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Flight Path

You Get Out What You Put In feat. Jan Goetgeluk ’10 and Jesús Patiño ’10

Owl Have You Know

Season 4, Episode 3

The Rice Energy Finance Summit (REFS) founders, Jan Goetgeluk ’10 and Jesús Patiño ’10, join host Scott Gale ’19 to discuss how they first met at Rice Business’ international student orientation many years ago, the experience of launching REFS, how Hurricane Ike played a role in their friendship, and the importance of swinging big.

Jan is the founder and CEO of Virtuix and the developer of the Virtuix Omni, the first virtual reality interface to move freely and naturally in video games and virtual worlds. Jesús is a strategy and business development consultant at AerMill Solutions.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00]Kevin: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Flight Path Series, where guests share their career journeys and stories of the Rice connections that got them where they are.

    [00:15]Scott: On today's episode of Owl Have You Know, I'm here with Jan Goetgeluk and Jesus Patiño, Full-Time MBA students graduating in 2010. This is an exciting episode. We've got two guests on. You guys are, in some ways, catching up here for the first time in a, in a bit. We're going to talk about your story. We're going to talk about Rice Energy Finance Summit, which you guys founded, and a whole bunch of other things, I'm sure. So, welcome to the show, guys.

    [00:42]Jesus: Thank you.

    [00:43]Jan: Thanks for having us.

    [00:44]Scott: So, I want to just kind of chronologically, one of the things I'd just love to unpack is, you guys both grew up outside of the United States. Jan, you in Belgium. Jesus, you in Mexico. And I want to just ask how did Rice eventually get on your radar? What drew you to Rice? Jan, you want to go first?

    [01:04]Jan: Yeah. Yeah. I came to Houston for my first job out of college. I did my master's degree, undergrad and master's in Belgium, mechanical engineering. Was sent to Houston for a project and fell in love with Houston, with the U.S., and decided to stay.

    So, when my company wanted me to go back to Belgium after my project, I told them, you know what, I'm going to, I'm going to stay here. So, I quit my job and then I went to business school. And I was in Houston already, and Rice was just such a great school and such a good fit. And that's where I ended up going.

    [01:38]Jesus: So, for me, after college, I worked for M-I SWACO, now Schlumberger, for years offshore. And part of the, when you start the program, you go into what they call the Mud School. I was a drilling fluids engineer, so I came to Mud School, spent nine weeks in Houston. And I had kind of the bug for a few years. I started working. And six years later, when it came time to apply to business schools, I applied to a bunch of, you know, whatever the top five schools and Rice because of its connection to the oil and gas and the energy industry. And it turned out to be a great decision, so.

    [02:11]Scott: Love that. So, Jesus, you know, you, you've got a technical background. What sort of drew you to that initial line of work?

    [02:18]Jesus: So, with an engineering degree, I mean, I started working overseas. I initially wanted to go into the food industry, but my family, my dad worked in oil and gas. My grandfather worked in oil and gas. They were both geologists. It was just natural to find a good job in oil and gas back in Mexico. And I started, I got a job offer to start going offshore and started doing that. Pay was good. Job was exciting, interesting projects, and we took it from there. I mean, I was, spent some, about six years going offshore. The last couple of years were in West Africa, so I was doing assignments and doing the rotational engineering job where you go and spend four weeks on and four weeks off.

    While I was doing that, I was, it's a story that I, I've told a few people. It's we were in the rain one night. It was like a Sunday. It was actually Monday, local time in Ghana, 2:00 AM in the morning, right? And we had to decide whether or not to pull out of the, I mean, to pull the down tool out of the well, which was going to take two days and probably 4 million dollars’ worth of rake time, right? And we were waiting on a call from Dallas, someone, you know, make the decision on whether or not to continue drilling and go try to find next contact or pull out of the hole, right? And it was kind of, okay. Today is Monday, 2:00 AM in the morning. Someone is crunching numbers back in Dallas to make a decision. It wasn't happening with us and the rest, you know, couple of months of our lives. I rather being that, doing that job rather than being here.

    So, while it was very exciting to be, you know, looking at, I mean, getting things done in the field, I thought that the decision process required different type of skillset and was time to go to school to get it. So, that's kind of what brought me to business school, and Rice was definitely the right place to.

