The world of technology is expanding, and we're seeing a convergence of deep tech with traditional software and computation. Today, we're speaking with Andrew Busey, co-founder of Form Bio and Colossal Biosciences, two companies that sit at this intersection. With over 25 years of experience in the industry, Andrew has been a driving force behind some of the internet's most significant technologies. Andrew’s career has taken him through several pivotal moments in tech history, including the early days of the internet, gaming, AI, and now bio.
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Our music is “Tech Talk” by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License
[00:00:00] Jason Scharf: The definition of the technology scene is expanding. Historically, we saw the founders and funders of tech on one side and startups in biochemistry and other hard sciences on the other. We wanted to explore this collision between deep tech and the more traditional functions of computation and software. [00:00:16] Jason Scharf: So today we're speaking with Andrew Busey, co-founder and Co-CEO of Form Bio and Chief Product Officer and Co-founder of Colossal Biosciences. Form and Colossal sit right at this technological convergence and are helping to power Austin's role in that future. In the past 25 years of his career, Andrew has pioneered some of the Internet's most important technologies, including work on Mosaic, the first web browser, now part of the Microsoft Internet Explorer, creating iChat, the first web-based chat system, and one of the first instant messaging applications. [00:00:45] Jason Scharf: Invented chat with a customer service rep, and more. Additionally, Andrew’s an active angel investor in company such as Aceable, Cratejoy, Flash, Zen Business, and Waterloo Water. Fun fact, he's the author of Accidental Gods, a novel about a group of scientists who simulate a universe where life develops and Secrets of the Mud Wizards, the first book about developing multiplayer games. [00:01:08] Jason Scharf: Andrew, welcome to the Austin Next podcast. [00:01:11] Andrew Busey: Thanks for having me. [00:01:13] Jason Scharf: So normally, we don't do deep dives on our guest bio, but this is gonna be, I think, a little bit different of an episode. When we kind of look back at your bio, you've been through quite a few pivotal moments in the history of tech, whether that be at Mosaic, Zynga, Convertible, Hypergiant, and now Colossal Biosciences and Form. [00:01:34] Jason Scharf: Can you walk us through your bio in these different eras of tech from the early internet to gaming to AI, and now in bio, but I want you to frame it from the perspective of those pivot moments and what you saw and why you know that was the moment to move and what was going on. [00:01:56] Andrew Busey: Yeah, so first I'm gonna disclaim that I'm not a genius in the sense that I specifically moved into all those, cuz I thought that I was like, jumping into the future. It's more, I think two things. Timing-wise, it's been interesting. I did computer science as my undergrad. So I started in computer science and electrical engineering. [00:02:15] Andrew Busey: I didn't really love electrical engineering and the hardcore stuff, so I was like, I sort of envisioned this idea of what a product manager is before there were really product managers, so that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like the person who figured out what to make and I didn't really know how to do that when I graduated from college, so I had a hard time finding a job. [00:02:34] Andrew Busey: At Microsoft, these people were called program managers, and the only job I applied for outta college was program manager for TCP/IP, which probably no one even knows what TCP/IP, is anymore, but it's like the protocol that runs the internet. And I didn't get that job mostly cuz I probably didn't really know how I was supposed to even apply for that. [00:02:53] Andrew Busey: And they probably didn't hire straight outta college kids anyway. So at the time, I was spending a lot of time developing multi-user dungeons, which were the first kind of multi-player games. And that was my passion. And so I ended up moving to Illinois for a girl I met on a game. [00:03:11] Andrew Busey: I won't spend much time on that, but I spent a little bit of time trying to start a company commercializing these games, but I didn't really know anything about raising money or VC or anything. So I ended up just cold calling everyone—Champagne, Urbana, Phone book. That was a software company. [00:03:26] Andrew Busey: And there were only like five— [00:03:27] Jason Scharf: Not a hard cold calling then, right? [00:03:30] Andrew Busey: Yeah, it's like looking in the actual phone book cuz there was no web cuz it was just sort of starting right? I knew a lot about the internet cuz I'd spent time developing muds and things like that. [00:03:41] Andrew Busey: But the web was new so I ended up, one of the companies was Spyglass, which had a bunch of licenses from the. NCSA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois. That was doing visualization tools and stuff like that. And