From NASA to launching Two startups, Coran talks to Raymond about his journey from the space program to being apart of not one but two rapidly growing startups. Having also been a part of an acquisition by one of the leading investment banks in the USA.
- About Raymond
- Working for NASA
- Acquisition by Goldman Sachs
- Writing down and timing your ideas
- Introduction to Hyper Science and what they do
- Introduction to Ibble
- Business milestone (South by Southwest)
Mentioned in this episode:
We're recording. Today we have Raymond Kaminsky, a friend of mine who I met in Austin, Texas who has a very interesting story about multiple companies both building, being acquired and then raising capital for a number of very interesting companies. This is going to be an exciting interview. Raymond, thanks for agreeing to come on the show.
Thanks Coran and I really appreciate you allowing me to tell a cool story.
Absolutely. Well, we've got a lot to cover here. I'd like to start with a question I ask which is if you meet someone at a party or at a dinner, like where we met, what do you actually say you do?
You know I'm one of those weird guys. So when I meet people, especially at a dinner party, I try to not talk too much about work. I feel like you get that typical question, what do you do? I usually like the open of like what do you like to do? Some people always drag into that question. And I think the best answer to that is I just I like building fun things.
That's an understatement, my friend. Okay. Well let's jump in a little bit. Your background is super interesting including NASA and some other things but would you like to just give the two minute overview of who you are and how you got to the first company that we'll be talking about in a second here honest dollar?
Oh, for sure. Yeah I had a pretty crazy background. I got a really lucky to be raised in Chicago from great parents. My Dad was a teacher and my mom was a lunch lady and I decided to go off and be an engineer. I think you're kind of born with that mindset, my mindset was just always going and tearing stuff down. I went that route and went into engineering in college. I absolutely loved engineering and I hated school. I started doing some race car stuff along the way and having fun with that. Along the way when I was about to graduate. Came back to school, University of Illinois, having a great time they're learning a lot of new skills and I met an amazing person that was at NASA and I was blown away by the idea that she was at NASA and I was always looking up at the stars and I was always really focused in space. I was just blown away and said wow, how do you ever get to something like that? She responded with the simplest answer ever. You apply.
That's great. I love that story. That's awesome. She kind of led me down an interesting route to apply for the space shuttle program and it's a long process to go through and get your clearance and a validation from the government. But eventually I heard back and I had graduated. I actually had already taken another job designing, I was designing a building for a super computer laboratory for our grand national laboratories their power grid layout and I got a call back. They say I was getting a job offer to go work on the space shuttle program and off I went down the Houston's.
Awesome. That's awesome. Then I know this is a little bit of a longer story, but could you give us the short version of how you went from working at NASA in Houston and then ended up in Austin working on honest dollar?
Yeah, for sure. That was a pretty cool route. I spent eight years over at NASA. I started on the shuttle program and then I moved over to the International Space Station program. I just kept on working up and up and up and I met some great people along the way. I think behind every, a great person is people that pushed them and I met some amazing people that really pushed me to that next level. I had moved up as a senior engineer, as a lead engineer for quite a few projects over on the space station program. All of a sudden I got this opportunity to start going into an executive program and all this other stuff. I just, I love space and I loved everything that was happening there. But something that was about in the back of my mind. It had been really festering with me. My Dad had passed away and just recently, up until that point, a few years prior and he had passed away in his final week before retirement. The idea of helping people get to retirement with something was really important to me and very serendipitous. That occasion I was just not feeling fulfilled in some regards in Austin or in a sorry in Houston. All of a sudden a colleague of mine had just started a startup in town and they hadn't secured their funding yet. A super high risk. The product wasn't out. They had just gotten their office space. Like an idiot I decided, yeah, that's for me. I'm going to leave NASA and go and join a fledgling startup. It was for a few reasons. It was to go and honour my dad. It was to prove to some people I could go and be more than what I was doing in the past. But also really important is I want to get to a city that I just really connected to.
