Jason Keats – Founder & Chief Hooligan, OSOM Ep #70

EPISODE SUMMARY

Anatoly welcomes Jason Keats (Founder & Chief Hooligan, OSOM) to the podcast to talk about his epic career building hardware, the Solana Saga phone and all things mobile and web3. Pre-order the Saga now at solanamobile.com 00:09 - Intro 00:25 - Background 03:27 - Working at Apple 08:07 - The Gem Phone 10:15 - Privacy at Essential 12:24 - Building for Mobile 15:52 - Hardware he wants to build 17:07 - Crypto x Cars 19:02 - Do Apple or Google care about hardware and crypto? 21:08 - Innovation in hardware 21:56 - The saga phone 22:56 - The manufacturing process 26:29 - How to start building 27:56 - Working with start-ups 29:15 - The innovation cycle in hardware 30:36 - Privacy features 32:42 - Working with non-crypto people 36:08 - Outro DISCLAIMER The content herein is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. Those who appear in the content may have a financial interest in any projects referenced, and any content herein is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice. This content is intended to be general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional advisor.

EPISODE NOTES

Anatoly welcomes Jason Keats (Founder & Chief Hooligan, OSOM) to the podcast to talk about his epic career building hardware, the Solana Saga phone and all things mobile and web3. Pre-order the Saga now at solanamobile.com

  • 00:09 – Intro
  • 00:25 – Background
  • 03:27 – Working at Apple
  • 08:07 – The Gem Phone
  • 10:15 – Privacy at Essential
  • 12:24 – Building for Mobile
  • 15:52 – Hardware he wants to build
  • 17:07 – Crypto x Cars
  • 19:02 – Do Apple or Google care about hardware and crypto?
  • 21:08 – Innovation in hardware
  • 21:56 – The saga phone
  • 22:56 – The manufacturing process
  • 26:29 – How to start building
  • 27:56 – Working with start ups
  • 29:15 – The innovation cycle in hardware
  • 30:36 – Privacy features
  • 32:42 – Working with non-crypto people
  • 36:08 – Outro

DISCLAIMER

The content herein is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. Those who appear in the content may have a financial interest in any projects referenced, and any content herein is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice, or any other advice.  

This content is intended to be general in nature and is not specific to you, the user or anyone else. You should not make any decision, financial, investment, trading or otherwise, based on any of the information presented without undertaking independent due diligence and consultation with a professional advisor.

Anatoly (00:09):

Hey, folks. This is Anatoly and you’re listening to The Solana Podcast. And today, I have Jason Keats with me who’s the CEO and co-founder of OSOM. Welcome.

Jason (00:18):

Hey, how’s it going? Glad to be here. Glad to chat everything we’ve been working on finally.

Anatoly (00:22):

Yeah. Me too. It’s been kind of a crazy journey. You have an awesome background. Do you mind just sharing it?

Jason (00:32):

Yeah. I’ve had a very, weird hardware background throughout my career. When I left Berkeley, I decided I wanted to go build something. I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day. Well, my degree is in astrophysics from Berkeley. And then I went on to work on solar panels. And that was-

Anatoly (00:54):

Like…

Jason (00:54):

What was that?

Anatoly (00:55):

Yeah. How did you get from astrophysics to hardware?

Jason (00:59):

So my senior year, my professor asked me to… He knew I had access to a machine shop because I was working with the Formula SAE, which is a student racing program. So they knew I had access to a machine shop and they wanted to make parts for telescopes. So I offered and said, “Hey, I can do that.” So instead of being a traditional GSI or something like that, I was the monkey who machined random parts. And that was a lot more fun. At the end of the day, instead of having a program, I was like, “I have a thing. It’s built.” And that was it. I wanted to build things.

Anatoly (01:39):

That’s awesome. How did you get into astrophysics then? What was the reason for getting into astrophysics?

Jason (01:48):

I just wanted to be able to say, I was… It was a rocket scientist was the logic I had, 18-year-old me had. Little did I know that wasn’t exactly how that worked, but it sure sounded cool. And nowadays it just sounds really cool to say, “Oh, I have a degree in astrophysics from Berkeley.”

Anatoly (02:05):

That does sound really cool. So what happened after? You build telescopes, right?

Jason (02:10):

Yeah. I built little bits and bobs for telescopes. I didn’t want to get a real job, so I started a motorcycle company that was a complete disaster. Not a complete disaster, but it was pretty rough. I learned a lot about running a company there. Basically, I learned all the things you’re not supposed to do.

Anatoly (02:29):

I mean, that’s the first one, right? You’re supposed to do that.

