Neil Patel

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Doug Kirkpatrick has already raised tens of millions of dollars for his technology startup, which is transforming our wireless infrastructure in a more sustainable and connected way. The venture, Eridan has raised funding from top-tier investors like Diamond Edge Ventures, Pilot Grove Management, Capricorn Investment Group, and Monta Vista Capital.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Semper Gumby
  • Fundraising and investor expectations
  • The future of communication
  • Doug’s top advice when launching a company


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About Doug Kirkpatrick:

Douglas Kirkpatrick is a VC and former Chief Scientist at DARPA, where he led projects ranging from rapid DNA synthesis to real-time holographic displays. Prior to DARPA, Dr. Kirkpatrick was the VP of R&D for Fusion Lighting, a Maryland-based high-efficiency lighting startup, and prior to that, a staff scientist and VP at SAIC. Dr. Kirkpatrick received his BS degree (Physics & Mathematics) from the College of William and Mary (1980) and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1988 (Physics). He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has authored more than 30 journal articles and 60 US and international patents.

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Connect with Doug Kirkpatrick:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Already hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So super excited today with the guests that we have you know we’re going to be talking a lot about building scaling financing finding incredible technology talking about. Engineering you know like how to deal with engineers too how they’re perceived on how they actually are I mean you name it everything in between so without furtherther. Do let’s welcome our guest today do kick Kirk Patrick welcome to the show. So I mean you had quite a.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Thank you very much alejandro. It’s great to be here.

Alejandro Cremades: Intense You know when it comes to traveling upbringing. You know your parents were diplomats so give us a little of a walkthrough memory lane. How was life growing up.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Life growing up was an exposure to a lot of the world that very few americans get my parents met and were married in Tehran in the early fifty s I was born in Paris in 1959 then we moved to Beirut when Beirut was still the the Paris of the Middle East we moved to Nicosia Cyprus we were there unfortunately, just a civil war broke out. We were evacuated my my mom and my brother and I were evacuated to beirut while my dad stayed behind his essential personnel in the embassy then we went back to cyprus. When that was over. We moved to Warsaw Poland when it was still behind the iron curtain then we went to Vienna Austria when it was kind of the hub between east and west when we still had the cold war going on. We didn’t come home until I was 15 so lots of soccer. I even had to try to learn how to play cricket once when I was in one of the british schools and very little football or little league baseball. So it was a little bit of an adjustment coming back to the United States

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing I mean obviously you know having had the exposure to you know all the traveling you know all those Wars You know the uncertainty new Friends. You know that you were making everywhere. I Think that data has probably given you a different worldview than the traditional individual that is born and raised you know and stays in the same area. So How do you think this has shaped you know the way that you know you approach things.

Doug Kirkpatrick: You know I think it makes you realize there’s multiple ways to solve challenges. Ah, all of those countries worked ah Lebanon when we were there was a shared. Ah. Society between 3 fundamentally different religious groups and they all got along I wish that was still true. It’s not true anymore. Um, you saw the communist system as it was ah in Warsaw behind the iron curtain and as sad as it was it still worked. Ah, then you saw the socialist system that was present in in Vienna you get a sense that there’s multiple ways to do things and there’s multiple ways to look at how things can get done I I think it’s fair to say that that has influenced me throughout my career. In various ways in terms of how you get from a to b that there’s not a single unitary route.

Alejandro Cremades: So tell us about that love develop for math and physics.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Well when you’re in a tiny little school. 1 of the things you get to do is you get to get advanced training in a lot of different things I resonated with math as a young child I taught myself Calculus in tenth and eleventh grade. So when I finally got back to the United States um we had a small problem at the high school because I immediately had to start going to university to get the next mathematics that I was going into from a science perspective. It gave me a huge advantage and I think this is one of the things that we don’t think about enough in our education system is and particularly when you get to physics. So much of physics can be obscured by the math that is used to describe it I had a tremendous advantage by the time I got to see the equations. The equations weren’t scary to me anymore I’d been dealing with them for years. So. I still remember the first time I saw maxwell’s equations and I just looked at it and said. Okay, yeah I get it. That’s curl. That’s a divergence and that’s what we’re looking at and in my mind I was looking at the geometric patterns of what this meant about the physics of what I was looking at and I looked at a couple of my colleagues in the class that were very very very smart. And and I’m I’m seeing the deer in the headlights look and you know I think it dawned on me at that point in time that I had been given some tools through that upbringing and through that advancement that were going to affect me throughout the rest of my career it just it’s just.

