(This is an interview conducted on the Game Dev Unchained podcast)
Su and Peter both have full time jobs and have had illustrious careers spanning across gaming, film, and tech companies. Their partnership started over four years ago and currently their company, Ugo3D, has a potential valuation of $200 million dollars. They have also met with the biggest investors in Silicon Valley and have even walked away from life-changing deals. Now fresh from their release of GameFace, an app that turns any player into a playable avatar on every smartphone available, they are on the cusp of hitting it big.
Sungwook Su (aka Su Su) is fundamentally a Visual Effects Artist at heart. His career has taken him across many different companies and industries. He was at Blur Studio for a while making high quality game cinematics. He was also a CG Supervisor making commercials for the likes of Honda and Syfy. In addition, he spent five years at Sony Pictures Animation working on Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball. This led Su to working on live action movies like Oblivion, Snow White and the Hunstman, and the Amazing Spiderman. After working so long in the movies industry, he made his return to games on Metal Gear Solid 5 as the lead VFX artist.
His partner Peter Yoo isn’t a slouch in the slightest. Although, Peter never worked in games, his passion led him to working at the biggest companies in the tech industry as a infrastructure engineer at Samsung and Intel. His twenty years plus of experience has helped their company Ugo3D thrive.
How They Met…
Su and Peter laughs as Peter recalls that “Su and I know each other a little bit too much for too many years.” There’s a reason why most investors are more willing to bet on partnerships more so than solo startups. By simply having someone to bounce ideas off of increases exponentially the success rate of a company. So it was clear from the interview, that both Su and Peter work really well with each other and most importantly respect what both brings to the table.
“Su and I have a background on different areas and we've been trying things out for many years. The latest venture that we've been doing for over four years now. So this where our gaming and tech knowledge is married together. We are now doing something by having yourself, the gamers, be put into the game itself. Any game. You hear a lot about this in virtual and augmented reality, but no company out there has ever brought it to everyone. That's the area where we come in. Imagine putting yourself in the first-person scenario in any game that you are playing today. We are very close to achieving this. We already have partners using our technology to enable and bring the future nearer to us.”
“Peter and I are very different. Tech-wise I am closer to being an artist but Peter is a engineer. He specializes in securities and handling servers and keeping the data safe. I'm more about content creation. So this is a perfect match. We deal with a lot of online privacy storing facial data and without security it can be very dangerous. We have to take a lot of a risks but thankfully Peter does all this magic under the table so we don't have to worry about anything. He's very polite but he actually created some security systems for the Korean government all by himself as one of his previous jobs.”
Beginning of uGo3D
“After I worked on Metal Gear Solid I had a idea. I reached to one of my older friend at Harvard working in the medical engineering department. He agreed to meet with me to listen to my pitch about converting people data in real-time to 3D and then become a online avatar. Primarily using CT (computed tomography) data. ‘We can make a lot of money.’ So after I was brainstorming with him, I told him to give me a few days to think about it. After I made a prototype and showed him he was blown away. It was way more than what he expected and he parted with ‘Okay, give me some time. I'll come up with something with this and then a few months later he called all of a sudden saying ’Hey, so we are ready.” I said to him “What do you mean, ready?’ He responds, ‘Oh, we got investment money and all you have to do is sign the paperwork and get the money. You sell the entire license and idea to this company and then you get a paycheck every month.”
“This isn't what I what I wanted. I didn’t want to sell my entire idea and I wanted to continue developing this idea. I wanted to go on a different path and I need to do something closer to game-related. So I came up with an idea and started talking to Peter. Peter at the time was really busy so we talked again a few months later. He just finished the security system for the Korean Government, the sector that is the equivalent of the FBI in Korea all by himself. That blew my mind and knew we could do something amazing. That's how we got started working together.”