    [04:08]Scott: Jan, you've also got an engineering background, mechanical engineer, I understand, spent some time in petrochemical logistics and other things. Can you talk a little bit about your career leading up to your experience at Rice and what led you to start down that path? And then, we'll talk a bit about what you spend your time doing today, but would just love to kind of understand. I'm just trying to paint a picture of, you're in Belgium, you've done this degree, and now you're kind of starting this career. What got you sort of pointed down that path initially?

    [04:36]Jan: Yeah, my career before Rice was, in one word, short. It was very short. I did an engineering degree in Belgium because it's never intended to be technical or have a technical career. I always wanted to have a business career, but an engineering degree, at least in Belgium, provides the broadest range of possible career opportunities. I also wanted to leave Belgium and go abroad. And again, having an engineering degree, especially mechanical engineering, provided a lot of opportunities to get a job abroad. And so, you know, that's why I decided to get my engineering degree, started working for this petrochemical logistics company in Belgium.

    Again, for the main reason, because they promised they would send me to the U.S. for a project. That's why I joined that company in the first place. And then they sent me to the U.S. for a project and then wow, I loved it so much. And I quit that job to stay. That was just a seven-month period, if you will.

    So, really had barely one year of work experience when I joined the Rice program. I was one of the youngest guys in the class. I think I was, yeah, 24, I guess, when I, 23 or 24 when I started. I did a five-year master program in school. So, I was one of the youngest guys starting Rice.

    [05:54]Scott: I've been to Belgium before. Love the country. What are some of that initial moment that you guys, kind of, met, like, what, were you guys in that class together, work on a project together? Like, how did you guys sort of connect? Would love to just sort of carry that into the discussion on the whole premise for the Rice Energy Finance Summit and what led to not only the concept but sort of executing that for the first time.

    [06:17]Jan: Yeah. When did we meet, Jesus? It must have been day one-

    [06:19]Jesus: Oh, yeah.

    [06:20]Jan: … I think, one of the first events-

    [06:20]Jesus: Yeah.

    [06:21]Jan: … probably. I think they even had an event just for the international students, I think, before we started-

    [06:25]Jesus: We had an immersion week, right?

    [06:26]Jan: … if I remember correctly. Yeah. So, even before the year officially started, I think we had an international… do you remember that? I think we went to the Rice football stadium.

    [06:33]Jesus: With a bunch of internationals in the first game. It was, yeah, the very first week. That's right.

    [06:39]Jan: Just for the international students. Yeah. So, I think we met very early on, yeah.

    [06:43]Jesus: Very early. And then, I don't remember, we were in the same section also, right? So, we took-

    [06:48]Jan: Yes, right.

    [06:49]Jesus: … probably most of the core classes essentially together, right? So yeah, with, I mean, we were, we were essentially in the same classes.

    [06:58]Scott: So, spending a bunch of time together, working on different things. I mean, I, I'm just trying to figure out, like, sitting at Valhalla, like having a drink and like, hey, we should do this. What was kind of the spark of what is turned into rest?

    [07:08]Jesus: That happened definitely further in the year, right?

    [07:10]Jan: Yeah. Maybe a fun fact too, Jesus, you probably remember this. But 2008, when we started the program, is when Hurricane Ike hit Houston and shut down the school. And I was staying in the Rice graduate apartments, which were hit pretty hard. Those were shut out, shut down for two weeks, and actually stayed with Jesus and his wife and Camila, his one-year-old daughter, for a few days. Because, of course, at Rice, I didn't have power or water or… remember that, Jesus? Yeah, Hurricane Ike, Jesus was kind enough to let me stay with him. So, we were, we were friends very early on.

    [07:45]Jesus: Yeah, there was always, I guess, a sense of the international student community. There was a different, we're all kind of in the same ground. Although I must say that one thing that always… so Jan, he was, he seemed to be farther ahead in the plan for the program and what to do and when to… I was not nearly, you know, at the same level when we came to, you know, readiness for the investment banking interviews and all that stuff that comes very early, right, late in the first semester. So, and obviously, I mean, I was, you know, married with a one-year-old little girl in the house. He was kind of a slightly, I think, I think that gave everyone a sense of that I had more stability.

    [08:25]Jan: Oh, sure.

    [08:26]Jesus: But that was not necessarily the case, but.