Yeah. Awesome. That's a pretty awesome story. Could you tell us a little bit about honest dollar and then I'd love to talk a little bit about that but that also the acquisition by Goldman Sachs. Maybe we could talk just high level on that deal and then get into the next phase.
Yeah. That one was pretty crazy rocket ship. We came in and I remember we were one of the first, I think the first or one of the first companies over at We work, Austin. They were still building this space and some of our employees were working on flipped over a buckets until they put up the wall. When it came down to Austin, they had a very good pitch deck and they had a good idea of where they were going, really rough. The overall product wasn't defined yet and I came down and they offered me a to be the head of product, the director of product development and integration. The team was really small at that point. I think I was employee eight and it was pretty much all hauled management at that point.
Executives for sales and for everything else. But there was really, there was one front end, one person that was building our app, one backend person and me and product and then everybody else. We had our marketing person which was awesome but everybody else was just an executive going off and selling of the company. We got that a product out at south by southwest in 2015 and we had won an award there and we were featured in Wall Street Journal and all this crazy stuff but we didn't even have a product out. It's really amazing that the vision and the pitch deck was getting all this traction. We finally got the product out and we got a rough MVP out and the idea and where we were going was resonating with the general public.
At that point we had already raised our seed round. Our CEO was going out and trying to raise a series a capital and he was having a pretty rough time. In one of his conversations with somebody from Goldman Sachs that was put in front of them to go and sell him, he did a great job as a salesperson to flip it around and sell them a fledgling startup that was coming out. This is like six months after the company had even started. Now we have an LOI a letter of intent from Goldman Sachs to acquire us. That started the whole due diligence process and everything else that we just have to kind of clamp down not release any new features and just get through acquisition. Wow. Was there any talk internally of running a process and seeing if there were other potential acquirers or was this a pretty good fit straight off the bat?
I mean it was like Goldman Sachs is one of the best firms in the world. Even though I'm no longer with them I have a high level of respect for them and what they're capable of doing. They go and have a validation from somebody like Goldman is just incredible. We knew we couldn't get better than that. There was no, some people are always like, well the grass greener on the other side? Really at that point, if they're willing to go and bring you in. They made a lot of great promises that felt really good at the time. It got us to sign that paperwork and get acquired in and build the bigger picture that we were trying to do.
Wow. Part of that was you became an employee at Goldman Sachs basically. You went six months in, taking a super risk to going to a very as you said a very well established company and a leader in their space. For sure. Yeah, I think I upset a few financial people along the way because here's a space guy that I had no background in finance and then all of a sudden I'm a vice president at Goldman Sachs and heading up product development which was a pretty wild, super fun.
Yeah, that's awesome. You mentioned that it was the research team there that you were talking to some guys over there and just saw opportunities. But at this point, I'd love to talk a little bit about your habit of writing down ideas. A lot of people write down ideas but not in a very structured way. I found it very interesting that you said you write down any business idea you have and then your thought process is to figure out when the right time to launch these ideas are so good to walk us through that process a little bit.
Yeah, that would be interesting. Yeah. And I'd love to tell you an interesting personal story that kind of connects those together. Years ago I had a friend of mine told me that everything in business comes from the right timing, the perfect timing. Ideas are a dime a dozen but it comes down to execution. It comes down to timing. What I love to do is anytime I'm coming up with an idea, I'll write it down and pretty big detail into a journal and I leave plenty of pad behind the journal because as that idea migrates and as the year goes on, as I talk to people and I try to pitch it often just to my friends and to new people I run across if I think they're in that industry and I'll get new ideas or I'll get a new perspective.
