking heavily, and within a very short time, I was abusing drugs. Within about two years, I was completely bankrupt and desolate. Within three years, I was living on the street, and I spent the next seven years after that working to get clean and spent a lot of time in the street, and rehabs, and such to get my life back on track, which by the grace of God and a lot of great people, I’ve now been clean for over 10 years.
Alejandro: I’m so happy to hear that.
Cameron Chell: Thank you, Alejandro.
Alejandro: It’s amazing that you’re sharing this camera because founders and people don’t talk about it a lot, but it’s a mental journey. It’s challenging. Most founders deal with depression at some point, earlier or later in the journey, but it’s just there. In this case for you, I guess you had to go through the journey that had to go through. What really was, would you say for you was the Ah-ha moment where you said, “It’s time for me to mend myself.”?
Cameron Chell: I wish that I could tell you that moment. That moment happened two dozen times for me, where I said, “This is it. I’m done. I’m going to get better. I’m going to fix it.” Even two dozen times is a joke. I’d wake up every morning or be awake for three days straight, and every 10 minutes I’d be like, “Okay. That’s it. I’m done. I’m done.” An hour later I’m off running again, just doing whatever I could to get my fix. So, I would love to say it was willpower and I decided I was going to do it, and there was this great burning bush or something, and it wasn’t. What happened was a lucky situation. It didn’t seem lucky at the time where I was in a lot of danger. I was being pursued by a gang. I lived on the street, and I was getting beat up by them. Long story short, I had to get through a few days without my DOC, my drug of choice. I ended up getting through 10 days without it. While getting away from this gang. I just didn’t really have a choice. I hit rock bottom. That’s the bottom line. I didn’t have a choice to use again at that time because I decided I did want to live, which I didn’t know that I wanted to live, but I did want to live. At the end of 10 days clean, something just started to click. I had had 10 days clean before, but not having gone through what I had gone through in the previous 10 days. I knew that if I ever touched anything again, that I wouldn’t come back and I’d be done. I could just see so many people that were really sincerely and authentically trying to help me, and I was just disrespecting them at every moment. That was the last time. I’m not saying that wasn’t the first time. There were certainly many times before that. But that was the last time, and I was like, “Okay!” Then there were many tempting times over the weeks and the months and years ensuing where if it just wasn’t for some pure luck I would have used again, or I would have fallen again. Founders can be incredibly impulsive, compulsive, and generally always determined people. So, when there’s something that has worked before to solve a problem, like using a drug or something, it’s tough to get away from that. I see a lot of founders. I get to coach and mentor some of them, and I see the intensity that they approach things with. You generally have to be on some level incredibly intense to be able to do something like this or to take the risks or be willing to subject yourself to the things that you go through. It puts you in a lot of risky situations, but also, you’re generally kind of predetermined to be a certain type of individual that could be subject to falling into these traps. I guess my point is, there was no burning bush, and it was a lot of luck and a lot of great people that helped me get through that.
Alejandro: Got it. For how many years were you on the streets?
Cameron Chell: There was a consistent four years that I was on and off. Like in and out. Actually, my total round was about a decade, just a little bit over a decade, about 12 years from when I really slipped deeply until I finally got myself cleaned. I didn’t get myself cleaned up, but I was finally able to get cleaned up, which is quite a short timeframe for somebody that goes really deep and lives on the street because most people don’t come back from the street. But there were four years in there where I was just completely gone, unfindable.
Alejandro: I got to tell you, Cameron, it’s incredible where you are today compared to where you were because when you go from building a business that is valued at over a billion, like you were saying to literally being on the streets, I would have to assume, and you can confirm this or not, but probably when you were at that point, you probably had given up on yourself. Would you say that’s accurate?
Cameron Chell: Yeah, 100%, Alejandro. I had not only given up on myself, but I had actually believed that everybody, the entire world, my family, everybody was better off with me—like you justify it this way, that it was better off with me being on the street because I was so worthless. Homelessness itself is its own form of drug, and it is its own form of mental illness that draws you into it where you don’t want to leave. You don’t want to leave. In fact, I would say today when I’m hungry or lonely or tired or angry, just haven’t been looking after myself, the odd crazy thought of being homeless would slip into my head and be more attractive than the odd crazy thought of using drugs. It’s a very odd mindset that slips into that, but worthlessness is at the forefront in it.
