Wild flowers poppin’ Feb 11 ’23.
The waves were happening.
Diablo Canyon in the myst
Wild flowers poppin’ Feb 11 ’23.
The waves were happening.
Diablo Canyon in the myst
Voodle was a tech startup that built a short-video messaging app that launched in 2020 and shuttered in 2022. The initial idea was for a mobile-first “async short video” app that would be “tiktok for work” for sales and marketing teams to talk to each other. First versions launched in summer of 2020 during COVID pandemic conditions, and while 10k+ users tested the app with their teams, the rise and dominance of team messaging activities within Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Meet platforms proved too high of a friction for any meaningful adoption of 3rd party apps in this era of the industry. Meaningful integration of Voodle within other apps proved difficult, as the APIs for rich video playback was minimal or not available to 3rd parties.
Voodle evolved to focus on 1-to-many “me-casting” workflows–such as a sales outreach, coaching group, or other special interest space for asymmetrical chat (eg: not everyone participating making videos, rather, most users watching the videos of a main/principal maker). Email notification workflows, analytics for views/engagement, and other more traditional sales/CRM features were added.
The last phase of exploration in summer and fall of 2022 included Web3 token-gated spaces for creators to build audiences around a mixture of NFT, video, text, graphic posts.
Here’s a quick demo from fall 2021, and some screenshots of key UX and features.
Pixvana was a VR Video tech startup from 2016-2019 that built a cloud virtual reality video processing, streaming, and editing software suite SPIN Studio. The company was based in Seattle WA and had traction with large media companies that used its platform to build consumer facing media streaming apps. As the 2015-2018 VR market cycle crashed (Microsoft and Google canceled their consumer headset plans, Meta/Oculus adoption faltered) and consumer VR adoption failed to breakthrough to meaningful usage, Pixvana built enterprise training tools. Ultimately the VR market proved “too-early” and development of Pixvana was shuttered in late 2019.
Pixvana SPIN Studio had comprehensive features to process raw VR video camera files and prepare them for very high quality streaming to headsets at 8k+ resolutions. The app was capable of massive parallel rendering with cloud GPU instances, so that a task that might require 10hrs to render on a single workstation class PC, could be distributed to 100+ nodes and rendered in just minutes.
Some of the core features are shown below, for posterity.
In fall 2015 we made an ”emerging tech” bet on VR and chose a “swing for the fence” scale risk-reward approach. We believed VR would rapidly emerge as a very large-scale industry based on anecdotal buzz and our own profound amazement at early trials of the 6-DOF systems floating about Seattle via Valve’s early-access demonstrations.
I’ve been a founder of several businesses and by my count worked on ~15 v1.0 software products at both startups and large co’s. Pixvana’s SPIN Studio platform far and away exceeded anything else I’ve ever been involved with in terms of system design, technical innovation, and the potential to be of large commercial consequence for decades. Alas, the work also scores as the most catastrophically irrelevant (measured by adoption by end-users we achieved) of my career.
Voodle by comparison was a practical, pragmatic application that required very little technical innovation or real change in users’ expectations, but it did come on the scene at a time of “app saturation” when we were welcomed by a market with quite a bit of app-adoption-friction. We executed well-enough, but failed to find product-market-fit.
Over the last 7 years our approach evolved and ultimately meandered as we shipped a series of interesting tools that scored as not-quite-right for customers. We started with large media companies and followed with makers; pivoted to enterprise learning orgs, to individuals on teams, and ended up in last efforts with “one-to-many” affinity communities. From VR, to mobile selfie video-messaging and of late to web3 and utility for NFTs in community.
All of us that worked on the projects are incredibly disappointed. Hard work, good execution, dogged perseverance – these are table-stakes. Timing and luck are also brutally critical ingredients. We aspired to delight customers. We didn’t. I’m chagrined that we pursued such a wide set of interesting technologies in search of problems to solve—a cardinal sin.
To our shareholders and advisors Thank You for your support of me and the team with your trust, mentorship, and capital. To my colleagues, we did a lot of great work and I know we all take our experience together forward into new chapters to come in our lives.
— Forest Key, Dec 2022
The last 7 years touched the lives of many team members who worked together. For many Pixvana + Voodle were a first job right out of college, and for a few it was their formal job before retirement. From an office in Seattle, we evolved into a remote team in 8 states in our pajamas. We collaborated with passion, and experienced disappointments and achievements.
We have purchased a lovely vacant lot in the seaside town of Pismo Beach, CA. and hope to build a home. Hope, the key word. 2 years and counting into the process, plenty of curveballs and surprises.
