Founder's Profile: Drew Perkins
When I finally put the very first lens on, it blew my mind.Feb 13, 2020
The founding of Mojo Vision has a different starting point for each of the founders. Mine started about eight years ago. When I was starting Gainspeed, my last company before Mojo, at the end of 2011, I discovered that I had cataracts. To improve my vision, I had a common surgery performed that replaced the diseased lenses in my eyes with surgically implanted artificial, “intraocular” lenses. Although I had worn glasses since I was a child, I could instantly see with perfect 20/20 vision at a distance and close-up, and it was miraculous to me.
But as I went to social and professional events, I couldn’t read people’s nametags from a comfortable distance and my computer screen was blurry—my new lenses couldn’t focus at that range, and it was embarrassing to lean in towards people’s lapels to read their nametags. After this happened a few times I thought to myself, why on earth in the early 2010s can't I have super-powered vision like The Six Million Dollar Man?
I'm a life-long entrepreneur and a technologist. All my previous companies have been based in internet, networking, and optical telecommunications spaces. I thought, it must be possible to build bionic eyes. I also thought that bionic eyes in this day and age ought to include Augmented Reality (AR), a concept that is portrayed in movies like Iron Man and Mission Impossible. When I was ready to start my next company in 2015, I studied the concept in detail and discovered there are bionic eye companies out there, but the technology was very immature. I knew most people wouldn’t want to get eye surgery to improve their existing vision or give them AR, no matter how cool it could be. So, I thought, where could I put an AR display that’s as close to the eye as possible but not inside it? The answer was obvious and intuitive—contact lenses.
One of the first steps I took to make this happen was to ask Greg Papadopoulos if there was anyone already working on this idea. Greg works at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), one of the oldest and most successful venture capital firms in the world. It turned out that Greg had an old Sun Microsystems colleague that had been working on the same concept for several years. His colleague, Dr. Michael Deering, a talented big-idea man with a PhD. in computer science, had already spent eleven years researching this very problem in his Los Altos basement-garage (a true Silicon Valley story if ever there was one). In our first meeting together, I realized that, amazingly, he'd figured out how to build it. All we had to do was execute on his vision to pull it off.
A few months earlier I’d been introduced to Mike Wiemer, who was an EIR (entrepreneur in residence) at NEA looking for a hard problem to solve that might make a difference. I realized that Mike would be a perfect cofounder along with the two of us: while Deering’s more of a scientist, Wiemer is a talented engineer who could help me start the team and get the technology going. After working together for about a month, the three of us decided to take the plunge and put a real company together. Michael contributed his Intellectual Property to the company, I invested some initial seed money, and we got NEA to invest as well.
We incorporated in November 2015 and began hiring other brilliant engineers, scientists and medical device professionals. By 2019, we’d built an incredible team, gotten a working prototype going with an actual display in a contact lens, and I volunteered to be the first person to try it (I feel strongly that a leader should lead from the front, and if there’s any risk in wearing it, they should take that risk themselves).
When I finally put the very first lens on, it blew my mind. Wow! I just felt like, holy moley, this is really going to work! It’s like in “2001: A Space Odyssey” when Dave Bowman the astronaut looked into the obelisk and saw stars. I realized that this is huge. This changes everything. Human vision. Man’s relationship with technology. Human health. The future!
Since that day, the underlying technology driving Mojo Vision has continued to improve. Higher display resolution has allowed for crisper images and video. Constantly shrinking sensors are enabling new functionality. A revolutionary new and intuitive user experience. The possibilities continue to grow larger and larger! Like all of us, I’m very excited to see how Mojo can make us all feel like The Six Million Dollar Man.