    [08:28]Jan: Yeah. You were a phase ahead of most of us in life. I was a 24-year-old single guy. Yeah, different stage in life. And then for REFS, I think what happened was, so I was elected to be the Rice Finance Club president in the second year. And then Jesus was elected Rice Energy Club president. And I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish as Rice Finance Club president.

    And one of the items on that list was, you know, what, how about a student-run conference? And I think even maybe the dean at that point was really interested in seeing that happen. Started talking to Jesus, why don't we do a joint finance club, energy club and something around finance and energy. And that's how we started talking about it and how it came to be.

    [09:19]Jesus: And I remember that the year, the year before, so in our first year. Kian and the guys-

    [09:26]Jan: Yeah.

    [09:26]Jesus: … they tried, they did a energy education for this event. We had Janet Clark as the main speaker. She was, at the time, the CFO of Marathon Oil, but that also got pushed-

    [09:37]Jan: Right.

    [09:37]Jesus: … because of the storm. And so, that event didn't happen. It was kind of something that, it was not as ambitious as REFS ended up being, but it was, kind of a, an initial push to make something slightly bigger happen, right around energy education and finance, and…

    [09:52]Jan: Yeah, that's correct. I sat down with Kian Granmayeh, who was the Rice Finance Club president of the year before, and brainstormed with him about what are all the things that we could organize. And he mentioned also the idea of a conference, which he tried, but then didn't really work out.

    And then one other thing on the list was a first visit to Warren Buffet, which we organized as well. That was the first time we did that. And there were a few other things. But yeah, student-run conference was on that list. And so, I'm a doer, so, you know, just wanted to make it happen. Yeah.

    [10:25]Jesus: And I remember it being at the student come sitting and having a chat with Jan and this whole thing of how big should we think. And it was very adamant about thinking big. And just why not try to be, you know, whoever, right? And that's when Jan came up with the name, the summit name.

    [10:45]Jan: Yeah.

    [10:45]Jesus: That initially, I thought it was, I mean, I wouldn't have come up with that, but I think it worked out really, really, really well as a name and as a brand. And then we went with Dean Glick to make the pitch, and say, okay, this is what we want to do.

    [11:00]Scott: A lot that has to come together to pull something like that off.

    [11:05]Jan: We got some big speakers. I mean, that was the key thing. And I was, I'm, I was very impressed as a Rice MBA student. You really get incredible access to leaders in the business society, in the business community. And so, we had top-notch speakers that first year. We had some CEOs of top energy companies. It came together really, really nicely.

    [11:28]Jesus: Every time I speak with a student nowadays, I always tell them that there's only two years in their lives where they are going to be able to start an email saying, I am a Rice MBA student that wants to speak with you. And that line is powerful because it really resonates with people and you get their attention. And that's a door opener that you shouldn't let pass, right?

    You should take full advantage of it because it really allows you to connect with people that otherwise they won't listen to you, right?

    [11:59]Jan: That's right. Yeah.

    [12:00]Scott: You guys are touching on a few factors that I think tell the story well. That, one, an experience at Rice Business is sort of opportunity to create something from nothing that might, you know, have an impact. And as students and active alumni, you've seen, you know, different programs kind of come and go. Different initiatives come and go, but there's sort of this freedom to create in an effort to have a positive impact.

    What do you think that, sort of, the staying power of REFS? You know, it has become over the years, one of the, you know, the largest student-led programs at Rice Business. Where do you think some of that longevity came from, and anything that kind of sticks out in the experience?

    [12:41]Jan: Well, I think you have to be a bit lucky with who takes the helm. Because obviously, we can only organize it one year. I think the inaugural edition, I thought was terrific, the speakers and the attendance. The following year, we handed it off to the next group of students. They did it all right. You know, it still happened.

    And then the third year was… Brian did. And actually, another fun fact. My wife, who's now my wife, was the co-chair of the third REFS edition in 2012, together with Brian. And they did also a great job. And so, once you have a few good editions under your belt, that's where it kept rolling.

    But I think to your point, I think it's just, it was just a right fit for Rice, Rice Energy Finance Summit. It seems like it did fill a hole in Houston and especially for the Rice community. And so, it made sense to have it. And I think it's just a useful program that got enough interest from the community to grow. And now, it's so great to see that even now, I think 12 years later, it's still going strong. So, it's just fantastic.