Jason (02:33):

Yeah. I’m glad it didn’t hurt me too badly. And then I ended up being a consultant for a company in Silicon Valley. It was like a design engineering consultancy and they put me on to Solyndra, which was a solar panel company. And that was a very fun couple of years building some really interesting technology and honing the skills that I use today and some of the ethos that I still use today because one of the things we were trying to do was how do you make a solar panel easier to install, because right now it’s quite a time consuming process. So my goal was to design a solar array that could be installed with no tools and we were successful in that.

Anatoly (03:14):

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I’m going to keep saying that the whole episode.

Jason (03:22):

Two years on of creating the name and it still doesn’t get old. So eventually Solyndra went belly up unfortunately, that could be 10 podcasts probably as to what happened there. But my boss at the time was like, “Cool, we need to go over to Apple right away.” So I think that was a Wednesday, the company went bankrupt and on Monday I was working on secret projects at Apple.

Anatoly (03:50):

Cool. So there’s like a period of how many years of what you can’t talk about.

Jason (03:55):

A few years actually. And actually I know for a fact that the program is still ongoing and is still super secret.

Anatoly (04:02):

Cool. That’s pretty cool. What did you work on at Apple that you can talk about?

Jason (04:09):

So when I started Apple, my first project was on Mac PD doing the last generation of the MacBook Air, which I mean, people still review that as one of the best laptops ever made. And I’m still quite proud of that. It was a very difficult project with a very small team, but it was very successful. And at some point in between MacBook Air and the little tiny MacBook, I was asked to help on a small project with Jony Ive which was the Leica infrared camera. And it was myself and one other mechanical engineer working with the ID team, designing this, what was supposed to be a two or three-week project. And six months later, I had my own office where we were doing prototypes of little tiny bits and pieces because Jony wanted it perfect. And that really kind of made my career at Apple was working on that project with the studio directly.

Anatoly (05:01):

Is that camera like something you can buy now?

Jason (05:03):

I mean, if you got a few million bucks. No, we only made one camera and it was purchased at auction for around $2 million if I recall correctly. I think it’s on display somewhere. It was super cool. It had so many bits and pieces that were just absolutely ridiculous. The whole thing was handmade. My favorite little anecdote about that is it needed to be… The tolerances were so tight that it needed to be hand assembled in a very particular way. And so if the owner who currently has it decides it needs to be repaired or refurbished, for whatever reason, if they decide to actually to use a $2 million camera, there’s a little post it inside that says, “Call Jason,” with my phone number.

Anatoly (05:52):

Eventually you’re going to get like a call at 3:00 AM.

Jason (05:55):

Oh, yeah. I do know who has it. And we do travel in the same circle, so I’m sure there’s a day where I’ll be like, “Hey, I built your camera.” Yeah, that was fun. And then from there I joined iPad which was a whole other journey and learning a little bit more about mobile having come from solar panels and motorcycles, and desktop products, and laptops into iPad was a lot of fun. And my first real claim to fame in iPad was leading architecture on the original iPad Pro, which is the original 12.9 inch iPad.

Jason (06:31):

It was a lot of fun because we got to try a lot of different things. A funny story there though, that totally you know and a lot of people who follow me know, I’m huge into racing in cars and I do a lot of silly things. We actually built in carbon fiber speaker caps inside the iPad Pro. Apple marketing made this big spiel about, “Oh, it’s different. It does this, it does that.” That’s all BS. It’s because I like carbon fiber because I like race cars and that’s why we used it. I’m sure there’s some marketing guy going no, but that’s the honest truth is to why there are carbon fiber speaker caps in the iPad pro.

Anatoly (07:07):

I thought those are so cool. I ride bikes. All the cool bikes are carbon fiber.

Jason (07:17):

Let’s see. I don’t think I have one here. I had one somewhere. I had the caps and everything, but it was a lot of work and it was a lot of fun. It was really interesting, but I got really sick of the bureaucracy at Apple. It wasn’t for me. One day somebody was interviewing for my team at Apple, and they told me about what was going on Playground, which was Andy Rubin’s new incubator. And I thought that was super, super interesting. So I just straight up cold called Andy on LinkedIn and was like, “Hey, I’ve done this stuff. I’m interested in getting out of the Apple ecosystem. Let’s talk.”

Jason (07:53):

And the next day I got a call from their recruiter and I went and interviewed a week later and they were like, “Hey, we have something. We can’t tell you anything about it, but can you wait, like two months and we’re going to give you a job. I said, “Cool.” So for that two months, I went off and worked on Apple Maps, which was everybody goes, “What the hell were you doing on Apple Maps?” I was designing all the things you see, like the rooftop boxes and the things that went in the planes and the balloons that went up in the sky. We built some really weird stuff to capture images for Apple Maps.