Alejandro: Got it. So, I guess probably you got a ton of lessons learned from this experience, and I’m sure that there are a lot of founders that are probably listening now and that are dealing with tough situations with their mental challenges of their own, perhaps depression. What kind of advice would you give them?
Cameron Chell: There are so many great lessons that I’ve been given, but the one that I hang onto the most every day now is that I stay very, very present. So, I only do the next thing in front of me. It’s almost counterintuitive because we’re taught to be visionaries, we’re taught to be what’s the next big thing. We have to see around corners and anticipate the next move. If you’re not a great Chess player, you’re not a great CEO, and if you’re not all those things. But, you know, the reality is if you just don’t get done the next most important thing, none of it matters. Ninety percent, in my opinion, founders today that don’t succeed generally do it not because they haven’t got a great idea. There are amazing, great ideas out there. I sit in Angel Forums and I listen to pitches, and the ideas and the thinking is incredible. But 99% of the time, the reason that you, whether it’s recognized or not, the reason that people don’t invest in those founders is because they don’t believe they can execute the next step. It’s really all just about what is the next most important thing to do. When I get up in the morning, believe me, my mind is already racing. If the first thing I don’t do is meditate and get to a spot where it’s like I don’t need to figure out even, like my calendar’s booked for weeks in advance, that’s fine, but I don’t need to worry about this afternoon. I need to worry about the next 15 minutes getting to my workout, getting back on time, getting my kids’ breakfast ready. If I don’t take that level of pragmatic approach as a founder, I’m also not going to run my business well. So, those are the things that I’ve seen investors really focus on whether they recognize it or not. I’ve also found that the most successful founders have a high level of anxiety, and this is one of the greatest ways for them elevate that anxiety is to know that everything will be okay if you just get the next thing done.
Alejandro: Got it. For you, you go all the way to 42 years old, and then at 42, things are starting to turnaround. You’re in a loving relationship, and obviously, now, you’re a father. But you were diagnosed as well with lymphoma cancer. Is that right?
Cameron Chell: Yes. It’s just another one of those great lessons where you realize you’re not in control. So, I didn’t recognize it, but now I had some clean time, I had somebody to love me, I had a family that was growing, and I thought, “Hey, I’ve done everything right. I deserve to be in this spot that I was in because I’ve done all the hard work.” Which, again, entitlement, a character defect of mine, just slapped me right in the face and said, “You’re not in control.” And I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. Part of my first reaction was like, “What! I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. I’ve done everything right. Why would this happen?” So, it really, again, it was a blessing because it really took the need for me to let go of ego and start to understand, where is my self-centeredness in this, and understanding this isn’t all about me. I’m not a victim here. And what are the most important things that I need to take care of in terms of my family, and the people that I was working with, and the investors that had put money into projects that I was building? And here I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. When I got focused on those things rather than, oh, my gosh. What about me? Why am I not getting what “I deserve?” Things turned around. I was very, very lucky that physically and health-wise, I was able to get on the other side of it and I’ve been clean of that now for eight years, or lymphoma cancer-free for eight years. I promise you; I totally believe that if I would have stayed in a state of victimhood or entitlement, I don’t know that I would have beat it. I didn’t beat it, it was a grace that I’m here, but it sure changed that whole experience, but even if I hadn’t because I was able to get to a spot of not having that entitlement, even if I hadn’t been able to beat it, I believe that both my family and my co-workers and our investors would have been fine because of the steps we would have taken to help ensure that everything was fine. Again, it was just about the next thing. We won’t worry about 20 years down the road. We’re just worrying about what’s the next most important thing to get done.
Alejandro: I’m so happy to hear that, Cameron. So, obviously, you turn things around and at what point are you, “Okay. I’m going to do it again. I’m going to launch another company.”?
