As a serial entrepreneur, Julian Green is currently investigating applications of AI to help us plan for, cope with and prevent messing up our planet. Previously he founded Jetpac (acquired by Google) and was the VP Business Development at Ironplanet (acquired for $750m) and at Fatbrain (IPOed and was then acquired by Barnes & Noble). Julian has also held executive positions at X – The Moonshot Factory, Google, StubHub and eBay. In 2014, Julian was a founding member of GBx and this year stands at the helm as Co-Chair.
Growing up in Oxford, one of my summer jobs was taking readings from college weather stations. An echo of my latest venture as an entrepreneur-in-my-residence: finding climate friendly applications of AI, mostly in climate and weather prediction.
Strategic consulting at Bain after University helped me learn about analytics, working hard, and the power of small high quality teams. A Masters in Engineering from Oxford University and an MBA from INSEAD Business School in France gave me a general technical and business understanding, and a love of solving problems, cheese and wine. During this time, I was one of the first 1000 people to swim from England to France!
Since 1998, I’ve been an entrepreneur and angel investor in San Francisco and along the way I’ve enjoyed helping UK companies find customers and investors in Silicon Valley. Indeed, as a founding member of GBx, I’ve helped many Brits in tech overcome their reservations to network!
I’ve been lucky to have worked in five successful startups. As the co-founder and CEO of Headroom, Jetpac (acquired by Google) and Houzz; and prior to that as VP Business Development at Fatbrain and IronPlanet. Through executive positions, I’ve also been part of pioneering technologies. I led Google’s Computer Vision and Visual Search products including Google Lens. As the Director of New Moonshots at Google X, we used AI to solve problems for billions of people. A highlight was co-leading Malta, a grid-scale long-duration energy storage moonshot. Spinning-out of X, we raised $87m and it is now piloting plants that enable the grid to store and rely on renewable energy, instead of burning fossil fuels. I’m proud that in the rapidly evolving world of technology, many of the things that I have helped to build, continue to help people today.
Tell us about how you founded Jetpac?
The thought crossed my mind while traveling. The problem had once been that destinations were difficult to research and you had to ask a travel agent – I remember those days! Now the problem was that there was too much information on the internet, and you might spend more time researching than enjoying your travels!
Our challenge was to find a fast way to create itineraries people were excited about, so they could go and have fun. The name Jetpac grew from the app’s aim: to jetpack users to somewhere fun.
The timing seemed good. People were leaving data trails on social media from travels they had enjoyed. We first helped users find places their friends recommended, by filtering Facebook data and turning that into a beautiful travel magazine. Then we turned to Instagram, finding the most publicly shared destinations that people enjoyed and curated a global photo travel guide for every city. We could tell you the most hipster coffee shop in San Francisco by spotting hipsters and latte art. It worked amazingly well.
Along the way, we developed AI to understand and process billions of travel photos in a quick, cheap manner. Google was interested in being able to efficiently turn photos and location information into recommendations, and they bought Jetpac.
What were the biggest challenges in scaling?
Acquiring the first customers is all about listening to their wants, and identifying which magic moments you can create for them, that others can’t or won’t. The biggest challenge in scaling is maintaining these happy customers and employees at speed. If you manage that, keeping investors happy is a lot easier! You need the best team to be able to move fast. Good technology scales better than people.
An acquisition by Google
When Google bought Jetpac, the opportunity to work on the most important problems with great people at Google and X – The Moonshot Factory, kept me there longer than I expected. I learned a lot about AI and how to build and operate AI products running Computer Vision products at Google. I moved to X to build Moonshots, trying to benefit billions of people. I learned a lot about applying the latest AI research in practical ways to real problems. I benefited from the rigorous thinking about de-risking projects, and how to run cheap experiments to quickly discover if the most important part of an idea will not work. Being at X was like seeing into a crystal ball of the next 20 years of startup activity, as the disruptive technologies we evaluated and developed move from applied research to the current tech stack.
Challenges of being a serial founder and how you’ve overcome these?
As a serial founder, you have to work smarter and harder on the things that really matter. You are fortunate to be able to attract co-workers, investors, and a network of people who will try your new products. Being disciplined in parsing through the compliments to get to the real moments of customer truth is what connects you with the real value that you can add. It’s also good to be lucky.
Following my roles at Google and at X – The Moonshot Factory, I founded Headroom. We were fortunate to have an insight that the future of work lay in leveraging the information generated in meetings, which became more obvious and important as Covid-19 forced everyone into remote meetings. We were lucky that we had the skills to invent cutting edge real-time AI on live communication streams to automate meeting and human understanding – transcription, video highlight reel summarization, and action item identification. It was helpful that existing video-conferencing services were unable to easily re-architect to enable real-time AI.
Putting this together with the revolution in Natural Language Processing helped us provide something differentiated that companies really needed, at the right time. It has changed the way we work. It would be strange to go back to a time when you couldn’t search all of your meetings to revisit and share clips and insights.
Serial founders sometimes have threads running throughout their ventures. In mine, there are 80s influences on my company names. Jetpac was a game I played on my first computer (a ZX Spectrum with 16KB of memory) and (Max) Headroom was an 80s fictional character!
Do you have any advice for future founders in your field?
On a closing note, what’s the best business book you’ve read?
I often find business books very dry. The best contain fun stories that you can learn from.