KPCB and Silicon Valley
“We came up with many different ideas with several different prototypes. We created one with real time capture for furniture generation. Using 3D data in real-time. The other one we made was playing with AR technology. Four years ago, a prototype using AR technology was groundbreaking. This is way before Apple popularizing the space. Our app would scan 3d data generating in real time to place furniture in your physical space. People loved it so much. We also explored plastic surgery by allowing you to scan your face and have the ability to fix stuff. We made like four to five different prototypes within a year that led to a great investment meeting with KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Claufield & Byers). Which is one of the biggest venture capital in Silicon Valley that were the initial investors for Facebook and Amazon. This was four years ago when we had that meeting and somehow investors knew we had a meeting set with KPCB and would contact us saying, ‘I don't even know what you guys making but if KPCB put their money into it we'll follow. Let us put money into your project.”
“Su mentioned earlier that he is passionate about looking at CT scan technology and making that more accessible. Su and I are not doctors and we freak out even with seeing a little bit of blood. So we want to explore this right. We're both crawling around and reaching out to doctors out there that shares a similar passion that has more insight and uses the technology in their everyday practice. We connected through our network of friends and ended up talking with Stanford professors. We can't really announce the project or name of it here because of NDA but we worked on something that is one of the biggest Stanford researcher project ever conducted. We prototyped a real-time facial scan for plastic surgery and showed it to them and they loved it! They wanted to use it for their research. Stanford Medical Research is the biggest well established project ever. They ended up capturing thirty thousand human faces. So this sample number is the biggest number in their history. They never used that many human patients and it cost a lot of money. We ended up making a contract with them we delivered that medical grade scanner tech in two months to Stanford Medical Group. They use it everywhere around the world right now.”
“Stanford Medical were so happy with the collaboration that they connected us to
a good friend at KPCB. At the time, we were so stupid that I had to google them to figure out that they were the biggest Venture Capitalist firm in Silicon Valley.”
Getting a Valuation
“We finished the first meeting with KPCB and it went really well. Then we got second meeting, followed by a third. We had two external people they invited to review our valuation. They spent about an hour asking questions looking at our prototype. After a week they gave us our future valuation that if we launch within three years our company would be a $200,000,000 dollar value.
Not Selling Themselves Short
“It is a long journey I must say I mean Su and I first thought that uGo3d is a dot-com startup because this is how other companies do it. So we're thinking that we can sell our ideas and go to first round funding to second round and succeed. We had that moment and walking that line but we realized that this isn’t what we really wanted to do. If we do this and we sell it, we would be fine for a little while and then what? It's all about the passion.”
“We had a hard time dealing with that. Meeting with all these fancy investors that were beyond our imagination. However, at the end, we decided that we should try to strike it on our own for a while if what we have is really good. So instead of locking it to one particular company or investor why don't we make it so that everyone can enjoy our work. 3D is just different world. I can see it and I can enjoy it but I can never make it professionally as a regular consumer. I'll give you example: there were times that the 3D printer were a little popular. The price went down significantly where you can buy one for $300 or $500. What happened was even a regular person buys one no one can make use of them because they weren’t 3D artists. So Su and I were thinking why don't we do something where people around us can enjoy 3D on their own creation?” Because pictures and videos are things that everyone can capture nowadays. The next thing is 3D for social media. So just think about how instead of sending a picture or video to someone you love you can't give them a piece of 3D scan of yourself or loved ones. Imagine that! Currently, no one can do that except us and we have the perfect technology to enable that feature.”
“The name of our latest app have changed at least once. We still have a lot of things that we would like to do in the future and we're reaching our milestones. Before we had a name called Headshot, which I kind of liked. But our CEO one day said ‘Oh, you know, we are focusing on games. Why don’t we call it GameFace.’ Our app have been called GameFace ever since.”
“We are small team we don't have a lot of time to integrate our tool into different games right now. So there are only two companies that are using GameFace technology without any marketing from us. These two companies licensed our app and made a connection mainly through my network and hearing about us through the grapevine.”
Su and Peter are planning to improve their tools and look at the bigger picture and take uGo3D as far as they passionately can and they have made it clear that they are bound for great things.