September 22, 2022
Today’s feature is on Brian Wu, our first Gen Z deep tech founder. “Deep tech” refers to technology based on significant scientific or engineering innovation (think: blockchain, computer imaging, VR). Deep tech companies utilize AI, big data, and/or deep learning to solve challenges primarily focused around the life sciences, aerospace, agriculture, and clean energy sectors. By contrast, shallow tech refers to technology that helps businesses move from a non-digital platform to a digital one. These are your typical tech companies covered by media, such as Facebook, Uber, and Spotify.
One example of a deep tech company is TeraWatt Infrastructure, which made headlines last week after raising $1B to expand electric vehicle charging for commercial fleets of cars and delivery vehicles. They’re solving the problem of unreliable electricity and power availability for EV fleets by coordinating large-scale, high-voltage infrastructure to the grid (think: charging stations, on-site electricity generation, and on-site storage). Read an interview with Terawatt’s South Asian co-founder, Neha Palmer, here.
📅 Gen Z Founder of the Week
✨ Brian Wu is the co-founder and CEO of Daelus Space, a startup building rovers for space exploration and defense, with $100k in backing from Soma Capital. Before Daelus, he conducted planetary research at the University of Florida and co-founded a drone delivery company called Relay. Brian is currently a junior at Stanford studying Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. In today’s issue, Brian shares his journey into deep tech, his personal Notion pages, and being Asian-American in the defense sector:
🛰 How does Daelus work? Daelus is building space rovers that behave like a swarm. Currently, for space exploration, a rover is sent as a single device. If it fails, it fails. Daelus is changing the game by introducing groups (or swarms) of rovers that cooperate with each other to complete a certain exploration task. If one rover breaks down, the other rovers will re-coordinate and continue on.
Our rovers are designed for resource extraction (water, ice, oxygen) and infrastructure construction. This can be useful to NASA, which is setting up a permanent base for humans, as well as SpaceX and Blue Origin, which are starting their own private astronaut transportation businesses.
🚀 Why space? A lot of people wonder why we should explore space where there are so many problems on Earth. It might not seem apparent, but space tech is critical to improving the quality of life here. For example, satellites are the reason why we have such precise weather prediction, high crop yields, and Google Maps.
📖 Gaining the technical knowledge: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in space. When I was little, I read every single book I could on space at the library. Once I got older, I started reading academic papers and textbooks. I met a lot of engineers and other space nerds through a game called Kerbal Space Program and learned a lot from them. It's a very tight online community.
As a founder, you're going to learn all the skills you need on the job. When I started doing research at the University of Florida, I didn’t know how to code, do calculus, or even basic physics. I just picked it up the first month on the job.
🔭 Getting into deep tech: Deep tech has a huge perceived barrier to entry, but has the potential to solve so many real world problems – climate tech, medtech, and biotech are all essentially forms of deep tech. One of my goals is to inspire more people to go into deep tech. I think deep tech needs a more approachable name, like cool shit or something.
🛠 Building the prototypes: The first prototype was entirely bootstrapped. We took a child-sized ATV, stripped it down, added computer hardware motors, and programmed autonomous navigation. Now, we're building multiple rovers so we can demonstrate the swarming capability.
🤝 Making and maintaining connections: We have a Google sheet that acts as our CRM, or relationship manager. Any advisor, potential customer, or just someone knowledgeable in the industry – we add them, and from time to time, reach out and catch up.
💭 What qualities do you look for in a connection? 1) How well does that person listen and understand perspectives? 2) What can they teach me? The key to building long-lasting relationships is to be genuinely interested in people.
⏳ Balancing school and work: Whatever time I have, I'm sending out emails, building the tech, drawing out financial projections. You have to be very strategic about finding small pockets of time. A little bit of work each day compounds.
🔥 Cure for burnout: Whenever I feel burnt out, the main symptom is losing curiosity. And so I call up someone who’s very passionate and have a long conversation with them. That rekindles my own passion. People well-versed in deep tech are always on Twitter, and oftentimes, they're more than happy to chat.
📄 On not following the herd: “The herd” is the people who are always doing the “right” thing – grinding to beat the curve at school, recruiting for big tech, consulting, IB. If you take these people's resumes, put them together, and block out their names, you can't tell who’s who. I want to be surrounded by people who, if you do that, you can easily tell whose resume it is. That’s because people who think for themselves and do what they truly want to do are often the most successful and happiest out of college.
🌏 Being Asian-American in the defense sector: One of my mom's friends told me, “You shouldn't work in government. Everybody's going to discriminate against you. Just work in something low-risk, like finance.” But I think that’s precisely what we need – more representation in government and defense. I want to take on this challenge and inspire other Asian-Americans interested in these roles.
🔲 What are your personal Notion pages? 1) All my writing 2) Course planning 3) Ideas and projects that I just come up with randomly in the shower 4) Long-term tasks and goals 5) All the possible career trajectories I could potentially go down, and the reasoning for each of those 6) Quotes for the soul. My favorite is “Don't celebrate so much that you will lose the success that enabled you to celebrate in the first place.”
🌱 How to achieve personal growth: The ironic thing about personal growth is that it's rarely ever personal – it happens in the context of other people who are willing to help you grow. I have people in my life who understand my flaws. They hold me accountable, and I do the same for them in return. Have people who are not afraid to look at you and criticize you.
💡 Life goal: I want to help people self actualize. The work I do is really enabling humanity to do new things and achieve their potential.
💫 Most underrated advice: Be consistent. People tend to work in bursts of energy, and then lose motivation. Keep the momentum up. Sometimes fundraising is tiring, and customer outreach can feel really boring, but the best founders are very consistent about getting things done. Achieve a level of consistency so scary that other people can’t help but wonder, “How do they do that?"
tl;dr 1) Don’t be intimidated by difficult-sounding problems or subject matters. Read up on it, join a community, and/or take up a research or internship position to get your hands dirty. 2) Be genuinely interested in other people. That is the key to building long-lasting relationships. 3) Personal growth is best achieved by having people hold you accountable and providing critical, constructive feedback. Check out Daelus here: daelus.space/ Keep up with Brian: twitter.com/BrianTheVC linkedin.com/in/brianwu568/
✌️ That’s it until next time!
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