OWC Founder and CEO, Larry O’Connor, talks with OWC RADiO host, Cirina Catania, about his business life and his perspectives on the world, his love for space exploration (yes, he’s already purchased his ticket!), what it’s like running a major international corporation, his corporate president, Jen Soule, and how on earth he still manages to find time for the myriad of charities, films and creatives he passionately supports.
Larry O’Connor is definitely a man who is living a generous, intelligent and joyful life.
This episode of OWC RADiO was recorded with our audience of Larry’s fellow CEO’s in mind as well as anyone who wants some tips to help generate success in business and in life. It is a candid and insightful conversation with one of the world’s most influential technologists.
For more information about our amazing sponsor, Other World Computing, go to MacSales.com or OWCDigital.com, where you’ll find hardware and software solutions and tutorial videos that will get you up and running in no time.
For more about our host, filmmaker, tech maven and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Cirina Catania, visit cirinacatania.com.
If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and tell all your friends about us! We love our listeners. And, if you have ideas for segments, write to OWCRadio@catania.us. Cirina is always up for new ideas.
In This Episode
- 00:09 – Cirina introduces Larry O’Connor, Founder and CEO of OWC, and MacSales Founder. He was also named one of the Top 50 CEOs by Comparably. In addition, he’s recognized worldwide for his accomplishments in the world of technology.
- 05:23 – Larry talks about how he was raised, his first job, and his work ethic.
- 10:26 – Larry shares his mindset in leading OWC and how he successfully handles his relationships.
- 15:54 – Larry shares OWC’s best practices to protect against unexpected events.
- 21:18 – Why having allowances in the supply chain will benefit you in the long run.
- 26:56 – Larry talks about Trees of Peace and many significant issues that affect everybody.
- 31:30 – The consequences of human activities on the ground’s viability for agriculture.
- 38:25 – The differences between SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic.
- 45:53 – Larry talks about OWC’s next steps in bringing greater accessibility to hardware and software solutions. Visit OWC’s website to know more about its latest offerings and follow Larry O’Connor on Twitter to stay updated on his latest pursuits.
Today marks the 100th episode of OWC Radio. What better way to spend it than by interviewing the CEO and founder of OWC, Mr. Larry O’Connor. Respected worldwide for his numerous accomplishments in the world of technology, Larry remains modest, personable, and dedicated to making his company and the world a better place for all of us. In fact, in 2020, he was named one of the top CEOs on comparably a list of 50 that was called from over 10 million ratings across 60,000 organizations.
I spoke with him about his rise to success from the early days as a tech-oriented team to the start of OWC, which was bootstrapped and remains privately owned even today. We talked about how he has achieved his success, his hiring and firing challenges, establishing a workable structure for a multinational corporation, and his long-standing president, Jen Soule.
Success in the tech industry follows a similar path to most major corporations. However, in this last year, there have been serious challenges—tax rates fluctuating, supply chains disrupted, and many more. In the middle of all of this, however, Larry O’Connor and his company have found the time and resources to help others—from Nashville musicians, to films with strong environmental messages, to charitable organizations that work toward making a better world. An avid follower and lover of space technology, I suspect we’ll be getting communiqués from a spaceship in the not too distant future.
If you’re interested in the technology hardware and software that OWC offers, go to macsales.com, and listen to this interview if you want to know more about how to be a very successful entrepreneur. This is Cirina Catania. Stand by; this is going to be fun.
Larry, it’s always nice to see you. Welcome back to OWC Radio.
A pleasure to be here, Cirina.
This is a very special interview. This is our 100th interview for the show since you restarted it at (I believe) NAB 2019, right?
I think that’s right—time flies. There was no NAB in 2020, so it couldn’t have been there.
I know. There we were in this booth at NAB, people were coming and going, and it was wonderful. I wanted to talk with you on this episode, obviously because you’re the father of OWC Radio, and also because I’ve been, for the last few years, watching you very carefully, especially with the challenges of the last year or two. You’re such a successful CEO, and I thought that we could talk about who, what, when, where, and why—all of that. I have some questions for you about that.
We all know the classic story of you as a young teenager in your garage and tinkering with electronics. But how did that progress in terms of your younger years? You were 14 at the time when you first started the company, but even before that. Can you talk to me for a minute about your family and how they supported you through the process? Or did they not support you, and you said I’m doing it anyway? Tell me about the origins of all that.
It goes back to a stroke of luck. My parents won a computer at an event they went to. It was an Atari 400-XL; it had a cassette deck which you use to store code. It came with a couple of games, but my mom has said, “You’re not going to use this for games.” She drove me towards programming and ultimately said I could tinker with it.