I'll keep on modifying that idea of modifying that idea. At some point, every quarter I forced myself to go back through that book and I look at timing and opportunity. I look at where the industry's going it for whatever that product is or whatever that company idea would be. I try to plot out where I think that, where that idea fits and where the industry is going. You never want to release a product when everybody's already talking about it because by the time you get a built in together and get it in front of VCs you're too late. So last year for example, there was a lot of stuff talking about blockchain and cryptocurrency and everything else. At that moment, if you were going to go and create a company at that, you more than likely failed and lost a lot of money because by the time you got the company together everything had fallen apart.
So you want it to really put together the idea a year or two years prior and see the trajectory of were the industry's going. And if you timed it right and you were one of those first people out there you would make a lot of money. To get into a more personal story, one of my business partners for another company, he came up with this amazing idea. It was actually the first ride share company called Zebego. I highly respect this guy and I think he's one of the smartest, smartest men I've ever met. He was one of the first hires at blue origin. Jeff Basil's this company and Jeff really respects them. Just brilliant, brilliant guy and came up with this ride share company before Uber and I had all the product features that Uber had.
The crazy thing was that Uber just when they first released they were black car company that you have to call somebody and they would text off a driver and say, hey, go pick up Ann and Ann's in this parking lot or in front of this bar. Well, he had all these product features, like a payment gateway and gps. He had all this cool stuff like built into the APP. On Day one he went around to all these vcs and had a great conversation and nobody believed in the idea. Eventually he looked around and believe the VCs and shut the company down. When Uber went to raise their first round, they had a hard time raising because again nobody believed in it and they use that his company a Zebego. It's validation that the industry wasn't right for it.
Well they took a pretty small first round and, and you, we saw what happened with Uber. It ended up being a rocket ship. That's a great example of an amazing idea but bad timing and so very unlucky a situation that happened. But he was onto something and so I try not to just be on the something but make sure that the timing's right and release that at the right time. I love that approach of looking at the bigger market and looking at big of market forces. I think that's amazing at that. Not Enough people really take the time to do that.
How would you recommend someone to keep up with an industry? What's the main sources you would go to? Obviously follow the thread but where would you start if you will be looking at a completely new industry, let's say.
Yeah. I mean, if it's completely new you're going to have to go and start like just doing raw research and see if there's nobody out there. If there's no competitors, I mean if there's competitors you can just go to Google and set alerts to everything. For keywords, for company alerts, for everything else and you'll get it, you'll get an email every time something comes out or somebody writing about it. You don't have to be just tied to trying to read the Wall Street Journal every day being tapped into news is super important and being tapped into like who's your customer? I think that really comes down to I have an aerospace company and one of our customers is government. Seeing where government spending is heading if you're a retail product going and seeing how trends of spend are going, where they're going, is everything leading in that direction?
Sometimes you just have to make educated guesses. If you think it's heading there, if it's a brand new industry but you know if you have some feelers out there and your spidery sensor starts going off, maybe it's the right time to get that business ready to go. I love it. You made the decision to leave Goldman Sachs and you got involved with a company called HyperSciences. How does the market timing work with HyperSciences? Maybe if you could just explain what HyperSciences is.
Yeah, for sure. I'll take a step back and explain what they are first. HyperSciences is what Mark did was after leaving Blue Origin as the lead engineer. He was employee aid from Blue Origin, Jeff's company, a bases company. He went and did Zebego. Then after that he had his own engineering company. His family's in oil and gas. He went out there and started looking at a better way to fly for rockets. How could he make a cheaper, simpler, safer? When he went and told the world that he was going to be launching stuff up the FAA quickly gets involved and says, no you're not. What he did is instead was he had to test out the theories behind what he was building it was a commercialized technology from the University of Washington. That's the core idea is how do you accelerate something really, really quickly mach five and above. You're talking about faster than any fighter jet or faster than the SR 71. You're getting too extreme speeds. How do you go to mach five to mach eight?
