When I arrived in the office today, my buddy Gianni told me as first thing: “Have you read about Palmer Luckey? He’s just quitted from facebook!“. Yesterday I had no time to check VR news sites, so no, I didn’t know that and so yes, I was enormously shocked. I hoped that today was April the 1st, but this was not an April’s fool. It’s real. He’s gone.

Everyone is reporting this memorable Facebook statement about this departure, so I’m doing the same here

Palmer will be dearly missed. Palmer’s legacy extends far beyond Oculus. His inventive spirit helped kickstart the modern VR revolution and helped build an industry. We’re thankful for everything he did for Oculus and VR, and we wish him all the best.

The translation is

Palmer doesn’t work for facebook anymore. We don’t care, but we pretend to do.

I admit I’m very sad. I’m very sad even more because a bit I recognize myself in him. Well, less rich, less famous, less successful, less lucky… but as a VR startupper I feel his pain.

I mean, Palmer has been a guy that loved playing with tech stuff and one day he had this idea about making a VR headset. He made a prototype assembling some phone pieces, then made a Kickstarter Campaign to develop it. If you read his posts on the Meant to be Seen forums (like this thread) you get that he’s absolutely not a businessman. In the post I’ve linked you can read a sentence like this one

I won’t make a penny of profit off this project, the goal is to pay for the costs of parts, manufacturing, shipping, and credit card/Kickstarter fees with about $10 left over for a celebratory pizza and beer.

Reading “I won’t make a penny of profit” makes me laugh today. He’s become rich as hell and very famous.

Long story short, this little dream of a tech guy has become a completely new industry, with all tech giants in and has taken him to sell his company for $2B to facebook. This is awesome. Maybe.

I say “maybe” because Palmer has proven to be completely inadequate to be a startupper. He found himself inside a bigger game that has completely eaten him. He continued to be a nice guy wearing improbable shirts and flip flops, passionate about VR. But VR had become a place full of sharks and with a fierce competition and fanboyism. Furthermore he sold his company to facebook, so facebook started to control the game.

Palmer luckey virtual reality oculus
Palmer Luckey, on the cover of Forbes for having created a new market. He looks strange with this look! (Image by Forbes).

Palmer has had some key problems in the last year: the shipping mess of the Rift CV1 (where Palmer got angry with reddit community, then vanished from it); his support of a pro-Trump group (thanks to which he decided to disappear completely from earth); the Zenimax-case, where has been proved he violated some kind of NDAs with Zenimax and he’s been condemned to pay a lot of money.

All these problems to me seem caused by his unexperience: he answered to reddit people as if he were just a simple redditor (and on reddit people can be harsh); he supported Trump making memes without thinking that he was the leader of an important company: everyone is free to support whoever he wants, but if you’re a leader, this means political consequences. About Zenimax… well, let’s be honest: when you’re not a lawyer, you just don’t consider the burocracy (patents, NDAs, etc…) that much.

In the meanwhile, Facebook has completely gained control of Oculus: all the starting leading group has been eliminated somehow from the key positions of the company (Iribe works in the PC division now, that means that he’s just a guy playing with Rift toys; Palmer has gone away now). It has been replaced with expert people in line with Zuck’s line (like Hugo Barra). Oculus didn’t have a stand at CES, only Facebook had. Facebook is completely eating its VR toy. People like the Vive because it’s more open. But let’s think a bit about the difference of these companies: Facebook is a company that earns by selling our personal data and making advertisement; while HTC earns by selling hardware and Valve earns by selling games. It is clearer that the second ones are better suited for virtual reality, but most importantly, care more about virtual reality being funny… because Valve has to sell games. Facebook fit for VR is not that clear, but surely has to regard social networks, personal data and advertisment, that is… the evil.

That’s why people blamed Brendan Iribe and Palmer Luckey for having sold to facebook some years ago. But, again, imagine the situation: you’re just a smart guy and another smart guy like Zuckerberg comes to you and says that he will give you a bazillion of money and that it will help your product to become awesome… what would you do? You would accept. Consider also that all Rift investors (Rift was backed on Kickstarter, but received much more money from private VC funds) were making pressures for an exit (if you’re not a startupper: when investors give you money, they want it back later on, but usually not from money you earn, but from an “exit”. An exit happens when you sell your company to a big brand for a lot of money) and you obtain as a result why this sale happened. There are people that say that Palmer could have sold Oculus to other “better” companies, but who knows if this is true. Facebook surely made lots of promises to the founders, but the design of the CV1 (a lot focused on design, a lot focused on seated experiences like watching videos (on facebook)) made us understand that something was not going as expected. And now Facebook is clearly showing us where it is headed. I think that one of the reasons Palmer leaved is because as a techie he’s no interest in what Oculus is becoming… he doesn’t want to follow this “social path”.

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He also looked awkward when finished on the cover of Time magazine (Image by VR Focus)

I’m very sad because if I were Palmer, I would probably have made lots of mistakes too. And in the end I would have found myself outside my own company, too. I would have found my company becoming exactly the opposite of what it was meant to be: Oculus has started as a company for innovators, super opened towards the community… now it is considered the Apple of VR. As a tech guy in a startup, I see the pain of being a techie and finding yourself struggling with customers, social media, public speaking, business plans and all this stuff. And I’m very sad for Palmer.

He started the VR renaissance, we all know this. Without Palmer, we wouldn’t have the Rift, Vive and Hololens. Surely, VR would have popped out anyway somehow (Valve was already doing lots of research on this, for instance), but who knows when, how and with how much passion. We all liked his being a true person: the fact that he was not a cold business man made him a lovable normal person: he was opened towards the communities and also had some funny moments… I remember him playing with Vive (his competitor!) and having fun. And he’s out of the game now. So sad.

Who knows what Palmer will do now. He’s full of money, he’s a Silicon Valley hero, but he’s actually unemployed. I hope that in the first times he will just return to his garage and start playing again with his tech stuff. Maybe some new revolution can happen again… 😉

(Cover Image from Vg247.it)