Doug Kirkpatrick: It gives you a different that my upbringing it gives you ah an opportunity to look at things through lenses that a lot of other people don’t ever get.

Alejandro Cremades: And question here that comes up now is when you graduated I mean you were still wondering. What were what you were gonna do next and in fact, you know you accepted you know a position to to teach there in Maryland and then to split the time you know between that and then figuring out what will be next. So. How did you really? you know I came up with with with the right answer on what was the path to follow from a professional career perspective first.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Serendipity. Um I think one of the things that I was really fortunate is that I was surrounded by older people who very much wanted me to succeed and whatever that success meant. So whether that was. The chairman of the electrical engineering department in Maryland that gave me that position in the first place or the head of the research lab at the naval research lab that I was working at ah, letting me go in that direction or the folks in Darpa that were driving me in a given direction. It was more of a urge to move. Forward not a definition of what forward meant and I think that was very helpful to me so it was a huge just a panoply of opportunities. Um a willingness to let me experiment in which of those opportunities. Would be the ones that I could resonate with the best um and an understanding that I might be able to get so far in this and then I was going to have to change horses over there and then I was going to change horses over there. Um, it’s.

Doug Kirkpatrick: It’s something as I look at younger people that I mentor that I try to do the same thing I try not to define what winning means in my lands I try to help them understand that winning is about whatever winning is for you. How does that make you happy. How can you make your greatest contribution. How can you do? what? you do best that was really good for me had a lot of people that helped me along the way.

Alejandro Cremades: Now you did spend quite a bit ah a bit of time when it comes to lighting right? I mean that was the space that you went into I mean you you worked at fusion lighting then you did a Darpa now in your case you know.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Yep.

Alejandro Cremades: This was a space where you spent quite a bit of time and where you really got first access now to developing new technologies and that came with flashlights. So what happened there with flashlights.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Um, a plus b let me explain. Um I was in the lighting industry. We were pursuing an rf driven light bulb for a variety of applications mostly again because it was a very very efficient way to drive the lamp. But I saw through the world that leds were coming and I tried to get my colleagues to recognize we needed to move at a semiconductor type of innovation pace and they were still. They were mostly former ge lighting people and they wanted to go with the old lighting pace. And it was clear to me that wasn’t going to work so I shifted and I went over to Darpa and one of the very first things I did at Darpa was talk with my colleagues that were involved in the led lighting world I was a gentleman named John Carrano who was in one of the other offices there and he was very very good. All of their heads were stuck around this idea that we had to get to 60 or eighty lumens per watt before we have anything because they were focusing on lighting. They weren’t focusing on. Where’s the first place. Um I had already started working with special forces. My brother. Had been in special forces in the navy. Ah so I resonated with certain kinds of things that would help them a great deal and initially when we set out to build the led flashlight what we were trying to do was think about okay I can make an led that has the color of a super moon I can.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Make a lens that allows the brightness to be the same as the super moon so that I won’t get the night blindness I will have all of those features and so we put together. Ah the first couple of prototypes and like a lot of different things. You know the first time you make it you’re making it for 1 reason.

Doug Kirkpatrick: But the first thing that one of our test customers did was drop it out of an airplane from quite high quite high up and recognized that it would be very very very robust and as a consequence that meant that things wouldn’t break. The technology was just a combination of 2 other things that that I was aware of obviously the led is in here but the other thing that’s in here is a non-imaging optic and that was the very first time in my career that I wasn’t the led guy I wasn’t the non-imaging optic guy. But I was a guy that it was in a position to understand both of those technologies and put them together. It. It took all of nine months and what it did from the led world is they didn’t have to wait for sixty lumens per Watt. We made 600000 of these got them over to to. Iraq and Afghanistan and then that jumptarted the entire industry and so part of that was also something as I started thinking about it from a technology economic. How do you actually drive these kinds of changes. Starting to think about where do you find? How do you go through the process of finding the customers. The applications that have the very very very early returns so you can start coming up the hockey stick I think one of the things we do in Silicon Valley and venture capital and as entrepreneurs is we think too quickly about.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Scale we think okay, how am I going to get to scale as opposed to how are you going to score your first goal. How is that going to lead to the second goal and how is that going to drive the hockey stick. So you really, you can’t push your way up the hockey stick you have to find the applications that are going to. Pull you up the hockey stick and in the led world the very first of those applications was a flashlight as low tech as that sounds the return on investment for the Dod was two months so you know that. That opened my eyes in terms of how I started thinking about things I’m sorry.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s really a mo you That’s incredible I seen crow.

