In the heart of Essex, a young mind named Tom Carter was nurtured in a family where hard work and determination were not just values but a way of life. Born to a mother working in a school and a father who delved into the world of chemistry, Tom’s upbringing laid the foundation for his future endeavors.
We unravel the inspiring journey of Tom Carter, from a curious child fascinated by building things to the co-founder and CEO of Ultraleap, a company at the forefront of revolutionizing human-computer interaction in the extended reality (XR) space.
Ultraleap has raised funding from top-tier investors like Woodford, Mayfair Equity Partners, IP Group, and Tencent.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Tom Carter’s journey from a normal upbringing in Essex to co-founding Ultraleap reflects the transformative influence of hard work and a commitment to learning beyond the classroom.
- The pivotal moment at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) marked a turning point for Ultraleap, showcasing the potential of its technology and attracting diverse investors.
- Ultraleap’s funding journey, from seed rounds to strategic investments by Tencent, highlights the company’s ability to navigate a mix of venture capital, private equity, and strategic partnerships.
- The acquisition of Leap Motion strategically positioned Ultraleap to own both input and output in the XR space, leading to a thoughtful rebranding effort that combined the strengths of both companies.
- Tom envisions a future where XR seamlessly integrates into daily life, allowing users to interact with virtual content using their hands, mirroring natural interactions in the physical world.
- Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Tom emphasizes the importance of seeking coaching early on, acknowledging the role of external guidance in improving decision-making and problem-solving.
- Ultraleap’s commitment to continuous innovation in the XR space underscores the company’s role in pushing the boundaries of technology, fostering a vision where virtual and real objects coexist seamlessly.
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About Tom Carter:
Tom Carter, based in Bristol, GB, is currently a CEO and Co-Founder at Ultraleap, bringing experience from previous roles at Ultraleap, Ultrahaptics, and the University of Bristol.
Tom Carter holds a 2011 – 2017 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Computer Interaction @ University of Bristol.
With a robust skill set that includes JSP, Haptics, Git, Subversion, Linux, and more, Tom Carter contributes valuable insights to the industry.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really amazing founder that is going to be joining us. You know we’re gonna be talking about all the good stuff that we like to hear you know their founding story how they went to Vegas right? away you know with a really not a lot you know going on at that point but hey you know like Dave. They’re basically riding a rocket ship right now they’ve raised a bunch of money you know from all types of profiles private a equity vcs is strategics family offices so we’re going to be talking about. You know the differences between one another and then also they’ve done an acquisition and how that translated into a merger a Rebrand so. A lot of good stuff I heard of us so without far you let’s welcome our guests today Tom Carter welcome to the show. So burn in essex to a family where your mother worked in school. Your father was a chemist how was life growing up, give us a walk through memory lane. Okay.
Tom Carter: Um, hey great Great to be here.
Tom Carter: Yeah, like life with life was good, growing up. Um I think I had ah what I would describe as a relatively normal and childhood upbringing I think um, ah both my parents worked very hard and I think we myself and my sister kind of took that. Ethic of of hard work from them into into into what we do some like hard work independence and applying that to school mostly but also kind of like creatively outside of school and knowing that you need to like learn beyond what you get in the classroom. Um, I think that’s kind of what gave. Ultimately what sort of like set some of the foundations for going on and becoming an entrepreneur. My sister is actually like going founded a company as Well. Changing the way that people learn and publish the book recently. So I Guess there’s there’s probably something in that that like happened in our in our upbringing I guess.
Alejandro Cremades: So I guess out of all things you know what got you into computers.
Tom Carter: Um I liked I Really liked building things and I liked building things where other people can use them and you can see not just what they create with what you’ve built but how they use it I might I’ve always been really really fascinated with um. How you can create a device or a product and you can either make it a joy to use or you can make it really horrible like a painful experience to use so that that’s sort of like fastest and like. Fastest to iterate easiest to see in like on a computer where you can go and build websites so I spent a lot of time building websites growing up I started I got a website building company and built websites for other people and then just learning to understand what makes a good interface how it works well and then watching people use it and like. Really like you’ve created something that makes people happy rather than makes people frustrated is something that I find very satisfying.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case, you know like you went to the university there or Bristol and you got your computer science degree and then you thought that doing a ph d would be a good idea to really understand what kind of company to build and I and I think that the. And I heard too at the university was not very happy. You know of that and they even tried kicking you out. So so tell us about this.