Anatoly (08:26):

That’s cool. Wow. I mean, there is a hardware component to Apple Maps that people don’t don’t realize.

Jason (08:33):

Oh, yeah. All that stuff has to be captured somewhere. I mean, there’s warehouses full of hard drives of people having to still go through that data and make sure it’s okay to use. And warehouses and warehouses full of hard drives.

Anatoly (08:49):

Yeah, I can imagine.

Jason (08:52):

So, yeah, after Apple, I went and joined Andy Rubin at what was… What were we called? We were called Ninja Army for the first five months. And then eventually became known as Essential. I was technically the first hire, but the second employee at Essential and was there from the very beginning to the very end. It was a hell of a ride. We built the Essential PH1, which was a really, really, really exceptional piece of hardware with some pretty crap software on it, unfortunately.

Jason (09:19):

Particularly the camera side needed a lot of work and unfortunately was released too early. And we could argue for days about what the reason was, but ultimately that was the end result of that. And we never managed to bring another product to market despite building some really cool hardware there.

Anatoly (09:38):

So yeah, man, launching hardware is hard. Why did you decide to do this again?

Jason (09:47):

The biggest product that we built… Or the coolest product. No, that was actually the smallest. The coolest product we designed at Essential was Project Gem. And we are working on that up until the very end. And that was so revolutionary in the terms of mobile experience in which taught all of us that there was really an opportunity here. There was still things to be done and new things to be invented and new ways of interacting to be made available.

Jason (10:13):

So when Essential went out of business, when Andy told me that was that, it was obvious to me that I need to take this opportunity now. I’m going to do it. I have a team available that I know is now all unemployed and let’s keep them together and build something really, really cool.

Jason (10:29):

So I grabbed the key team members and then kept a few on the back burner while we raised money, and we got to the point where we were ready to rock and start building a new phone. So while the first phone is a little more traditional device, I think in the future, we’re going to have some really crazy things to build with you guys.

Anatoly (10:49):

Yeah. I have no doubts. The gem thing was a pretty weird piece of hardware. Right? It kind of looked almost like totally made out of glass.

Jason (11:03):

Yeah. So this is one of those things that I love showing off in person is that glass phone. It was a glass uni body, which has never been done in a cell phone before. The overall shape was… I mean, the best description is either a candy bar mixed with an Apple TV remote and…

Anatoly (11:21):

Yeah.

Jason (11:22):

Yeah. That’s a great description. Piece of glass, size of a candy bar that kind of looks like an Apple TV remote.

Jason (11:28):

Yeah, exactly. But it was all one piece of glass. Even the camera bump, the flash, everything was a continuous piece of glass. And every hardware engineer I’ve shown that to goes, “How did you make this? And how did you manage to achieve the tolerances required to build that?” And it took a lot of work with our good friends at Corning and a third party in China. But we were able to build them. And there’s a couple of them in existence. I think they’re all in Andy’s garage still, except for the two that are in my possession still. And they work.

Jason (12:00):

Some of the issues we were encountering was that GMS wouldn’t… We wouldn’t be approved for GMS with that device. So we were going to have to do some new and novel use cases there and come up with all new ways to interact with the device.

Anatoly (12:17):

So awesome you guys started with a really strong focus on privacy. Yeah. Was that your decision or something that was just you guys wanted to do at Essential anyways?

Jason (12:31):

No, that was definitely my decision and the decision of the team. We looked at what killed, Essential. A big part of that was a lack of focus other than building cool stuff. And that only gets you so far. There needs to be a reason why your customers want to join our adventure rather than go with a Samsung, or LG, or HTC, or Motorola or whatever was available at that time.

Jason (12:54):

So we realized that a big problem facing everybody today is a lack of consumer privacy. And that’s when we came to the conclusion that we could actually address that as an OEM.

Anatoly (13:06):

And that’s a really tough challenge because you still probably want to keep Google services around.

Jason (13:14):

Yeah, absolutely. So I mean-

Anatoly (13:16):

Do you think… Yeah, go ahead.

Jason (13:18):

No, I was going to say it’s a great segue into what things that people keep asking us since we announced our partnership is when we decided to say, “Okay, we’re going to build a privacy centric phone, there have been privacy centric devices attempted in the past, but they were too extreme. By cutting out GMS, by cutting out Android in some cases, you were left with a device that was so private, nobody would use it, which yeah, it works as a privacy device, but you don’t sell any.

Jason (13:43):

I mean, I know for a fact that there are two different phone manufacturers who sold less than a thousand devices, despite putting tens of millions of dollars into it because we all use the same suppliers. So the suppliers are excellent sources of information. And so I know for a fact that one of them was like, “Oh, we only shipped a thousand speakers to that company.”

