Magic Leap 2, Many Unsold ML1s, Mortgaging Patents, & Needing More Money

Intro: $2.6 Billion Was Just Not Enough for Magic Leap and Series-E Marketing Tour

I have received more information from multiple sources as a result of my story, All Magic Leap Patents Have Apparently Been Assigned To J.P. Chase Morgan As Collateral. So this article is following up on that story.

The discovery of Magic Leap “mortgaging” (more on that later) their patents to J.P. Morgan and my reporting on it came at a bad time for Magic Leap. Unbeknownst to me a couple of days ago, Magic Leap is in the middle marketing tour for a Series E funding round.

As I discussed last time, almost all the $2.6 billion (that we know of) money has been spent. And the Magic Leap II money monster needs more feeding like Audrey II from “Litte Shop of Horrors.”

Kguttag.com hit number 1 on Hacker News Sunday.

It was another wild ride on this blog Sunday after it became the #1 story on Hacker News. Variety Magazine cited the Hacker news thread on my article the next day in Magic Leap Is Raising Another Big Funding Round. The amount of interest didn’t take the site down, but the response was sluggish for about an hour.

Magic Leap Conflating J.P. Morgan Chase Patent “Mortgage” with E-Round

Next Reality on Monday had a similar story (better written, but a day later 😊) to mine titled, Magic Leap Patents Signed Over to JPMorgan Chase as Collateral Just Months After Major Funding Push. In their update to the story, when they asked for comment on the I.P. collateral issue, they got the following response from Magic Leap:

“’Magic Leap is in the midst of a significant financing round, which will become our Series E when complete. We have already closed a major portion of this round, some as equity and some as convertible debt that will become equity when the round is complete. The participants in this round include existing investors, new investors, and strategic partners,” a spokesperson for Magic Leap told Next Reality.’”

The response from Magic Leap is for word identical to what Magic Leap has been presenting to the press, including Variety Story on the E-round. As correctly pointed out by Next Reality author, Adario Strange, Unfortunately, that statement doesn’t directly address our questions regarding the company’s decision to enter into the patent security agreement with JPMorgan Chase.

It looks like Magic Leap is trying to conflate the mortgaging of the patents with needing to raise even more money in their E-round. It is unclear whether the J.P. Morgan Chase loan that used the I.P. as collateral, it part of the round. But I doubt it as Magic Leap dance around Next Reality’s question.

Also, for a company that has been rasing more hundreds of millions of dollars per round, what does it take to be “a significant financing round?” I’m told that Magic Leap did not give numbers on their finance marketing tour.

Few Magic Leap Ones Sold and Thousands in a Warehouse

Last time I said that people were figuring that Magic Leap had sold between 5,000 and 8,000 units have been sold, but I have been informed that the number is likely below 2,000 units were sold with a large number being given away. Doing some simple math indicates that it cost Magic Leap to date more than $1.3M in investment per unit sold.

With such a small number of units sold, most of the units sold were to companies/competitors curious about what Magic Leap was doing. This leaves next to no installed base for software developers.

I also hear there is a warehouse with more than 10,000 unsold units. One has to figure that their whole supply and contract manufacturing chain is unhappy with low volume and no need for more units.

Magic Leap 2 (ML2) – Wider FOV and 5G – Rearranging the Deck Chairs

I have not been able to find out a lot on the technical side, but apparently it not completely new display technology but more of an improvement over the Magic Leap One (ML1). The word is that it has a wider field of view (FOV) which would put it wider than Hololens 2, but I don’t know by how much. Also, in an effort to please AT&T (which has been putting and unknown money into Magic Leap), SK Telecom, and NTT Docomo, the ML2 will support 5G. It will also, as no surprise, have more compute power.

It’s not clear whether they are giving up on their “focus planes” concept that greatly degrades the image quality (as I have written about in past articles). I have heard some rumors that they may go to a single plane, like everyone else, to reduce cost, but I don’t know if this is true.

IMO, it sounds like they are just rearranging the deck chair on the Titanic. The ML2 will be dead and buried long before 5G is commonplace, but it is there and adding significant cost to have a “story” to tell the telecom companies (with Magic Leap is seems to always be about the “Big Picture Story”). Bigger FOV will please the techno-geeks, but that was not their biggest problem.

I have a lot of faults with Hololens 1 and 2, but at least they built what I would consider a “product” that could meet some customer’s needs. Unlike Magic Leap One, Hololens had large eye relief that allows people to wear most normal glasses and interchange headsets; this makes Hololens bigger and uglier, but it is vastly more practical than Magic Leap’s Steampunk goggles. Also, Magic Leap’s cord to a computer pack concept (wired in at both ends no less) as I reported when I first saw it, an accident waiting to happen. I didn’t hear anything about them fixing these major flaws.