Tom Carter: Um, yeah, but it was is a bit of like ah, an interesting story. So I did um I did my undergrad degree at university of first film computer science like a 4 year degree and the final year of that degree you have to do a big research project and you also have to write do a business plan project. So I did mine on the same things. Um. I’d you know I’d seen I wanted to do stuff like we were saying about human computer interface. We just got a one of the Microsoft connects for the xbox the sort of like camera that goes under your Tv where you can jump up or down in your living room and play games. So those had just come out. We got one in our in our student flat. And I’d watch my friends playing games on that and it was great when you were jumping up and down and sort of like dodging things on screen. But as soon as you came to a menu screen and there were just like 2 buttons on the screen people really struggled to like press those buttons and nowhere to put their hands because there’s no there’s no tactile feedback. So. Final year of my ah degree had to do a research project say that was kind of the project I took on is like how can you? How can you bring back? The sense of touch to these kind of experiences really low friction. People aren’t going want to put things on their hands. How can we do that in a way that ah that makes that kind of technology easy. So I connected with ah with a professor there at the university to be my sort of supervisor started work on that as the um as my project building. What became our our haptics technology and then I would have loved to have turned it into a company at the end of my degree but the reality was it.
Tom Carter: it didn’t actually work you couldn’t feel anything um I kind of ended up using the technology to push a ball around on a screen I made it made a game of pong where the paddles are virtual the ball was real and you could kind of like pay play pom on a on an echo on a computer screen so that’s kind of fun but it didn’t actually work and but I was convinced that it would. So what I did I actually had a job going and becoming a software developer I didn’t turn up to that and said I enrolled to do a ph d to develop the technology further and um, the kind of the intention in my head was that I’m going to use the ph d to get the tech to a point where it’s ready to so. Out a company and and and start that um and yeah I think after like 2 years of the ph d it was at a point where the tech was ready. There was enough interest from customers from like the media from like journalists that I was like okay now’s the time we’ve got a. Got to get out of the university you got to start the company now and so that’s kind of what led to spinning the company out about ten years ago ultimately then I kind of just put my ph d on pause for a year tried to pause it again. That’s the point where it where. Wasn’t the university but like somebody at the university started trying to be like okay you know you can’t pause anymore. You’ve got to either finish your finish your ph d thesis or we’ll have to kick you out of the universe and you have to leave um and I don’t.
Tom Carter: I don’t I don’t like being kicked out so I ended up I wrote my ph d thesis in eighteen days I think which is a terrible idea and if anybody’s actually doing a ph d don’t do that it doesnt not lead to the best thesis you’ll ever see. But um for me, it was kind of like a prove that I could do it get a. And the ph d done in weekends while running the company at the same time. So yeah, bit of an event.
Alejandro Cremades: My god fast pace and and and I’m sure it was stressful ed in those 18 days but now in your case you know when you guys really went at it. You decided to pack the backs and go to cs as the first trip going to vegas out of all places. So.
Tom Carter: Um, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Tell us about what was this a trip like because it was quite a breakthrough moment to you guys.
Tom Carter: Yeah I think I I guess that’s what all all the tech founders do right? as soon as you started the company you book plane tickets to vegas and it’s like maybe not quite normal but and so it was to the consumer electronics show cs like the biggest techure trade show that happens every year in in January. Founded the company in November ah we didn’t have any funding I had entered a business plan competition at the university had won first prize and that there was some money from that a couple of other co-founders had some savings as well. So we put in you know a few tens of thousands into the company and had she like hired our first. And employee at that point and just like started busy just like jumped off the edge and figured we’ll we’ll find out how to find money before we run out of this Ah this small pot and so the thought was the best way to do that. Go to the biggest trade show in the world and just start booking meetings with ah customers. Partly because what? what we built the technology like haptic feedback so giving you feedback for the sense of touch. It’s it’s an it’s an interface technology so you can apply it to so many different use cases. So many different applications so we just wanted to meet lots of lots of people. Lots of companies and kind of figure out where the best opportunities are so I just started. Ah, emailing ceos of large companies like guessing their email address using a little gmail plugin that pulls up their Linkedin profile for an email address you just guess it until the Linkedin profile comes up and you’re like oh that must be their email address ah booked a whole load of meetings. You know we had like.