Jason (14:06):

So what we said was, “We’re going to give you control and we’re going to give the user control and we’re going to give them options and they can make the choice as to how much they want to share or not share.” And if they want to use Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram and every Google service, then at least they have knowledge that they’re doing that and is less secure than not doing it. Or they are consciously making that decision.

Anatoly (14:31):

Yeah. Go ahead.

Jason (14:33):

And that goes to what we’ve talked about is we’re going to do the same with all the Solana mobile stack that we’re integrating into the phone. We’re not taking anything away. We’re giving users an excellent device, a high-end flagship device that gives them more options and more choice in how they use it and what they use it for.

Anatoly (14:52):

Yeah. If you’ve been a web 3.0 dev, you’ve been building applications and you’ve never started with like, “I need to collect a username and an email and a password.” That concept doesn’t exist. Right?

Jason (15:09):

Yeah.

Anatoly (15:09):

That’s something that being building like in crypto for the last four years, I almost forgot how to build traditional applications. And when I had to remember, I was like, “Oh man, yeah, there just doesn’t seem a way to build privacy without really starting from the ground up and building a whole new set of applications that people actually use. Right? And they deliver value to those users. People use them because they love them. But you need to start from the ground up. And that’s really hard because getting product market fit, building applications and then competing with existing services is just like a uphill climb.

Jason (15:54):

Yeah, absolutely. Building that community, which was what made our partnership so beautiful is you have that community and you have that development group that really wants to be actively involved and emotionally involved, and that’s super exciting for us to be like, “Hey, let’s give you a piece of hardware that you can call home too.”

Anatoly (16:12):

Yeah. I mean, this is the first time, honestly, I’ve seen anyone tweet that they will stop using an Apple product and switch to Android.

Jason (16:21):

That is exciting. If we can crack 5% instead of the standard 4%, I will be absolutely ecstatic.

Anatoly (16:29):

Yep. That would be awesome. Yeah, I remember when the iPhone launch and that was a real watershed moment. A lot of us, I was working on BREW and a lot of us were actually, like, felt really frustrated with the mobile industry because we had all these ideas. We wanted to build rich applications that are easy to code and totally different kind of UIs, dynamic UIs and stuff. And these big telcos would give us like 200-page spec of what a phone should look like because they their customers. And there was like this moment where Apple announced this thing and Steve Jobs showed, “Look, there’s a browser. It’s a real internet.” It’s just not this [inaudible 00:17:15]. It’s not the mobile web that… I don’t know if people remember what that even looked on a LG flip phone.

Jason (17:25):

I do.

Anatoly (17:25):

That was a big deal. I don’t know if we’re there yet with crypto. I don’t know if there’s a single application or anything like that when people open up and they’re like, “Oh wow, this is it.” Because obviously when Apple announced the iPhone, it was already after the internet. It was big. Right? Everybody was already using the internet and there was this obvious gap between desktop and mobile. But I think when people actually pay with tokens for their day to day stuff and all that whole loop works and it, and it’s beautiful and it doesn’t suck, I think that might like open up people to new ideas of what we can do with crypto on a mobile device that actually supports it natively.

Jason (18:18):

Yeah. The day that both of our parents can go and shop with tokens will be a watershed moment for crypto.

Anatoly (18:32):

Yeah. I am really excited about that.

Jason (18:33):

Yeah. When I think about the potential there, I mean you and I have talked about it a few times. It’s immense and almost a little bit intimidating and staggering what the obvious potential is there.

Anatoly (18:45):

So what kind of hardware, what else do you want to build besides a phone? You don’t have to announce anything, but you personally as somebody that’s a super hardware nerd, if you had infinite budget, and could do whatever you want, what would you build?

Jason (19:02):

Number one, I want to bring back Project GEM. I loved using that phone and I’m probably the only person on Earth that used that phone regularly for a while because I wanted to make sure it was great. And that thing worked so much better than anybody ever gave a potential credit for, as a small side device, as something you could toss in your pocket, in your bag and not think about. It was beautiful. I mean, for me, designing a piece of hardware has to also be very physically attractive and I think that was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever designed.

Jason (19:31):

I do want to see the expansion of using your mobile devices, be it your watch or your phone interacting with the automotive sector. Obviously, we’ve chatted about it before. I have a problem when it comes to cars. Oh, wait. Nobody can see what I just pointed at. So I think the inner relationship between mobile, crypto, and automotive is even earlier than anything else in crypto, but there’s a hell an opportunity there. And thankfully, a lot of the automotive companies are starting to catch on and realize there’s different potential there.

Anatoly (20:13):

What would be like a hardware integration between mobile and cars?

