Josh Wolfe, Peter Hebert & Samuel Arbesman

Co-founders and Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 21, 2017

Discussion

Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
Hi, we're Josh, Peter, and Sam. Josh and Peter are co-founders of Lux Capital and Sam is Lux's Scientist in Residence. Lux Capital is a venture capital firm devoted to bridging the gap between science fiction and science fact, investing in people inventing the future. For more than a decade, we have been committed to supporting the founders of counter-conventional, high-risk, cutting-edge ventures that thrive at the outermost edges of what is possible. And now a bit more detail about each of us: I'm Josh Wolfe co-founder of Lux Capital (@wolfejosh) – I love contrarian thinkers and people possessed by doing things others aren't. I see genius in founders who others might think are just eccentric or strange. I like lifelong learners connecting different disciplines together and take to competitive people with chips on their shoulders because of some unique event in their lives. I see the gap between science fiction once imagined and science fact now realized ever shrinking. I'm both an optimist about the endless frontier of technological possibility and a realist who believes failure comes from a failure to imagine failure. Ask me anything! Hi, I’m Peter Hebert, co-founder of Lux Capital (@peterjhebert) – I’ve been starting and building things most of my life and today have privilege of working with great entrepreneurs and inventors to bring incredible new futuristic ideas to life. We’re active investors in Robotics, AI/Deep Learning, Drones & Autonomous Systems, 3D Printing, Space/Satellites, Digital Health etc. My favorite topic these days: automation. Ask me anything! I'm Sam Arbesman, Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital (@arbesman). I come from the world of complexity science (PhD in computational biology), and am also the author of "Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension" and "The Half-Life of Facts." I'm obsessed with radical interdisciplinarity (for both ideas and startups), grappling with technological complexity, and how to foster generalists in our age of specialization. I'm currently thinking a lot about computational creativity, generative design, the digital humanities, and computational gastronomy. Excited to chat!
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
Hi Peter, Josh, and Samuel! Familiar with your work because of @bznotes. Aside from revealing Josh's one crazy idea, what has you most excited in digital health that most people don't think about yet?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@kunalslab @bznotes One of the most recent exciting and non-obvious ones has been in mapping the gut-brain axis. Lots of people are busily pursuing microbiome but this is different. It is an information pathway never yet mapped between gut neurons/receptors and brain neurons. We funded a few Nobel prize winning scientists in a venture started by @agoulburn called "Kallyope". We are also really interested in chronobiology, the timing mechanisms at different scales: both inside of cells, between organs and between organisms.
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
Why is bridging the gap between science and science fiction your niche?
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@ayrton One of the great things about science fiction is that it doesn't just examine gadgets and cool technologies but rather holistic scenarios for what the future can hold, really thinking about how the trajectory of science and technology can impact every aspect of society. Surveying the broad range of science fiction and trying to bring the most exciting possibilities into reality is something truly special.
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@ayrton I like to say either our scientists are becoming way more creative (because of exponential technological progress) or our sci-fi authors are becoming less creative. Either way the gap is shrinking. And any new venture starts out as a FICTION. And then people (and capital) make it NON-FICTION....
Rodolfo Rosini@rodolfor · Co-founder, Weave.ai
Big fan here of your investment thesis and portfolio. How many years did you work before your started to see the light at the end of the tunnel (aka returning your fund)? From the outside it looks like you guys are willing to go a long way to be misunderstood and were long on science when most of your peers were big on social and apps. What was the catalyst of your success, or were you like superlucky and a true overnight success?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@rodolfor We're just your typical a decade plus overnight success! :) I'd say it took at least 5 years before really finding our rhythm. As long as you are dedicated to being a lifelong learner and able to adjust your processes, you're in a good position. We were working in fairly obscure (as defined by VCs, not by bright scientists) areas, many of which have become some of the most highly coveted areas of global technology of late. But i would say best things we've done that have been within our control (over lets say last 5 years) has been adding amazing high-integrity and high-intellect team members, expanding our west coast presence and allowing our founders to be the best representatives as to who we are as a firm
Chad Whitaker@chadwhitaker · Product Designer at Product Hunt 👋
Sam, what it’s like being a Scientist in Residence? What does the average day look like for you?