they're like, well, we're thinking about licensing this thing. I was actually pitching them to invest in my idea. [00:03:58] Andrew Busey: And they're like, “Well, we don't invest in anything, but we're thinking about doing this, buying the commercial rights from the university for this Mosaic thing,” and I was like, “Cool.” And they're like, “You wanna come work on that?” I was like, “Sure.” Because I kind of needed a job. My only other interview there, I interviewed for a job as in the IT department of SOLO cups, apparently came off a little too strong in that conversation, but Spyglass was more of a startup. [00:04:24] Andrew Busey: I ended up working as the product manager for Mosaic, got recruited by Netscape. I probably could have moved to the Bay and been a really early employee in at Netscape, but I'd only been to Silicon Valley once and it was terrible. Had no desire to go back. Not that Champagne was a particularly beautiful place. [00:04:43] Andrew Busey: But it was interesting. I got to meet a lot of really interesting people. I went to a bunch of the early internet engineering task force meetings and actually ended up meeting a lot of program manager for TCP/IP at Microsoft, helped initiate the conversations that led to Microsoft licensing Mosaic for Internet Explorer. [00:05:00] Andrew Busey: And a bunch of other early stuff like Rob Glaser from RealNetworks called me. I was like the only one in the office after one early evening and answered the phone and this guy's like, “Hey, can I get the source code?” I was like, “What?” And then he is like, “Well, I used to be this product guy at Microsoft and I'm doing this thing.” [00:05:18] Andrew Busey: And so ended up getting him a source deal so he could develop, at the time, was Real Audio and a lot of really interesting stuff. Then they moved to Chicago and I decided I didn't really wanna go there. So I ended up choosing Austin over Silicon Valley, and so I moved to Austin at the end of 1994. [00:05:36] Jason Scharf: Little bit different than today, right? But still rapidly changing. I assume. [00:05:44] Andrew Busey: Yeah, it was weird. It was definitely different back then, and for sure it was all enterprise software on the tech side. I didn't really know what I was doing, but this guy that I met through Spyglass was like, “I'm starting this company to go build like a publishing business for the web.” [00:06:01] Andrew Busey: And I was like, “Cool.” Turned out he was a little bit shady. So me and the other guy that he had hired in Austin eventually just gave up on the whole thing cuz we weren't sure if we were ever gonna get paid or reimbursed for things. And so we decided we would start a consulting business. [00:06:18] Andrew Busey: And so we ended up starting a little company. I bought a Spyglass license, I bought a TCP/IP stack license. So back then, to connect the Windows machine to the internet, you had to have a TCP/IP stack, which was remarkably difficult to get. You had to go to companies like WRQ. It was the name of this one company and they're like $500 for their TCP/IP suite and stuff like that. [00:06:39] Andrew Busey: It was crazy. And so we assembled basically, the internet disk, like the AOL disk at the time. And so we partnered with EarthLink and Concentric Networks and there were two or three other pretty big internet providers, so we ended up basically building the disks for those guys to do the installs. [00:06:57] Andrew Busey: And I was like, “Hey, the big thing missing in this is chat.” And my partner was like, eh, whatever. And I was like, “I'm gonna go build this chat thing. Do you care?” He's like, “No.” So I went and wrote a business plan to build this chat thing. I didn't really, again, know what I was doing, but I ended up somehow getting a term sheet from Austin Ventures, and then I got a term sheet from another VC firm here that had come in from Silicon Valley and went to that partner meeting. [00:07:21] Andrew Busey: For the final pitch after I have the term sheet from AV, I'm like, I don't care anymore cuz I'm done. So I show up in like shorts and a T-shirt and I didn’t shave. They're like, what? What's going on? And I was like, ah, got a term sheet. I'm like, ah, I feel bad that you guys came all the way out here for the full partner meeting, but probably gonna sign this other one. [00:07:40] Andrew Busey: They're like, well what would it take to do the deal? And so I like doubled the price, which was like the biggest number I could imagine in my head at the time. Cuz I was 21 and they're like, okay. So I ended up signing term sheet with them. [00:07:55] Jason Scharf: Learned the power of FOMO real early. [00:07:57] Andrew Busey: Yeah, it was interesting. I mean, because at the, at the time Vignette, which was basically Ross and Neil were incubating the same office with these guys, so I was kind of hanging out there too, some, and I think that made AV mad. So then they gave the Vignette guys a spectacular term sheet. [00:08:15] Andrew Busey: So that spurred a lot of weird activities on which that became iChat. And the idea was how do we create the chat component of the internet? And so built