Jason (20:18):

I mean, we’ve already patented this idea. So I will talk about it freely now, is the ability to track all your history of your vehicle. And when you sell your vehicle, you have everything written to the blockchain. The NFT itself will simply be a photo or a connection to the title, which is held somewhere else. But you can guarantee that if somebody sends you a NFT of a title, that it is tied to a physical object, which we’ve already patented that as well.

Anatoly (20:47):

So you want like the miles like the RPMs, like the actual raw data. I don’t know what else you got. I’m not a car person.

Jason (20:56):

Like the service history or the maintenance history, the sales history. Do you know if the mile… You can guarantee that the miles weren’t rolled back. You can know if it went through any… What do they call… Oh, when they call you to bring the car back in. Oh, recall notices. Anything with service was done. That’s a real utility of that technology.

Anatoly (21:24):

Cool. And the kind of cars that people would really want this for like collectibles, like classic cars that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Jason (21:34):

Yeah, I think so. But also with your average Toyota or Civic, at least you know what the history was on that car. Was it repaired? Was it damaged at any given point? There is utility across the board.

Anatoly (21:45):

Cool.

Jason (21:46):

And then especially-

Anatoly (21:47):

Yeah, I can…

Jason (21:47):

Last thing on that one, especially, if we go into the collectibles, like being able to take a cut down the road. Okay. I sell the car to you. You sell it to somebody else and I can take a fraction of a percent of that sale is pretty awesome.

Anatoly (22:00):

If you’re the person restoring the car. Right?

Jason (22:03):

Yeah.

Anatoly (22:03):

And you did this… Yeah, that’s actually like, I think been… It’s weird that model has never been replicated in the real world, but works so well with NFTs.

Jason (22:16):

Yeah. Exactly.

Anatoly (22:19):

That’s a use case that I think is way under explored for stuff like that, for physical art.

Jason (22:26):

Yeah. It’s one of the things that we patented early on was the connection between a physical and digital assets.

Anatoly (22:40):

Do you think Apple or Google care about what we’re doing right now? Is this like reached anyone’s decision-making yet or is this still-

Jason (22:49):

I know for a fact that our name has come up in both those companies, because I know a lot of people at the highest level. One of my good friends is an SVP at Apple and he texted me. He’s like, “They’re talking about you in an executive meeting.” I was like, “Cool. I’ve made it in life. Are they talking about suing me though?” I’m sure Google has people thinking about it and worrying about it. I mean, obviously Google is still a partner because we are a GMS device and they are thrilled to have us. It’s like being an advocate for the Android ecosystem.

Anatoly (23:26):

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think if we convert people from iOS to Android, Google should be like making parades for OSOM. It’s a lot of…

Jason (23:37):

I’m serious, I haven’t asked yet, but I should ask them like, “Hey, if we convert more than the standard 4%, do I get a bonus from Google?” That’d be nice.

Anatoly (23:43):

Yeah. Absolutely. I’m not too worried. They’re so big that it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to worry about because they’re just like, it’s like worrying about, I don’t know, nation state at this point.

Jason (24:02):

Yeah, exactly.

Anatoly (24:03):

For a startup, it’s such a big competitor that it’s not even a competitor.

Jason (24:08):

Yeah. And I think the companies that people often compare us to, or talk about us, nothing or… What’s it? Oppo and OnePlus. One of the things that I’ve tried to do is make sure I have a good relationship with those companies as well, because it’s kind of silly for a bunch of startups to be fighting over the scraps instead of taking swings at Apple, Google and Samsung in terms of device sales.

Anatoly (24:31):

Absolutely, yeah. I mean, OnePlus made some awesome devices too. That was really cool to see them launch. When I was working at Android at Qualcomm, there was just always like this huge gap between quality and innovation in terms of like how the device looks and feels and they were able to really push the limits there. Yeah.

Jason (24:53):

Well, I think our next devices will be pushing some new limits, which will be a lot of fun.

Anatoly (24:58):

Yeah. I guess, do you think like mobile… Because it’s so big, is there still room to innovate in terms of hardware?

Jason (25:14):

Yes.

Anatoly (25:15):

Besides like on the standard daily driver.

Jason (25:19):

Yeah. I spend a lot of time actually. Now, that I’m the CEO and I have other teams of people now working for me pushing vision, I can spend a little more time thinking about how I want to change that interaction of device, what new technologies are out there, or even what new use cases of existing technologies there are.

Jason (25:38):

So I have been working on something wholly new for how we interact with our devices in a way that I think people will naturally enjoy using it. It’s a bit of technology that’ll change how you actually touch and use your device, but it’ll be done in a form factor in a manner that makes it approachable. And it’s not foldable because I think that’s kind of silly most of the time.