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@chadwhitaker It's great! I get to act as connective tissue for the ideas and people we find most exciting, by bringing ideas at the frontier of science and technology to Lux as well as to Lux's portfolio. In practice, this involves a lot of reading, engaging with the public (writing, speaking, or even chatting live on PH!), as well as lots and lots of conversations with some of the most interesting scientists, technologists, writers, and artists on the planet, and seeing how they can be brought to bear on what we are working on and thinking about at Lux.
Edis Murtic@nextenergylabs · StudentCoin
@wolfejosh What is your goal to achieve in the next 50 years and what legacy do you wish to leave behind? What is driving you? Contact me so that we can meet and talk. Read my mission statement at www.aigovernment.org I am solving the major problems in the world, unlimited energy and water but also the future governance with help from A.I
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@nextenergylabs my first goal in 50 years is to still be alive! on legacy: it's really about imagining a future where I can be proud to see my kids being proud of the past i helped create. your effort seems impressive and ambitious. Yuval Harari has some provocative ideas about this too...
Edis Murtic@nextenergylabs · StudentCoin
@wolfejosh Nice one. Josh, Continue with what you are doing, Lux Capital is a vc firm to look for in the future. You should take contact with Elon Musk and discuss the future. You two could do amazing things, do you need help with an intro?
Antoine Buteau@anbuteau · TMT Management Consultant @ The PNR
Hey guys, thanks to PH for organizing and for you to participate :) I'm a big fan of what you did at Kurion (https://medium.com/@lux_capital/...), what do you think are the next big opportunities in material engineering ?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@anbuteau @lux_capital Metamaterials are one area that's ripe for lots of commercial activity and new ventures. We have already funded 3 ventures including Kymeta (enabling high-speed satellite communication on flat non-moving antennas) and Evolv (rapid security detection at video-frame rates). We are also interested in new ventures using novel optical materials for holography in both display and storage. And even new material arrays for crazier things like audio-zoom...
Antoine Buteau@anbuteau · TMT Management Consultant @ The PNR
@lux_capital Thanks @wolfejosh, appreciate it :)
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Hey! Would love to hear from each of you. What's the biggest risk you've taken in your career than scared you the most? What came from it?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@mscccc Hey Mike, biggest risk i've ever taken was leaving "safe" job at Lehman Brothers to start Lux. Though it actually didnt feel like big risk at time nor scare me. Perhaps I was able to see into the future! I'd say the decision turned out OK.
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@mscccc some people told @peterjhebert and i we were taking crazy risk starting Lux. it is NOT a risk if you have nothing to lose. I grew up raised by a single mom in Coney Island, Brooklyn. We didn't come from much so what some thought was a risk in starting Lux was not a risk other than chance of social embarrassment from failure. And other things in life steel you from that. Most of the biggest risks were the risks UNTAKEN. That's also the biggest source of regret i think most people have...
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@mscccc Probably my biggest risk was abandoning a path in traditional academia. That being said, it became pretty clear to me relatively quickly that I was having far more fun outside it, first in the foundation world (at the Kauffman Foundation), and now in the VC world.
Antoine Buteau@anbuteau · TMT Management Consultant @ The PNR
One less known thing I think about Lux Capital, is that you founded Lux Research back in 2004 (http://www.luxcapital.com/compan...).. How much Lux Research feed into your investment thesis/strategy? Same question when you decide to invest in a business vs starting/incubate businesses on your own ?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@anbuteau Lux Research was originally an extension of the deep research and work we were doing internally at Lux Capital to assess technologies and market opportunities. Then we recognized that there was a burning market need (primarily from heads of R&D at Global 1000 companies who were looking for better ways to position their companies & allocate capital for the future) and launched "Lux Research". Today it's an independent company and one that has 100+ fantastic deeply technical analysts and team members across the globe. We value the analysts' insights and views on technology roadmaps and they're super plugged into what is happening across world of innovation. As to investing in business vs starting ones from scratch -- we will always first seek out great founding team, hoping that we can partner/fund/support them as they relentless build a new company. But on the occasion when we cant find any entrepreneurs pursuing an idea/technology (whether because it's is too far out in left field or because we have conviction and others dont), we have the capabilities and experience to launch new companies.