the first MetScape plug-in for chat, built the first HTML-based chat systems, built like a ton of stuff. I walked up to Jerry Yang at an internet conference and said, “Hey, you guys should add chat to Yahoo.” [00:08:37] Andrew Busey: And he was like, “Okay.” So we ended up doing a deal with Yahoo to build Yahoo Chat. Did a lot of interesting stuff and then we were like, as we raised more money they're like, “Oh, we need enterprise products.” It's like, what if we had a chat with the customer service rep? [00:08:53] Andrew Busey: That seemed like a cool idea. So we kind of invented that idea. Created the first web-based chat with customer service rep software. And then it was a sales business at that point. And I was like, oh, I gotta figure something else out. So I was like, “Oh, E-commerce is gonna be the next big thing.” [00:09:07] Andrew Busey: I'm like, “Hmm, what's gonna be a big e-commerce category?” So just did like a spreadsheet of like, oh, what should I do? Turns out my dad was in the furniture industry for his entire life and I was like, I'm gonna do furniture on the internet. So I wrote a 15-page slide deck, pitched a couple people at Benchmark. [00:09:23] Andrew Busey: Benchmark invested in it, and then we were off the races. We built this company to about $60 million revenue run rate. And in January of 2000, Morgan Stanley was like, don't raise any more money. We’re not gonna be public.” I was like, Okay. And ended up not raising any more money. And then in April, May of 2000, the world ended for everybody n B2C and .com, including us because we had not raised more money. [00:09:46] Andrew Busey: So if we'd raise more money, probably that company would still exist and that would have been a different outcome. So kind of learned the hard way that when you're flying at Mach 2 and a brick wall is in front of you, you're in big trouble if you don't have the ability to go turn anywhere. [00:10:03] Andrew Busey: So I learned a lot from that. Built a couple of smaller software companies over the next couple years, including most of which got bought for reasonable outcomes but didn't really raise a lot of money for them. So it was okay for me. Then started company called Pluck with Dave Panos, who, I don't know if you met him or not, but he's another kind of old school software guy in Austin that was funded by AV and Mayfield and got bought by Demand Media, basically building social media as an enterprise software technology before there was really social media. So we built a lot of social media-ish tech and RSS stuff, which really was comments and social interaction on websites. [00:10:43] Andrew Busey: So we had a bunch of customers like the NFL and Reuters and stuff like that. [00:10:48] Jason Scharf: So it seems a lot, obviously these kind of pieces and parts, right? As you said, like you bringing in chat from Mosaic, reading the chat. Then the comments section and then you said kinda bringing on the social before. [00:10:59] Jason Scharf: And then obviously when we're getting into challenge games and Zynga obviously built on top of, at least when I was kind of seeing that space as a consumer on top of Facebook. It's kind of an interesting— not the underlying technology, but kind of the next stage above it, right? [00:11:14] Jason Scharf: Is that a good descriptor of where you've built the pieces? [00:11:17] Andrew Busey: The way I think of it is I make Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and so like software is either the chocolate or the peanut butter and then I'm finding some other thing to combine with it to make something that tastes great and is like novel. [00:11:30] Andrew Busey: Right? So I'm a product guy. I have a CS degree and I can nominally program probably wouldn't want me working on a commercial software product. But try to think about how software can change how things are done in some form, right? And that can be taking the latest advancements in software and doing something slightly different with 'em. [00:11:57] Andrew Busey: Or it can be finding something that people are maybe gonna want to do and combining that with software or software enablement. So really like that idea of a Reese's Peanut Butter cup is like, especially true now, where it's like, as a technology generalist, like I can sort of figure out how to frame up anything in software and technology, and then it's a matter of trying to figure out how it maps to a specific industry or use case. [00:12:22] Andrew Busey: And a lot of times, I joke that one of my superpowers is I can ask a lot of really annoying questions to people, so I just keep asking people questions until I get the answers that I really need to understand it. At the beginning of Colossal, I kind of suspected this was true, but I learned a little trick, which is… [00:12:41] Andrew Busey: If you have enough money, which isn't a ton, right, like thousands, you can literally learn anything ultra fast. You just go find the best person at that thing that's in proximity to you and hire them. So in the case of, I was like, I gotta learn this biology stuff real fast. So I found a professor at UT. She's the co-author of a genomics