Quietly Laying Off People Since January with Larger Numbers Recently

As would be expected when a company is trying to raise more money under the duress of running out of cash, I’m hearing that Magic Leap has been laying people off quietly since January and that this has accelerated in recent months. It sound’s like part of the severance package is that they can’t talk about it.

The Strategy to Sell the Company to Apple by Loading Up on Beats by Dre Execs Didn’t Work

Magic Leap was apparently hoping that Apple would buy them like Apple bought Beats for $3 billion. In addition to having Scott Henry as CFO (former Beats CFO) since 2014, Landon Cortenbach, V.P. of Business Engineering (former Beats Director of Accounting), in 2018 they hired Yul Vanek as V.P. of Technology Solutions & Services (former Beats V.P. of I.T.).

The only problem was that A) Beats was selling a lot of audio headsets and B) that Apple didn’t think they needed Magic Leap’s technology (most of which is hardly that new).  The problem with the “big company as your savior” strategy, is there are very few people that have to say no.

Clarifying “Assigned as Collateral” – Mortgaging the Patents

There were some complaints raised about the terminology in Sunday’s headline that Magic Leap patents had been “Assigned as Collateral” to J.P. Morgan Chase. Next Reality did a better job explaining it. I was trying to be clear that while the assignment shows as change at the U.S. patent office, it was because the patents are being used as collateral on a loan.

This like a mortgage on a home, Magic Leap still has control of the patents in similar to how a person owns their home with a mortgage. But like a mortgage, Magic Leap was to not fulfill the terms of the loan contract, such as paying back the loan, then J.P. Morgan Chase would own the patents (and not any other investors which would be unsecured). The exact terms of the contract between J.P. Morgan and Magic Leap are not known, but in order to perfect J.P. Morgan’s position as first in line to get the patents, the needed to register it with the U.S. Patent Office.

“Mortgaging the patents” usually happens when a company can’t raise money any other way. It’s bad for current investors in that if a high-tech company goes bankrupt, selling patents may be the only that has significant value to sell. Depending on the terms of the contract, which we have not seen, it may or may not tell future investors that the patents will not be there if Magic Leap goes under, thus making raising money more difficult.

In any event, it gives a pretty clear signal that Magic Leap is (finally) having some trouble raising money.  

There Are Good Startups Out There, Stop Financing Charlatans.

File this under learning from WeWorks and Theranos. I have personally seen good high tech startups be put through the wringer in due diligence for a few million dollars. Then you see companies get literally billions in what I call “lemming financing.” All it seems to take is one big name and big ego’ed lead financer does poor due diligence and people with more money than knowledge follow suit.

Magic Leap may not quite be Theranos, although the whole fiber scanning display is very Theranos-like. Like Theranos, Magic Leap sold the concept but had no rational knowledge of how to build it. In the end, like Theronous, they used the pile of money they raised to buy a solution that everyone knew about (in Magic Leap’s case, diffractive waveguides driven by an LCOS display) and pretended it was revolutionary.

I have been writing on this blog for about 3 years on why Magic Leap was technically dumb. This blog has been read by over 20,000 people in a month, and many of them are executives at high tech companies and investment firms, hopefully none of my readers invested. And I don’t even charge for this blog.

Magic Leap has taken in over a billion more dollars more since I started writing about them. And they are still trying to put out the fire with more sacks of money. Sadly, Magic Leap has soaked up and wasted so much money in the AR space that many fear it is going to leave nothing but a big stink behind it.

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Karl Guttag

17 Comments

  1. Could not agree more about everything you’ve said about Magic Leap.

  2. ” I didn’t hear anything about them fixing these major flaws.” It’s like the tree-falling-in-the-forest thought experiment. If only a few hundred people have them, then the probability that someone snags themselves on the lightcord is relatively low.

    Great work on the JP Morgan Chase call out!

  3. So many billions _wasted_ in this scam company while just a tenth of the money could have funded hundreds of wonderful major open source projects.

  4. Mad respect for sticking by your convictions in the face of relentless personal attacks.

    That being said, Magic Leap will retain unicorn 🦄 status for years to come for two reasons:

    1) Delay of Apple Glass to 2023 — so no real consumer brand to compete against until then. This also means, financial investors have no fear of missed revenue targets until then since investor hockey stick revenue models are suitably long term hopes at least 3 years out.

    2) Too big to fail; Like WeWork existing investors can keep pumping in money during down rounds to protect their previous efforts.