Tom Carter: Um, lucky turned up having just one best of show for the the oculus which are breaking out loads of big companies like almost every but all but 1 led to a meeting and and we had an investor joiners and like participate in some of the meetings and it was. Typical like startup approach to to a trade show. We were in. We were not officially at cs we didn’t have badges. We set up in a hotel near the show. Got people to come to us I think the demo worked for the first time 45 minutes before the first meeting all that kind of stuff but the meetings all went really really well. Sort of the number 1 comment out of all of them was hey can I have can I have one of those I want one of those devices to take that into my lab with me. Um, and ah that kind of led to the the investor who was with us saying. Okay this is this is cool I’m convinced. There’s there’s demand here and that led to our First. Ah, first investment check so super cool show and the 1 other thing that everybody said also at this point in time the technology created like an audible sound like a buzz like a buzzing noise and pretty much everybody is like a I want one which they couldn’t have because that was the only one in the world actually like. Broke we made 3 we broke 2 of them working till like 4 am getting ready for the show. We had 1 and 2 they said can you get rid of the audible noise and then kind of like a wild moment. We the show finished the day after before our flight and myself and the other cofounder we just.
Tom Carter: Sat in the hotel room for an entire day and had like microwave porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner and just worked on. How do we solve this 1 problem figured it out by the end of the day and that’s kind of like one of the the main technical breakthroughs we’ve had in the company I think so yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the people that are that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of the company. So.
Tom Carter: Yeah, it’s a business model of the company we are and where B Two B So We license our technologies and haptic and handracking to companies to integrate into their products. We take ah a license fee for for that license and then a per unit royalty as they go and ship Products. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So talk to us about the product. What is the product itself.
Tom Carter: So we have two 2 products one is haptic technology that I was talking about there. So this uses ultrasound so sound that’s too high frequency for you to hear from a collection of small speakers. Projects that through the air and focuses the sound waves onto your hand. Um, and then that creates a force that’s strong enough to just push on the surface of your skin and we use that to create a vibration. So basically we can use sound that you can’t hear to vibrate the surface of the skin on the hand. And we can change how that feels to create a palette of different sensations. So if you press a button you can feel a click if you reach out and grab an object. You can feel that you’ve touched it or you can do things that don’t exist in the real world like firing lightning bolts out of your fingers and all sorts of crazy fun stuff. So it takes the. Whatever is virtual and makes it physical for you so you can feel it. The other technology is the other half of that equation. It’s hand tracking. It uses a camera to see your hands and give you real-time 3 d models of your hands. So it’s a sort of a full machine learning application and that. In real time. No perceivable latency gives you millimeter accuracy all of the bone and joint positions in your hands so that whatever you do with your physical hands are perfectly represented in the in the virtual world and the the goal with all of this is to move movers beyond interacting by.
Tom Carter: Ah, you know touching a device in 1 place for something just change on a screen in another location or using like a touchscreen where there’s like a whole 3 d world on one side of the glass and you’re kind of like on the outside tapping on the window and to like remove those barriers and get get others humans directly hands on with virtual content and interacting and more. Natural way like we do with all the other physical stuff in our and our day-to-day lives.
Alejandro Cremades: Now you were talking about it before you know how you guys kickstarted things with the investors you know at the conference How much capital have you guys raised too late for the people listening to get it.
Tom Carter: We raised about hundred and twenty five million pound like British Pounds say and yeah, what like.
Alejandro Cremades: Okay, so so whatever the conversion is maybe like one hundred and forty to 160000000 something like that. Okay now now what was the what has been the journey of raising all that money.
Tom Carter: Um, yeah, something like that in dollars. Yeah.