The University of Washington developed this technology called a Ram accelerator. It's like a rammer or scramjet that's a built in a tube. It's not a gun it's an engine and it moves objects really, really quickly. It's got applications for moving anything. He looked at it and said, okay I'm going to go and use this object for aerospace application. When they said no, he's like well I need the test to somewhere. His family had silver mines in northern Idaho. What he did was he went over there and flipped the system sideways and fired the system into the mine and all he was trying to get is aerodynamic data and performance data and everything else. But what he realized is when it hit the wall it broke about half a ton of material because you're basically shooting a meteor at rock.
What was crazy about it is the breaking was mostly happening from the shockwave that was sitting in front of it. He called up Shell from their game changers program and they jumped in right away. They funded it within, they flew out, they looked at it and they funded it through their high risk high reward program. That started off. It started off with aerospace and moved to tunneling. Then a shell wants the commercialized and find a way to dig for a deep geothermal energy for clean energy. They had to start modifying it for drilling application. It's a one common engine that's used for drilling tunneling and aerospace. High level how it works in aerospace as you have these big rockets, 300 plus feet tall and most of the rocket is fuel and most of the rocket is the first stage engine of the rocket.
That goes up and before it used to just fall into the ocean and it was destroyed Elon did a really good job of recovering it. If you ever see these amazing videos of the Falcon go and fly back like a guided missile back to back to earth and land on a land at a site and they're able to recover that. But why? If you think about like a two liter bottle of cola or, or a bottle, a bottle of water, the cap is the portion, like the cap of those things is the capsule. That's the part that goes to space. That's the part that goes to upper atmosphere. That the bottle itself is the fuel and the engine and everything else and we're having to lift all that fuel with it.
What if you just took that cap and you kind of threw it lofted it to 50 to 60 kilometers to that separation point when normally that first stage rocket disappears. If you can do that you remove a lot of fuel demand, you reduce a lot of complexity and you reduce the risk, increasing the safety because those things blow up often and most people don't realize it but one in 21 rockets blow up, space x blew up a Facebook's satellite last year. That was a few billion dollar satellite. It's really a bad day when that happens. It was a simpler way to go and do things. Mark did a really great job of proving out the technology and getting it to a certain point and I joined him. We had met each other at a space conference.
I was still working at Goldmans. He came to a space conference and we met in really serendipitous way and I saw what he was doing and I realized this is a brilliant. I mean, he's got amazing ideas and he will be one of the futures thought leaders for the world. But he had holes. Everybody has holes in their businesses and their personality. I knew I could go and provide coverage for what he lacked. Some of the stuff that he lacked a in marketing and brand and helping getting contracts and just kind of firming up a few things and business plans, I knew that's where I fit in. I looked at that and I knew I wanted to do a fintech company of my own. It was the perfect timing to go and just be very stupid and tried to do two startups at once.
Yeah, exactly. This is the next piece of the story you weren't satisfied with doing something on the leading edge of hyper sonic technology. You also decided to jump back into Fintech and launch a company there called Ibble. First before we get into Ibble, which I'm very excited to see where this goes because you've showed me some early previews on this which is amazing but just before we jump into that so HyperSciences you filled some holes with the CEO and the founder there to make the business operate better. Why not just stick with that, why go with a second startup as well?
I told you already cause I was very stupid. You know most startups fail. Why not have two that fail? It all comes down the timing. I had this really great vision. When I was at Goldmans we got really lucky and I got to work on helping build a lot of their retail brands and a lot of stuff. I got access to some amazing stuff they were doing. I just, I didn't think it was the right way and they want it to go a route and I just saw a different picture their. I knew I needed just some time to go and look at industry and do my own research separately and really kind of find a fit. I knew there was something there and I knew financial services needs to be changed drastically.
But I was looking at HyperSciences and when I met Mark, I just loved him as an entrepreneur. The first part of me was man, I really want to see this guy succeed, so how can I help them? Then at the second time I started doing my own research and realized, Whoa, there's all this money that's gonna be coming in hypersonic flight space for the United States from a government perspective and I found research that said that there was no commercial companies in the United States which really dealing with that kind of stuff. He had some big defensive contractors that were trying some stuff but really nobody, I like from a private standpoint and then I looked at, okay, well deep geothermal energy, we have this nuclear power plant below everybody's feet everywhere.