Alejandro Cremades: No I mean that’s incredible. Um, but but 1 thing that is even more incredible is here. You are you know building the products and then all of a sudden you know you decide to make a switch and you’re going to venture capital I mean that’s quite a a 360

Doug Kirkpatrick: Um I didn’t think so at the time um the the firm that I went into was trying to build a team that had financial professionals as well as technical professionals they were very much investing in clean tech and they were realizing that. Um, they needed technology filters on the front end of what they were going to be looking at I don’t think I need to tell you or a lot of other venture capitalists out there that oftentimes you have entrepreneurs coming in pitching technologies that are at the border of. Understanding of the community much less the understanding of the people who were there pitching to and the firm that I went to vantage point wanted to have a few of us that were hyper technical to be able to say listen I can’t tell you this won’t work. So if you think it might work and you think that is a good way to go? Okay, um, but at the same point in time we literally I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this we saw pitches that came in that violated laws of physics right? You know this can’t work it violates entropy. This can’t work it violates these laws of Mechanics. Um, and it’s important in this process either for a venture capitalist or as an entrepreneur. How do you throw out the opportunities as quickly as possible so that you focus your energies on.

Doug Kirkpatrick: The ones that have a chance throw out the ones that don’t have a chance throw out the ones that are likely Nos focus your energy on the ones that are likely yeses. That’s what I learned to do when I was at Darpa I ran 27 programs I probably read. 3 or 4000 proposals so you have to learn how to filter very very quickly.

Alejandro Cremades: And I hear you and you did that you know just that because after you know working there I mean after after working there for like 3 years you know and and and change you know, basically.

Doug Kirkpatrick: That was pretty much what that’s pretty much what I blocked.

Alejandro Cremades: What you did is you created a venture studio you know or kind of like a micro fund. You know, but they it could be but as a venture studio as well where you financed. You know a bunch of ideas of which you know Aridan you know your baby. You know they rocket ship that you’re embarked on. You know, really came out so I guess. You know out of those ideas. You know there’s a few of them that are still alive. But I guess before going into Aridan what would you say was the biggest lesson that you learned you know about knowing when to walk away from an idea or a project.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Yeah, sometimes that’s the most important thing that you do um I I had a professor early on in in my undergraduate that was kind enough to tell us all you only get so many shots on goal in life.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Make sure that the time you’re spending in something is something that you want to be doing and so one of the hardest lessons that you learn in the venture studio the micro cap or even in the big firms is which ones of these. Actually have a chance to make a big difference and then the hardest I had to do this a few times when I was at Darnpa we had to do this a few times at inner product partners the microventure fund. Um, when you see something that even though it’s making success against. But it originally said it was going to do that the onverons around it have changed and it no longer makes any sense. Um I think one of the classic ones in that domain that was that we did when I was at innerproducttpartners was a company called blackpack. And blackpack was about taking nanoorus carbon as a storage vehicle for natural gas and using that to be able to make ah length ah voyage length type vehicles with natural gas tanks and it could work. It was great.

Doug Kirkpatrick: But the enverons changed as the teslas of the world came forward and the perception was well. That’s carbon. It’s dirty. It’s natural gas. It’s dirty. This is electricity and a battery battery and by definition. It’s clean. I mean if you ran it all the way back and you looked at what the source of that electricity was it was. Push perhaps even favoring the natural gas vehicles. But the bottom line out of all of this is that perception matters and you realized you were running uphill or as we like to say in the industry you’re facing headwinds. Um, and at some point in time you just look at it and go. You’re not going to fight city hall anymore you’re going to walk away because again you only get so many shots on goal. Um, that’s not to say you want to be easily deterred because I would turn around and say the opposite of that would be Aridan ah, where. A lot of perception would have initially said we were headed up a problem that was going to be extremely difficult for a very long time but you have to make a judgment that you’re doing something that needs doing and is fundamentally going to change everything and there’s a balance between those 2 pieces. It’s a judgment. Um I don’t need to tell you when you look at these things very very few ventured decisions or zero one most of them are seventy thirty if you’re lucky. Ah.