Adam Revetta@arrev · Founder, CollaborDate & ScareHunt
What's the greatest early indicator to success that you've seen consistently across startups and/or entrepreneurs (if any)?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@arrev Almost always: PEOPLE. Amazing people recruit amazing people and you can see the momentum in hiring and quality of hiring VERY early.
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@arrev agree with @wolfejosh here. Ability to persuade others is strong signal of whether company will 1) be financed by strong investors, 2) recruit excellent technical/business talent, 3) attract top-flight customers and 4) raise future funding with much lower cost of capital. Though important to note that there is not always high correlation with strong operational skillset, but those individuals can be subsequently hired (as long as founder is self-aware and gap is recognized/appreciated)
Antoine Buteau@anbuteau · TMT Management Consultant @ The PNR
Question for @arbesman, @lux_capital ! One thing I've been interested in the past few years is how can I manage my information channel. Namely, how can I acquire information and filter the noise to build knowledge. How do you build the fantastic Lux Recommends (https://medium.com/@lux_capital/...) and how do you manage your information channels ?
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@anbuteau @lux_capital So glad you love Lux Recommends! Lux Recommends is a group effort of the entire Lux team, with everyone taking the time to send me the coolest stuff that they consume each week. While I can't speak for the entire team's management of information channels, here's my own approach: I still find that some of the best filtering mechanisms for information and knowledge are other people, whether in the form of curated newsletters, blogs that I subscribe to, or simply making sure that really smart people are aware that you are interested in seeing weird and delightful information and hoping that they send it along!
Mɐx Bulger@maxbulger · maxbulger.net
Hey Josh, Peter and Sam! Thanks for the time. I'm curious to hear about the challenges of managing funds with a focused vision and thesis, but relatively broad vertical interests. You invest across more industries and scientific domains than the majority of "tech investors." What are the hardest parts of having a wider scope? Was it tough to find your first group of LP's? How do you identify talent (for the portfolio or the firm) besides vertical market expertise? Thanks!
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@maxbulger at the foundation of Lux is deep understanding the science/technology that drives the applications across a wider range of verticals. As resident generalist within firm, i'm fortunate to have partners who carry deep technical backgrounds (almost all PhD/masters across EE, biology, ChemE, materials science, CS, etc). We of course need to understand industries that our companies sell into, but if you look at backgrounds of investment professionals, very few of us "come from industry". For deeptech, we've found that this "outsider" works particularly well bc we're huge believers that biggest innovations/inventions come at the intersections of different technologies and industries. People that solely view from lens of existing industry often fail to see a new technology from proximate space that can wreak disruptive havoc (and unlock large investment gains)
Derek Morris@derek_j_morris · 3D Organ Printing $UTHR, BTC/Bio/AI HVF
I'm fascinated by technologies that have failed to produce businesses in the past but whose time has come. What technologies which have failed do you see ripe for resurging?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@derek_j_morris I agree. It's a fascinating phenomena and a seemingly timeless one. I think technologies that "failed" in the past become combinatorial fodder for the next wave. It's also a combination with the idea of the "adjacent possible" pioneered by Stuart Kauffman of @sfiscience where I am a Trustee. AI recently took off in part because of the large datasets and the powerful new GPUs originally intended for rendering polygons and coupled to gaming consoles but in part because of NVidia CUDA became repurposed for AI/ML. Sometimes an idea is just inevitable and happens in multiple places at the same time...and sometimes it's waiting for a key missing piece that comes from another and unexpected field
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@derek_j_morris Adding to @wolfejosh, one technology that is seeing a resurgence in interest (though related to AI), is evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms. The idea of evolving solutions to problems in silico has been something that has long excited researchers, was very popular for awhile, and then fell a bit out of favor. But this area is back and is doing some incredible things! I am super-excited about its possibilities.