book. She’s Harvard PhD. [00:13:03] Andrew Busey: I was like, “Hey, can I just pay you like a couple hundred bucks an hour to teach me this stuff as fast as possible? I don't want any of the bullshit stuff that you would teach in a class to make it last a semester. I want the fastest, most condensed thing possible. So I want you to write me the bullet point summary of everything that you think is important in genomics and then I'm gonna reply to your bullet point list, asking for details on the things that I don't understand.” [00:13:26] Andrew Busey: And a couple of exchanges, I'm like, okay, I think I got this. And that probably isn't the right way for everyone to learn things, but that's like the most efficient way for me to learn. And so the ability to do that is ultra powerful, right? And then that gave me enough of an understanding of the core biology that then I could really annoy the people that do stuff. [00:13:49] Jason Scharf: I want to run with this, the Reese Peanut Buttercup for a minute. Is there been a change in kind of the hard sciences? Biospace, Quantum, even in AI. Because we're seeing this big trend, right? This yourself being a great example, but these kind of classic tech and software entrepreneurs moving into the kind of the deep and heart tech space and applying almost this kind of—I think that's a good metaphor. [00:14:14] Jason Scharf: Being able to say, well, we're applying software to this. We're applying these different, more classic product management, product development types of tools. What's driving this trend? Is there a moment that's happened in the sciences that makes this available? Is it just everyone's focused on it now? [00:14:31] Jason Scharf: What is it that we're seeing that's having this happen? [00:14:34] Andrew Busey: I think there's two somewhat unrelated things happening. So I think one thing is, I think AI is an actual change in technology. I spent I think three or four years ago, I took Andrew Ng’s Coursera class on ML where I did ML stuff in Matlab because I was like, this is very different. [00:14:54] Andrew Busey: Literally everything before that is like you have a piece of glass, whether that piece of glass is Chrome or Windows or Mac os or iOS or Android or whatever, where you're like displaying something and then you basically have a backend of which is a database and some logic, like literally that is all software. [00:15:13] Andrew Busey: And that hasn't really changed that much in the 30-ish years I've been doing this. And I was like, hey, AI seems different. And so I spent a fair amount of time trying to learn and understand the general concept of neural networks and that sort of, how that kind of worked and why it was different. [00:15:32] Andrew Busey: I did come to believe that the intersection of data and machine learning is different than the way things have been done before. And it is a pretty significant change in technology that will open up a myriad of things that people I think have no idea of what that looks like exactly, including me. Like, I certainly didn't predict… [00:15:54] Jason Scharf: Soon we'll be able to use AI to talk to the cats to know what they want, talk to the babies to know what they want. [00:16:01] Andrew Busey: Yeah, I want the LLM for cats. I don't think anyone saw how big of a leap this LLM technology would be that that's been like a massive step forward. [00:16:14] Andrew Busey: I think we're still kind of digesting what that means across the board, probably will be for a long time. But I think we're about to see a massive exponential curve and technology that is gonna radically change things. And I write science fiction in my spare time. [00:16:30] Andrew Busey: I don't know if we talked about that before, so I like to think about like, I'm really interested in the philosophy of AI and, and artificial sentience, and I've been thinking about those things for a really long time. More in a philosophy level, not on an implementation level. [00:16:44] Andrew Busey: But I think it's really fascinating. We're gonna see a lot of crazy things happen and I think that's part of why when we started Colossal. Ben kind of put that idea together and work on the relationship with George at Harvard. But part of the original conversation cuz it wasn't clear at the very beginning, probably story's gonna get evolved over time, but at the beginning, it was not entirely clear how the mammoth was gonna make money and be a viable commercial path. [00:17:17] Andrew Busey: I think that's pretty clear to us now, but in a lot of startups, I think that that's the case where you're like, well, we have this idea and we're gonna build this thing, but we don't know exactly how it's gonna work. But part of the pitch that we developed at the beginning was, well, the mammoth is the North Star. [00:17:33] Andrew Busey: And part of the strategy was we're gonna have to come up with a bunch of new things to get to the mammoth for sure. Right. And so when we figure out those things, we can spend them off into new commercial entities or divisions or whatever, and that will create value for Colossal. And so as a software guy, it's