Tom Carter: So first check came and from our first investor ip group after c yes, so that was ah like a convertible note to get us up and running gave us runway to get to ready to close our seed ground so we closed our seed round basically a year after starting the company. And that point we had an evaluation kit we had paying customers so it sort of really got us in a good position for that seed round. Um, then? Ah, that was so that seed round was just ip group. Series a round we brought on some more and sort of like larger investors in the yeah uk a firm called Woodford and joined us for for our a round at b round as where we really started venturing out into the the virtual reality world and expanded into Xr which is. Like when we started really like ah a very nascent thing I said like you know Oculus had just brought out the ah ah the rift just starting that was the point where we had our plan and our strategy and there we brought on a number of family office and we had the dolby family investor in us in our in our series b round. Um. Ah, sort of like a partner in in Japan as well. Great like sort of technology partner called corns out there and then more recently c and d rounds c round we had and Mayfair Equity Partners who are a private equity firm. So again like a different type of investor came into the c round.
Tom Carter: And then that D round was led by tencent who are obviously like a strategic company coming in there. So yeah, we’ve kind of had like a pretty big mix of everything other than Angels pretty much through their life in the company.
Alejandro Cremades: And what is what is the difference that you’ve seen between you know, all these say different types of profiles of investors that you have I mean you have their private equities venture capital strategic family offices. What is the difference you know from 1 another.
Tom Carter: Um, So there’s there’s a difference in the way they think and a difference in their objectives ultimately and so not talking about any of the like individuals specifically but including the broader fields of companies that we’ve talked to you know, a lot of strategics are looking for. Um. Like yes, they want to make a financial return but probably the bigger swing. There is is um, some kind of ah like and beneficial tie in with projects or activities they have within the company and so there’s something like value for them from ah from from a product sense where they’re looking to form a. A closer relationship is often like the way strategic conversations happen and venture capital is about growth so taking an idea from ah from an earlier stage providing with the funding to to grow and like what connections can they bring to do that and. Private equity then takes a much.. It’s just sort of like a much more mature View. So more intent on due diligence process and I almost say like um, yeah, kind of like ah like a more mature approach to sort of modeling and financial. Structure and contracts of the company and and like how we’re going to finance ourselves for the for the Future. So yeah, you end up with like different perspectives different and ah different viewpoints across the board. Let’s say here.
Alejandro Cremades: Now along the way you guys say you know, ended up acquiring leap motion you know and and and obviously that kind of like led to a Rebrand and and all types of like complex and challenging things. So I guess why did you guys think that the.
Tom Carter: Um, and.
Alejandro Cremades: Transaction made sense and how did that Unravel you know all the different stuff that came along with it.
Tom Carter: Yeah, so it was about really figuring what’s the best and what’s the best way to grow the company What’s the best chance to secure success. So at this point we were focused on on ah on the haptics technology. We had like a 1 piece of the puzzle. There was a gap. In technology and giving the user that kind of tactile feedback we filled that gap but we did that somewhat in isolation and that meant that we were sort of subject to the whims of other companies in the space and like if they didn’t it wasn’t necessary that. Their roadmaps are always align with what we needed and so at that some point along that journey. We decided we we kind of really need to own both the input and the output to but there’s a lot of benefits of combining those 2 that both sides get better when you put them together so we should bring those 2 things together. Um. Id ah I’ve worked with David one of the like founders of leap motion for for a long time and since before I started ultra leap I still have on my desk like 1 of the early prototypes of the leap motion controller from like before they before they launched and so we talked around this time and. Just kind of like made sense for both of us like for us that was how we wanted to grow the company for for the leap motion team. It’s kind of about like what’s the right home for their technology and the team to like sort of continue the vision of what lead motion we’re trying to achieve in transitioning the world to using their hands. We kind of both had.
Tom Carter: Ah, 2 pieces of the same puzzle. So we thought we’d bring them together and then create ah like a stronger more attractive proposition from that.
Alejandro Cremades: And what was like a doing the doing the Rebrand how how hard was that.
Tom Carter: The Rebrand was and there are plenty of bits of that that were difficult because you’ve got 2 companies in ultrahaptics and lead motion that had a lot of brand equity that had a lot of like reputation into them I think like. Ah, to haptics particularly in our customer base even then we were very much a b two b company and the sort of like trust of what you get from us was was pretty well establishlished. The motion did a consumer product right? at the beginning. Their first product was available in best buy and Walmart and it got. Huge amount of consumer attention so they had like almost like a bigger profile as ah as a company and we were very conscious of that and you know damaging that and how do we transition that over to ah to a new name. But ultimately there was the easy part where everybody agreed that the. Company needed a new name where we couldn’t continue to be called ultrahaptics when we were not doing just haptics I didn’t make any sense. So fortunately, there was the name ultra leap just kind of a nice fusion of ultrahaptics and leap motion. You can put those students together. Everybody was really happy with that as a name so that bit was easy. But then there was a huge amount of work in terms of picking pieces of both companies like brand identity and style and deciding. Do. We want to lean in more of a like b two b direction. Do you want to keep some of the consumer elements from decommotion and yeah, a lot of.
