Member Profile: Gonzalo de la Torre
November 1, 2016
After founding a company in San Diego, Gonzalo de la Torre began working with 360° photography. Upon sharing the work with clients he realized their amazement. Within a month of introducing the new technology to the firm, company sales had increased three-fold.
Gonzalo saw a great deal of potential in virtual reality. He realized innovation in his current job was being thwarted by people who didn’t want to have transparency, and this was something he valued. According to Gonzalo, “Technology is meant to eliminate the middleman, eliminate that which inhibits the creation of better services, and is meant to reduce costs. My innovative and creative spirit was being limited at work, and I needed a change.”
Gonzalo began researching the applications of virtual reality as Oculus was kickstarted and the Vive was launched. One of Gonzalo’s friends who works in spacial audio actually let him experience the Vive Pre, which was synced to his spacial audio. He recalls having an out of body experience testing this technology.
“I realized virtual reality was going to make people more aware of their lives. Tons of people are already living life as if they are dead. Whatever makes people more excited is something to pay attention to. They might be excited about television and movies, etc. but they are more interested in the storytelling. They are drawn to VR because for a moment they are able to see into a story outside of their lives.”
A short period later Gonzalo cofounded VRoom Cam, a locomotive, autonomous and stabilized capture system for virtual reality. VRoom Cam is reinventing VR capture for sports and entertainment.
Gonzalo is known to live in the moment. As he walked into Trailhead upon returning from vacation, a Trailhead employee asked him for an interview. He immediately sat down and eagerly shared his insight into VRoom Cam. The following Q&A comes from that conversation:
Did you grow up in Boise?
I actually did not grow up in Boise. My wife grew up in Meridian, and I visited two years ago from California where I was working at the time. I had an “aha moment” in McCall while we were camping in the woods. I realized I was too stressed out, wasn’t enjoying my work, and was no longer having those moments of creativity and innovation. I decided at that moment to move to Boise and put all my energy into virtual and augmented reality.
What inspired you to start VRoom Cam?
While watching TV I realized it wasn’t enough to have a camera stuck on a tripod. When I started getting more interested in VR, and started designing a VR camera, I knew it had to move. Not only did the camera have to move, but it had to be autonomous. I knew the camera had to incorporate robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. This technology is what I set out to incorporate into a VR camera.
VRoom Cam was eventually incorporated in 2015, with a vision to completely change the VR industry. The first prototype we created was a cable system that had the capacity to stabilize and hold the camera at forty kilometers per hour while following hockey players. Thats pretty remarkable. This was only the beginning of our camera, which has been tested and improved a great deal since.
In designing a new camera I contacted someone to help with some 3D printing. It just so happened that this person lived a couple streets down the road from me. I went over to his house to pick up the materials he had printed, and ended up finding out he had worked for NASA. He had done great work on the printing, and I asked him if he would be interested in being a part of the company. This gentleman, Craig Moore, is now our CTO.
He brought a ton of value into the company. After all, you’re only as strong as your team and as strong as your product. A company is worth nothing until you have a team. You can have great ideas, but if you don’t have the capacity to create, you have nothing. A great artist, that never recorded anything, has nothing. You make it tangible when you have something to sell.
In less than three months of Craig joining the team, we had filed two patents and had two working products. Not prototypes, but two working products. I had never had this much momentum and fun. Craig is a crazy doer, and he got VRoom Cam rolling. You have to find people that work at your pace, and for me, that was Craig.
In regard to the rest of the team, my father, Marco de la Torre, is our CFO. My father is an amazing entrepreneur, and has been an angel investor in many projects. He actually helped negotiate a $1.1 billion sale of Vodafone on the NYSE. Marco is a great asset for VRoom Cam to have.
As a team we don’t have meetings, and we don’t really have a schedule. Though, we get more accomplished than a team of fifty individuals working behind a product manager. It’s because we have had a ton of experience, and we are so committed to what we are doing.
What have been some of your passions outside of entrepreneurship?
I have had the blessing to tour in Europe, South America, Mexico, and the United States as a musician. I actually won singer-songwriter of the year at the Los Angeles Music Awards in 2010. I had Billboard recognition. It was an amazing thing.
So many people told me “You’re not a musician. Why do you want to all of a sudden become a musician?” What they didn’t know was that music was one of my biggest passions. I have found that when you talk about things you are passionate about, people bring out their own fears, and they’ll project them to you. They’ll tell you they are trying to do you a favor so that you don’t go through what they went through pursuing a dream.
I find that the majority of people don’t love what they do. Some people have families and children, and don’t have a choice to do what they want. But when you talk to young people, you have to ask them, “Don’t you want to do something groundbreaking, something revolutionary? Don’t you want to challenge the status quo of education or a job?”
I have always found a way to pursue my passions.
How did your experience in the music industry help prepare you for VRoom Cam?