Doug Kirkpatrick: The hardest ones are the ones that are sixty forty because you may end up disagreeing about which one’s the 60 and which one’s the 40 Those are those are really the challenges.

Alejandro Cremades: So Then let’s talk about Aridon you know, which was one of the companies that that made Sense. You know as part of the as part of as part of you know, like this same this micro fund. You know, tell us about aridan. Tell us about you know what ended up being the business model of Aridon How do you guys make money.

Doug Kirkpatrick: So aridan was formed out of taking a look at another company that Kleiner had asked me to take a look at called paragon devices which was supposed to be gallium nitrite on diamond except that wasn’t actually what was happening and I had the. Good fortune to meet the co-founders and ad and Debracko Bavik and Earl Mccune through that process and the experience to sit down with them after the fact and say okay gallam nitrite looks important in this sense. Direct polar circuits look important in this sense. Let’s talk about how you put the 2 of those together and what that might make um, we initially thought we were building just a next generation radio for the military. Um.

Doug Kirkpatrick: We weren’t sure that we would be able to do the state of the art four g modulation at the time much less the 5 g modulation. Um, we weren’t sure what we could get the cost down to for commercial applications. Course. There’s always the next lure of oh we want to do this in handsets because that’s the massive. That’s the thing that everybody walks around with so there was a lot of initially let’s just go see what the art of the possible is and figure out what that can do. Darpa was very generous with us. We got a $5,000,000 contract with them to start with. Which really kicked us off tremendously. Well um, and in that process we had 1 of those types of things that you always hear about in silicon valley that we were sitting there going through the process of what keeps us and perhaps this goes all the way back to my upbringing and how we think about things. What keeps us from doing the 4 g and five g modulation in this direct polar type circuit. Why why is that an impossibility and and we threw out the idea on the table of well we could just put an attenuator right in the middle here. Um. There goes one of those clocks I told you about in the background. Um the the idea to put an attenuator in line of a hyper efficient amplifier system is is pretty much orthogonal to what you’d think of doing um.

Doug Kirkpatrick: But everybody paused we had a culture where out of the box ideas would at least be heard and one of the engineers said I don’t have a clue if that’ll work but I can have it running in the lab in a couple of hours and we all looked at each other and said well hail. And go and I still remember the day. There were only 6 of us in the company at the time and we went into the lab and he brought it up as it like out of 1 of the storybooks right? You never expect anything to work First time right out of the box. Well this one did first time right out of the box tink. There it was on the spectrum analyzer and we’re looking at it going. Oh shit, it really works and it worked that easily that time and then we all started looking at each other going. How are we going to explain this to people and of course ear I mean. Ah, was our cto immediately turned and said we need to patent this like now. So the the breakthroughs sometimes you never know where they come from that immediately had to make us step back and say. We’re no longer just a military radio company now we have to go through this self-examination process of all right? if we’re going to go to market commercially, how do we do this? How do we tell our story. Um, that was something we had a great deal of difficulty figuring out how to do to start with.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Um, and we went through a recursive process there a lot and ultimately we ran into javiri and his team at social capital and they heard us and that was the next jump. And Jay and his team there have been tremendously helpful to us all the way through the series. A we did with them and then the series b that was just announced $46,000,000.

Alejandro Cremades: Because how much capital have you guys raised today 46000000 and and and what has been the expectations that you have encountered from going from 1 financing cycle to the next year.

Doug Kirkpatrick: So I think in in the series. A what they wanted to see in that investment group was that we transitioned from being a. R and d company to producing prototypes that people could get their hands on in series b it’s about transitioning from prototype to production and the path to scale so we weren’t yet. Clear what our market path would be when we did the series a when we did the series b we know what our market path is going to be. We know why it’s going to be that path and it’s not going to be the path that a lot of people might have thought of as well you’re going to. You’re going to sell to Ericson and that’s how you’re going to make your path. We still get questions every now and then of so when’s Ericson going to be a customer It’s like well maybe never um, you know I don’t know how many Ibm 8086 is that Honeywell bought for their mainframe computer business. Probably not many, um, but. That’s really kind of the parallel of what we represent what we represent in the ah rf world and for the mobile wireless infrastructure is the same transition that the computer industry went through in going from mainframes to pcs.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Initially pcs were way behind. They weren’t taken seriously I mean Ibm gave them away because they wanted their mainframe industry to succeed um yet ten years later the pc was it. It was all over.