Derek Morris@derek_j_morris · 3D Organ Printing $UTHR, BTC/Bio/AI HVF
@wolfejosh @sfiscience Interesting, I haven't heard of the "adjacent possible" before. Do you have a favorite book/article to learn more?
Derek Morris@derek_j_morris · 3D Organ Printing $UTHR, BTC/Bio/AI HVF
@arbesman Agreed. Tuning the topology of deep learning networks should be interesting once we have enough computational power to train multiple networks and permutate with a genetic algorithm. https://www.quora.com/Why-are-th...
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Peter, Josh and Sam. Thanks for joining us today. What is the most science fiction product you've invested in to date? Is there anything not yet on your books that you're hoping someone will create so that you can invest in it?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@ems_hodge This is totally matter of perspective. Some things that seem almost passe to us seem crazy to others. Lots of things we funded a few years ago that are now mainstream came out of sci-fi. A few right off the cuff: Star Trek: replicator is now 3D printing (@Shapeways) Disclosure: the full body + VR scan in 3D is now (@Matterport) Star Wars: Luke's robotic surgery (now being done by Auris), pod racing lik Drone Racing League @DroneRaceLeague and Princess Leia holograms now being made by Looking Glass @LKGGlass
Seth Williams@sethbwilliams · Designer, Product Hunt
What does success look like for each of you?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@sethbwilliams at least for me, its pride of work and belief (hopefully not out of delusion) that something we built or funded has had noticeable & positive impact that is felt by large number of people (whether i know them or not). Something that left lasting impression on me was video i watched in my college Introduction to Entrepreneurship class when Fred Smith and other FedEx co-founders shared story of building FedEx. I can vividly remember their humble satisfaction with creating something that had become a global phenomenon
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@sethbwilliams for me it's imagining post facto at an old age feeling proud that my kids (3 of em so far;) in turn feel proud they can point to lots of things we created, helped fund, helped foster, that never existed before and that gave people a tool, a technology, capability, an option to do something, to express a talent or their genius in a way they could not before.... Basically: Imaging a future where my kids look back with pride that we helped make history.
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@sethbwilliams Success for me involves knowing I've acted—even in a small way—as a midwife for a positive future for the world, whether through creating and spreading ideas or helping to foster amazing people, products, technologies that do incredible things for our society.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What are your top tips for founders looking to get their first investment?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@jakecrump at Lux, the best approach is show resourcefulness by finding a route to a partner (Lux has 8 investing partners), ideally through someone we know and trust already. And ideally a partner you follow or have a sense of what kind of investments they are interested in and most importantly if you think they'd be a good partner with you. I don't think we've read an actual business plan in 10+ years. Short concise decks are better than plans. Conversations are better than decks. Authenticity is better than showmanship. And most importantly: ASK. We are amazed at how few people "ask" because they are afraid to here "no", which is the answer you already have if you never asked at all. It also tells us a founder is not likely to be successful at recruiting or selling later on...if they don't make an ask. You have everything to gain!
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What are your morning routines?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@jakecrump you mean the ones i can unashamedly share with a public audience?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@jakecrump 1) turn off alarm, 2) check overflowing email inbox, 3) check twitter, 4) shower, 5) prepare to enter ~1.5 hour children/dog morning tornado
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@jakecrump we've got 3 kids (7,4,1). i make 2 cups of coffee with my kids and read WSJ,FT,NYT and USAT (because i want to know what millions of Americans waking up in Marriotts are being influenced by what headlines)--and that is just table ante (in the Red Queen theory of running twice as fast just to stay in place). Necessary but not sufficient. I also read obscure journals and sources mostly because i think others are NOT reading those and that is a source of edge for me. I go thru the WSJ pictures of the day with my kids and also listen to the 5min NPR news headlines of the day and quiz them. Then it's off to school, i drop my two older daughters every AM, we live in Tribeca and walk to both of their schools and play games or do math or learn words or do brain teasers along the way. I might hit the gym after drop off depending on the day and am at Lux office by 930 or 10a for first meetings with founders or other Lux partners
Samuel Arbesman@arbesman · Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital
@jakecrump Morning routine is a combination of information consumption (email + some news and Twitter and whatever weird articles I have open in my phone's browser), a bit of exercise, and helping get our kids ready and dropped off at school.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What are the most important qualities you look for in a founder before investing?