    [13:49]Jesus: I remember the first interview that I had with the school was with Sean Ferguson, who was the associate dean of degree programs, I believe, at the time. It was in Mexico City actually, in one of these career fairs, MBA fairs in Mexico City.

    I had lunch with Sean, and he was telling me part of the pitch that he was making for the Rice MBA was that it's a place where you can come and do things. Yeah. That this is small enough, right, where you can actually make an impact. Which sounds a little bit as a cliche, but it was very true. It turned out to be very real. And I think still is.

    I mean, you still see, fairly, newer programs, right? Like the Women Leadership Conference. And it's a place that has, you know, enough resources to allow you to think big, right? But still, it's not enough where you can, you're going to have to make it happen and that's something that I think, I think's part of the, of the reasons why it was a successful program, right?

    [14:47]Jan: Yeah, I spoke to a group of Rice students last Friday, and I said the same thing. My time at Rice was the best two years of my life. But you get out what you put in, and I put in a lot. And it gave me so much, you know. I really had such an incredible time. But you get out what you put in.

    And for any existing students today or current students, try to do stuff, build things, be engaged, be involved, and it's such an incredible, rich experience being at Rice, in the business school. It's a unique time in your life. And yeah. For me, it's still, today, the best time of my life. Yeah.

    [15:24]Jesus: And that goes definitely to the program and also for the alumni life, right? Once you're an alum, always something interesting going on, right? And whether, I mean, and being outside Houston is harder to remain involved, but attending the events-

    [15:37]Jan: It is, yeah.

    [15:37]Jesus: … that are outside Houston and just being, trying to be part of it. I think there's a, you always get more than what you put in, but you need to put it in.

    [15:46]Jan: Yeah. Yeah, it's a good point because being in Austin, I live in Austin. It's definitely harder because, of course, I was extremely engaged with Rice in Houston. And then, after my time, I went back to the school all the time for events and such a wonderful community. And then being away from Houston does make it harder, unfortunately.

    [16:07]Scott: I appreciate you guys sharing that. I think it's such an important feature for, sort of, current students, even alumni, prospective students, that Rice truly is a place to learn, experiment, build relationships. And you kind of just never know what might have legs and become sort of, like, integrated into the fabric of what Rice Business delivers and the countless impact that the summit has had over the years, and cool opportunities. I've had an opportunity to speak at REFS in the past. And so, I've had a chance to stay connected. And so, it's really great to see.

    I'd, I do want to ask sort of, are there any sort of learnings from that experience, in building that, whether individually or together, that you sort of reflect on or sort of help as you've kind of gone out into your current expression of your career, which I want to sort of jump into as well?

    [16:58]Jan: Maybe that there's nothing you can't do. I mean, you want to organize a conference and make it a big success? You can. It's just a matter of doing it. A lot of people have a lot of ideas in life. And always say ideas are like buses. There's another one every five minutes. You just have to do it, and you have to execute and make it happen.

    And that experience, Jesus did a tremendous job building this conference. And together, it just gave us a lot of confidence, I think, that yeah, wow, you know. There's really nothing you can't do. And it is true. Having that the Rice, hey, I'm a Rice MBA student, being able to put it in an email, actually opens up a lot of doors. Which to Jesus's point, after you graduate from Rice, was that you can't do that anymore. But yeah, just, that level of confidence in what you can accomplish and reaching out to top head honchos and captains of industry. And guess what? They respond to you, and they're interested. And so, it was a remarkable experience.

    [18:03]Jesus: Yeah. And yeah, one thing that I don't think, Jan, we were not thinking about, you know, any kind of we just wanted to make something, something big and because we didn't see any reason why the school, I mean, shouldn't have a big event in finance energy, right? I mean, we had everything in place, you know. A terrific venue, school with a lot of prestige, you had all the, you know, the corporate offices of all the top energy companies and investment banks and so on and so forth. So, there was no reason why it all was needed. It was a ton of work, a few people, right, to make it happen. And that's what it is. I mean, there was, there was nothing special other than getting it done, right?

    [18:49]Scott: Was it ever in doubt? I mean, was it ever in doubt that you were going to get that first one up and off the ground? You mentioned sort of funding or other things. Was it, was there sort of a moment, or was it just kind of, like, as you're marching forward, it became clear that it was going to be able to be executed?

