By Adam Grossman on January 12, 2015.
The short version: Prior to December 31st, ownership of The Dark Sky Company was split evenly between Jay and myself. As of December 31st, we’ve added a new partner and co-owner, a strange little company called Applied Invention. This is a really good thing.
The longer version: Dark Sky the company was born just about exactly three years ago, after our successful Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to the generosity of our backers, we were able to make it to profitability without ever having to take outside investment or give up equity in the company. In the three years since then we’ve grown and expanded, and we’re now serving in excess of 8 million weather forecasts a day to our app, website, and many 3rd party developers. But that growth comes at a price: we’re at the point where Dark Sky can no longer be run solely by two guys who have absolutely no clue what they’re doing or how to run a company. Enter Applied Invention…
AI is cofounded by Danny Hillis of Thinking Machines and Long Now Foundation fame. It recently spun-out of a company named Applied Minds where it was the group that developed new technology for commercial companies and entrepreneurs. Think of them as a Skunkworks-for-hire, where companies come to them for help in solving hard — oftentimes ill-defined — technical challenges. This team of several dozen engineers, scientists, and wackos have helped farmers figure out when to fertilize and plant crops, built life-sized autonomous robo-dinosaurs (which, as far as I can tell, they were forbidden from using by pesky lawyers who were afraid they’d trample little children), created the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000 Year Clock, and more. They’ve started several companies, including Metaweb (which was bought by Google to help power their Knowledge Graph) and Applied Proteomics, a biotech company that is developing diagnostics for early detection of cancer by looking at the proteins circulating around the human body. Hell, they’ve even designed and built their own micro-satellite, sent into orbit onboard SpaceX’s first commercial launch.
Now, normally when a little tech company such as ours announces an “equity event”, it’s one of two things: Either they’ve sold out to a larger company for a big ass check (i.e., “It’s been a great journey, and we couldn’t have done it without you. See yah, suckers.”), or they’ve raised money from one or more Venture Capital firms. This is different: Jay and I still retain majority ownership of Dark Sky, and we continue to be an independent company. At the same time, this isn’t simply a money injection, and Applied Invention isn’t a VC firm. They actually build stuff. And they’ll be involved in the day-to-day operations here at Dark Sky on a technical, operational, and business level.
It’s pretty simple, really: AI has world-class engineers and data scientists, who will help make our data even better and more comprehensive. They know how to actually run a viable business, and are eager to help us try a ton of crazy new things. They have the infrastructure that will allow us to grow. And they have a strong desire to see Dark Sky succeed on its own, rather than being subsumed into some larger organization.
Dark Sky isn’t going anywhere, and our focus hasn’t changed. Applied Invention will help us do what we do better, and accomplish the new things we want to accomplish sooner.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a real possibility. We’ve never done anything like this before, and any time you introduce new partners you’re taking a significant risk. In fact, I’d put the odds of Dark Sky crashing and burning in the next couple years (or worse: turning into something we no longer love) as high as 50%. But really, that’s a big improvement. If it were just Jay and myself, the odds of utter destruction would be much higher; closer to 100%. The two of us were trying to do the job of a much larger team (i.e. design and development of a sizable app and website and data service, keeping a hundred Linode servers up and running, customer service, corporate development, and all the nitty-gritty work involved in running a business), and that just isn’t sustainable. Continuing down that road would lead to unimaginable stress, burn-out, probable heart disease, and a slow and steady descent into functional alcoholism.
That’s not where we want to go. Instead, we want to build the weather service for the 21st Century. And there is no better group to help us do that than Danny Hillis and his team.
We are excited as hell.
(This is going to sound incredibly cheesy, but you see that picture up at the top? That’s not a sunset; it’s a sunrise. Dark Sky is just getting started.)
Sunrise image by Kenneth Spencer