My dad was the kind that he’ll pull out all the instructions and got to study it for X at the time. In fairness, he was an early adopter of technology. We lived in the middle of nowhere country. Certainly, you wouldn’t look for a technology company to rise up in Woodstock, Illinois. There are some used to technology there but by no means a technology Mecca.
It’s a great place to grow up—it’s in the country—but it wasn’t San Francisco or San Jose. It was not the Silicon Valley of Illinois. Having said that, you go towards the city into Chicago; Chicago used to have a great manufacturing base for electronics. Motorola was there, US Robotics was there, ultimately 3Com. It wasn’t completely a region devoid of technology, but we were really out in the country, out in the sticks. It was just dumb luck that I’d be one of the few kids in a large radius that would have a computer. I had a mother that said I could use a computer to learn on, not just to play games on.
Both your parents were very intelligent and into tech, too. What did they do for a living?
My mom raised us. She was very intelligent. She was fortunate that my dad could support us where we lived, where she didn’t have to work. She was able to attend after us and took us in the right direction, which was a lot of time outdoors and appreciating just what was around us. When it comes to the educational front, not everything is fun and games; it’s also learning. Honestly, learning can be fun. My dad, for his part, I learned a great work ethic from him.
The first thing I ever did with a computer with any production value was write some code for TRS-80. I would turn around and say my reward for writing code, editing, and solving a problem for him—this was 1982 or 1983, maybe even 1981—was a job doing data entry, which was not exactly what I wanted to spend my life doing. But the work at the part that came along with it, working in his office, seeing the environment where stuff had to get done and not always the stuff you want to get done—it was doing a lot of things that I didn’t want to be doing—both drove me to have independence, but it also instilled that work ethic.
I was there; I was committed. I was going to do what needed to be done. That was instilled at a young age. On top of that, I also learned that food on the table and everything else didn’t just magically appear. There’s a lot of hard work that went into it, a lot of personal sacrifice. That meant something to me. I will also say the very first opportunity I had, not having to do data entry anymore and have a way to say, “I got something going, here’s my note,” which was also a positive thing.
You started the company in 1988. You were very young. You were a teenager. What were the initial challenges? You bootstrapped it all these years. My understanding is that you have not had outside investors. You’re not a public company. You’re a private company, and that’s pretty amazing.
Yes. To this day, we remain a private company. As we move into the future, I look to explore, and we’ll see just how that unfolds. As far as the biggest challenges weren’t so much, the capital start was relatively small. Honestly, I was able to finagle a credit card which I won’t go into, which ultimately was the initial funding source. Then beyond that, the challenges were just dealing with customers, especially at that age. The internet made that possible. I got online. I was advertising America Online classified. Nobody at that time was using chat rooms and electronic communication for a lot of these things.
You find yourself saying “we” instead of “I” talking to customers. We use the company even though I’d be the only person who was we for a certain period of time. Nonetheless, the biggest challenge is keeping the energy in and staying focused, not giving up or not throwing in the towel. It’s other things; I think every business, everybody has challenges, pretty much I would say very similar challenges starting out.
Age was a different one, but online people don’t ask how old you are when you’re giving them hopefully intelligent communication. That was something the internet age helped me avoid. If I had to talk to everybody on the phone in person, that might have been a different story. Nonetheless, I had a solution that made a difference for people. It did what it said it would do. It was supported the way it needed to be supported. It made a difference, and we continue to go from there.
I think it’s good to say “we” because it is a “we.” Even if it’s just you as a teenager sitting in your garage, you have your clients. You have your ecosystem, and you’re building a culture around that, so it is we. People always say to me, “You did this film,” or “You started this,” and I say, “Well, anybody that claims they did something by themselves is not telling the whole truth.” That’s one of the things that I admire most about you is that despite your huge success in a very temperamental, challenging, and competitive marketplace, you stayed Larry O’Connor and who you are.
One of the questions I want to ask you is, you’re great at relationships. You’re great with the customers. You have a wonderful family. You have lots of amazing friends all around the world. How does the way you handle your relationships translate to the way you run your company? What’s the culture at OWC?
We don’t exist without our team. We don’t exist without our customers. We don’t exist without the people that make OWC, OWC. In terms of that, it’s really on a pursuit of customers for life, and I think the right team members for life as well. We’re doing everything. Everybody joins, and nobody ever leaves.
I got to embarrass you. Talk about your awards.