    [19:08]Jan: I don't think there was ever in doubt, no. We were marching ahead and making it happen.

    [19:13]Jesus: And Jan was able to secure a couple of speakers very early on. Yeah, before I even noticed, he had already-

    [19:18]Jan: Yeah, yeah.

    [19:18]Jesus: … sent a few emails and had gotten responses. And we're like, okay, well, that's, it looks like it's happening, so.

    [19:24]Jan: We're up and running. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And also, thanks to the school, I mean, a lot of these early speakers on, they're also involved with the school.

    [19:31]Jesus: Council of Overseers –

    [19:32]Jan: Some of the… yep. Yes, yep, yep. Council of Overseers. And of course, the dean was on board, and the whole school was on board. So, when we saw that we would get some big speakers, then we knew it was going to be a success. When you get together big speakers in a room, you know you'll attract attendees. And we didn't charge all that much, frankly. I think now, Jesus, it's a lot more expensive to attend, I think, REFS. In our year…

    [19:56]Jesus: We had a few conversations-

    [19:57]Jan: Yeah.

    [19:58]Jesus: … about what is the right price tag for this.

    [19:59]Jan: Yeah.

    [20:00]Jesus: It was kind of a, yeah, it was, it was not nearly as nice. We didn't have the fancy luncheon or the it was essentially, you know-

    [20:07]Jan: Yeah.

    [20:07]Jesus: … lunch boxes and, uh… it was a lot more modest, but it happened.

    [20:12]Jan: Yep. Yeah, the entrance fee was modest. And then, so we knew if we had the speakers, we could bring together full attendance and make it a success. Yeah.

    [20:22]Jesus: I do, I do remember though that, I mean, we were concerned at some point with people signing at signups, right? Because sure whether or not-

    [20:29]Jan: Yeah. Will people show up right?

    [20:30]Jesus: … [crosstalk 20:31] all that.

    [20:32]Jan: Yeah.

    [20:32]Jesus: But that was part of the, that comes with it.

    [20:34]Jan: We really pushed everybody to advertise it, promote it. Lots of emails were sent out, just to make sure people would sign up. And they did. And they did. Yeah.

    [20:45]Scott: Fantastic. Well, appreciate what you guys have built. I think it's, it doesn't have an end in sight. So, it's really exciting. Think it's going to be a plank in the foundation of Rice Business for years to come. I'd love to sort of just dig into a little bit, your experience sort of post-graduation.

    So, you've both gone on to do different careers. And so, Jesus, I wanted to ask, you know, we were talking a bit about your offshore oil and gas experience after graduation. What happened next, if you will, sort of in the story? Like, where did you go in your career and what were some of the decision points along the way?

    [21:19]Jesus: So, after graduation, I, as part of the whole REFS and energy club and involvement with the school, I got opportunity to meet Jay Collins, who at the time was the CEO of Oceaneering International. I kind of developed a little bit of a connection there. And they ended up opening a business analyst position at Oceaneering, and they invited me to join there.

    It was, I ended up interviewing with him and Kevin McEvoy, who was the CEO also at the time. Little bit of an odd thing for a business analyst position, but it was also a testament of the Rice, I guess, prestige. So, I had, I had an interview and joined the company as a business analyst. This was right after graduation. Actually, it didn't happen as part of the graduation. I did my internship with M-I SWACO, who was a company that I was working for before school. They actually made me an offer, but it was, it was, the offer from Oceaneering was significantly better in many aspects.

    And with Oceaneering, I spent 11 years. I mean, covering different roles, doing, had a marketing job with the company. Then they had a, I did M&A for a few years. The company spent a few years, actually very active in the acquisition side. So, got to do that, the corporate development role for about three years.

    Then jumped in a, the head commercial job with our, with the offshore intervention business of the company. All, you know, Oceaneering is a subsidy company. It have been [inaudible 22:51] experience. Never did a technical job with Oceaneering. It was all either, you know, commercial, finance, or corporate development.

    And the last role that I had with Oceaneering was a, it started a business for a maritime intelligence initiative. After an acquisition, we did, the business was trying to take a different angle and start developing intelligent solutions for maritime operators outside on gas. And I got to run a team of data scientists to develop this platform to tell analytics. That business didn't take off on the way we expected.