    • Magic leap too big to fail? Haha. You can only say that to fully operational companies with hundreds of millions of profit yearly. You cant compare it to wework. We work is fully operational(product/services being sold to consumers) and i think is profitable already. Magic is still in beta, and is burning cash rapidly. I cant say they are too big, with their status, 2 billion will gone in a year.

      • There is a point where investors will put in good money after bad, figuring they want to keep the hope alive.

        We don’t know the terms of the J.P. Morgan Chase “Loan.” Obviously they were not putting more money in without using the stock at collateral. I believe the existing shareholders had to sign off on this since they were losing their rights to the I.P. This suggests that the other existing shareholders were not willing to cover the costs. So then the question becomes, who signs on knowing that the I.P. is being held as collateral.

        It is hard to make something good out of the news.

    • too big to buy more like it …if they could be bought for as much as oculus …it would have happened a while back even though they don’t have that much to offer

  5. they need to make something like the nreal glasses and call it ML lite and partner with someone like google or microsoft or facebook for the software …but MS and FB got their own ar projects at the moment

  6. […] berichtet erneut Guttag, dass er nach seiner ersten Meldung über Magic Leaps Patent-Deal weitere Insider-Informationen […]

  7. […] a person owns their home with a mortgage,” display tech guru and patent inventor Karl Guttag espoused earlier this week. “But like a mortgage, if Magic Leap was to not fulfill the terms of the […]

  8. […] a person owns their home with a mortgage,” display tech guru and patent inventor Karl Guttag espoused earlier this week. “But like a mortgage, if Magic Leap was to not fulfill the terms of the […]

  9. […] a person owns their home with a mortgage,” display tech guru and patent inventor Karl Guttag espoused earlier this week. “But like a mortgage, if Magic Leap was to not fulfill the terms of the […]

  10. […] a person owns their home with a mortgage,” display tech guru and patent inventor Karl Guttag espoused earlier this week. “But like a mortgage, if Magic Leap was to not fulfill the terms of the […]

  11. But I think I am always grateful for what ML has done for the AR industry. ^ ^

  12. Karl,
    You rarely offer any kind words regarding Magic Leap One. It’s too bad as many of your readers will be discouraged by your constant negative press. They will fail to experience the amazing experience that is Dr. G or Create. From what I’ve tried, Magic Leap has the most enjoyable “hologram” experience out there with decent eye-tracking and world mapping and more than that, something different than Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc…

    It’s easy to criticize without creating your own competing device to show how much better yours’ would be.

    • I don’t have kind words for them because they have been dishonest and hype merchants based on what I have found out about them. Based on reports I have seen, they have soaked up about 1/3rd of all the VC investment in the AR space with very little to show for it. They claimed to have figured out this wiggling fiber technology that was a total bust. In the end, they used the great sums of money they raised to buy essentially what many companies (M/S Hololens, WaveOptics, Digilens, Vuzix) had already done. Their “Photonic Chip” turned out to be yet another diffractive waveguide. Their VAC solution was just two sets of waveguides stacked on top of each other with a decided jump and color shift when it changed between them; worse yet the “far” (and mostly used) set of waveguides had to be viewed (with some image degradation) through the near waveguides.

      The image quality of the much simpler nReal headset blows away Magic Leap One.

      By any objective measure, the image quality is poor.

      I understand that it is enticing the first time you are exposed to an AR headset with SLAM. Dr G. is very similar in concept but with a much better storyline than Hololens RoboRaid. Basically it is a 3-D shooting arcade with things coming out of the wall. But it only works if you have the “right” kind of room for it (right size, not too much furniture, windows, not too much light coming in, etc). If anything it points out the limitation of trying to do AR games, namely everybody’s room is different.

      The Create ap is kind of fun the first time, but there is not that much you can do with it. Everything is kind of clunky with no ability to build anything significant.

      I’m told Magic Leap One has sold less than 2,000 units or about $1 millon dollars of R&D and marketing PER Unit. I simply can’t take credit for Magic Leap shipping so few units, they had to have a poorly design product.

  13. Dear Karl,
    You are unfortunately right about Magic Leap. Being in the AR industry for the past 11 years, we’ve seen them come and go. I say unfortunately because every year it gets more difficult for the survivors like us to excite investors about the future or AR. Its gotten to the point that you sometimes feel like you are crying wolf. Magic Leap is unfortunately not alone in overhyping their technology, they are just on a bigger scale. Their failure will certainly taint the industry for quite a while (remember Google Glass?). This year has already seen its fair share of companies going under (Meta, ODG, Daqri). Even if ML soaks up more investment $$, I actually hope that they will be able to secure their Series E. That way the industry doesn’t have to spend another 3 years recovering from yet another epic flop (or at least delay it till we’re out of this current trough).

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