A wise friend shared this most-zen insight, “Forest, most of our problems in life are with our expectations… change your expectations, and suddenly problems disappear”. Indeed, my initial expectation for the project was that we could hire an architect, get plans approved by the city of Pismo Beach’s Planning and Building Permit bureaucracy, secure a general contractor/builder, dive-in, and within 2-3 years from start, have a new primary home to live in.
Things have been going horribly wrong,
if that were to remain my expectation.
But, this week i changed my expectation. I now hope to build a new home in Pismo Beach in less than 10 years. Anything between now, and 2029, i will consider a wild success. Suddenly, we are doing GREAT. We are right on track.
I will share some of my experience here for the benefit of others who are considering buying and building on a vacant lot in either Pismo Beach, or more generally, the central-coast area of california (Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Los Osos and Morro Bay, Nipomo… this general area).
I have thoughts to share about:
Ping me in the comments if you are thinking of your own project and want to compare notes!
I spent a few hours answering some great questions for a blog post that i wanted to point to.
the title is: The Future of Communication Technology: Forest Key of Voodle On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other
Here’s the article of Forest Key thoughts on the Future of Communication Technology.
We have been working with an awesome talent search firm called Fuel Talent and CEO Shauna Swerland reached out to me re: her podcast series What Fuels You. I have recently been listening to a ton of audio books on Audible, and have been getting into thematic podcasts at bedtime and on drive-time… so i dove in enthusiastically and really enjoyed the chat.
Here’s my appearance, Forest Key on the podcast What Fuels You in February of 2021.
I just finished reading an amazing sci-fi/fantasy series called the Broken Earth trilogy from N.K. Jemisin and it has really inspired my thinking about hiring various diverse product management roles at Voodle. I came to this lovely book series by sheer “sneak wave accident”–let me explain.
Over holiday break i was reading Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in all of its native Spanish-language-delight (what a masterpiece), and between chapters placed the book down on the beach while i stood to stretch. Out of the blue and after more than 3 hours in that spot, a *much* larger wave came ashore and submerged all of my stuff, book included which was a sopping mess and “not readable” until a good week of drying out.
I had a few other books already on order a few days out on Amazon’s planes/trucks (If Then by Jill Lepore, Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut)–but up-next for my spouse and at my arms reach on the beach was book one of the series: The Fifth Season. I haven’t read a fantasy fiction book since The Belgariad series when i was 16! I had absolutely zero curiosity or intention to enjoy beyond passing a few moments while i mourned my soaking-wet book-of-intent…. but 1300 pages later i have to say I really, really enjoyed.
Just a few chapters into the series I sensed the diverse voice of a non-white-male at the helm, which was instantly exhilarating and “new”, creating an experience completely unique from the “fantasy” tropes of so many other worlds (Tolkien, R.Martin, etc.):
The unique narrative POVs that she brings to her writing created for me a more profound sense of empathy and connection to the characters. Hearing/seeing different types of characters made me feel for them, and identify with them, even in ways in which as a cis-gender-white-male I have never really felt connected to “lords” and “magicians” and “elves”, all of whom were created in the image and spirit of their white-male authors?
… which had be thinking about my continuing understanding of just how important diversity of POV and experience is in forming high performing teams in all walks-of-life, including in my industry building software.
We started voodle in late 2019, before the worldwide COVID pandemic had accelerated what we already felt was coming–a dramatic disruption in how people work and collaborate using mobile devices and asynchronous short-video. We spent 2020 organizing ourselves as a fully remote team, shipping our mvp app on web/ios/android, and listening to thousands of users and their early-product feedback.
Whenever we open ourselves up to diverse POVs, we are better. Incorporating diverse POVs, leads us to better solutions to problems, to greater relevance with our diverse customers, and ultimately to success in all of our goal metrics.
We are searching for product experience team members that have a passion for our mission and demonstrated excellence in skill areas related to product management and user experience craft. We are assembling our team with a mix of diverse background experiences and prior domain expertise, aiming for a wide-ranging point-of-view. We are not looking narrowly for a specific candidate, rather, we are recruiting a TEAM.
This led me today monday to spend the day tearing apart a somewhat narrowly crafted JD we have been recruiting against for 6 months, for a proverbial “chief product officer”. I’ve been really unhappy with the lack of diversity in the candidate pool, and the search has yet to yield a hire. I think our search was too narrow. The Broken Earth trilogy directly inspired me to break apart the JD into a new “matrixed” search which more broadly seeks talent across early-to-late career continuum of product managers.
We are recruiting TEAM MEMBERS. If you are drawn to our mission and think you could add value as the CPO, or as a college hire IC — or anything in between!… we’d love to hear from you.
