Tom Carter is the CEO and founder of Ultraleap, the world leader in interface technologies – hand tracking and mid-air haptics. Ultraleap employs over 170 people across Europe, North America, and Asia and is the first company to offer the full vertical stack of software and hardware, enabling natural interaction for the Extended Reality (XR), out-of-home advertising (OOH) and automotive sectors.
Can you explain what Ultraleap does?
Our hand tracking technology allows you to interact in mid-air and our haptic technology adds the feeling of touch, allowing natural engagement with the digital world. That means there’s no need to touch surfaces, touchscreens, controllers, or keypads.
From enhancing 2D screens to developing fully immersive 3D experiences, we power natural, safe, and effortless digital interaction in the connected world. Anybody trying to produce a commercially viable solution for projecting touch through the air will likely come across our patents.
How did you come to partner with Mayfair and why?
In 2018 we needed to transform our working prototypes into mass market products, for which we needed to find the right partner. To deliver the best experience, we needed to simultaneously progress both our haptics and hand-tracking technologies. We all agreed that this would require a trusted and active partner that could help provide a range of specialist capabilities, not just capital.
When searching for a potential investment partner we’re looking for more than money. We started by looking for the right scale of investor who can follow on and support us in the future. But we really wanted to go above this and find someone who could deliver clear added value. The cherry on top is that you’ve got to be able to work as a team. There’s got to be that cultural fit, which is really, really important.
Sir Hossain Yassaie, who sits on our Board of Directors, introduced us to Mayfair Equity Partners. We had experience with early-stage investors as well as venture capitalists, but Mayfair was our first private equity investor. We knew the experience would be different but were amazed by the breadth of the value add they offered.
From the outset, they demonstrated a people first approach. Mayfair have a great reputation and it was clear from the outset that they weren’t going to be a passive shareholder. During our discussions, we got to meet and hear from the full breadth of company, touching on long-term growth planning, operational controls, brand development, financial reporting, tax planning, insurance, all the way to M&A support and post-merger integration. I think their approach and reputation are primarily why we partnered with Mayfair. It was that feeling of credibility, trust, and that they would be good people to work with.
What has been the biggest step change for Ultraleap since your days in a Bristol lab?
After our Series C round with Mayfair, we did a few fundamental things that are all rooted in what Mayfair call their Active Partnership approach. We had great support to establish rigorous operational controls and processes, including corporate governance and board packs. Additionally, with Mayfair’s Specialist team, we devised a strategy to focus on securing major licensing and royalty agreements with technology enterprise customers. I found this super helpful, but I’d say that the stand-out value-add came through the acquisition of Leap Motion which we completed in May 2019.
When the opportunity to acquire Leap Motion came up, who were the world’s best hand tracking technology company, we were one of the smallest companies interested, with the fewest resources at our disposal. We focused on understanding the people at Leap Motion and established a good cultural fit. This was similar to Mayfair’s focus on team, and they were excellent mentors as we went through the process.
The acquisition was a wild experience, and I really enjoyed the whole process. Although we had done three investment rounds at that point, it was very different being on the other side of the table, making an investment and undertaking due diligence. We really benefited from Mayfair’s expertise; they don’t just look to “win” a negotiation, but they get to a point that’s good for everybody, creating the basis for good future relationships.
Bringing Leap Motion in-house massively accelerated our development and growth, but it also reinforced how much Mayfair really bought into our vision. They treated us like an equal partner and worked with us to achieve our goals.
What’s next for Ultraleap?
Every 15-years or so you get a paradigm shift. One of the last significant technological leaps was the iPhone, which fundamentally changed how people interact with technology. Nothing quite as transformational has occurred since, but I believe the next shift is coming and it will revolutionise how humans interact with the digital world for decades to come.
As everyone races to the Metaverse, the primary hurdle will be how humans interact with the physical and virtual. From buttons to screens, we must now master how to touch the invisible and create a virtual experience that replicates what we’ve grown up with and experienced – which means physical objects and things that move.
The real challenge is getting the system or device to better understand and predict what a human is trying to do. Ultimately, you won’t be able to visually distinguish what’s real and what’s virtual. Your hands and touch will still be the ultimate reality check and we are at the forefront of enabling humans to interact and feel the virtual. We’re excited to be at the forefront of this change and be the primary interface for the metaverse.