    And last year, I left Oceaneering and started working for, with a former colleague from Oceaneering, in family business he's got in here in Houston, in Pearland. We manufacture sand blasting equipment, so I'm no longer in oil and gas. It's a manufacturing operation. It's a very nice operation, very well-run business, that is looking at doing an international expansion, significant international expansion over the next few years. So, I came in to help setting up that strategy and executing the strategy for, to help the company get into the next phase of growth. And I've been here working with them, and it's really exciting. It's fun. I'm traveling more than I was and it's refreshing. A totally different animal from corporate development, from a corporate job, but it's super fun.

    [24:15]Scott: That's fantastic. Jesus, you've managed to kind of stay close to Rice post-graduation as well. We touched on briefly – you've stayed connected with alumni organizations. Can you share a bit about your experience there and what motivated you to participate in the ways that you have?

    [24:31]Jesus: Rice is definitely a big part of, you know, of our family. As Jan said, it's probably two of the best years of our lives were spent at the program. And when we graduated, just wanted to stay involved. So, I, after, I mean, I was very active, you know, coming to events, attending to events. I, we bought a house fairly close to Rice, the Heights area, so…to campus, so, it's a short drive. And part of the decision of staying there was to be close to Rice, quite honestly. Undeclared reason, right? Anyway.

    [25:04]Scott: Right.

    [25:05]Jesus: So, we are close. A couple years after graduation, I was invited to join the alumni association board and started working with the board. And I mean, it's a three-year commitment that is typically extended to three more years, right? So, it ends up being a six-year commitment.

    And the last year, I had, I had the opportunity to serve as president of the alumni association. So, it was a, it's a good time just to be, you know, around. The thing that I also say a lot is that I have seen the value of my degree going up over time. I mean, my equity in the school is, I mean, if the rankings are an indication, right? It's clearly come up.

    I don't know if I would be eligible for admission today. I'll say that much. But yeah. So, I remain active. I rolled off the alumni association board in the following year. I was invited to join the Rice Business Partners board, right? So, it's a different angle. And I don't know if the folks listening know what are the roles of different boards.

    The alumni association board essentially represents the alumni body, right, in front of the office of the dean. The Rice Business Partners is a group that helps the school connect with the corporate world, with the business side of… so, you have the, what it was, used to be, the Council of, Council of Overseers. That is, it changed names now, especially senior executives, you know, helping the school generally. Big donors helping direction, strategic direction to the dean, the Alumni Association representing the students, and then the Rice Business Partners, which sort of represents the corporate world of the business world.

    So, I've been working with the Rice Business Partners board for three, four years now, and was recently asked to serve as president, so president-elect of the Rice Business Partners now. And yeah, look forward to it. We organize, we have a lot of events, and about seven to 10 events a year that have the Leadership Speaker series. And then we have some round tables and our members can come to events and also was a nice event and networking session following up.

    [27:18]Scott: As you're kind of saying, like Rice Business Partners today, like, how do people be, is it, you know, organizations that sort of sign up as, partners? How could alum listening find ways to get connected with some of the or- those organizations?

    [27:29]Jesus: I mean, with links with more information in the school's website. Reach out to any of us, members. Our events are always published in schools, and you can, you can join in, sign up the newsletters that we send out.

    Essentially, we have two types of memberships, a corporate membership and an individual membership, right? And two different price tags. Both give you access to all of our events. The whole idea of the Rice Business Partners is operating under three pillars that we call, right, connect, inform, and inspire.

    And all the things that we do are around the idea of creating connections, informing people, giving somebody some useful information for the lives, and inspiring folks to do good things, right? So, it's, we have the Rice Business Partners website. Just reach out and we have to speak more about it.

    [28:17]Scott: Love it. Jan, if I could pivot to you, you sort of got a job in investment banking after graduation. Can you talk a little bit about your post-graduation experience and ultimately, what led you to the company that you're currently sort of working for-

    [28:34]Jan: Yeah.

    [28:34]Scott: … and some of your entrepreneurial experience along the way?

    [28:37]Jesus: Before Jan starts, sorry. Let me tell you that Jan has, Jan is the poster child of an MBA career for me. So, every time I need to tell somebody.

    [28:45]Jan: I don't know about that.

    [28:47]Jesus: He checks all the boxes for pre- and post-MBA.