We just kicked off our “year of living in airbnbs” with a lovely stay in Palm Springs. The warm temps and blue sky were absolutely lovely.
Cristina’s mobility just so-so but plenty of hikes!
My son Carlos Key has a few websites up and the search engines need a little help finding them, so the young filmaker and storyteller can be found when he is being sought!
Carlos Key maintains a catalog of his creative film projects catalog here on youtube. Carlos Key has a developing personal site and photo and work sample portfolio here. And Carlos Key’s professional bio is developing on Linkedin.
Hopefully these links will help you, and search engines, to find the proper Carlos Key information pages!
My son Carlos Key’s film won an award at the local film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and he has a nice write up in the Seattle Times–Carlos Key won the Youth Award at SIFF for the 3 minute short film category.
But probably just as cool, for us tech geeks, is that Seattle’s own tech blog of record, Geekwire, wrote a nice piece highlighting the work of Carlos as a young film maker, and how changes in film tech and software have made film making for teenagers something entirely magical, with the advent of lower cost equipment in the last decade.
Carlos Key featured in Geekwire here, and here’s the film from his YouTube channel:
When i lived in california in the 90s i was a huge mountain bike enthusiast—Mt Tam in Marin County was at my backdoor, and I loved the arduous climb and accelerating descent it afforded just minutes from my home in Mill Valley. Somewhere along the way to Washington, Chile, and Beijing i lost track of riding… but on a recent visit to California the idea of off-road biking was reawakened and I’m excited to hit the trails again. The Trailforks app on iOS is an awesome resource to find terrain to explore, and it turns out there is a ton here in Washington state within easy drive of Seattle.
So, after plunking some real money into new bikes for myself and a +1 friend (my son this summer, imagining visiting friends in the future), i thought I’d post the serial numbers and bike descriptions here for safety. I also registered the bikes with the bikeregister.org and 529 Project websites, great community indexes of bikes to help cut down on theft and return of bikes.
For myself, a Specialized Epic Hardtail model that is oh-my-god-so-light. The teal color will hopefully keep me visible to drivers on city roads! Large frame, serial number WSBC614123071N. I have been riding around the city and it really does feel like it “pulls you up the hills” it is so darn slick/light and boy do 25+ years (since my last bike purchase) make a difference in tech!
My son/friend bike is a Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bike, black frame in M, with serial number WSBC604317566P. Red highlights, front and rear shocks, drop post seat, 29” wheels. I look forward to riding both of these, the smaller M frame a slightly better fit for downhill posture and clearance from the frame… as a 5”10 height (down from 5”11 a decade ago?) I’m right on the edge between these M/L frame sizes.
Very excited to kick off life for Voodle for iOS, which launches Monday June 29th 2020. As my son Carlos explains to gen z friends, “Discord and TikTok had a baby and named it Voodle”. To older gen X friends i explain Voodle as a “tiktok for the enterprise” user experience–a short-video a-sync for teams. We started building Voodle before the covid-19 disruptions this spring, so we hadn’t imagined the zoom-fatigue phenomena that is now upon us. As we launch, it really feels like Voodle is a very well timed app that brings lighter-touch, short-form-video, as a compelling alternative to time-sucking synchronous “zoom” meetings that have now started to dominate a lot of professional team interactions.
Give Voodle a try with your colleagues at work or other “teams” that you want to share short-video updates with. You can download it now from the apple iOS app store here.
Nice coverage of Voodle from Venture Beat which says “Voodle’s eponymous software is as efficient in execution as it is in concept.” An app that lets business teams share short video updates, complete with automatically generated captions and transcripts
We are off and running adding content to explain Voodle, and our beta testing is underway. So, excited.
Here’s a blog post on our website i wrote about feature development for voodle.
In January of 2020, after nearly 4 complete years working feverishly and with great passion and focus on the virtual reality market opportunity that seemed so bright and shinny and attainable in 2015… my colleagues and I at Pixvana made the painful, but necessary decision, to shut down our product and cease all of our efforts in the XR market. It was just, not, happening. We built something great, really the best v1 product i have ever been a part of in my 30+ years building software. It was elastic, it was cloud based, it had incredible VR native interfaces to build really interest and compelling immersive content. The Quest headset is pretty darn awesome (if only that had been the v1 experience for most consumers!) and we got *great* looking 360 and 180 stereo video working on it, over the network and offline, with a great end-to-end vr video publishing platform we called SPIN Studio. But in hindsight we were 3, or maybe 10 years ahead of any real inflection point in the VR market. After a blast of interesting products and innovation from the likes of google, msft, fb, and htc/valve… by 2019 our industry found ourselves in a ever smaller and nichier market with only FB/Oculus really pretending that there was any future anytime soon… and at their last developer event it felt like even they were just pretending. Soccer mom’s were featured prominently in their product advertisements while teenagers watched from the living room… really?