Everybody makes OWC, what OWC is. The team that we have at OWC and our customers continue to support and inspire us to bring on the next solution. If people don’t need our solutions, then we don’t need to be here. Ultimately, if we don’t bring them the solutions they need, they’ll leave. From day one, it’s a focus on the customer, and that includes us. OWC’s team members, myself included, are our own customers, and that does help.
Now speaking to other CEOs in this ecosystem that we are talking about today, people who are running very large companies, when you’re hyper-intelligent, you’re just super-intelligent, you’re very creative, you’re very dedicated, is it hard to delegate? How do you manage to do that? A lot of major CEOs that I’ve talked to over the years have trouble with that. They want to keep their hands on every little thing. Do you do that too? If not, why not?
We have enough going on here today where I can’t, and I’ve been forced to delegate. I will say compared to 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, certainly compared to 25 years ago, the delegation has become easier. Again, number one, you learn to delegate because you can’t grow without delegation. Number two, you begin to understand how to hire and what makes the great people that you can delegate to that will take things further, faster, and smarter. It’s a big leap at a certain point in one’s career where you don’t want to be the smartest person anymore.It's a big leap at a certain point in one’s career where you don't want to be the smartest person anymore. Click To Tweet
You want to have smarter people around. It just lets a whole heck of a lot more to get done and see things to their next potential. If you can drive vision and people you’ve got, who are ideally more intelligent than you are, then you can take over the world.
I think you’re in the middle of doing that. You have an amazing president, Jen Soule, who has been with the company for many years. Can you talk about her? You brought in a female president long before it became fashionable.
We do things that make sense. First of all, we’re a very diverse organization. We always have been because different people bring different vantage points to the equation. Honestly, everything comes together for us to be who we are. Jen has been with OWC for close to 25 years. Her experience, her perspectives, somebody who has been through pretty much every aspect of OWC, made her the right choice and back.
I want to say, we did this in 2014 or 2015, but OWC has always been merit-based. When you find merit, that means you end up with diversity because everybody is from different backgrounds, different perspectives, different everything that brings things to the table.
If you’re in a room of other CEOs and you’re talking about how best to organize a company to keep it moving smoothly, what advice would you give them?
Every company is different. The most important thing is the structure and ways that do not allow the formation of silos. One of our greatest challenges was going beyond just being a single location-based operation. When we opened up in Austin, when we opened up in Las Vegas, when we expanded to other continents, I certainly took for granted or failed to recognize what made OWC, OWC, from a cultural point of view.
Honestly, it’s pretty much startup lessons for the first couple of years with the personnel. It’s not just hiring the right person in terms of skill point of view to succeed. It’s also making sure, from a cultural point of view, the vision aligns with the organization and also with you in terms of what the role is going to be.
People are wondering how they make those decisions. I think this is very good advice for others, Larry, and I think it’s something that, as someone running a big company, you have to face. But on the flip side, you do have a company with managers around the world who have been with you for a very long time. Let’s talk for a minute about the challenges of your particular workflow. You have design, you have manufacturing, you have delivery, you have marketing that has to be done, but the whole pipeline for you is very technical. Things like floods or chip shortages or disc shortages can—
All these fun things.
Exactly. Pick the one biggest challenge. How did you, as an executive running a company, reacted to that? What did you change in your pipeline so that you could still deliver to your clients and make it work? And if you couldn’t, what did you tell your client?
When things are just flowing the way they’re supposed to flow, logistics and supply chain are relatively straightforward. Quite frankly, there’s probably a lot of give and take where you can keep the front pretty smooth. The customer side of the equation is relatively uninterrupted and without real visible consequence, even if you’re dealing things up behind the scenes.
We’ve been working, especially as we went from a single location in the US to better supporting the world with different locations and multiple distribution points to bring our logistics up to a brand new level. Even before the impacts of supply chain hit, we started investing in our supply chain, logistics team, educating, mentoring, and bringing in some new talent that had the experience that we just didn’t have. You don’t know what you don’t know until you learn about it.
Even the stuff that we’ve been at, before everything that we’ve layered on and I think substantially improved with just our ability to supply and maintain a good logistical flow. When I talk to other companies, it’s completely foreign. It’s a completely new experience. For us, bringing on a heavier, deeper-level logistics in terms of our own team component and capability.
Today, what we’re dealing with in the midst of just absolutely a perfect storm of everything that could impact supply and logistics happening, we can keep that supply going whether it is extending how we ration chipset supplies we have, stocking additional chipsets, we’re building different pieces and parts. I can’t even go into the details. The biggest impact we have on some of our newer products were we couldn’t forecast, and with some of the chipsets we couldn’t even get a year ago. They didn’t exist yet.