Anatoly (26:06):

Yeah. Foldables, not also not sure about them. I really like the steel on the Saga phone.

Jason (26:14):

Yeah.

Anatoly (26:15):

Why did you guys pick steel?

Jason (26:17):

Two reasons. Number one, we didn’t want to go titanium like we did on the Essential phone. It was a little too exactly the same, but we couldn’t go to aluminum because it just doesn’t have the same touch. It doesn’t have the same feel. It doesn’t have the same strength. It doesn’t have the same feel, which I want to feel a premium device when I pick up a phone that I engineered. An aluminum loses that a little bit. It’s not stiff enough for my taste.

Jason (26:41):

So we landed on steel for the housing and then we landed on ceramic because we still did want a little tie back to Essential, but also because it does feel premium, it looks premium. It’s not paint, it’s not glass. It’s real ceramic. It’s incredibly tough. It’s very hard and it does well and drop while also allowing to be RF transparent and just, I mean, ultimately looking and feeling super premium to your fingers.

Anatoly (27:09):

When you make those decisions, how many logistics need to change? How many companies, suppliers, machines, how big of a process is that?

Jason (27:24):

Less now than it was five years ago, but it’s because I have the team behind me that is incredibly capable of making it happen where we have a ridiculous Rolodex, a contact list for everybody under 25 of people to call for different materials and different processes. The big one is, as you saw in the first EVT devices. First stainless devices, they were quite heavy. So one of the big changes we had to do was we had to optimize for aluminum on the very, very first prototypes. We switched to stainless, but we didn’t change our cutter pass. We didn’t change our processes. So into the current build, we’ve made a lot of changes to ensure that we bring the weight down just the right amount, but still have a super strong device.

Anatoly (28:11):

Are those separate companies like the company that makes the cutters and stamps the thing and puts on the ceramic. If you went from ceramic to glass, how big of a logistical nightmare is that?

Jason (28:25):

If we switched over to glass, it’s a different company that would manufacture and process the material. And then because it’s glass, we’d have to also find a paint shop to paint the device. Whereas ceramic has that color baked in, literally.

Anatoly (28:40):

Got it. That makes sense. Okay. So you have to do like a bunch of work. It’s not just one company that you go to and they’re like, “Sure, we can do everything.”

Jason (28:51):

Yeah, that doesn’t exist as much as we’d love to. It’s all over the place in Asia. Prior to the pandemic, I probably would’ve spent the last 10 months living in and out of China.

Anatoly (29:02):

And most of the stuff is in China or all over Asia at this point?

Jason (29:07):

A lot of the supply chain comes out of China, but that doesn’t mean we’re manufacturing there. We have plants or factories both in China and in Vietnam, but it’s still all in Asia.

Anatoly (29:18):

Got it. Is there any chance for that stuff to ever happen in the US or is it just like the world is like manufacturing shifted irreparably?

Jason (29:33):

I have had a few conversations with the Canadian government about this. I think the US will be still quite difficult, but in Canada might be possible. But the biggest issue is all the subcomponents are still made in Asia. So even if you were doing final assembly in North America, you’d still have to ship all the individual components from Asia. Your SOC is going to come out of TSMC, which is in Taipei. Your memory is going to come out of Korea. The display will come out of either Indonesia or China and there’s no manufacturing plants for all those components anywhere in the Western world.

Anatoly (30:13):

Actually manufacturing those components in the Western world is impossible. Right? Why is it impossible?

Jason (30:18):

I mean, just the billions of dollars required would be cost prohibitive to build those plants. Those fab houses are huge and would take years to build.

Anatoly (30:30):

And that’s because things have gotten so specialized in displays and everything that it’s just like, “Yeah. It’s basically Intel like level kind of commitment.”

Jason (30:40):

Oh, yeah. I mean, you’re talking massive, massive. And even the ones that are good at it already have issues now at the scales we’re talking about. Like the four nanometer process, which is used to build the chip we’re using in Saga is there are only two companies in the world that even understand how to make the fab devices to make those chips.

Anatoly (30:59):

Yeah. This is the Tungsten droplet, right?

Jason (31:04):

Yeah.

Anatoly (31:04):

You have like a droplet that refracts UV light.

Jason (31:08):

Honestly, I’m not that familiar with that process, but yeah, it is crazy, crazy. It’s tough to explain to people how tiny four nanometers is. And then how many traces they have to put down in a tiny little chip that we’re going to put in your phone and makes everything work.

Anatoly (31:29):

How do you find these places? How do you start? If you were like a 18-year-old that’s like, “Hey, I want to build cool shit, build cool electronics,” how would you start?

