Techopia Live: Silicon Valley VC assembled ‘the Avengers’ to run Ottawa’s Threekit

With US$30 million in venture capital and a superstar management team taking the reins, the founder behind Ottawa-born Threekit joined Techopia Live this week to talk about how the company has transformed in the past year.

Ben Houston, who’s now the chief technical officer of Threekit, first worked in the 3D modeling space as a software developer in Hollywood. Visual effects artists working on blockbusters such as Avatar and The Avengers have used Houston’s software to animate 3D special effects.

When he first spun out the technology he was using in Hollywood as an online 3D editor for artists, there wasn’t much uptake for the software. But when Houston’s team was approached by businesses looking to use the technology to visualize bespoke clothing and furniture options, the market opportunity became obvious.

“Those businesses approached us and said, ‘Could we use this to showcase our products on our webpages?’ And we weren’t making that much money from it, so we said, ‘Yes!’,” Houston told Techopia Live.

“The e-commerce market ... is a thousand-times larger than the visual effects market. So it’s a good pivot.”

With brands the likes of Crate and Barrel using Threekit’s tech to model couches online with a variety of colours and fabrics, big-name investors also started taking notice. That includes Silicon Valley venture capitalist Godard Abel, who at the start of 2019 invested US$10 million into the firm. Threekit followed that up just last week with another US$20 million.

Houston said Abel takes a hands-on approach to investing. Instead, he takes the teams he’s worked with throughout his career at companies such as Salesforce and brings them to bear on a company where he sees exponential potential.

“We didn’t just raise money. We became an incredibly professional and experienced team, nearly overnight,” Houston said.

Talent the likes he could “never have recruited” were suddenly leading his team, he said, guiding it with best practices from a series of successful firms. The former VFX engineer applies his Tinseltown lens to his company’s transformation.

“I almost refer to them as ‘the Avengers.’ They assemble into a new company, bring the old team back together, and bring it to the next level,” Houston said.

To hear why Houston believes Threekit is now set up for scale, watch the video above.