Ben Lamm is constantly thinking about the future. Revenue, company growth, and fundraising are central to Lamm’s role as the CEO of Austin-based AI company Hypergiant. But Lamm isn’t just thinking about his own company’s future, or even his industry’s. He’s thinking about the future of humanity.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what Hypergiant does, because the company does so much. It’s more like three or four startups rolled into one. Hypergiant’s primary focuses are finding solutions to problems in critical infrastructure, space, and defense, using AI. Their list of products is dizzying: there’s the bioreactor that uses algae to mitigate climate change. There’s an augmented reality helmet for first responders and soldiers. Then there are AI satellites designed for the Air Force and Space Force’s national security efforts.
Hypergiant’s latest project is Hyperdrive, an AI services integration platform which helps businesses manage various AI products in one place. It’s one of the company’s less flashy products, but enterprise software and other behind-the-scenes products are just as important as satellites and bioreactors, says Lamm.
"I do not believe that Silicon Valley is over. I think that's insane. But I am really excited about the great people that have chosen Texas as their home."
Much of Hypergiant’s output can be split into two camps: the out-of-this-world product designed for a far-off future, and the more practical product that can help businesses and pay the bills. Often, there’s overlap — Hyperdrive will be used for all of Hypergiant’s projects, including its AR helmet, known as the “Heads Up” display.
“It doesn't really matter if the input device is a sensor on a train or rail car, or coming from a satellite, or in an F-35,” Lamm said. “Ultimately, we want to take that data and then serve it up through a great UI/UX.”
Perhaps Hypergiant’s most out-of-this-world endeavor is a network of smart satellites made in partnership with the Air Force. When the 36-satellite constellation is complete, it’ll send real-time data back to Earth using machine learning. According to Defense News, the first launch could come as soon as early as this year.
The other contender is the Eos Bioreactor, a refrigerator-sized device that captures CO2 using AI to maximize algae growth. When plugged into an HVAC system, the algae thrives on the CO2, absorbing it while releasing oxygen. The bioreactor can reduce 60% to 90% of carbon in the air.
While Hypergiant hasn’t disclosed any recent funding, investors include Sumitomo Corporation, Perot Jain, and Austin mayor Steve Adler. Its AI consulting work and government partnerships, meanwhile, have led to consistent profit. In 2018, the year Lamm co-founded Hypergiant along with Will Womble and John Fremont, the company reached eight figures in revenue, and was already one of the fastest growing AI companies on the scene. Although there are no plans to go public at the moment, Lamm says the company is focusing on growth before a SPAC or IPO.
If Hypergiant is so innovative, why haven’t more people heard of it? For starters, it’s only three years old. And unlike consumer-facing companies like Tesla, Twitter, or Robinhood, Hypergiant’s clients are businesses and government agencies like Boeing, NASA, and Shell. Still, Hypergiant has been thriving, and the pandemic has led to more growth for the company than ever before, including plenty of onboarding for new workers and a couple of acquisitions.
Growth during the pandemic
Hypergiant wasn’t Lamm’s first hit: he started his first company as a senior at Baylor University, and had a successful run until he sold it at age 29. Since then, he’s founded and sold four more companies, the most recent of which was Conversable, an AI-driven conversational intelligence company. Hypergiant, which he co-founded in 2018 along with Will Womble and John Fremont, is his fifth company to date.
"Work-life balance in 2021 is very, very different than the work-life balance that everyone was selling in 2019."
Since the pandemic, Lamm has split his time between Austin and his home office in Dallas. He used to spend around three quarters of his time traveling across the country for business, sometimes spending six days a week on the road. All that travel took its toll on the 39-year-old Lamm, who contracted a virus in his heart in January 2020. Then, when the pandemic began, Lamm’s compromised immune system put him at even greater risk of getting COVID. Now, Lamm is back in good health, and practices some new habits, including getting enough sleep and cutting out alcohol and caffeine.
While the pandemic hasn’t hurt Hypergiant, Lamm says it took some time for the team to find its footing remotely.
“I think there's an opportunity to over-course correct the situation,” he said. “And I think we actually were doing that in the beginning. The problem of overdoing so many other things is, you do that, and then guess what, you've got people that have less time because now, they can no longer take care of themselves or a family member. If you just add more virtual happy hours, you can over index that. And I think we made that mistake early on.”
Now, Hypergiant doesn’t inundate its team with happy hours and lunch and learns. Instead, it offers more flexible office hours, which helps its employees, spread throughout Texas, New York, and California, find time for other necessities like childcare and work around time differences.
“We want to ensure that our people actually have not just happiness, but fulfillment with their job," Lamm said. "And work-life balance in 2021 is very, very different than the work-life balance that everyone was selling in 2019.”
The Silicon Valley Exodus
As a Texas native, Lamm has had a lot of love for the state long before Silicon Hills came to Austin with a slew of big tech offices. He even founded three companies in the city. But because he splits his time between Texas, New York, and California, Lamm doesn’t side with any particular camp, whether it’s business or politics.
“Some of the things that I don't always love about Texas will be evolved based on some of these different populations that are coming from more traditionally liberal locations,” he said.
Lamm does, however, believe that there’s no such thing as the Silicon Valley exodus.
“I think that's a weird perspective that people have,” he added. “Because I really do think that because you have a handful of people that are celebrities that have done it now, and you have this whole shuffling of the deck, and people reevaluating where they can work remotely, where should they live?”
Lamm cited the common cases against staying in the Bay Area: high taxes, local politics, and what many see as the general decline of the city, including rising homelessness and the high cost of living. Still, he said, the end of the pandemic will likely mean that San Francisco will return to business as usual.
“I do not believe that Silicon Valley is over,” he added. “I've read some articles like that. I think that's insane. But I am really excited about the great people that have chosen Texas as their home, or at least their home for now. I don't think anything is 100% finite. So, even if these people come for just a while and make their imprint here, that's amazing.”
Ever the optimist, Lamm sees positives coming out of the pandemic as we slowly return to normalcy.
“I think that last year was a really weird year for a lot of people,” he said. “But at the same time, I think there's good coming from it. Knowledge of science is definitely one of them.”