Jason (31:44):

I think if I were starting today, I would try to find the R&D team at either Google or Apple or a startup like OSOM and just go like, “Hey, I want to be your man on the ground in Asia and I want to grow my network. I want to go out there with a completely open mind and just be like everybody teach me.” Which is how I really got out there. I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing on some of this stuff.” But I am a sponge. I will sit here and learn from the best and I will be super polite because I see… That was one of the things that used to bug me a lot is I saw Western people acting like jackasses with their Eastern counterparts.

Jason (32:23):

Now they get nowhere and I made it at a point to always, always, always be polite, always say, “Look, I’m here to learn. Let me help you. If I know something that I can share, I’m going to go out of my way to share it.” And that has enabled me to have amazing relationships with the CEOs of all these fantastic supply companies.

Anatoly (32:43):

It’s basically like a relationship thing and you have to know what they can build and know what they do well and stuff.

Jason (32:50):

Yeah. And go in there with an open mind and sometimes an open wallet. That always opens some doors and expect to try to make it a back and forth. Because you get a lot further if you can say, “Hey, let me offer you some of my knowledge in exchange for some of your knowledge.”

Anatoly (33:07):

How open are they to startups custom work with these small scale projects? Because my imagination is that like they only work with Google and they want to sell a hundred million units or whatever.

Jason (33:20):

Yeah. That’s the other hard part. And that comes later on once you have those relationships because it doesn’t matter who you are. If you don’t have that existing relationship, they’re going to laugh you out of the building, if they even let you in the door.

Anatoly (33:34):

Yeah. Makes sense. If you’re building, if you dream of building awesome hardware, I guess you got to start like work for somebody like OSOM or R&D team. That’s pretty good advice.

Jason (33:52):

I think it’s the only way to build those relationships, so you know who to call. And I think a big part of it is it’s not always the CEO you need to talk to. You need to talk to his right hand guy. You need to talk to the CTO. You need to know the right person to talk to at each company, and it changes a little bit. You’ll you learn who the movers and shakers are, the people who can actually make things happen for you. And that’s where it gets super interesting. And it takes boots on the ground to learn that.

Anatoly (34:20):

So I imagine that’s still true for big companies, as you get bigger, you still just need to keep those relationships going.

Jason (34:29):

If you want to innovate, you need to. If you just want to just keep grinding out the same BS you’ve been doing for 20 years, they’ll usually just give you the C team and you can just grind and nobody moves anything.

Anatoly (34:41):

Yeah. The innovation part is hard. How long is the innovation cycle and hardware?

Jason (34:50):

Anywhere from days to years, right? I have been on the back side of things where it’s like, “Oh, I have an idea. Actually, that was super easy to implement.” Okay, let’s do it. It’s done. But I’ve also… Making the glass housing for GEM was an 18-month project to get the tolerance that we need to hold. For everybody who’s listening, you need to hold 100 microns is pretty standard, which a 10th of a millimeter. Very, very-

Anatoly (35:19):

How many human hairs is that?

Jason (35:22):

Less than one. So we need to hold those tolerances on piece of glass and how glass is manufactured is that you literally take a molded part and cook it down into a shape. And you can imagine trying to hold… Like if you’re baking something in your oven and trying to get it to stay within a 10th of a millimeter, it’s never going to happen. So we had to help both Corning and our third party invent new technologies to achieve that result.

Anatoly (35:52):

That’s really cool. That’s pretty cool. Are people using these technologies anywhere else? Or is this something that is basically just only was built for GEM?

Jason (36:06):

I think they’re still using… There’s not a lot of applications where you need a deep draw, weird aspect ratio glass part, but I know they’re using it for two and a half D or even light 3D shapes, that at least allowed them to make 3D shapes that weren’t as extreme as GEM in a more factory friendly manner.

Anatoly (36:28):

Super goal.

Jason (36:31):

Yeah. I could talk about random manufacturing for hours.

Anatoly (36:35):

You guys also have like a pretty awesome software team.

Jason (36:39):

Yeah.

Anatoly (36:40):

And you guys did a lot of work in actually adding privacy features to the Android stack.

Jason (36:45):

Yeah.

Anatoly (36:46):

What are these privacy features?

Jason (36:49):

I’d love to have Gary answer that question if he were here. But mostly what we wanted to do is allow the user to just be more aware of where their data is going and how it’s being treated by any webpage they go, any app they use and alert them if more data than they expect is going out and a place where they can work within their device, where they can guarantee that nothing is going out that they don’t control, which we haven’t named yet because somebody stole our name.

Jason (37:21):

And then the other one that I love that I cannot wait to use more of is what we called lockdown, but then Google used that name for what they were doing. But the ability to just turn off any module on the phone when you want to.

