Strtup Boost: Jason Malki, August 12, 2019
“AR keeps people in the equation and makes their jobs better” a peek into the future with Scott Montgomerie CEO of Scope AR
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Montgomerie — co-founder and CEO, Scope AR.
Since co-founding Scope AR in 2011, Scope AR’s CEO Scott Montgomerie was one of the first executives to get augmented reality (AR) tools in use by multi-billion dollar corporations. Through envisioning and developing some of the most transformative enterprise AR technology on the market, Scott and his team have simplified adoption and deployment of AR across numerous industries, addressing complex challenges experienced by Toyota, Lockheed Martin, Unilever and Prince Castle, among others.
Having launched many AR firsts, Scott has become one of AR’s top thought leaders and visionaries for the space. He has shared his knowledge and spoken about some of the most innovative uses of AR at several of the industry’s top conferences, including AWE (US and Europe), Unity Vision AR/VR Summit, Virtual Reality Strategy Conference and VRDC.
Prior to founding Scope AR, where he manages day-to-day operations and is responsible for product development and driving the company’s technology team, Scott was the VP of Engineering at Xfire, Inc., which developed an in-game communications platform for the e-sports community. Prior to that, Scott launched his first company, Zigtag Inc. (later renamed Semanti Corp.) which was focused on building smart social search solutions to help consumers efficiently find, retrieve and share personally relevant information on the web. In addition to more than 15 years of consumer software experience, Scott is also a full-stack developer, ranging in everything from iPhone games to Ruby-on-Rails corporate tools.
Scott graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computing Science and is a published researcher in the field of Bioinformatics. He is a Canadian transplant that currently lives in San Francisco.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Coming out of high school, like most people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I learned programming as a teenager as a hobby, but I considered most people who spent a lot of time with computers as “uncool,” so I never really took it seriously. I entered University studying biology at first. As luck would have it though, the summer after high school, a friend of mine had a neighbor who was building a startup company in the tax software space, and they were looking for someone who understood computers and French, as the job entailed essentially translating the software into French. By the end of the summer, I was programming tax calculations, and within six months I was basically in charge of the French product. A few years later, we were acquired while I was still in University, and I took over as lead developer on the product.
After I graduated, they moved me into an innovation group with an elite group of business people and programmers, and we were essentially tasked with evaluating business ideas, incubating them and then taking the winners to market, just as you would with a startup. Over two years, we evaluated dozens of ideas and launched two products to market, so it was an amazing education in terms of business building.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Like most startups, Scope AR — the pioneer of enterprise-class augmented reality (AR) solutions — has faced a few near-death experiences over the years. One in particular stands out. Back in early 2015, the founders had all quit their day jobs to become more-or-less full time with Scope AR and I moved to San Francisco to begin fundraising. Having no network there and never having fundraised before, this proved more challenging than I had ever thought. I managed to get some introductions to some angel investors, and after a few months, attracted some interest.
But a low point came one particular week. I had managed to scrape together about $600K in financing, led by one angel in particular. The angel put us through the grinder in terms of due diligence — now that I know what I’m doing, this would be similar due diligence required during a Series B, but unheard of for a small angel round. It was the week we were supposed to close, and the lead angel called and said, “I’m out. I don’t really like the patent landscape, there are just too many patents in the space.” I was furious — wouldn’t this be one of the first things you’d look into in your due diligence? The rest of the week, I had to go to the rest of the participating investors and tell them the lead had backed out, and one-by-one they all dropped out as well. I had completely lost what would have been our seed round.
That Friday, after the final investor rejected me, I said, “this week just needs to end.” But as luck would have it, this trying week was the pivot point for the company. I was at a bar that Friday evening and had a suitcase with me that was my portable demo, and a guy sat down beside me and we started chatting. He eventually asked, “So what’s in the suitcase?”
Me: “Oh, it’s just my demo.”
Him: “Oh, what do you do?”
Me: “Augmented reality.”
Him: “No, way, me too! We just got acquired by Google.”
Him: “We went through this program called Y-Combinator, you should apply.”
