Ian Gauger, Circle Optics Chief Operating Officer
Circle Optics, Inc. was founded in December of 2017, though, the company’s origins extend much further back, to a senior lens design course at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics attended by founder Zak Niazi. The question that kept him up at night was during this course was “what if Google Streetview had parallax-free 360-degree cameras on top of all their cars for creation of seamless VR content?” This question followed him beyond the classroom from Spring of 2012 until December 2017. With the selection for the Luminate Accelerator in late 2018, it was clear that answering this question had a lot of potential and was going to require a team to execute on. In January of 2019, as the Luminate Accelerator program was kicking off, I was brought on with the directive of building and scaling a team, and that is still one of my main focuses to this day. I have outlined our process in three phases. Phase I we share here now. Next week we will share Phase II and Phases III.
Phase I- Find Your Cornerstone Employees
We knew from that start that culture was going to be key. Not only for recruiting talent, but for retaining employees and creating a cohesive work environment. Good people foster a good culture, but a good culture is the best way to find good people. Most people can see the conundrum in these statements. While this can be a flywheel of sorts, becoming self-propelling, it is very difficult to get that flywheel going. The most important thing is your first few hires. While it’s important to find people with hard skills like engineering, its equally important to find those who also possess the soft skills like good communication and relationship building. It was also important that these resources had deep networks as they became some of our best recruiters of new talent.
Our first two additions to the team, Andy Kurtz and Allen Krisiloff, were experts in the field with a broad range of knowledge and more than 30 years of experience a piece. Both had led out projects and teams and were supremely qualified to lead out the development of the Hydra camera system. At first, we were excited but also nervous, they both had so much expertise, what if they could not share the stage together? Would we have to choose one over the other?
The first real test came a couple of weeks later during a meeting to review a new concept which later evolved into the Medusa camera geometry. Andy was in the process of drawing a simplified diagram of a light ray on the board as Allen watched on quietly. After a few moments Allen got up and walked to the board. He took a marker and remarked that Andy had overlooked something while modifying the drawing. Zak and I exchanged a tense glance as we waited to see how Andy would receive this rebuke. Andy nodding his head acknowledge the oversight but then countered with a change to the drawing saying that it could be improved by the inclusion of another element. Allen then responded by making another improvement, and in real-time piece by piece we saw the creation of a new system. Zak and I exchanged another glance, but this time it was one of excitement. This was going to work. The product of these two individuals was greater than the sum, we had the foundation of a company.