That might not have been a startup, but in a way it was. The musicians that make it are the musicians that know about media, know about marketing, and know about business. They know you have to negotiate, and that you need to do something compelling. You might hear about an artist that had a controversial album cover or someone who recorded a controversial song. These things are ultimately done to create publicity, and understanding these concepts is important in starting a company.
My experience in the music industry also made me realize I needed to cut out the middleman. No one will work as hard as you if you are passionate about something. This doesn’t mean you don’t need help, it just means you need the best help you can get. You have to find a great team.
When you’re building that team, find people who have done great things. If you are a looking for a publicist, look for the best publicist money can buy. My vocal instructor was Seth Riggs who was a vocal instructor for Michael Jackson. As a singer, what you have is your voice. You have to invest in it. You have to make sure you can sing four to five times a week and not kill it.
My favorite singer was Michael Jackson. I found out who his vocal instructor was, and I contacted him. It was super expensive, but some things you can’t cheap out on. It may be expensive to buy a good team, but they bring you and your product to whole new levels.
How would you describe your business to a stranger on the street?
We make VR cameras move, bringing life to virtual reality.
What interests you about entrepreneurship?
I like the idea of doing something that hasn’t been done before, and I love being told I won’t be able to do something. I’m a visionary. I come up with ideas, they stay in my head, and they become obsessions. Unless I think about them, they haunt me.
When I started VRoom Cam I said, “Some companies are pouring millions of dollars into broadcasting, but we can compete with them. I love competing against the giants. They are slow, and they are stuck in their ways. They think they know it all, but they don’t.”
How did you hear about Trailhead and what made you decide to become a member?
I was actually in McCall watching hockey, and I was telling someone about a startup. Raino, Trailhead’s Executive Director, happened to be sitting right next to us. He told me about Trailhead, and said I should come check it out. Deep down I was skeptical about the startup scene here in Boise, but when I came to Trailhead it felt right.
I’ve met some great people here. It’s important to get people working together. Trailhead is an amazing solution for every type of business.
What stage is the company currently at?
It’s a teenager. Everyone at the company wears multiple hats. The company CTO, Craig Moore, is also acting as our COO and a designer.
What are your most important short term goals for VRoom Cam?
Right now we want to have the product ready, have our team set, and get our board members set. The last steps to completing this goal are almost complete.
What is your long term vision for the venture?
We want our first clients to start earning profit on their VR investments in less than 6 months. We also want to increase investment in the company. I would like to see at least 20% to 30% of the equity being raised, giving us a pre-money valuation of $1.8 million when we close our seed funding.
There is a big sports team interested in using our technology. We hope this works out. We also want VRoom Cam to be the go-to platform for VR capture in Hollywood. We want it to be the steadicam of virtual reality. Finally, we would love to win an Oscar for our VR technology.
What are some of your favorite aspects of Trailhead workspace?
Sometimes I come here not to work, but to take a breather. I probably do more work at my home office or in my garage, but it’s nice to come here and socialize. It’s my home away from home.
What has been your greatest success with VRoom Cam so far?
My greatest success with VRoom Cam has been having a great relationship with my dad, our CFO. I grew up listening to my father’s advice, having no defiance about it. It is awesome he is our CFO.
Another success was meeting Craig, our CTO, and building such an amazing product.
Having Mark Zuckerberg talk with us about our product in Sun Valley at the Allen & Company Conference was huge. The conference is such a big deal that a quarter of the world’s capital resides in Sun Valley during the event. We were walking around with our rovers during the conference, and we had mobs of people following us. It was so cool.
What have been some of the greatest challenges the company has faced?
Building the prototypes has been challenging. The startup costs of building a camera are massive. I’ve had accidents where cameras fall and break. The first cameras we built would overheat when we filmed in 4K. We’re now on our third version of the camera, and we have changed out some building material so the camera can withstand more heat.
Stabilizing the shot when something was moving at 20 mph was difficult. We have now figured out how to do that. We won’t tell you how, but we figured it out. It’s part of one of our patents.
Creating a smooth way to move the camera so that it resembles human movement is something we are working with.
We’ve come a long way from the beginning of VRoom Cam. It’s a heavy machine, so we are trying to make it super safe.
Staying on fire and keeping the hope up in the company has even been a challenge. I am a hard critic on myself, so sometimes I can be the greatest challenge to myself.
What has been your favorite Trailhead program or event so far?
The Kevin Learned event was super cool.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs starting a company in Boise?
Just do it. Honestly, you shouldn’t need to tell an entrepreneur anything. If you’re expecting someone’s great words of wisdom to change your life, they probably aren’t going to come. You have to be passionate about something, and if you are, you will have a will to start working for it.
Do you have any statistics exemplifying growth that VRoom Cam has seen?
We have two products done and have filmed one hundred hours of stereoscopic VR, all in less than three months. As far as sales go, we are currently making $50,000 a year. This doesn’t respect our valuation in my opinion, and will be changing very soon.