Cameron Chell: Again, I didn’t really know much else, so I had already launched a couple of companies. The first one was a company called UrtheCast, and UrtheCast, our idea was to build a competitor to Google Earth by putting live video cameras in space. In fact, we were going to put them on the International Space Station. So, we were successful in doing this. We raised a very small amount of capital to start. We started proving up the idea. We got a couple of customers onboard that liked the idea, and they funded some of the product development, and then eventually, we were able to raise bigger and bigger capital and bring on a more and more senior management team. Today, those cameras are on the International Space Station, and they provide live video feeds of earth. The primary customers are B2G, not B2C as we had originally contemplated. To date, at least to my knowledge, they are still the only live video from space. All other video in space is all based on still pictures being taken. I mean, they’re fast still pictures, but none-the-less, it’s not video. So, very unique data set on the International Space Station which had a very unique orbit. So, the data that it was producing was very valuable. So, that was the first one. Since then, I think we’ve got 22 companies in our portfolio to date.
Alejandro: We’ll go through some of them, but you guys did an IPO of UrtheCast?
Cameron Chell: Yeah. UrtheCast went public. Correct.
Alejandro: UrtheCast went public, and how much capital was raised in total for the business.
Cameron Chell: The total capital was 280 million dollars at the point that we were kind of no longer part of the active management of the business, and they’ve raised capital since. But even 280 million dollars for a space company is a ridiculously small amount of money. We were building the cameras for literally 5 million dollars a piece. They were literally Canon SLR chips that were the sensors being used. Now, the housings were very expensive to pack that equipment, but it was all part of this new initiative called Small Space at the time which was all about being able to use commercially-available products in the space industry. We were also beneficiaries of space being pretty hot at the time with the XPRIZE going forward and such. Yeah, we just grabbed onto what we could and built what we did.
Alejandro: You say, this was the first portfolio company of Business Instincts Group?
Cameron Chell: Correct.
Alejandro: What is Business Instincts Group?
Cameron Chell: Business Instincts Group is really a venture creation lab. So, we come up with ideas internally, and/or we bring ideas in-house and incubate them that are generally very early stage either ideas or businesses that we feel have a significant opportunity to scale. What we have is a proprietary process called The Rip Kit which is responsibilities in perspective which is really our system by which companies can build startups from idea right through commercialization. The primary idea behind it is that rather than setting KPIs or Key Performance Indicators, what it’s designed to do is set responsibilities and perspective or rips which basically involve the entire team setting the most important objectives on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. Then checking in on those objectives on a weekly basis. There’s a software system that helps drive the whole process. It’s one level above project management. But what it does do is it really ensures that everybody is on the same strategic page, and as such, it allows them or empowers them to make decisions because everybody knows they’re on the same page. The other great advantage of the system and the software is it provides full transparency and a dashboard to the investors. So, as we go out and we raise capital for our projects or we have our senior management teams raising capital for our projects, one of the things that they can show to investors is everything that is happening on a weekly basis. They can see exactly what the strategic initiatives are, who is in charge of them. Are they behind, on track, ahead, and by what percentage? What are the key items to get them back on percentage track? And not all investors dive into it. About 10 to 15% of investors look closely at it, but all investors want that drastically. Also, it really provides a great recruiting tool for our projects. Right away, if we have senior teams that are uncomfortable with that level of transparency, we know that they’re likely not the right fit, at least for us. Again, because we scale across multiple projects, we ended up building this because we wanted to have great internal communication. It’s become a really solid external communicator as well, but most importantly, what we find is that everybody knows the who, what, when, where, and why of a project that pretty much at any given time.
Alejandro: Got it. So, part of the Business Instincts Group, you guys have this thing called the Big Thinking Process. What is this?