kinda like, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. [00:17:53] Andrew Busey: I was like, well, clearly there's a software problem in here. And so I spent a lot of 2021 talking to people, and I talked to a lot of PhDs in molecular biology and related fields and MDs and everything else. I kind of developed this pitch that became Form Bio as we had these conversations. [00:18:11] Andrew Busey: I was like, I kept like expecting to hear, oh yeah, this is how we do that. It never happened, right? So I was like, holy crap, how can it be this bad? And turns out it is that bad. [00:18:24] Michael Scharf: That's kinda where I wanna segue into talking specifically about Form Bio. Yes. You're a spin-out of Colossal, but tell me the specific issue that Form Bio is looking to solve. [00:18:36] Andrew Busey: So Form is a platform company and one of several things I've learned in my 25 years or whatever of being an entrepreneur is if you're a platform company, you should probably figure out at least one or two highly valuable use cases as early as humanly possible so that you can get people to actually buy the platform. [00:18:53] Andrew Busey: The good news is Colossal uses the platform so we have one automatic customer out of the gate. But the challenge is if you talk to a bunch of biotech companies or in the cell and gene therapy space in many of these different categories, their data is what I would call badly managed, to the point where people will send hard drives of data. [00:19:16] Andrew Busey: They don't know where it came from. They don't know the settings on the sequencer when they sequenced it. I'm like, you're making a drug that's gonna go on a human being. How do you not know this stuff? And why does the FDA not demand that you provide it? I was like, Oh my God. And so what we learned is that one, this data is badly managed, which a lot of Form’s core platform functionality is get the data on Form as fast as possible and build a data provenance record of the data, right? [00:19:45] Andrew Busey: So whether it came straight from a sequencer or from another source, once it's on our platform, we can track it and manage it and understand what you've done to it, right? Because basically most of the digital side of biology and bioinformatics is transformation and analysis of data. [00:20:04] Andrew Busey: Find this genes, see if it's a mutation, what small pieces are different in this mutation? What does it mean, right? And so those types of questions, you better have good data. And if you ask a thousand questions and then somebody leaves your company and somebody else takes over, guess what? [00:20:22] Andrew Busey: They're gonna have to start over again in the current way things work cuz the data. And they're definitely not gonna know how you got there. And a lot of stuff is written in paper lab notebooks of what people were thinking and doing. It's just surprisingly bad. And so building that just purely in version one of where we are right now is really about get the data on the Form and make it as easy as possible to do the analysis and transformation work that you need to do with that data. [00:20:52] Andrew Busey: Whether that's to get to a therapeutic or a mammoth. More agnostic. Right? So that's the high-level platform overview. And then I can go into some of the details of how we specifically plan to sell it. [00:21:05] Michael Scharf: Yeah. But realistically, what you're describing is a set of tools that are sitting on top of bios, deep tech. [00:21:13] Andrew Busey: Well, so the problem with deep tech, it's like if you build an oil well in the middle of nowhere without looking to see where the oil is first, that's a pretty dumb choice, which is kind of what's happening. They're like, oh, hey, we're out here looking out. They're like totally detached. [00:21:27] Andrew Busey: So the problem with deep tech really is if you don't understand how things work, and you can't create a magical system that can figure that out by itself, you better have data. And if you don't have any data, you're screwed. If you have data that you don't understand or you didn't correctly preserve or track or whatever, you are also severely crippling yourself, if not killing your ability to use that data. [00:21:59] Andrew Busey: And at the end of the day, when we talk about specific use cases in CGT, a lot of times you need to do something to that data to get to clinical trials, for example, right? So sometimes you have a research partner, like a university that did a bunch of work and they just drop basically a vector on your— [00:22:18] Andrew Busey: They send you this vector and you're like, this cures cancer in mice. You're like, you bought it for whatever from the university now. Now go turn it into a therapeutic drug. So a lot of times they'll be like, okay, well, the last time we did this, we used an AAV to wrap it. So yeah, we'll do that now and then we're gonna send it to our CMO to manufacture it, and we are gonna take whatever the result of that manufacturing run is. [00:22:44] Andrew Busey: And then we're gonna put in clinical trials. And then in however many years after the clinical