Doug Kirkpatrick: I Think that same type of transition is coming in the mobile wireless world as we put what we are building out in the field later this year early next year and then at scale by the end of next year I think the writing will be on the wall. That small cells have arrived densified small cell networks are here. Macrocells will continue to be important those big things that you see spread out across the highway but the densified network is going to take over in a very very big way very fast because it’s more Efficient. It’s more Bandwidth Efficient. It’s more capacity. It’s more managed everything about it from a system level point of view is Better. We.

Alejandro Cremades: Now as we’re talking about the future here then dog imagine you go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of Aridan is fully realized what does that world look like.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Wow. Um, we’re in a position where we can reduce the power consumption of the wireless infrastructure by between a factor of 10 and a factor of a hundred and so that future means that we have.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Wireless infrastructure throughout not just the United States but throughout the world that can be sustainably powered because your footprint is now such that a small cell out in the middle of Wyoming can be powered by a two meter by two meter solar array. You no longer need to have a direct connection of electricity that is tremendously important, not just for the remote areas in the United States but for remote areas in in Australia and Africa and India throughout the world. What does that mean that means we have a connected world. The minute we have a truly connected world instead of having five or ten percent of the population of the world pushing humanity forward. You’ve doubled that tripled that quadruple debt. What that means is that a whole lot of people that are sitting on the sidelines today going along for the ride if they actually even get to go along for the ride can now be part of peddling the bicycle that you’re on that’s a. that’s a ah change of just a think again use the same analogy pc versus mainframe how many mainframes were in Kenya how many pcs are in Kenya. What’s the total compute power in Kenya today compared to the total compute power in Kenya in 1976. It’s.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Not even close and and as a consequence those populations have become empowered those economies have become much stronger much more robust partners to all the other economies in the world. It’s absolutely a change from top to bottom.

Alejandro Cremades: Now obviously here we’re talking about the future now. Let’s think about the past two imagine I had the opportunity of putting you into a time machine and I was able to bring you back in time. Perhaps to that moment that. You were still you know in the Vc firm you know and you were like there. You know like figuring out what you wanted to do next. You know, perhaps you know, starting something of your own and imagine you had the opportunity of having a chat with that younger self and give you that younger self one piece of business advice for launching a company. But will that be and why given what you know now.

Doug Kirkpatrick: I’ have given the same advice to many of my my my proteges semp gumy um semp fielis is the motto of the marines. always faithful semp gum be always flexible um don’t get locked in always be in a position I try to do this with everybody in the senior staff at Aridan take a day a week a day a month but take some time where you stay home think about where you’re going think about what we’re doing think about what the competitive forces are. Or go up to fifty Thousand or one hundred thousand feet and take the kool-aid and put it to the side for a moment reexamine the environment that you’re in always be willing to question. And always be willing to accept that you made the right answer and be willing to accept that you may have to reexamine that that answer may need to change a little bit. Um I think one of the things that I have seen founders do and my younger self do is. Get locked onto things too hard as opposed to I’m going to work at this I’m going to work my ass off at this for 80 hours a week but I’m also going to take a 10 hour chunk here.

Doug Kirkpatrick: And I’m going to question whether what I’m doing is still the right thing. That’s not to say you made a bad decision. It may have been a good decision at the time but continuing to make that decision because you made that decision a year ago may or may not be the good decision now. So Semper Gumby that’s an easy one. The little green guy. You know the guy that’s got the the flexible arms. That’s the easiest picture to give somebody.

Alejandro Cremades: I Love it I Love it now for the people that are listening. You know I would like to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Email is something that I always try to stay caught up on I sometimes have some really bad email days. So if I don’t get back to you please give me a week or ten days to get back I think I passed a record of a few weeks ago I got 1200 emails in one day

Alejandro Cremades: Now.

Doug Kirkpatrick: So um I cannot possibly keep up with 1200 emails in a day but I will catch up so email is prior in a way the best way to get me.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing, amazing! Well doc thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today.

Doug Kirkpatrick: Thank you for having me alejandro.

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