Unfortunately, you can’t produce things ahead of time that doesn’t exist, factory problems. Nonetheless, from a logistical point of view, we’ve learned a lot, we’ve substantially enhanced our team and our processes, and just everything about what makes supply work. As we get past this really difficult time, it’s going to be amazing that we’re going to be able to apply this and have even greater knowledge to be more efficient, deliver ideally better costs, and just a better overall operational efficiency when things normalize a bit.
It’s been fun. It’s not just the supply chain. We’ve got the tariff to deal with; you got all these different tax rules. You got to be ahead of everything. When you know something’s coming down the pipe, you deal with it today. Sales tax in the US is something that we watched very carefully. Being proactive on anything that affects your business, anything that’s going to be a requirement for your business is much easier to deal with than it is to have to react after the fact.
From that came a much greater awareness of just what all the individual states were doing even before that one came about. In general, anything on a regulatory front, trying to be proactive in dealing with it versus being at risk of being blindsided. Make sure you’re using tools that protect you if you’re a larger company. Be aware of what you’re stepping into, and don’t be caught by surprise and some state statutes—there will be sales tax, income tax, whatever it may be.
It’s pretty crazy out there. There are lots of good intentions everywhere. Intentions don’t get the job done. Good intentions usually get you into trouble. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable. The long and short of it is, it’s much more fun and much more effective just to know this is the condition of doing business here. Get set up for it, be ready for it, and keep building the business versus worrying about playing catch up or fixing it, having to deal with the mess that has something to do with the past.
We learned a lot. I guess I’ll say that I was pretty lucky with a lot of learning experiences over the years. When we did make mistakes that we could’ve prevented, they were when we were smaller. They were easy to deal with. Honestly, I’m glad we made some of those mistakes.
Make mistakes when you’re small. Don’t make them when you’re big. As you get bigger, you definitely want to make sure that you avoid all mistakes. You’re ahead of the curve because the bigger organization, the bigger impact those learning experiences may bring.
I think you’re a better CEO because you have been there from the beginning, and you have built every aspect of it so that you know everything. You know about manufacturing. You know the delivery. You know customer service. You definitely know the technology. I’ve listened to you and spoken to you; you can dive deep under the hood for any of the products you manufacture. I think it’s a combination of knowledge and being able to pivot quickly when you need to because that’s what I observed during the chip shortage.
Weren’t there a couple of companies—I don’t know if we can mention them by name—that started buying up all the chipsets the minute there was a rumor that there may be a shortage coming? When things like that start happening, running a company, you would know about that sooner than anyone in the general public would.
We hadn’t done our buying before that started. Typically, that is the case. There are all sorts of things you can’t predict. Unfortunately, even when you have standing orders, even when you’re way ahead of the curve. But the good news about being way ahead of the curve, if there is an additional delay at it, maybe it was a 24-week lead, and now suddenly it’s going to be pushed out to 40 or 50 weeks, it’s certainly something we can accommodate because we were already planning to have that extra buffer.
That’s the other thing that’s a big leap for I think a lot of people. Especially dealing with any kind of supply chain that’s more than just, it’s in stock, you order it and just time from order to delivery that you’re waiting on. This has been a challenge, and this is again where we’ve beefed up just having to work and communicate within our own team. I’ve honestly seen it over and over. I’ve done it. Jen has done it in terms of managing our different components.
New people when they first get into it, two months, three months, four months, six months seems like a long time. The reality is, even with a lot of things, when you’re at the sixth-month mark between supply points, you’re already right on the edge. It’s not a long time. That is your red line. Not another few weeks. Not, certainly, near where the product is even going to exhaust. That’s just a way of thinking that seeing it over and over again, it takes people sometimes multiple times just to get it. You’re looking and going; what’s going on here?
It can be corrected, but again, it comes down to understanding and not taking things for granted just because you’ve done it. I’d say there’s certainly something to be said about knowing too much, and it goes back to its balance, and it’s something about delegation. It makes delegation important. You want to hire people you can delegate to, not people that you end up having to do work for and stay involved with. If you have to stay involved, then you’re not meant to the right people, hired the right people, or empowered the right people so that your company can grow.
And that’s a tough one. It’s a big one to have to learn and continue to evolve with.
This question just popped into my head. Think about it for a minute. If you were in your dream think tank, like you’re in a think tank, and you’re talking about things that think tanks talk about—the future, technology, where we’re going, how to be better at what you do, solutions for global problems—who is in that think tank with you? Just off the top of your head. You probably haven’t even thought about this.