Cameron Chell: What Big Thinking is, it’s anchored in the first question we call, which is called: What if? So, imagine if Google Earth was live. Like, just what if it was? We know all the reasons that it can’t be, and it’s impossible. (I’m being facetious here.) But, if it could, what would it look like if you could? Then we go through that question, and we end up coming up with the really cool product. This is how we started UrtheCast. We come up with a really cool product of what it would be like to have a Google Earth live rather than three-year-old satellite data. Then we talk, well, we know it’s impossible to build this, but what if we could build it? What would that look like? After you go through like 7 to 15 what-ifs on a project, you end up getting it boiled down to natural potential or possibility to build a project that was thought impossible, literally five or six hours previous to that. That’s our Big Thinking Process. So, we love big ideas, and we love all that kind of stuff, but we really like to anchor it in a pragmatic approach to like, “Okay, well, what if you could do that?” And what it would look like. So, often, when I’m lucky enough to be able to speak in front of a group, and somebody says, “Well, I can’t do that.” So, I’ll use a line on them. “But what if you could do that?” “But I can’t.” “I know, but just pretend you could. What would you do next?” Inevitably, the great thing about us as humans is we can always come up with an answer as obscure, or as obtuse, or as crazy, or whatever it is, and if you ask yourself what if enough times, you’ll come up with an answer that it can actually work for you, or for that situation, or at the very least, garner insights that I find give you a perspective whereby you’re not necessarily locked into possibility, which often, is locked into the thoughts of being a victim as opposed to what’s the opportunity? We know it can’t work, but what if it could work? So, that’s the big thing. That’s the Big Thinking in our view.
Alejandro: And as part of the portfolio that you guys have, another recent success has been Slyce. What can you tell us about Slyce?
Cameron Chell: Here’s a double-edged sword for us. Slyce, our whole idea was that we wanted to build a visual search engine. So, obviously, search is a massive industry and a cornerstone on so many commercial aspects of what happens on the internet and e-commerce in general. There was a lot of focus being put on audio search, so we see things like Siri, and Alexa, and so forth. Let’s just be a bit counterintuitive here and go down the path of visual search. We had done quite a bit of stuff in visual search before, not specifically for what Slyce was going to try to accomplish, but in particular we had done some machine-vision work way back in the 90s, and then at UrtheCast we had recognized the power of some visual recognition when identifying objects on earth using cameras from the space station. So, the general idea was why don’t you—and this isn’t a novel idea. Lots of people have had it. Why can’t you just take a picture of something? Let’s say it’s an office chair, and you are in the Office Depot or Staples app, and you take a picture of that, and boom, it finds it in their inventory. You can buy it instantly. So, like no click at buying. Rather than one-click purchasing which Amazon built an empire on, what if you could do it on no-click buying. So, we envision that up in the little search bar there would be a keyboard. There would be a microphone, and there would be a camera. That’s what we wanted to create. So, we raised a total of $35,000 over four years to build this technology out, which again as we learned afterwards was a ridiculously small amount of money to be able to do what we were doing compared to what other people were spending. We successfully built all the products. Today, that product owns close to, if not, 100% of the visual search market with retail apps. So, if you go to home depot, and you will see up in the Home Depot app, you’ll see a keyboard, you’ll see a microphone, and you’ll see a camera. If you put your thumb on that camera, the camera on the Apple will open up, and you can take a picture of anything in your home, and it will find it in the Home Depot inventory, and you can buy it in one click, and it will be shipped. It’s an incredible, incredible product. J. C. Penny, Macy’s, a number of the other large retailers, and/or users have it today, and it’s got great application. So, we’re super, super proud of that. We ended up not doing that great on the deal. We had to get another very large round of funding in place, and we had a very large deal pending with a Fortune 50 tech provider out there, one of the biggest two or three tech companies in the world. They had a product that they were going to implement it in. That product had a disastrous problem. It had nothing to do with use leading into it, and we weren’t able to make it into that iteration of that product. This was a key feature of that particular piece of hardware that was coming out. So, our funding fell through, and we just kind of fell into the gap. So, we ended up selling the company to a private equity firm. Basically, we were able to pay off all our bills and keep about 7% of the business. So, we’ve still got tremendous upside, and we’re big fans of it, but economically, that particular one, even though it was product-wise a great success for us, wasn’t really a great success for our investors. That said, we still own that 7%, and we still have a holding company, and we are rolling some other technologies into it right now that we have high hopes for.
