In the late 80s through 90s I was leading a number of R&D projects sponsored by the great Japanese imaging & optical multinational, Canon. Every now and then, we’d stumble across a concept rather ludicrous at the outset, but which we felt - in an always-connected, always-on world in which personal and portable screens were entirely pervasive - made perfect sense. Remember, this was 15-20 years before the iPhone; analogue 1G mobile networks were the standard with 2G digital just beginning to appear; and IBM’s Simon, perhaps the world’s first smart(ish) phone, was tentatively and unsuccessfully launched. So hardly the world of ubiquitous digital visual connectivity we see around us today.
Yet through imagining the world that could exist, we were able to conceive of technologies, products and services way before they came to light. Alan Kay - my personal, all-time favourite computer scientist, inventor and philosopher, and of whom I am the world’s biggest fanboy (ask me about my, possibly apocryphal, anecdote about Alan Kay and Douglas Adams), famously said that the best way to predict the future was to invent it. And motivated by him, but in our entirely naïve and not remotely comparable way, this is what we set out to do.
In the mid-90s we invented the concept of broadcasting videogames. Ridiculous and unnecessary at the time. Even in 1999 when we filed a patent on the process (which was finally granted in 2007), it was greeted by our paymasters with a thunderous indifference. As is often the way of these things, it was all about being in the right place at the right time, and we were neither. Go Twitch, et al!
So when Adam Billyard, my co-researcher at the time, and co-author of the aforementioned patent, said he’d been thinking around 'this kind of stuff’ for the past couple of decades, and would I like to have a chat about it, I paid attention.
In January 2015, LVP backed Adam’s R&D stage startup ‘PolyStream’. PolyStream draws from a decades old fascination that both Adam and I have had in what might variously be thought of as virtual reality, shared virtual worlds, game streaming and cloud gaming. From our early days mixing with the likes of cloud gaming pioneer GCluster, through Adam’s stints as CTO & consultant at game streaming / interactive TV companies, and watching closely the rise and reinvention of OnLive and Gakai, we’ve known that the promise of cloud gaming is too great to ignore, yet the tech story not quite complete and thus the economic circle not quite squared. This is what PolyStream aims to solve.
“Invent the future”... This time, we’re a bit less naïve. This time, we’re not in a weird, left-field comp-sci lab at the far reaches of a hugely benign but largely disinterested multinational.
Personally, I love working at LVP; it’s the home I helped build and I could never conceive of leaving to join any of our portfolio companies full time. But if I ever renege on that promise, it will be with these guys… PolyStream reminds me of the time 20 years ago when I looked at a screen and watched the future.
Note: PolyStream is that oddest of VC-supported entities, an ultra-early, pre-revenue, pre-product vehicle. It has proof-of-concept (and some tasty IP), and is actively exploring partnerships to help it develop.