I’m horrible with names. That is one of my worst things calling out people by name. Recognizing? No problem, but calling people by name. Honestly, I had people around me that break the mold and don’t take no or don’t take the impossible for an answer. Number one that comes to mind along those lines is Elon Musk. There are lots like Elon Musk folks that they’ll see above the fray and see a future, necessarily aren’t limited by what they’ve been told, can or can’t be done, because what we can and what we can’t do or how things have worked definitely should never be a limitation of how things can work and should work.
I think that you and Elon think along the same lines. You have that kind of brain. I think it would be fun…
I hope so. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Really. I mean, I think the two of you would have fun discussing how to solve the world’s problems. You’ve been on the island with Richard Branson. What were you doing? Were you judging something? This was a couple of summers ago. I remember that you were on your way to NAB, and you stopped by. Richard Branson is another interesting one. You know him quite well. What were you doing on the island there?
I know him well enough. I wouldn’t say I know him quite well. The Extreme Tech Challenge was an event going on in new technology. I ultimately got to be a part of the judging in the selection process. Who’s going to be the next XTC winner, and that’s all about, again, breaking the molds and what the future can be. Honestly, not just what the future can be; what companies can make that future a reality.You don't know what you don't know until you learn about it. Click To Tweet
You are mentoring younger companies, younger people who want to get more into the tech industry and who had products that might be innovative in the future. I think that’s awesome.
That brings something else to mind. You are now in a position with your company where you’re very successful. You can spend some time thinking about ways to help the world. You do a lot of that. You have a lot of support for charitable organizations. I just interviewed Billy J. Kramer, who went to Nashville and recorded some cuts for a new album. He was at the top along with The Beatles during the Merseybeat area. You put some people in Nashville to work doing that. You have exec produced some films.
Trees of Peace was a unique production that needed some help during Covid. It needed help a little bit before Covid. It had a great director. It ties in everything. We take so much for granted here in general, and history repeats itself. In some cases, you may forget just how brutal history has been. That’s a film that certainly makes you look at a lot of things and wonder about where we are and what we complain about. They are real complaints, certainly. They need to be dealt with in this country and every country around the world. We also have a lot to be thankful for.
It rolls into bigger issues that affect everybody and everybody’s prosperity. That’s the quality of water, quality of air. Ultimately the environment as a whole, just the ground, as well as the way to salvation, as well as the last place on earth, as well as African waters, European waters. I think we also have it, American waters coming up. I think we put a lot of emphasis; for example, if I look at our air and water quality, environmental and health, we put a heck of a lot of focus on the carbon-based fuel industry. That would be oil, gas.
As you dig into the weeds on that one, certainly there’s a big consuming factor there. But it’s amazing to me during Covid how even the most green people and folks that want to be green forgot all that take-out food, all those Uber deliveries, all that plastic used, how do I say, to support that particular aspect, as opposed to going and sitting and dining in a restaurant, just how much waste and how much oil, ultimately, which is what plastics are created from that was using that process.
There is biodegradable plastic to replace paper bags; it goes back to the late 1990s, early 2000s. That was in the paper industry; this is the biggest fallacy that could possibly pitch. It sounds green, and you get all these green folks behind it, but ultimately is a big play in the plastic industry. Managed forestry, and there’s no perfect if we’re going to consume anything. Consumption itself is something we can work to reduce. But nevermind plastic bottles. I don’t want to talk about plastic bottles.
I get upset about that, but these plastic bags, you have managed forestry, which ultimately has carbon sequestration through the growth of those trees. Yes, we take trees down. It’s not about using old growth. Pretty much in the US, all of our paper and timber come from managed forestry. What’s coming down here is growing up here. That’s grown; it’s rotation.
It’s amazing how much carbon is sequestered by the growth of those forests and that carbon doesn’t just release back into the system when those trees go down. It remains. There’s a whole biome beneath the ground, and you go back to these plastic bags. When all these damn plastic bags break down—they were designed to disintegrate effectively—they don’t disintegrate. They just break down into smaller pieces. That’s a huge environmental disaster right now.
That’s another big threat to marine life because these plastic particles, they’re finding them everywhere, they finally cross the blood-brain barrier. It has even been suggested it’s affecting marine reproduction. Again, you have to look deep into who’s benefiting from some of the solutions being proposed. There are a lot of businesses that manipulate people on an emotional level to drive things one direction or another direction.