If you can get down deep enough you can provide clean energy anywhere in the world and you're either using steam turbines are using solid state devices like a thermal photovoltaic which are like solar cells that are just shifted. I'm like wow this could be one in my head. It could be a capstone of my career. This could be me changing energy changing space flight. I would love my name to be attached to something like that. But additionally, I'm like the timing is perfect for this. We're seeing the Department of energy release documents. It says that we need to move towards clean geothermal energy but there's not many people doing it. There's all this money that's going to be available next year for hypersonic research. But there's nobody doing that. I knew the timing was perfect for that and I knew the timing was perfect for the Fintech.
I decided that the best thing for me to sacrifice basically all my free time and try to do two full time startups. I know a lot of people will say that like Elon's gone and said that he works 15, 16 hour days. I've heard so many people talk about it when they're out. Like, oh, I work these crazy hours I work 15 hour days and I don't think a lot of people do. I'm doing 15, 16 hour days. I know Elon does you're talking about doing two full time jobs. Like all you are doing is working, eating, sleeping and there was stuff that made me get up in the morning and keep on pushing forward but it was hell. They go and do that for a year but we got two great points for both companies. We had some amazing things happen in the last few weeks and I think it was well worth it.
Awesome. Well let's talk a little bit about Ibble then. We'll then, so how would you describe Ibble?
The high level of Ibble is that every other Fintech company expects you to go and invest on day one. I don't think that's the right way. I wouldn't expect you to go fly a plane if you didn't get into a flight simulator. I wouldn't expect you to go and start playing blackjack or anything else at a casino if you didn't know all the rules to the game. Why do we expect people to invest without any kind of practical knowledge or practical training. I want to take a step back and say how are we going to make, how are we going to go and take non traders and bring them into a world where they feel educated and they feel confidence in themselves and they have trust in us and not be that person like everybody else out there that says sign up today go invest. Now go, go, go. If it takes you a day, a week, a month or a year to finally invest with real money. We were there, we got your back. Ibble starts with the idea that we're going to passively educate you. We put our lens on six different companies per day at six different and those are focused around new product releases, earning reports, just important news that's out there. You're not lost in all the random stuff that's happening, just six that you can focus on per day and really bite your teeth into. We simplify what's happening in the company because we realize that all these articles are getting written multiple pages but it's all just written because they need to be two pages, three pages, and they don't need to be like the reality is you can get to the subject matter and Twitter speak really simply.
Tesla is releasing a model y it's $50,000 it's a midsize SUV. It does this like why do I need a two page article that's going to talk about the little intricacies about it. You can do that across anything. We first handled news, we allow you to interact with the news up, vote down, comment on it. Then what we do is we have a live stream that runs every night. We summarise in this video about those six companies in about four minutes. We allow you to interact with it. We ask your opinion of what you think is happening and then we ask you to speculate on the performance of the company. So by speculating on the performance, this allows you to learn in different ways. You're learning by reading, you're learning by hearing your learning, by seeing your learning, by touching the screen.
It's a simpler way to now start storing all that knowledge. It's very digestible bites of information. We call it Ibble bits. But where this leads to is the product release that's coming out this upcoming week is allows you to start simulating trading activity. The first release was the educate platform, the learning platform, learn about new things. Now the new platform, the one that's coming out takes it a step further and allows you to build up your own portfolio, try to trade stock all risk-free, doesn't cost you anything there's no money involved. It's a pure simulation or virtual trading tool and so it's a way to build your confidence and trust that shows your performance over time. Then when you're ready, when you think you're really ready in the future we'll be there to either push you off to another trading platform or potentially be our own trading platform that allows you to trade on our platform. We're still deciding what the right route there is.