A fateful business trip that I took in the fall of 2019 to China and then Germany to attend the AWE event in Munich, provided both the death-blow to Pixvana’s VR dreams, and the inspiration to start something new from the ashes, which is what we now call Voodle. In China i had the chance to talk to some of the manufacturers of VR cameras. At the time we were still actively building support for these cameras in our Pixvana SPIN Studio cloud: we were teaching our system the nomenclature for the file naming conventions, the warp and optic parameters to solve high-quality stitches to 8k+ resolution master files, the LUTs for camera exposure gamuts… but these camera manufacturers one-by-one either did not engage with me (when they had in past visits), or, were blunt and honest with me and shared that they had ceased development and manufacturing, and in some cases had sold -through their inventory. VR Cameras were not going to be a thing… which as one of my colleagues said upon hearing, “well, that’s a signal” (understatement).
A week later at the AWE conference in Munich, the vast majority of interesting activity at the event was not with headsets but rather, with mobile phone screens. Screens at arms-length, and usually with the SELFIE camera as the primary viewing lens onto the world. As much as Snap and Facebook product managers raved about “over 1bn people are doing AR today with their selfie-cameras”, i couldn’t help but feel that a pivot into phone-based-AR applications using pixvana’s IP and brain-trust would be like signing up for another several years of equal or even greater disappointment.
This 1-2 combo of punches in my face finally snapped me to the realization that many other entrepreneurs had come to in 2019–AR/VR might just not be relevant right now in the world, in any appreciable business scale way. Why would Pixvana continue to spend time on the XR space? Well, after we huddled back at the office, we all agreed we couldn’t.
However, what did strike me as incredibly interesting… in a way that people of my age/generation sometimes struggle to fully comprehend, is just how much people like looking at their selfie-cameras. To take pictures and video of themselves to communicate with loved ones, all day, every day. Over the course of the next several months i started to pay much more attention to how the selfie camera was being used by my family and friends, and the ways and subjects that we communicated to each other in private networks such as Whatsapp and iMessage groups. That, is what led to the kernel of an idea that grew into Voodle.
Essentially, why is it that among my family and friends, almost all of my communications are image, video, and emoji or meme based:
Yet when i’m at work, i’m 99% grounded in text. Long TL;DR text in email applications like gmail, back and forth short messages with an occasional URL or small jpeg thumbnail in Slack or Teams, and sometimes sharing documents such as in Highspot or Onedrive or Google Drive. This schism is plainly evident when looking at my phone screen; if it is text, i’m working, if it is friends and family, it is photos/videos/images. This seems incorrect on many levels?
So what if our work related communications looked a lot more like how i communicate with friends and family? That’s the basic kernel of an idea that led us to create voodle.
A “voodle” is a short “video-doodle” that can be posted and shared among work colleagues. These may be insights into customers, competitors, operations, morale and culture insights… we are going to figure out together with our beta-testers. But what we can already feel with our early tests, is that it is *transformational* to communicate with work colleagues in a manner more similar to that we use with friends/family already. 2 billion consumers on their cellphones can’t be wrong!
We are working on voodle! I will write more about voodle soon. I’m excited, as is the team, to share voodle and voodles and voodle pools…
As part of my grieving i wanted to write about my son’s passing. This post will be a work in progress that i will iterate on, as I am inspired to write.
I read a book back in summer of 1992 called On the Death of My Son. It was an interesting book which tells the real life story of a father’s experience with his son’s death, and a series of insights and connections to the meaning he got from that experience (including a sense of connecting to his son and hearing about the afterlife). As much as anything, the title of the book has stuck with me and it is with a sad heart that as of Feb 29th of this year 2020, i have experienced the death of my youngest son Caetano. He was 16.
My wife and I and our son Carlos put together a memorial site for Caetano Key, which has been visited 10k+ times by over 3000 visitors in its first weeks. The many lovely text messages, emails, notes, flowers, food, and other expressions of love and caring for our family have been incredibly uplifting and we feel part of a larger community. And yet, we are devastated. We miss Caetano in so many ways we couldn’t possibly document or convey.