I look at oil. It’s very easy to look at oil, and there’s a seagull that’s got oil on it. Oil used to bumble up to the surface. We used to have black beaches even before there were oil rigs out in the ocean because oil naturally came up. If there’s pressure, the stuff releases. I think, can we get beyond oil? Is getting beyond oil good? Absolutely, but we’re putting all this focus on eliminating the consumption, the use of carbon-based fuels, which is part of our CO2 issue.
Meanwhile, you look at just the ground; there’s another one at least the need to grow and focus on what we’ve been doing agriculturally as a society around the world for centuries. The data is coming out to say it’s maybe 60 years of farming, agriculture we’ve got left with the soil we have, the way we’re treating it. We’ve killed the soil. We have a system that is dependent on inputs, both fertilizer and pesticide.
You look around when you go into a park or anywhere in nature; how do those trees grow? There wasn’t somebody coming by, and they’ll put nitrogen around their trunks every year. It’s a sophisticated symbiotic relationship. Another, a handful of living soil, that soil is not just dead dirt. There are more microbes than there are stars in the freaking universe. It’s insane the amount of life in healthy soil that exists. And that healthy soil, it’s all symbiotic.
The carbon that those trees, plants, and vegetation period pull into the ground sequestered, by the way, as they give us our oxygen, now supports as the fuel for these microbes that in turn provide the different nutrients that the vegetation requires. You look at cattle. I’ve given up meat by and large. I went vegetarian, which I tried to get wild-cut, lion-cut, and there’s everything else. I felt better. I tried it for a few weeks. When I gave up beef, pork, and chicken, I found myself sleeping better and waking better. I felt like I got a few years back cognitively. That’s all by itself was worth it.
If you look at cattle, cattle by themselves aren’t bad. It’s what we’ve done is separate them from their food source. When you grow effectively GMO, fertilized pesticide fields, and have them living on a bare patch of dirt where they get fed through feed-throughs as opposed to grazing, on one side you have a significant contribution to greenhouse gas.
On the other side, cattle that are raised grazing are carbon negative. They’re carbon negative in the sense that they managed lands, run, and fertilize the land. They help the area with their hooves. On top of that—this is something I said, wow—the grass grows tall and extends long roots. This is just one little part of the equation. The roots are sequestering. When cattle eat that grass and shorten the grass, it drops along roots and then what they may have left behind with what’s been sequestered. Cattle move on, that grass grows long again. It extends long roots again, sequestering more carbon.
There are all these great natural processes, but the greatest solution is really beneath their feet. Just the ground is a great starting point to understanding and taking a look at just what changes we can make that will be beneficial for the future. That’s just a matter of changing agriculture and the huge impact it has. We lose our land, and it’s really sad. Like in East Texas, all this tiller is bare. Now bring in back cover crops, eliminating monoculture, eliminating the need for inputs. It’s also a win for farmers.
Economically, it’s a huge win-win. Farmers are not dependent on this big heavy cycle of GMO crops that can be a pesticide up the wazoo, and that requires great fertilizer. Just the data, how much more fertilizer do you need per calorie today? We’ve gotten to a point where it’s more efficient, more cost-efficient, and more calorie per acre–efficient to grow organically than with these commercialized solutions.
I say, look over here. I look at oil; everybody’s all focused on oil. This is a far greater consequence because we stopped everything. You could stop everything today. Guess what? We still have a greenhouse gas issue. Even now, we have X levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, and that just doesn’t magically come back down. When you look at what just a change in agriculture can do to draw down greenhouse gas, it’s amazing.
We’re all talking about all this great new technology to try to sequester this or that or pump it into the ground. We got it. This planet has had this capability for a long time. God created a pretty amazing system that when you let it work, it works. A lot of companies are talking about regeneration. General Mills has got pilot projects with farms who are doing this.
This is the other aspect that I didn’t want to get into. But I sometimes wonder what the real powers-that-be are doing out there because all these things are now in motion. It’s a manipulated evolution, but we can certainly make a difference. People have a lot more knowledge today, and we understand a whole heck of a lot more. Hopefully, we’re doing things that are good for the planet, good for ourselves. We have dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico because of fertilizer runoff. The same thing happens in Florida. The same thing happens in California. It affects marine biology, water quality. It can go on and on.
All this stuff has to happen, and it does seem to be happening, but I think we can do it quicker and faster. I certainly like it to be done in a way where it’s not part of a plan for corporate benefit. It’s something we do sooner than later so that the more we’re not forced to, or number two we’re not held hostage by some organization, government, company, corporation, whatever that forces us into a path where we have to correct faster than we otherwise would. We now start making some changes that we can make today.