trials, you're like, okay, now we have a therapeutic, we're gonna take it to market. So let's just say the therapeutic has a $500 million total addressable market. So you probably have a patent by this point, you probably wasted half of it, right? [00:23:01] Andrew Busey: So you have like nine years to extract that tam. And you know the tam, it's never gonna totally go away, right? Cause there's gonna always be probably people coming that need it. But you're gonna sell this thing for $2 million a dose, let's say, cuz the rare disease’s therapeutic, and when you did your test run back four years before you did your clinical trials, you didn't do anything, you just took the thing from the academic institution. [00:23:29] Andrew Busey: Maybe you did like a really simple code of optimization, then you sent it for manufacturing and you spent $10 million for this test run and you got 10 doses out of it. So it costs you a million dollars a dose. So you're basically making a million dollars of sale. Which, you know, sounds crazy, but like you spent a lot of money on R&D and everything else and it's curing a disease. [00:23:48] Andrew Busey: I'm not the pricing guy, but what if someone could take the thing you got from your academic partner, do some light optimization that doesn't change the functional outcome, but reorders the structure just a little bit in a way that makes it much easier to manufacture? [00:24:12] Andrew Busey: And so instead of for $10 million, instead of getting 10 doses, you got 12 doses, which is pretty reasonable and achievable based on our early work. Now, when you get through clinical trials and you go to market, your cogs are effectively 20% less. So you've basically generated a hundred million dollars of free cash flow, which you can either use to make more drugs or pocket or whatever. [00:24:40] Andrew Busey: But once you start that clinical trials process, good luck changing your formulation at all, right? Because you're locked in with the clinical trial results, right? So you're sort of trapped. So if you could spend half a million to a million dollars doing that optimization before you started clinical trials, pretty easy choice. [00:25:02] Andrew Busey: Also, it's possible that you spend that $10 million to do that test, and it fails because you get two doses, which means your cost per dose is too high and the drug's never gonna go to market. We can also predict that, which will save you $10 million. And then help you try to optimize it in a way that gets you to a point that it can be sold at a viable price point. [00:25:21] Andrew Busey: So those are the types of things where we take the data that you have, the data that other people have, public data, and we build both simulation and optimization components to solve actual problems that are worth lots of money in this category. And so to your previous statement of like, why does now matter more than ever? [00:25:43] Andrew Busey: In this particular case, it has nothing to do with tech. It has to do with biotech, which has the word tech in it, but really not tech in the way that we're talking in general. So biotech has not had a great year for 18 months, and so now these biotech companies that used to just have loads of money and could afford to eat all these types of mistakes are suddenly, “Oh, we better not mess this up, we better maximize the ROI of everything we make.” So timing-wise, that's turned out to be pretty good for us. Cuz now while they weren't previously not caring that much about manufacturing efficiency, for example, now they do care. Or they're certainly more willing to care, and it's just a matter of education, I think, at this point. [00:26:31] Andrew Busey: And that's just one function of the platform and they could do a lot of additional bioinformatics work outside of those specific use cases, but there's a lot of fun and cool things that people can do. And I think we'll see universities using Form over time. [00:26:47] Andrew Busey: That's obviously more of a platform use case where it's like less of a big revenue generator, probably looks a little bit more like maybe a mathematical or something like that where it's a little bit more of like a sweet general kind of bioinformatics and biology use cases for students. And we try to make that kind of some special edu opportunities, but it's much harder to build a platform if you want that path versus finding a really value valuable vertical slice that you can deliver on your platform. [00:27:12] Andrew Busey: And then now, guess what? All those vertical slices are data transformations and you wanna know where the data came from and where the data goes, and eventually you're gonna have to produce and share that with the FDA and other people, and we'll help you do that too. [00:27:27] Michael Scharf: It's interesting because I spent some time on the UT campus last week, and a lot of what's going on there in the CS department seems to be exactly what you described as for Form Bio. You're looking at optimization and enhancement of underlying technologies. And when we talked to Jasper AI, they talked about doing optimization around brand voice. Some of the