Give us the quick pitch of Leap Motion.
Michael Buckwald: As you may know Leap Motion is a device that connects to your computer and turns the area around the computer into a 3-D interaction space. So you can use your hands and fingers to interact with the computer as if you were interacting with the physical world.
Where did the vision behind Leap Motion originate?
Michael Buckwald: It all goes back to frustration with the problems of creating something 3-D on your computer. Consider this: even though a small child can create something out of actual clay in minutes that resembles a coffee cup, a professional 3-D modeler might need an hour to do the same thing. We want to bring that ability to computers – let people reach into the digital world. That seems wrong – technology is supposed to make us better and faster. But there is a barrier between computers and us!
And Leap Motion helps to overcome this barrier?
Michael Buckwald: It is things like the mouse and keyboard where we only communicate through binary signals: I am pushing the X button or I am not pushing the X button. That is such an incredibly simplistic way to communicate with incredibly powerful processors. It’s very insignificant compared to how we use our physical hands to interact with the world around us every day.
If you think of an action like picking up a can in real life, it’s such a complicated move. But we do things like that thousands of times a day. We have this magical ability to use our hands and fingers to interact with the physical world. We want to bring that into computers. We want to let people reach into the digital world.
That sounds incredibly difficult…
Michael Buckwald: … the most difficult thing is of course the raw technological problem. Certainly 7 years ago when David [Holz, CTO & Co-founder] started his research while he was getting his Math PhD, and even today, no one in the world is able to track fingers as accurately as us. It’s a very difficult technical problem. We spent a lot of time educating people that the Leap is not a mouse or keyboard replacement. But there is also all of the complexity and cost associated with building physical things. And scaling the company quickly – going from the first 10 employees to 20 to 50 to 100. That is the biggest challenge of all I think.
Speaking of challenges: What did you do to make the transition between early adopters to a more mainstream market?
Michael Buckwald: By definition Leap can be a product for anyone, because the product is really the apps that are developed on top of the platform. For instance if developers develop a great educational game then at least in the context of that app the product is for children.
There is a big hype around your product. How did you manage people’s expectations?
Michael Buckwald: We tried to separate the company’s vision from the product vision. The product vision is obviously a much shorter term, there is what the peripheral can do today and what it will be able to do with our version-two software that is in beta testing now. We spent a lot of time and energy educating people that Leap Motion is a secondary input device – that it is not a mouse or keyboard replacement, but rather focused on changing the types of things people do with their computers. And that is part of the company vision, which is truly about transforming how everybody interacts with their computers in this very fundamental way.
How do you deal with disappointed users who perhaps “misunderstand” the product?
Michael Buckwald: The point is that it’s extremely early – we are at the beginning of something that is truly a five and in reality at 10+ year vision. If you asked me what the time span was a year ago I would’ve said exactly the same thing. Much of Leap’s value is going to come from transforming other form factors besides the PC. At the core it’s about making users aware, but also ourselves aware, that the long term mission is not about the PC. Much of Leap’s value is going to come from transforming other form factors besides the PC. Transforming how people interact with their cars, with their TVs, how they interact with form factors that don’t even exist today – form factors that are made possible because of our new input device.
What technologies that are being developed are you particularly excited about and how do you see them interact with Leap Motion?
Michael Buckwald: One of the most exciting things for us is VR. We are already seeing thousands of developers take their Oculus and put Leap Motions in front of them. That’s just one of many examples of new form factors that require new types of interaction to be successful – you want to be immersed and connected. It is a very exciting time in technology – whether it’s automotive or TV or something more futuristic like virtual reality. There is a lot of incredible innovation on the hardware level and that innovation requires complementary innovation at input level.
If you had to pin it down to the toughest decision that you have had to make as a CEO, what was that and what did you learn from it?
Michael Buckwald: Probably, the decision to make our own product. Two years ago we were trying to figure out if we should pursue a pure licensing model or whether we should build our own hardware. On one side we got control of our own destiny and got to make sure that we’ve built the product the way we would’ve wanted. It’s exciting to be a part of bringing this magic into the world. On the other side we wouldn’t have had to build out all the internal components necessary to build a hardware supply chain, customer support, nor accumulate inventory. That was a very difficult decision. We chose to build the product, which I think was by far the best decision that we have made as a company.
And what would you consider your greatest achievement?
Michael Buckwald: I think it’s about the opportunities that we have given developers to build amazing things. There are truly magical things that people have built on top of the platform – apps that have had a significant impact on how surgeons go about in the operating room, how musicians play music or kindergarten teachers teach their students. Obviously we know that it still very early days but even in such an early time we are already seeing this transformation and we are seeing developers build really amazing things. It’s exciting to be a part of bringing this magic into the world.