Peter Hebert@peterjhebert · Managing Partner, Lux Capital
@jacqvon it's an interesting question, because people have different psychological screens, often based on their own personal journeys (even if there is generally unanimous agreement after we hear from superstar founder). For me, its personal drive, ambition, curiosity/creativity and tenacity/persistence. I love hearing origin story because it gives me an understanding of where they're coming from, how they arrived at idea/company, and what is driving them to propel company forward. I overweight (based on my own individual experience) clever persistence, as there are so many things that can kill a startup (people, funding, technology, product, competition market, etc) that you need founders with incredible drive to get kicked in teeth and then dust themselves off and find another better approach
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@jacqvon for me it is an almost psychotic competitive posture. that HAS to be coupled with good ethics otherwise...well we have seen headlines of the worst that brings out. But founders who let me know i can sleep soundly knowing they can't;)
Zachary Rapp@zachary_rapp
Hey guys, thanks for taking the time. Huge fan of your investment thesis and portfolio. Two questions here: 1. What cutting edge biotechnologies will make the biggest impact worldwide in the next 5 years? 2. How do you think the upcoming changes in EPA/FDA regulation will affect the life science sector, and the VC industry?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@zachary_rapp 1 we have probabilistic inklings of themes and areas (gut-brain axis, chronobiology, aging) but it is really more about finding the people (specifically cutting-edge ambitious research scientists) who are lighting the way. 2 I do think China is a biotech phenomena to watch. Some of the most important work both is happening there because of the scale, huge number of highly educated PhDs, abundant government resources invested in multi-year plans and controversially, slightly lower barriers in animal research and genetics (both primates + CRISPR specifically) so I think we will see really big breakthroughs occur. 3 there are also new tools like the Titan Krios that have really enabled breakthroughs in atomic level resolution in structural/molecular biology. combine this with GPUs + AI/ML data processing and I know with high confidence any prediction we make about the next few years will seem totally foolish given the pace of progress today! 4 on your EPA/FDA question. It worries me a lot to see budget cuts that devalue the importance of agencies. There are no doubt improvements and efficiencies that can be made but its dangerous to forget that these agencies came into existence in response to critical and complex problems and externalities that markets left to their own devices may overlook.
Zachary Rapp@zachary_rapp
@wolfejosh thanks for the detailed insight. I concur on all points. I am a big fan of Kallyope and very interested to see what you guys learn from the gut-brain axis investigation. I'd greatly appreciate the opportunity to join a shop like Lux one day to help drive these high impact innovations.
Elygantthings@ebnadvertising · Founder/CEO of Elygantthings
What are you guy's doing to give back to society that directly and positively affects the public?
Josh Wolfe@wolfejosh
@ebnadvertising there are fund specific things and partner specific things. at Lux level, it sounds a bit sanctimonious and righteous but we look at things through the lens of "matter that matters". Not everything we fund fits this mandate, but a LOT does. Starting up and funding a company that cleaned up the nuclear disaster at Fukushima was a big deal. Lux has funded biotech ventures and new targets and new drugs that attack cancer, infectious disease, lower the cost or increase the reach of technology to the masses. We have funded technology for blind and visually impaired people @airaio, technologies that enable information to reveal migration of refugees and animals and environmental chance (at @planet and @orbitalinsight) broadband internet access for the world and technology to help deal with addictions. Individually partners have passions and philanthropies they believe deeply in and they are wide-ranging and thankfully not at odds with each other. I came from Coney Island Brooklyn and cofounded and Chair a charter school called Coney Island Prep @ciprep we started with 90 5th graders 8 years ago in the projects of coney island and are now K-12 with over 1,000 scholars and...our first graduates heading to college this year! I have always believed kids need two things: the right heroes + a deep desire to learn and I am really proud of the team and what they've accomplished there!