folks I talked to last week were talking about optimization in other areas, but they were looking at how to make AI more explainable as a way of getting it more used. [00:28:08] Michael Scharf: And it leads to a question because when we look at Austin, And we look at the skillsets of the folks here in this metro area, I guess the question comes down to which one is Austin? Are we the folks developing the underlying technologies or do we have the skillset that enables us to make those technologies more useful? [00:28:33] Andrew Busey: Well, I don't know what I'm about to say might be controversial and someone might throw tomatoes at me. [00:28:40] Michael Scharf: It won't be us. It's okay. [00:28:42] Andrew Busey: I love Austin. I've been here for a long time. I helped start Capital Factory. I made a zillion angel investments here, built a lot of stuff here. [00:28:51] Andrew Busey: Form is hybrid, mostly remote. And we're kind of agnostic about where people are. We do have a lot of people in Austin mostly cuz those are in-network cars are just easier. I think UT is a top-tier AI school. I think there's a ton of really interesting intersectional work between biology and AI happening at UT, and I think that's really exciting. [00:29:13] Andrew Busey: I think that that will be very valuable in the future, and I don't think we know the answer to that question, and I don't think there'll be a city that dominates AI. I think that San Francisco will say that they are, maybe London because of Deep Mind will say that they are, but like in Seattle, I'm sure we'll have something to say about it. [00:29:33] Andrew Busey: I don't know that we have a dominant anchor in Austin for that, but I think in the end, most of the things that are the core of this wave of AI will be distributed in a way that in generation one, which we're in, it will feel like the big companies control and dominate it. I think in the second generation it will not be the case because I think, one, they'll be very vertical hyper intelligences that are like things that do special stuff. And I think that's where the business opportunities really are gonna exist for most companies. I think that raw, generative AI and AGI are… I mean if we get an AGI, that's gonna change everything and probably not gonna really matter what city you're in cuz it's probably gonna quickly alter everything in a way that we just don't understand. [00:30:26] Jason Scharf: But even stepping back though for a moment, because I think it's not necessarily bad or good, right? It's more of a question looking— I'm pushing off the AGI moment for a minute because whether that is, it's your point, like if that happens and what that looks like and if there's one or a thousand or whatever, that is a pretty big game changer. [00:30:43] Jason Scharf: But it's an interesting question because even the non-AI component, right? When we think about quantum, when we think about some of these other ones as well, it has been this kind of optimization layer on top that does seem to be Austin's… What I'm thinking, at least on the deep tech intersection, like as you said, no one's here building LLMs, building like Jasper, like the piece that. [00:31:12] Andrew Busey: I mean, there are people building LLMs here. [00:31:15] Jason Scharf: Okay. At least when I think of the unicorns, right? Like it's the things that go on top, right? It's these conversion points. We're gonna take this piece of tech, we're gonna take that piece of tech, your Reese's peanut butter. Again, we're gonna take these pieces together and kind of merge it, and then out of that we'll create this new vertical. [00:31:29] Jason Scharf: And that's not necessarily a bad piece. I mean, When we think about quantum, the only people who can build quantum computers and the dollars and capital to go into that. It's a very small group. Not even like a metro-wise. [00:31:44] Jason Scharf: It's a very small number of organizations that can build that. [00:31:48] Andrew Busey: Some would argue that that number is zero. [00:31:50] Jason Scharf: So it's an interesting question is one that we kind of continue to try to explore and just understand from when we're trying to pull out what's the talent that we need here. [00:32:01] Jason Scharf: And are we producing enough? I think it's interesting. Back to the AI point, you saw that UT recently launched a Master's in AI and then a couple weeks ago, they're teaming with Amazon to establish a new science hub. So we think about like, are we producing enough talent in this to really lead in this kind of intersection vertical? [00:32:24] Andrew Busey: Well, I mean that Master’s in AI is online, right? So you don't actually have to be—