    [28:52]Jan: If you want a post-MBA career in energy finance, corporate, Jesus is a poster child. If you want to go do something entrepreneurial, with the caveat, “don't try at home” kind of thing [crosstalk 29:08].

    [29:08]Jesus: Under your own risk, right?

    [29:10]Jan: ... right? Yeah, I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, be an entrepreneur, start my own business. But I'm an immigrant, couldn't start a business out of business school because I need a visa to stay in the country. Same with Jesus.

    And so, I decided to, you know, get a job with the one industry that doesn't care if you're an immigrant or not, which is investment banking. They do sponsor foreign students for their visa. And also, investment banking, I thought, you know, they pay the most money. So, I could make as much money as possible and save as much money as possible to then start my own business one day. So, I went into investment banking, JP Morgan investment banking.

    And fun fact. In fact, I was the Rice Finance Club president. I didn't take a single finance elective at Rice. I took all the entrepreneurship classes at Rice, which now the entrepreneurship program is well regarded highly, highly ranked number one in certain surveys. Rightfully so. I loved every class of it. And I actually graduated with the entrepreneurship designation. Even though I went into investment banking, which was always my temporary job. Because while at JP Morgan, I was actively looking for opportunities, looking at one point to buy a business with a few former classmates, going down several entrepreneurial opportunities, most of which didn't work out.

    But at one point, I thought, you know, virtual reality, I thought, was going to be the next big thing. This was in 2011, 2012, a bit early, but I thought virtual reality was going to be the next big thing. And I thought the biggest problem that hadn't been solved yet was how to move around inside VR, inside the metaverse, which is now the hype term of the day.

    And so, you need something like a treadmill, but a treadmill in 360 degrees, an omnidirectional treadmill. And I started looking into that and nothing existed. Nothing commercially viable existed. And I'm a mechanical engineer by background. So, I thought, you know, this is a mechanical problem. Let me start working on this.

    And so, I started working on early designs of an omnidirectional treadmill. Started working with a design house in Houston. Then started working with a prototype shop in Pearland to make an early prototype, all while I was at JP Morgan. So, this was after hours, late at night, 2:00, 3:00 am. Or sometimes, I would leave the office in the afternoon, sneak out, drive to Pearland, check on this prototype, drive back to the JP Morgan office downtown, and then work until like 3:00 am or 4:00 am.

    [31:35]Scott: Yeah, all the investment bankers out there are wondering when did you have spare time.

    [31:38]Jan: Yeah.

    [31:38]Scott: Because the IB calendar is pretty packed.

    [31:41]Jan: Pretty, pretty packed. It's pretty brutal. So, mentally do two different things like that at the same time. And at some point, I published the first video of me using this big old prototype of the Omni, that's our core product, the Omni, this omnidirectional treadmill. I was playing this famous video game, Skyrim with an old VR glasses on the Omni. And that video blew up, hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, big press cycle. And then I thought… this was in early 2013. And then I thought, “You know what? I'm, this is it. I think, I think this is the right opportunity. I'm going to quit my job.” I was about to make probably $400,000 that year with JP Morgan. I said, “You know what? I promised myself I would quit.”

    Another fun fact, I actually wrote a contract to myself while at Rice that I would quit my investment banking job within, I think, three and a half or four years or so. I promised myself it would quit because the risk is that you get stuck and you make a lot of money. And then that entrepreneurial dream you once had, I just, you know, just didn't come to be. So, I promised myself I would quit. And so, I did quit in 2013 to launch the company, which I'm still head of today, Virtuix. And, that's how it started.

    We're now almost 10 years further. It's been a long road. We raised over 35 million dollars from investors. Mark Cuban is a big investor. We're still small, 55 people in the company today, two products in the market. We were coming out next year with our third product, which is going to be our first consumer product for the home, which is going to be our big swing at the bat. Really, the big vision we had from the start is about to come to fruition. And I think we're in for a really exciting time. And, you know, we're supposed to be the next billion-dollar company. That's why investors invested in us. And we're not there yet, but, you know, we're having an exciting time ahead of us. So, that's, in a nutshell, you know, my post-Rice career.

    [33:34]Scott: That sounds fantastic. You mentioned Mark Cuban. For folks that want to see Virtuix in action, you were on Shark Tank some years ago. The entrepreneurial experience is never smooth. And so, I'd just love if you had an experience or two that you sort of reflect back on, that was kind of like a, “Oh no, what have I done here,” kind of thing, or if it was always just kind of, like, clear kind of vision. I mean, it's an incredible story. We'd just love to kind of hear your take on some of the things that you've learned.

