This is in response to a question posted to Dolly Singh, Former Head of Recruiting, Oculus, on Quora
It is a very interesting read.
I joined Oculus when they had just started their Series A (which seems like a lifetime ago, but was in fact only a year ago) so I think I can offer some insight; but please let it be clear that my answer represents only my personal views and not those of either company (OVR or FB).
First, if you have not experienced the latest demo’s of the Oculus Rift personally you should do so before asking or answering this question. Once you have done a demo , especially if you can do one with one of the founders or early team personally - you’re going to be hooked, the experience itself is so compelling- it’s undeniable.
Here is a quote from Chris Dixon of Andreesen Horowitz, one of the most experienced and respected investors of our time:
I’ve only seen a handful of technology demos in my life that made me feel like the world was about to change. . . Apple II, the Macintosh, Netscape, Google, the iPhone, and – now – the Oculus Rift”
This is key - once you do a demo in the Rift you feel like you just glimpsed the future - and you don’t need to be as smart as Chris Dixon to figure it out that it’s a big deal.
I joined the Oculus team after 5 amazing years with SpaceX; Nate Mitchell an OVR Founder and Chief of Product called me just a couple days into what would have been the first real time off I’d had in years.
My plan was to spend at least the next 6 months as a southern california beach bum before even trying to reintegrate myself into the real world; no way was I ready to throw myself into the arms of another start-up; start-ups are like a babies that never stop crying - so you know going into it, that mommies and daddies don’t get much sleep for a couple of years.
The warm sand and salty waters of SoCal were calling me, but, Nate with all his charm talked me into coming by for a quick discussion and chance to demo the product.
Now, this may make me sound like a snarky asshat - but even as I’m driving into the meeting, I’m thinking . . I just did rockets, I’m pretty sure a headset isn’t going to be so exciting, and this was probably a waste of time.
When I arrive, the first person I meet with is Nate- and he is amazing. So punch drunk on the Oculus Kool-Aid, lets call it OculAid it’s coming out of his pores. You can tell he loves what he is doing, and he believes in it with every ounce of his soul. Maybe he is just that good of a salesman- either way; I was hanging on every word of his pitch to the extent that I could have immediately repeated it to someone else and sounded convincing. As a recruiter, you want a pitch you can be proud of, something with vision and grandeur, something that evokes emotions and resonates with your audience hours after they have heard it.
Soon we went to chat with Brendan Iribe, the CEO. He matches Nate’s enthusiasm and charm pound for pound. On one hand they are total teddy bears- but on the other hand it was also clear they were exceptionally smart guys with a vision, a sound execution plan, and a very healthy helping of tenacity. I remember thinking to myself, these guys are pretty damn good - and after spending 5 years observing the greatest entrepreneur of our time the bar was pretty high.
At some point a kid with no shoes walks by. . . http://www.wired.com/2014/05/oculus-rift-4/
When you heard Nate or Brendan talk about what they wanted to do in the coming months and years - you could see the universe in their eyes, and you could buy into helping create it. So I have to admit, as cocky as I may have been walking in, they had won me over less than 10 minutes into the discussion- even before the demo.
We head into a conference room next door to do the hardware demo (of a DK1 at this time), they have a glitch with initial setup, and I feel my cynicism flare up for a moment; but then 10 seconds later we are ready for takeoff.
I sit down in an office chair, they strap the Rift onto my head, and launch the first experience.
Holy shit, it’s snowing.
No it’s not you idiot, you're in an office chair.
But it’s so white and fluffy, and it’s falling everywhere, I can see it when I look up, it’s all around me, is it behind me too?
I turn around.
Eeeeeek! There is a 9 foot tall monster behind me.
I lean so far forward to get away from him that I almost fall out of the chair.
Again you idiot, you’re in an office chair. You probably look super weird right now, and based on the data I’m getting from your ass you’re about an inch from falling off the chair and into the table.
I hear Nate laugh at me.
He hands me a remote, and shows me how the very simple controller works. All of a sudden I can run loose in this snowy medieval land. The sense of presence, motion and inertia completely bamboozle my brain.
Oh My God, this can’t even be possible right?
We are still in the office chair right?
Nate says, “Pretty cool - huh? and Guess what you can fly. Just push up. ”
Don’t do it, this is already insane.
Are you crazy??? We are totally doing it.
I push up.
I’ve flown before in my dreams, sometimes I figure out that I’m dreaming and try to take over so I can enjoy the ride more; it’s only happened maybe 5-6 times in my life, but always remember it when I wake up. I don’t even like heights in real life, but flying in your dreams is amazing, it’s some sort of dopamine surge that I can only relate to being a kid swinging so high on the swing that you thought the swing would flip.
I fly around for a few more minutes in the Rift, in utter awe of what was happening. . . how can you feel air moving beneath your feet when you’re in a freaking office chair??
Because the power of the human mind is incomprehensible; and the Rift had hijacked into my brain, thats how.
I pull myself out of the unit, it makes me 2-3 seconds to get my bearings.
Did that really just happen?
How awesome would it be if we (SpaceX) had one of these to create flight simulations for Dragon. . . and I wish I had one for when I was house hunting. . .the implications for learning and development are crazy. . . the TuPac Coachella Hologram is officially childs play. . . OMG whoever makes porn on this thing is going to be really popular. . .
After doing the demo, I felt like I had been let in on an amazing secret - like I had been given a glimpse of the future.
So there was no question about if I wanted to be involved, something someone once said about idiots and rocketships hung heavy in my head.
So why would FB, or Zuck would buy Oculus VR, and for $2.5B, 18 months after the founding of the company?
It’s because he saw the future- and it’s well worth the price tag.
FB has one of the, (if not the) largest server and computing infrastructures in the world - but FB is not necessarily the sexy brand of the digital 3.0 future. It’s what me and my high school friends from 15 years ago use- but it’s not what my kids or their friends are talking about.
Not that FB doesn’t itself have tons of growth and revenue potential; despite their enormous user base, there is plenty of planet and people left to cover, and the inertia of what they have built alone will sustain them another 15 years.
But guys like Zuck (and Elon, and Larry, and Serge, and Branson, and Bezos. . . ) don’t want to own the next 15 years- they want to own the next 150 years. So you see them making tremendous investments energy, transportation, drones, robotics, biomedical tech, sensor systems, AI, etc. all markets of the future.
If the www is the alpha, truely immersive VR is the omega. The Oculus Rift and VR have the potential to transform not just billions but trillions of dollars across markets and mediums.
Smart people have always known that VR would be a game changer; there were a couple false starts, as it took some time for the trends and technologies to converge enough to actually make it possible.
So now as the stars lined up, the very large FB checkbook was ready.