[00:32:30] Jason Scharf: Which is a whole other interesting piece to it, right? [00:32:32] Andrew Busey: —at UT, right? I think we are producing a lot of talent here and that there is a lot of like, I don't know if you know, do you know Adam Klivans? He's actually, I think, the professor that put that together and he's spending a lot of time on it, on the AI side of biology as well. [00:32:48] Andrew Busey: He's like an MIT PhD. He's been at UT for about a decade, maybe. I don't know. There's like another guy that's worked with Fair Mountains on the advisory board of Form and Colossal. He’s a professor at UT who just moved here over the last summer, who came from Harvard and previously was at I think Cambridge. [00:33:05] Andrew Busey: So like UT is doing a great job of recruiting rockstar talent and I believe they're building a sustainable program that will be impactful for a long time. And so I think that that's great for Austin and it's great for talent production cuz I do think that lots of times people don't really leave, but it's still gonna be hard to compete against… [00:33:26] Andrew Busey: The biggest challenge right now is just gonna be like Google and Microsoft and Amazon and Facebook just paying extraordinary salaries to people in this category and warehousing talent. Now, I think the good news is the current situation is probably reducing their appetite to warehouse people at those price points that aren't working on critical things for an indefinite period of time. [00:33:48] Andrew Busey: I think that's actually probably the more likely thing that will change the general distribution of talent than cities. I don't know whether we will move fully back to office work anytime in the future. I think people will try. I think in some ways, there'll probably be technology that makes it easier to manage remote work. [00:34:08] Andrew Busey: As now that we're kind of a few years into a much higher level of remote work, and that will probably change people's acceptance level for that type of stuff, right? I don't feel like I need to go to an office. I guess I'm not an extrovert, so I'm not one of those people that's like, I wanna be in an office and that's, how do I know anyone's working if I can't see them working? [00:34:28] Andrew Busey: Yeah, pretty sure that if you're looking at somebody typing on a keyboard, you don't know whether they're working or not, just cuz they're in an office. I kinda have mixed feelings on that. I love cities. I live in downtown Austin, so I love that I can walk to a lot of places and that the places I can walk to are getting better right now, every week, which is fabulous. [00:34:49] Andrew Busey: And I think we'll see a lot more people that wanna move to downtown Austin. I think it's a very competitive city. Obviously, there's some real estate price point issues, but I think that those are the types of things that will matter. The talent will move to wherever it is cool and interesting and not terrible, right? So as long as downtown Austin doesn't become downtown San Francisco, I think we're in pretty good shape. Now how we stop that? It's a different political question. [00:35:18] Jason Scharf: I think that's a great point to lead always into our final questions. So we've got all these kind of remote work trends. [00:35:24] Jason Scharf: We've got all sorts of new and interesting companies building off of AI, building off of biology. You've got UT. We've talked about the talent. So Andrew, what's next Austin? [00:35:36] Andrew Busey: Well, I think the big thing we're gonna see is fabs and Musk-related companies evolving here, and how that affects the mix of things will be very interesting. [00:35:45] Andrew Busey: So I think that's gonna be the big next. They're building I guess the new Tesla headquarters downtown. That was what I heard anyway, when it was Google and Facebook. Those offices right now are heavily balanced or biased or whatever towards like sales and marketing and ads and things like that. [00:36:04] Andrew Busey: But they're slowly building out tech teams. I spent a lot of time talking to Facebook in the convertible days, and they didn't have any tech in Austin at that point, and now they do. Same with Google. So they're slowly building out technical outposts here. I actually think the thing that will have the biggest impact besides AI-related craziness, is what happens with remote work, right? [00:36:27] Andrew Busey: If it turns out that having people in an office somehow creates a degree of serendipity that we just don't really understand yet. And everyone is like, Oh my God, we gotta put all a bunch of smart people together to create some critical mass of something. Then I think in that scenario, then that would probably be a win for Austin because I think Austin will be in anchor city for kind of that type of stuff. [00:36:48] Andrew Busey: If it's remote, I think that Austin's probably gonna be competing against cities like Nashville and Boston, and not so much in New York and San Francisco and Seattle. But I think for people that wanna have a good quality of life and be around people that are smart, I think Austin is a great choice. [00:37:08] Jason Scharf: Great. Andrew Busey from Form Bio. Thanks for joining us. [00:37:11] Andrew Busey: Thank you. [00:37:13] Jason Scharf: So what's next Austin? We're glad you've joined us on this journey. Please subscribe at your favorite podcast catcher. Leave us a review and let your colleagues know about us. This will help us grow the podcast and continue bringing you unique interviews and insights. Thanks again for listening and see you soon.