Tom Carter: Time and sweat effort trying to get that right and then on the other side of it. A lot of time and effort trying to like push the general understanding to who alterly appears we’re not a new company and that we kind of have that legacy of the the 2 companies that have gone before us. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s say you were to go to sleep tonight Tom Carter and you wake up in a world where the vision of uli peace fully realized what does now world look like.
Tom Carter: Um I think it it ah it looks like a large everybody interacting with computers with 3 d content where they’re using their hands so you would approach. Virtual stuff in the same way that you’d approach physical stuff I mean ultimately I’m a big believer in the sort of the ultimate destination of the xr space of augmented reality where that’s going to get to and how the same as in the movies you know you used to be able to go and watch a film and see. A clear and obvious difference between what is real and what is computer graphics nowadays you kind of can’t tell the difference between them and that’s going to be the same andxr in the future right? You’re going to be sitting here and on your desk in front of you. There’ll be you know 10 objects 5 of them real 5 and virtual you won’t be able to tell the difference and and you’re going to be ah, you’re going to use your hands for that. Um, that’s kind of the ah the sort of like headline headline vision makes it easier for you to interact and it also increases the ability for the computer or the device that you’re using to understand you and your intent. But when we’re talking we do a lot of like gesticulating with our hands there. A lot of body language involved and the more that the computer can kind of infer that data to add context to what you’re saying whether that’s in the sort of like talking to Ai assistance or otherwise and that’s going to help. So yeah I guess.
Tom Carter: Interaction is easier. It’s more like the ah the the physical world and the the sort of devices understand your intent.
Alejandro Cremades: So now let’s say I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time you know I bring you back in time to maybe that moment where you were still doing your ph d and and figuring out you know a company that that you would build of your own and let’s say you had the opportunity of a. Sitting down that younger self that younger Tom being able to give to that younger Tom one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Tom Carter: Yeah, great question. Um I think the advice I’d give my younger self would be to get work with a coach earlier I work with a and a third party who can help explore my my mind my head and and and help me solve problems. And I fundamentally really like to solve problems I think it’s true with a lot of you know, particularly computer scientists and entrepreneurs. Automatically, we’re kind of likere problem solvers. So if we see and a challenge the the default reaction is to go like crunch that problem layer and try and figure it out and and and fix it. And get a lot of satisfaction from coming up with ah with a solution but and that’s particularly true in a company where you know you can be mindful of that and work hard to. Make sure you’re delegating to the right people. But as you’re growing a startup There’s so many things that come up that don’t have a designated owner that don’t sort of fit in 1 of the roles of somebody else and so my like natural reaction is anything that doesn’t fit I will I’ll take to myself and and I think working with a coach has really helped me. With that improve on like how to approach those challenges improve with like speed of decision making because of that and yeah, that’s definitely something I wish I started earlier.
Alejandro Cremades: Is there like a point where you wish you would have had that.
Tom Carter: And I mean I guess I Ultimately I wish I’d have had it from day One to be honest, but we couldn’t afford it on day one. But and yeah I think just the earlier the data Really if you’re if you’re. In a leadership position and you’re running a company and you’re responsible for other people’s investments and you’re responsible for other people’s employment then that easily justifies the cost of paying a good coach to help you make better decisions and help you. Increase the speed of decision making.
Alejandro Cremades: I love it so Tom for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Tom Carter: Best way it’s probably Linkedin these days. So um, yeah, if you just search for Tom Carter ortra leap I will hopefully pop up and then yeah, connect or shoot me a message and I’d love to chat.
Amazing. Well hey Tom Carter thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today. Thanks.
Tom Carter: Thanks so much Alejandro Amazing to be here.
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