Alejandro: You’ve done a couple of IPOs. I think this company also did an IPO there in Canada. Is that right?
Cameron Chell: Yes, that’s correct. Yeah. It’s now completely based in the U.S. It was sold to a Washington-based PE group.
Alejandro: Yeah. Because I see a lot of companies that are going now to Canada to do IPOs. So, what’s the incentive or what’s the experience of doing an IPO in Canada because you go fairly early in the financing cycle?
Cameron Chell: Yeah, so there are two types of things that I would say in current times kind of define that Canadian, or go public market. One is the Canadian market really revolves more around what is called Public Venture Capital. So, I live in Los Angeles, and that’s where our team is based. Primarily, we have multiple offices. In the U.S., you go private. You raise a couple rounds—angel, then an A, but there’s enough sizable capital around where you can continue to grow things privately, and either look for an exit or an operation to become profitable as soon as possible, obviously. In Canada, there’s not as big a capital market in terms of the private equity. So, what ends up happening up there is public-venture capital. So, they have a couple of exchanges up there, and an investor kind of sentiment if you will that actually likes companies to be public early, offers some form of liquidity, but also have a huge level of transparency, much, much more than what typically happens in private companies in the U.S. which puts heavy burden on the management team, and requires a different level of experience. But it does give you access to 3, 4, and 5 million dollar or even a million-dollar financings on a relatively quick basis if you can demonstrate that there’s the possibility to succeed. It can also be very brutal. If you’re not going to succeed, they are public-company investors, and they dump your stock, and you’re done. So, it has both upside and downside. The other defining factor up there that’s really come into play the last five to seven years is the regulatory environment. So, it’s a heavily regulated market, but things like blockchain and things like Cannabis have a different kind of legal framework. So, Cannabis in Canada is legal. That offers a big initiative by the government. It became constitutional up there, actually. So, you see large Cannabis companies going public in the Canadian market because they have access to banking and public markets and stuff. They’re the leading edge of some of those regulatory environments as opposed to in the states, which for many good reasons, might be a little bit slower in terms of adopting those reasons. So, Canada has carved a little niche out for itself to be able to do public venture capital, but also to be able to very prudently, but while at the same time, be a leading edge on some of these markets that are still maturing or evolving.
Alejandro: So, you were talking about blockchain. I was blown away when I saw the Kodak crypto thing where they came out with their coin, and you were one of the creators. How did this happen? I was really surprised?
Cameron Chell: First and foremost, we really had to demonstrate to this New York Stock Exchange-listed company that we’re blockchain first, and had a value proposition that was a real-world offering, and had a business behind it. The coin itself, the Kodak Coin itself was really just a payment or settlement mechanism for a great blockchain business behind it. So, it moved quite quickly for us. We were very fortunate, but the psychology that we had built in conjunction with partners that we had brought in-house, that Business Instincts Group, and then consequently, ICOX, which is like a separate venture lab. It’s public, as a matter of fact, that incubates these ideas for large, large companies. We really had to demonstrate that we had a product first. The product there is IP-Rights Management. So, there’s probably relatively few if any other blockchain applications that will be more affected by blockchain than IP Rights. So, basically, if you take an image and you want to be able to ensure that it has copyright and it can be enforced on a scalable way, blockchain in many respects is highly ideal for it. However, blockchain doesn’t solve the payment piece of it. So, we ended up building a currency. We call it a corporate currency that would allow for instant settlements, so photographers can instantly get paid for their licensing and track that licensing around the world. So, again, a corporate currency or what most people would know as a cryptocurrency because it’s a programmable piece of code, a programmable piece of currency, it can offer so many other benefits other than just the settlement and payment. It offers tracking. It offers reward. It offers loyalty. It offers a license settlement. All of these types of things. So, our platform is integrated with the U.S. Banking system, and we have our money-transmitter licenses. We never once anticipated or wanted to work in an environment that wasn’t mainstream. So, we weren’t trying to not be a security. We weren’t trying to work outside those parameters, and I think Kodak in my opinion, of course, I’m biased, wisely saw an opportunity and recognized that digital really destroyed Kodak. But they could be the cornerstone of managing digital rights—I mean, they’re still a 1.6 billion dollar company or something, so they’re nothing to sneeze at, but that digital rights management could really return Kodak—I’m sure there are many other things that will take too—that could really return Kodak to its former self as a tech giant, or certainly a player in IP rights in the media space. So, that was their bet. We were lucky enough they made it with us. We faced a lot of criticism around the product. A lot of gesturing and ridicule, but today, last quarter we announced that it did $400,000 in revenue. It has over a million dollars of cases that are being worked on for this quarter, and it will continue to grow. It’s got a strong team and a very strong value proposition and a technology that’s stronger than the incumbents in this space.