Anatoly (37:35):

And what do you mean by module?

Jason (37:39):

So right now, I think in lockdown mode that Google offers you can turn off the camera and mic. But we can turn off the camera, the mic, the antennas, the USB port, whatever. A module is any piece of hardware on the device we can individually completely disable that.

Anatoly (37:59):

That’s really cool. Does the user have a physical notification that that thing is turned off? Are there like LEDs or something that light up?

Jason (38:10):

Yeah. We’re still working on that with your team as to what those notifications will look like, what that UI and UX looks like. But yeah, there are both physical haptic feedback as well as visual feedback.

Anatoly (38:22):

Can you turn off GPS and things like that and other sensors. Or I guess the GPS radio. I don’t know how baked in those are these days.

Jason (38:32):

It’s actually super, super, super baked in. One of our investors is an Apple employee. And I was explaining to him like, “Look, man, you can put your phone in an airplane mode.” That GPS is still working. And he’s like BS. And I’m like, “No, no, no. Watch, watch, watch. Put your phone in airplane mode.” And we were on a bicycle ride. “Go bike 100 yards down the road and see your phone is still tracking you.” And he’s like, “What the hell?” And the next day he invested.

Anatoly (39:01):

How has it been like getting folks like… You guys work with mostly non-crypto people, up until you met me?

Jason (39:10):

You. Yeah, basically.

Anatoly (39:14):

Yeah. What has that conversation been like? What has been their reaction?

Jason (39:19):

It’s been all over the map. It says there were some very vocal, negative people outside of the company, which I completely expected and doesn’t really bug me at all. We had surprising support within the company, to be honest. I think I told you, I fully expected 10 to 20% of the company to be like, “Ah, screw this. This is ridiculous.” And we really only had one person do that. And then the counter to that, the amount of support where people were like, “No, this is exciting. This is the next generation of mobile will be built on web 3.0. And I think the definition of web 3.0 remains fairly fluid and we get to be involved with really defining what that actually means to the end user.

Anatoly (40:03):

Yeah. I think this is like a huge opportunity for us to set the standards and really push for privacy first and just build something that can be a really good base. The bricks that web 3.0 is built on.

Jason (40:19):

Exactly.

Anatoly (40:21):

I guess, what was like the detractors? What was like the any points that they brought up that you think were interesting or worthwhile?

Jason (40:30):

I think that was the biggest thing is none of the negative comments I heard were worth that much because it was the standard anti-crypto comments, which is like, “Oh, I don’t believe in it. This is scam. I don’t see it.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to try to fight anybody over that. That’s fine.” People thought Facebook was stupid. Frankly, I still think Facebook is a little stupid, but they sure are worth billions and billions and billions of dollars. So there is a market for it.

Anatoly (40:56):

Yeah. It was really hard for me too, to accept, to believe in Facebook in those early days too. But in my mind that is like the quintessential internet company, more so than Google. Because it was really like… All they’re doing is connecting people. And that’s a very weird thing to think about that, that could be worth half a trillion dollars or whatever it is these days.

Jason (41:22):

Who knows? They’re probably more than that.

Anatoly (41:24):

I have this analogy that Facebook has a social graph where you have to hop through people. Right? You’re connected through some intermediaries, but crypto, it’s all public keys, super connected or like a single censorship resistant message bus. Everybody in the world is now in like a single chat, basically, which is why it’s a bit chaotic.

Jason (41:46):

Yeah. But I also see why… It’s kind of interesting because you have that community, everybody is connected, which is inherently non-private, but it is also… Everybody in that group has a strong desire to keep certain things private. And it’s that ability to choose what you keep private when you don’t keep private, which makes this partnership so incredibly powerful.

Anatoly (42:05):

So obviously, a public data structure is really strong forcing function for developers to understand that this data is public, therefore I need to minimize how much it collects. It’s almost like if all your interactions are over a public database, then you really, really try to know the least amount of the users that you need. And I think that’s just been kind of a design constraint on web 3.0 devs from day one. And you forget about web 2.0 that you need to create cookies and store people’s passwords and stuff like that.

Jason (42:46):

Yeah. And I think what we’re going to bring to the fore for web 3.0 is that improved user experience and that UI. I mean, you and I have chat about it almost daily lately about the issues around that. And having a piece of hardware that can bypass a lot of the frustration that’s there right now is huge.

Anatoly (43:05):

Agreed. Well, thank you, Jason, for being here. It’s been awesome talking to you.

Jason (43:10):

Absolutely.

Anatoly (43:10):

I’m super excited to work with you. It’s going to be great. Folks, if you’ve been listening, go to solanamobile.com and pre-order the Saga.

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