Yeah, that's amazing. I think that's direct marketing or direct response marketing 101 is to start where the client actually is. You're right there's so many people that think that trading stock understanding the markets is just beyond the realm of human understanding and you've broken it down into really the Ibble bits at great. You just get this little hit of news and what's most important. Then you can click through and read more about the story if it's something that's interesting too. I can't wait to see where you guys end up with this. Even in a year from now, you just launched at South by in Austin this year but by next year who knows where you'll be.
Yeah. Austin or South by Southwest in Austin was just this amazing year for us kind of loop back around a HyperSciences. A year ago at South by HyperSciences was there and we were, just Mark was at the company. I was just leaving Goldman and I'm getting prepared to jump in and we're out there just trying to build interest of it. There was no other employees at the company. A year later we had one of the biggest events at South by, we had an entire park where everybody else has a little five by five booth inside the convention center. We had a giant park that we actually brought our aerospace equipment that we launched. We actually launched equipment for NASA for January this year. We were featured in tech crunch for that. We had that equipment in the park that people could touch and feel and see that it was real interact with that.
We had VR and AI. We had our tunneling a rover our autonomous tunneling Grover that uses AI to map the wall and use acoustic signatures. About a week after that we announced that we had closed one of the largest crowd equity financing rounds ever. I think it's like top 15 ever. We closed at 10 million and ended up in tech crunch again almost two weeks back to back. Then Ibble went on stage and we were a finalist for a finalist for South by Southwest in the media and content category. We ended up winning a $100,000 grant from Google. They were looking at some of the stuff that we're doing in AI and they were pretty impressed with it and we signed a cool incubation agreement out during South by. We got the product out the last day of South by because that was something was really important to me. That kind of tie it to South by, because that's always been an important date to me honest dollar was launched at South by. We announced our acquisition at South by the following year. Our CEO was really tied in with President Obama and we were here in town and announcing it with President Obama at a conference. Then last year going in announcing HyperSciences this year announcing that we're pretty much closing one of the biggest crowd equity finance rounds and then putting Ibble out there. I'm really excited to see where it will end up next year. I think we're going to have some pretty important news around South by next year.
Absolutely. It seems like just year jumps can, can be exponentially bigger and this one may be acquired again by someone else.
I wouldn't be against it but my goal of this company is really, I think that was the one thing I would go back in time and change was I wouldn't let, I was happy that we ended up at Goldman but I really wish you would've had more time because once you get gobbled up into a big company, you really do slow down. Even though our team went from an acquisition, we were around like 30 something. I think when we left two years after that, we were at like 300. It was good but at the same time we just, we slowed down so much and all the cool product features just never got built. I think even to this day, they didn't get built. Just going and having the ability to have more time to build what you really want to go and do instead of getting pulled into a company. So I hope Ibble stays around for a few years before getting acquired.
Oh, awesome. Well that, that's a great jump off point I think to end this first conversation. Oh, if you're open to it I would love to have you back and talk more maybe in a year and just do a catch up again and see where you're at with both of these. I think this has been a super interesting interview. I hope people have enjoyed listening and getting to know you a little bit. What's the best way to reach you Raymond, if people wanted to reach out to learn more about either of the projects your working on.
Yeah, for sure. You can read about HyperSciences or Ibble and we were pretty active on both of our Facebook pages. If you want to reach me, you can reach me directly [email protected] I'm usually pretty accessible to most folks that are out there. I'd love for people to go and go and check out the videos that we've been putting out for HyperSciences so you can really get an understanding of what it is and Ibble available right now in the apple APP store. It is Ibble finance and Ibble it will be available on android in the next month.
Awesome. Cool. We'll link up to that on the show notes as well at truthaboutexits.com so thanks so much, Raymond again for jumping on the call today. This has been super interesting and I can't wait to see what you do next. Thank you. I really appreciate your time. This was super fun.