I like that OWC is on the proactive side of this and that you’re spending a lot of time trying to help the world with where we need to go with these kinds of things. I don’t know if you have time, but I want to talk to you about space. Can you take a few more minutes? Do we want to adjourn and come back another time?
No, I think we can talk more. We can take some time, sure.
It’s one of the things about you that I love watching, listening to, and following is your love of space. I’m hoping that maybe you can shed some light for people who may not be as involved in all of this as you are, about what the differences are between the three main companies and what they’re doing. I understand, did you tell me that you had already bought a ticket, or that you’re somehow involved and hoping to go out into space?
We’ve got SpaceX, we’ve got Blue Origin, and we have Virgin Galactic. I don’t know what else is out there. Can you talk to us about the difference between those companies and what they’re offering?
To some degree, SpaceX has rewritten all the rules for putting people in space. Elon, he’s thinking ginormous, which is awesome. It’s his vision. He has a vision for where humanity needs to be. He’s tied that into an operation that’s also supporting and versioning commercial. He’s right to get things into space, get people to space, and support more space-based operations. That’s along the way.
It’s something, that his bigger vision is getting us to Mars, building, surely making a commitment to a large presence in space, not just getting up there and say, “I’m going to build a way for people to get from here to the space station, I’m going to build a way to launch satellites,” but looking at the infrastructure and the means, and which is why reusability is very important. Starship 15 has been making that first landing without issue.
Those are huge for sustainability. Sustainability is just economic sustainability so that we can get beyond, not to say just being on Earth. The technologies that are being developed, again, people look at a great cost. Relatively speaking, it’s not like every 5 minutes, there’s a freaking Starship being launched. Yes, there are resources involved anytime there’s a launch or put something in there. A lot of energy is needed to get something into space, what was being learned, the technologies developed for this.
What we’re doing right now, we wouldn’t be doing without what NASA did half a century ago. A lot of the events, there are so many things we take for granted. So many things that increase efficiency, reduce the need for energy on these batteries, longer, more efficient battery cells, improve solar, all this stuff is derivative of what’s being done so we can survive in space.Make mistakes when you're small, don't make them when you're big. As you get bigger, you want to make sure that you avoid all mistakes. Click To Tweet
If we can survive in space, if we can fly across the stars, what we can do here is greatly benefited. Any place we can save energy on this planet is a wind that is a multitude beyond, the energy that is expended to get into space and adopt these technologies, offering that support space exploration. You’ve got Elon with this grand vision of getting us to be a part of taking us beyond Earth, to Mars, beyond the solar system.
You have Virgin Galactic that, honestly, has been focused on the people aspect. I certainly look forward to going up. I’ve seen a couple of years on Virgin Galactic. I think they have a great program. Every astronaut that’s been to space, by and large, their world view is substantially changed. It’s not that we don’t see that or say all the peoples are different, but a lot of the overarching goals. You realize, what we do here affects people elsewhere.
You have a different vision, or certainly, you begin to act differently. You can’t just fix something here. It’s got to be fixed everywhere. You don’t just fix something for one group of people. You fix something for everybody. Because ultimately, we all share this planet, we all need to coexist on this planet, and it’s a benefit to everyone where everybody is lifted. It just changes perspective.
We move on to Blue Origin. Their program is certainly a little bit different. You have Virgin Galactic that launches its vehicle off an aircraft. Blue Origin is a traditional rocket that then parachutes back down. I’m sure Blue Origin, their hope is to go beyond just space tourism with that platform and ultimately going to put people on the moon. That’s, of course, WISE, New Shepard. That’s certainly a great ambition as well.
I can’t speak as much about Blue Origin as I can to the version in the SpaceX. I would say Virgin Galactic, to me, has a really good vision and a practical means for bringing more accessibility and more frequent launch. They’re able to launch from a runway as opposed to a launchpad. It certainly is very positive for that program. SpaceX, again, heavy payloads, small, and large, and larger. You have to go into space and beyond and combine that with, at some point, bringing people into space, but still having the agility that ultimately is not just about tourism. It’s about actually getting a permanent presence in space. Those are things that certainly inspire and excite me.
Did you have a telescope when you’re a little kid?
Absolutely, positively. I’d say that’s something else I appreciate about Austin and certainly still about a lot of parts of McHenry County, of Woodstock, where OWC is based. Just having the dark skies at night is so important when you look up and see the stars. You look up today, and it’s hard not to look up and see a satellite zipping by as well.