So, I applied the next week, and we got in. By the time YC’s check arrived, we had $10K in the bank (our payroll at the time was about $40K/month!), and after YC we went on to raise our seed round of about $2M.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I guess I felt that our idea had legs. I’ve wanted to build a new startup ever since that first tax startup acquisition, and this was by far my best shot at it. When we showed off the first prototype of our vision, the customer response was so tremendously positive that it would have been a crime to not pursue it. And when things get hard, I think about our vision for the future, all the things we’ve accomplished and all that we’ve sacrificed, and how our early customers believed in us, and there isn’t much of a choice but to keep going.
I’ve always tried to make the world a better place, and when I think of all the positive things augmented reality can do for workers, that’s hugely motivational. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s just really cool technology. But really, I think the idea of using augmented reality as a new user interface that can bring together the vast memory capacity of the internet, with real-time IoT data and AI to deliver contextually relevant information, is incredibly powerful and has the potential to be fundamentally transformative for the better. And unlike AI, that promises to replace people, AR keeps people in the equation and makes their jobs better, which is incredibly motivational for me.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
The company is doing well. We’re growing revenue, signing up customers and just raised a successful Series A round in late March. The market took longer to mature than we had expected, but there are very encouraging signs that it’s about to take off in a big way.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Initially, I believed that to be successful you needed to work seven days a week. I did that for about three years, but that’s absolutely not sustainable. At some point, you ask, “Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish?” At first, I was willing to sacrifice everything for the company — including time with my wife and family — but then you start to realize that there has to be other things in life. I remember a particular weekend where we had a big problem, and my sister was visiting and we had planned to go wine tasting in Napa Valley. I ended up pulling an all-nighter on Friday night, and my wife graciously took my sister to Napa without me while I continued to work.
That was a bit of an eye-opener for me that there must be a balance. You can definitely go hard for a while, but at some point, you’ll burn out and it’ll all be for nothing. Building a company is definitely a marathon, so you need to take care of yourself sustainably, which means maintaining a healthy personal life to complement a work-intensive work life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I think the support of one of our earliest investors was pretty pivotal in our development. Through his introductions, I was able to grow my network of advisors, and through his support with tough decisions, we got to where we are today.
I also would not be anywhere close to where I am without the support of my wife. There have been many moments where I probably would have gone off the deep end without her constant selfless support.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I like to help other entrepreneurs. Given a lot of the pain I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, so if there’s a way I can ease some of that pain and smooth the way, I’m happy to help mentor others in their journey. In particular, being a Canadian in San Francisco, I try to help fellow Canadian entrepreneurs with their businesses and pitches and make introductions to angels and VCs when I can.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
Do hard things. When I was young, my parents would always say I found out the hardest way to do something, but then mastered it. I guess that conditioned me to embrace failure. Doing hard things always challenges you to grow, and without growth, you can never achieve greatness.
Embrace failure. If you embrace failure, you’ll try more things, instead of being afraid of failure and never truly “succeeding”.
Take risks. No one ever got ahead without taking risks. Most people are happy to have a 9–5 job so they can have a nice comfortable life. This does not lead to developing grit.
Be vulnerable. This is one I’ve been working on quite a bit, and it’s certainly not natural for me. But I’ve learned it is incredibly important for one’s self to be able to admit failure (see embracing failure) and one’s leadership abilities and abilities to develop relationships. It’s the basis of authenticity and somewhat on trust.
Be resilient. I heard recently someone say that college basketball scouts look for two traits — a basic level of skill, and how well a candidate picks themselves up after a failure. If they get down on themselves and lose confidence, they’ll never achieve greatness, but if they understand that falling is simply another step towards success, they’re much more likely to succeed in the league.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m actually pretty passionate about the environment. We’ve only got one world to live on, and we need to take better care of it for our children’s sake. I’m certainly not a crazy hippy or anything, I don’t drive a Tesla (although I definitely would if they had a convertible), but I am conscious about simple things like material waste, recycling, composting, and just being efficient with everything. I despise services that ship you a ton of waste, and I’m a huge fan of companies like Zume, who are trying to fix the food supply chain by eliminating travel costs and packaging waste.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me on Twitter at @smontgomerie. They can stay in tune with what Scope AR is doing by following us on Twitter, Facebook orLinkedIn.