We are however, ok. I’ll let my wife and son tell their own stories on their own channels. I am ok because i’m feeling many intense feelings, but i’m making good progress feeling them, and understanding my grief. These include:
But mostly i’m just sad. I’m sad because of the lost opportunity to meet and befriend the adult Caetano that was yet to come. I imagined years of continued work on our communication and relationship, of good times and bad times. I wanted to see the 2nd act in his life, post teenager. To continue to learn from him. To watch from afar and follow his journey with curiosity and fondness and a father’s love. I had many plans for me and the adult Caetano, including:
I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m angry. But mostly, i’m ok. Taking it a day at a time, and a week at a time, and know that Caetano will be with me the rest of my life.
I love you Caetano, always.
Voodle is a vegetarian noodle, but it is also a great name for a software product? Video-doodles! Voodles are plural, voodle is a noun (“i made a voodle”), and voodle is a verb (“voodle it and it shall be done!). So, voodle, fun word right?
Well after 4 years at Pixvana chasing after the dream of VR and headset based immersive storytelling, today marked a huge milestone–we shipped our first iOS release of SPIN Play. It turns out that the billion+ users of mobile phones and iPads are a super compelling audience for immersive storytelling, and while it wasn’t our initial target, it is the most exciting milestone in our team’s journey.
You can get Pixvana SPIN Play for iOS now from the Apple App Store for iOS devices. iPad only release today but iPhone will be out shortly (we did a vertical layout for phones which is more comfortable in your hand given how big phones have gottent).
Ok so we are adding support to Pixvana SPIN Studio to share URLs more easily of what we call SPINs, playlists of content. Here’s our default SPIN that loads when you download our player app, SPIN Play, from various app stores (iOS App Store, Oculus, etc.):
Note that now i will add that to this page with embed code (note this is FAILING):
Here it is or is not?
Here’s what wordpress does when i simply paste in the Youtube URL for sharing: https://youtu.be/ZI9bKHCVNRM
And this is what wordpress does when i paste the Youtube link into their “Youtube” embed block:
Here’s wordpress barfing on my attempt to use their youtube block, for a spinxr url. doesn’t allow (malformed condition)
I had a lovely art-walk experience this week in Shoreditch neighborhood of London led by David Stuart of http://www.shoreditchstreetarttours.co.uk and wanted to make note for others. I had of course seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, superb film on the street art scene and the artist Banksy in particular, so it was with wondrous glee that i set out with David to see some of the many rich art-installations dotted in the streets of this neighborhood.
“XR-vu“, or “VR-vu”…whichever term comes into vogue in the near-future, i want to go on record as saying that it happened to me a few weeks, ago, and I liked it–a lot!
Yes i’m playing on the word “deja-vu“, that oh so fun feeling of experiencing something and having a sense of foreboding or otherworldly prescience, as though you’ve previously dreamed of the moment or even lived the moment, in a different state of consciousness? Well play with me for a moment–take that feeling, and now imagine what that feels like when it arises because you HAVE experienced the moment before… but in Virtual Reality or another form of XR (extended reality)?
That’s what i experienced a few weeks ago when I visited Ollantaytambo Peru, a lovely Andean village about 2 hrs outside of Cusco, the former empire capital of the Incas. I had been to the region before, about 30 years ago when i was backpacking for 18 months after college. However, i had never been to Ollantaytambo’s ruins–not in person. But I did visit Ollantaytambo in Virtual Reality, in a detailed, compelling experience that was built by Microsoft as an example of how tourism and travel might be conveyed using VR. It shipped as Microsoft HoloTour, a demonstration app that launched in 2017. This technical document describes what the team did to build the Holotour experience of Ollantaytambo–quite interesting mix of techniques to photographically capture and convey the site.
Unfortunately i couldn’t find any images to illustrate the experience in the headset–suffice to say that in Holotour, i experienced standing in the midst of the Ollataytambo ruins… and when i visited these dame ruins in April of 2019, i had a triple-take moment that flooded my brain with a sense of *very* strong “deja-vu” like cues. Have i been here before? Why does this place seem so familiar? Did I dream it?
No, i had never been here. But yes, i was here in Virtual Reality! Wow. WOW. It was all the fun of deja-vu, times at least 5x… or maybe 10x. It really showed me the difference between seeing a picture or a movie, and having been immersed and felt the unique compelling experience of *presence* that is the hallmark of XR/VR, which triggers activity in the human brain that forms actual spatial *memories* that i was then recollecting/remembering, as though they were real. I don’t know if this feeling would always be as strong, say, if i had felt this sensation many times before? But it was incredibly interesting, and i wanted to first at the podium to share it and i look forward to writing about it more and discussing it with others as they have XR-vu of their own!
Anyone else experience XR-vu of VR-vu?