    [34:05]Jan: Yeah. The vision has always been clear. And still 10 years later, still the same vision, and it's still more and more coming to fruition, which is really neat. But it has been very hard, yeah. The biggest accomplishment, I tell folks, is that we survived, frankly. Most VR companies that started around the time I started or we started, they're long gone. It's unusual for a company, as a tech startup, to be around after 10 years. Most people are, yes, most companies are either dead or they've made it somehow or got acquired. So, we survived, accomplishment number one, but it hasn't been easy at all. Fundraising for a big piece of hardware has always been hard.

    The first funding round we did, 2014, was extremely hard. Probably, the lowest point was when my wife told me, you know, Jan, if this doesn't work out, you're going to have to find a job, right? Very low point in my career, but pulled it off and never lost faith. Got the funding round done. Mark Cuban invested in that first round. He invested three times over the years, the last time in our last round two years ago.

    2020 was really, really hard because our flagship product today, which was also the case in 2020 is Omni Arena, which is a turnkey attraction for big entertainment venues. We sell to Dave & Buster's, for example. In Houston, Dave & Buster's has one. Palace Social, close to Rice University, has an Omni Arena. But that's our key market, is entertainment venues. Which of course, in 2020, they all shut down. In a matter of days, our revenues went to $0 in just a few days' time, extremely hard. We laid off people, furlough, salary cuts, emergency fundraising, really stressful time. Probably, the one time where I thought that we may not make it. But through sheer, I guess, determination and perseverance, made it through it. And we have a great team as well. And survived again.

    And now, we're at the cusp of delivering Omni One, which is our Omni system for the home, the big vision we had from the start. And that's looking so, so promising. So, 10 years in the making, if you will, and hopefully, an overnight success after 10 years of blood, sweat, and tears.

    [36:19]Scott: Fantastic. Guys, this has been a great discussion. I kind of want to, as we kind of wrap up, I just want to ask sort of like a “what's next” question. Like, what are the things that you guys are excited about, whether in your careers or with family or time? I, you know, I don't know, Jan, if you just play video games in your spare time or if you like to go do something different sort of outside that space. But would just love to ask a “what's next” question.

    [36:43]Jesus: Family-wise, the next few years are, you know, with a kid in high school and there will be some transitions pretty soon, thinking about college and all those things, right? Professionally, I am very excited about this project I'm involved with, about taking this company internationally and hopefully, increasing the size significantly. And that's kind of where we are. It's a, it has a lot of the, you know, the entrepreneurial angles, right? Going into something new, but with a very, very solid, solid foundation, which obviously reduces the risk on my end, right? So, it's really exciting.

    A lot of, some of the things that I thought I was, I was actually looking at some of the, I found somewhere some of the essays that I wrote to come to Rice. And I was, I was talking at a time about, you know, the cross in international, you know, in relation, Mexico, U.S. relationship and Latin America. And, you know, my ability to understand how you do business in Mexico and in the U.S. and helping that, bridge that, I mean, the gaps, the natural gaps that occur in business. It is looking like now, it's, I'm actually having to deliver on that. So, I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it.

    [37:58]Jan: Yeah, I have three kids at home, including a one-month-old baby. Plus, I have Virtuix, so I don't have any hobbies anymore. Mainly just working for Virtuix. And then in my spare time, I try to spend some nice time with my, with my family. So, what's next is a really exciting time for our company and bringing the new product to market. And hopefully, finally really writing it to high success. And I love what I do.

    Even in 2020, which was so hard. Every day, I was still grateful that I got to do every day what I was doing. At that time it was very hard. But having your own company, being your own boss, growing something, building something, leading a team, I just love everything about it. And so, hope to keep doing that whole while longer.

    [38:49]Scott: Love it. Jesus, Jan, thanks for taking the time and being on the show.

    [38:53]Jesus: Thanks so much. Really, really enjoyed it. Anytime.

    [38:55]Jan: Thanks so much. Thanks for having us.

    [39:00]Scott: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, business.rice.edu. Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcast. We'd love to hear what you think. The host of Owl Have You know are myself, Scott Gale, and Maya Pomroy.

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