Those are things that are really; now I’d be able to look above and beyond and dream about what’s beyond this planet. At the same time, remembering the treasure, how special it is that we have a life, and live on a planet with all kinds of resources and just that. What else can I say? Dream about what’s beyond, but always remember and be thankful for how amazing it is, where we live, and keeping it that way.
You’re doing amazing things. If you could give a message to other CEOs about how to achieve more success and how to be a little bit more like OWC, what would you tell them?
It’s about the people. That’s the customers, listening to your customers, being there for your customers, and making sure that you have to trust your customers. Having a team that is operating in the same vein. They are your customers, and they’re there to support your customers, and we’re all in it together. We may provide the framework, but without a team building on that framework and making it what it is, you just don’t have an organization. You certainly don’t have an organization that can last.
What’s next for you and the company other than going into space? I’d say you’re doing that, by the way. I really can see you doing that. Was it Virgin Galactic that’s building the capsules that maintain a semblance of gravity in space to try to overcome the potential degradation of our muscles? Was it the Virgin Galactic?
No. I do think that’s somebody else. Virgin Galactic is in virgin space. They’ve got the launch, also doing satellite launches. Again, it’s all about bringing greater accessibility to space, both commercially and passenger-wise, experience-wise.
Get out your golden globe here and predict where you think your company will be going in the future with you as the person at the helm and the company as a whole.
The greatest thing that we need to do, we’re starting to open up as we get that right. Everything is about timing and having the right team in place, infrastructure in place. It’s mainly just bringing greater accessibility on both to our hardware solutions and also taking the software. There are so many things under the hood that make OWC what OWC solutions are and seeing greater accessibility, even those software solutions even beyond OWC hardware serving the next few years. It’s rooting for much better accessibility to our solutions, and more people can benefit and know why other people rave about them. We want to make sure that never changes but also start bringing more solutions forth. There are software-based that even if you don’t start off with an OWC hardware solution, you can get the benefits of what makes an OWC solution an OWC solution. More of that is starting to emerge.
Larry, it’s always nice talking with you. Thank you for sharing the 100th episode of OWC radio with me and with our listeners. Thank you for sponsoring it for these last couple of years. We give a voice to creatives and to technologists who might not always be heard. Yes, we interview famous people, too, but we also interview the people who are the foundation of what we all do for a living. I’m forever grateful for that. I’m looking forward to lots more on OWC Radio. I do want to have you back again so we can talk tech. I think that this has been wonderful.
Everyone, remember what I always tell you. Get off your chair and go do something wonderful today. He’s Larry O’Connor, founder and CEO of Other World Computing, known worldwide as OWC. I’m Cirina Catania, filmmaker, journalist, host of OWC Radio, and we’re signing off. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day, and we will talk to you again very soon.
Yes, indeed. Bye, Cirina.
Links and Resources:
- Larry O’Connor
- Twitter – Larry O’Connor
- Other World Computing
- Jen Soule
- Atari 400-XL
- US Robotics
- Elon Musk
- Richard Branson
- Extreme Tech Challenge
- Billy J. Kramer
- The Beatles
- Trees of Peace
- General Mills
- Blue Origin
- Virgin Galactic
- Starship 15
- New Shepard
- Develop a strong work ethic. Earning money may not always be enjoyable. Doing what needs to be done requires discipline more often than motivation.
- Hire the right people. Achieving your goals requires a team with the same mindset and excellent skill sets. So find competent employees to help you actualize your vision.
- Learn to delegate. Your company cannot grow if you carry the whole workload. Instead, entrust tasks to your employees to get more quality work done.
- Offer relevant products or services. Making sure you provide customers what they need will keep you in business. Always look for ways to improve your current offers to stay competitive.
- Be proactive. You’re bound to encounter problems you didn’t anticipate. Immediately come up with solutions and don’t dwell on the issues.
- Learn from mistakes. It’s better to commit them early on than later. Create necessary safety nets to avoid repeating errors in the future.
- Design sustainable solutions. Consider the impacts of your operations and how you can lessen your carbon footprint. By thinking long-term, you can make a huge difference to the environment.
- Stay humble. Dream big and achieve your goals, but always be grateful and stay grounded. Humility goes a long way in sustaining your success.
- Nurture your employees. They are the foundation of your organization, and you won’t operate without them. Treat them like how you would treat your customers.
- Visit OWC to learn more about its tailored workflow solutions and its newest offerings. Follow Larry O’Connor on Twitter to get updated on his latest pursuits.