An overnight success is always years in the making - Varun Nair

Transforming an idea into a successful venture is hard. It takes tremendous energy, constant iteration from failure, and good timing. In 2013, I co-founded Two Big Ears, a company that developed audio technology for virtual reality. Facebook acquired it a few years later and took me on a journey to Silicon Valley and back.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley

In 2011, I moved from India to study at the University of Edinburgh. That is where, by chance, I met Abesh Thakur, my co-founder. We both had taken a break from our careers in India to study and were keen to try something new.

Inspired by our work at the University, we formed an audio-focused games company. While we juggled jobs and built prototypes, we realised we were better technologists than game designers. We did not know where to start and found support around us. University pitching competitions helped us communicate complex ideas and connect with the ecosystem. Help was available at every turn, from office facilities to immigration advice. Raising investment helped focus all our time on the business.

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It took us many months, more prototypes, countless conversations, and lots of dead ends to end up targeting the virtual reality market. Everything then became about making it work. A few years later the opportunity of an acquisition was a surprise, but not to the people around us. The timing was critical, the virtual reality market was taking off and even a difference of a year would have resulted in a different outcome.

Varun Nair, co-founder of Two Big Ears and former Head of AR/VR Audio Software at Facebook

In hindsight, the events stack up to form a good narrative, but, building a workable business is a winding path with unforeseeable pitfalls. An overnight success is always many years in the making and requires a strong support network. Our relationships with customers, competitors, the local ecosystem made the biggest difference. Constantly measuring the market and relentless focus on customer happiness maximised our chances.

The lessons we picked up then were critical in a large company. Building teams that make technology for billions of people required new skills, but the startup experience of putting people relationships and experiences first made all the difference.

I recently moved back to Edinburgh to start new ventures. While it is getting easier to start a company outside of large clusters like Silicon Valley, these clusters have a lot going for them: strong competition, a high bar for success, and access to capital. While Edinburgh is not yet a large ecosystem, the ingredients for growth exist and there has been significant progress. There is more diversity in the kinds of businesses and the people behind them. Getting to a point of predictable success also requires the ecosystem to learn from failures. Failure builds up a remarkable reserve of creativity and strength. Fail early and often, apply those learnings quickly, and try again.

In 2013, the thought of founding a company, having it acquired, and working in one of the largest tech companies seemed impossible. The journey of a startup can be daunting and filled with failures, but also with opportunities to learn and grow. It takes constant iteration and lots of help, yet, it is not impossible.

Varun Nair, co-founder of Two Big Ears and former Head of AR/VR Audio Software at Facebook


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