Alejandro: How do you see the crypto and the blockchain space? What do you think is going to be the future for it?
Cameron Chell: I’m not one that is in the near term, and I’ll call the near term the next ten years, going to suggest that the world’s going to be decentralized. I just don’t think the world, from a geopolitical and an emotional standpoint is ready to be decentralized. I’m not saying that’s not part of the long-term thing that might happen, but it’s not something that’s going to happen in the near term. I think the most of the crypto adoption that you’re going to see is going to happen in large brands, and/or established organizations. So, most recently, we saw JP Morgan announce the JPM coin. Really, the JPM coin is really a payment rail for moving money on a blockchain internally for JP Morgan because they can do it effectively at very low or no cost compared to having to use traditional banking rails. The coin is really a moniker or a token that acts as a tracking agent. That tracking agent can be programmed to do a whole bunch of other things. So, effectively as a currency, it has not just cost-reduction benefits, but it has a whole bunch of other tracking and IRR benefits as well. We have seen leaks out of Facebook that sometime in 2019, they’re going to be launching the Facebook coin, which will really be the same thing, a money-transfer coin to be used on WhatsApp. Whether they got that idea from telegraph or such, who knows, but it’s an incredible use case and an unbelievably power position for Facebook to be in. That’s where I see most of this like supply chain metrics adopting blockchain or corporate currencies to manage and pay supple chains and track products. We’ve got some terrific projects coming forward in sports betting. We just built a currency for the gun industry which combines all your background checks and your KYC AML OFA CSTN anti-money laundering anti-terrorism, all in one fell swoop. So, without even legislation, that corporate currency was able to create a safer gun transaction than ever before. Those are the really impassioned things that we love to be a part of. I think that’s where I see the biggest and the most immediate future for crypto, but certainly over the next—just like the internet, the blockchain and crypto is going to take two to three to four times longer than anybody anticipated, but it’s probably going to be a thousand times bigger than anybody anticipated. Just like the internet was. But we’re seeing very quick and immediate adoption now with large companies like JPM and Facebook, Kodak, Gunbroker, and some other companies that we’re about to announce.
Alejandro: Got it. So, let me ask you this, Cameron because this is something that I ask guests that come on to the show. If you could go back to the past and give yourself advice before launching a business, what would that be and why?
Cameron Chell: I’ll tell you what I tell my son. I get up every morning and meditate, and I just focus on like think big, but act small. Act small in terms of what you need to do next, and act small in terms of where your ego needs to be. That’s really four things I just told you there, but those four things. You do those and everything, I believe, will work out right. Don’t get too far in front of myself. Think big, but just learn how to act small, and I guess that’s the advice. Think big, act small. Some of those small acts are just doing what’s next and having a little meditation sometime throughout the day.
Alejandro: I love it. So, Cameron, what is the best way for folks that are listening to reach out and say hi?
Cameron Chell: They can find me on LinkedIn. They can find me on Twitter @cameronchell. I’m pretty active on those, and I try to stay in touch with everybody as much as possible. They can also check out BusinessInstincts.com. If they want to see our crypto and corporate currency work, they can check out ICOxinnovations.com
Alejandro: Fantastic. Well, Cameron, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Cameron Chell: I can’t even thank you enough. I so appreciate your podcast and congratulations on your relatively recent exit, and also what you’re creating here. It’s incredible what you’re doing for the space.
Alejandro: Thank you, Cameron.