Ep. 61: Mercenaries and Augmented Reality Fighter Pilot TrainingNick Bicanic, producer of the award winning documentary Shadow Company, and Vice’s War Against Boko Haram, lives his life on the cutting edge of innovation. Nick is a talented inventor and one of the founders of the revolutionary fighter pilot training company Red 6 which utilizes high fidelity / high speed / extreme low latency augmented reality.
Travis Bader: [00:00:00] I'm Travis Bader, and this is The Silvercore Podcast. Join me as I discuss matters related to hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits with the people in businesses that comprise the community. If you're a new to Silvercore, be sure to check out our website, www.Silvercore.ca we can learn more about courses, services and products that we offer as well as how you can join The Silvercore Club, which includes 10 million in north America wide liability insurance, to ensure you are properly covered during your outdoor adventures.
[00:00:44] Today I'm joined by wind surfer, helicopter pilot, tech inventor, filmmaker, and founder of the revolutionary company, Red6, which uses an airborne tactical augmented reality system to train fighter pilots. Welcome to The Silvercore Podcast, my friend, Nick Bicanic.
Nick Bicanic: [00:01:02] Hey Travis. Thanks for having me on the podcast. It's been a long time since we first met back in that, uh, I think it was the firearm safety course in British Columbia.
Travis Bader: [00:01:10] Oh my god. It's been forever since then. It's been what? 15, 16 years.
Nick Bicanic: [00:01:14] No, we're not supposed to say that. Cause that makes us seem older than we actually are. It's been, it's been awhile, definitely over a decade.
Travis Bader: [00:01:21] Ahh, it's been a hot minute if we're going to use the parlance of today's youth.
Nick Bicanic: [00:01:24] That's right. Yeah.
Travis Bader: [00:01:25] And I remember, I remember helping you pack to move down to LA and that it doesn't seem that long ago, but you've done so much with your time. Well, I guess since I first met you and since moving down to LA, it's been just amazing.
[00:01:42] I, I don't know where to begin, but I think maybe a fun place to start would be where we first met, which would have been on, uh, one of the basic firearms courses that we have up here in Canada. And you did really well on that course, finish up the course and said, you know, I'm looking for some more advanced training.
[00:02:02] Is there anywhere around that that you'd recommend? And I jokingly said, hey, head over to Calgary. There's a zero to hero, one week, become a mercenary course. And before I knew it, you were up there with a film crew and it just kinda took on legs of its own. Did you want to talk about that?
Nick Bicanic: [00:02:21] Yeah. The, the project that, that ended up becoming, uh, was called Shadow Company, it, it actually did that spectacularly well, it was my first ever long form documentary film. And the basic idea was that I had the, I had, I had a couple of good friends who had joined the military, but one in particular, who I went to university with, he joined the British army. Uh, he was the infantry. Um, and after spending a couple of years in the infantry with the usual deployments, uh, I think they had Arctic warfare training in Canada and they had some stuff in Northern Ireland as the usual rotations for British infantry.
[00:02:57] Uh, he left, uh, he'd been a lawyer, and he left and he was looking for something else to do. And looking for adventurous, he ended up working as a security contractor, uh, in particular, he was going to look at a job in Nigeria, uh, guarding, guarding diamond mines, but for whatever reason, that didn't quite work out, although I was supposed to come and spend a bit of time with him while he was there.
[00:03:18] So one day he called me and he said, you know, forget Nigeria, we're going to Iraq. And I said, what are you going to do? And he goes, yeah, we're going to guard, you know, the ministry of oil, guard refineries. This there's like tens of thousands of contractors here. I'm like really tens of thousands because at the time it wasn't talked about as, as big a phenomenon as it eventually became.
[00:03:38] This was prior to the Blackwater Fallujah episode and the poor guys getting hung off the bridge and prior to a number of different incidents that, that brought the world's attention to how much of the, of the security ecosystem had been outsourced. I was looking for a project to sink my teeth into on the creative side.
[00:03:58] And that's the fact that I had some unusual access, uh, basically presented a really interesting opportunity. So the particular, I forget, I think it's called the Shooting Edge. Was it called the Shooting Edge.
Travis Bader: [00:04:08] Yeah, I think that's where you went to, yeah.
Nick Bicanic: [00:04:10] Called the Shooting Edge? So I got in touch with a, an ex, uh, 2 2, um, SAS special air services, British army special forces operative by the name of Alan Bell. Um, he was, his nickname was dinger when he was in the British army and he operated then, and still does, a security company based in Toronto called Globe Risk. So I got in touch with Alan and I got in touch with Alan out of nowhere, I just remember I called him up one day and I said, hey, um, I want to do this documentary on security contractors, who are they?
[00:04:43] What do they do? And what kind of people are they? Why do they do it? Because I was fascinated by the idea of what kind of people chose this line of work. They chose to put themselves in harm's way. In other words, they've, they've had military training, they've left the military, and then what? They could, they don't have to go and do this anymore.
[00:05:00] Nobody's compelling them to do it. So of course you could argue, well, it's obvious it's money, but it's not quite as simple as money. It's often a bunch of other things. It's, it's a sense of maybe, maybe searching for the glory days. Maybe, maybe you get bored being, for sake of argument, you know, working as a mall security guard, maybe you don't want to be a local cop.
[00:05:20] You want to have the experience you had as part of a, a small unit fighting force. And you don't, how do you do that in a civilian context? No, one's going to hire you to do sniper counter, sniper work in a civilian context that sort of work doesn't exist. Anyway, I contacted Alan and Alan said, initially, he, he was skeptical because he thought, who's this guy and what's his agenda.
[00:05:43] Why is he calling me? Which makes sense. Because especially guys like that, who had a bunch of different, special forces training, they don't really trust the media. They and sadly, even then, and especially now, media tends to be very polarized. So whoever's looking for an angle. And I said to him, early on, I said, no, that there's no angle.
[00:06:04] There's no agenda. There's no media behind me. It's just me. I'm just trying to figure out who are these guys? What are they doing? Why? I'm just trying to understand. I obviously I'm looking for a story cause I'm not, I'm not an idiot. I've got to make something that's compelling to watch, but I'm also trying to understand what's happening in the world because sadly, as much as polarization in the media would like to have you believe, the world isn't black and white never has been, it's all different shades of gray.
[00:06:30] And I'm trying to understand the gray. So eventually Alan relented and said, hey, listen, we're doing a seven day pre-deployment training at this place called Shooting Edge with a bunch of, um, uh, J sock guys or, or various different special forces train guys who are trying to get jobs with security companies.
[00:06:52] So if you really want this come and do this thing. So, so I show up day one of the course, I meet Alan for breakfast at 0500 or some equally crazy time. And, and no one else is with me, it's just me. And he sort of sits down. We have a bit of a chat and breakfast finishes. And I remember he said that he goes.
[00:07:12] Just so, you know, there's a, there's a CBC crew coming later today. And I said, okay. And he goes, you know, I hope you guys are fine being there at the same time. Like, I don't care, I mean, whatever, they can do what they want. And so, so he says, wait a second, where's your gear? Where's your crew? And I said, what do you mean?
[00:07:30] It's, it's a seven day course right? And he goes, yeah. And I said, well, I'm going to do all my interviews on, on day seven. And he said, well, what are you gonna do for seven days? So I'm going to run the course. And he's like, wait, you want, you want to wake up early in the morning, run up and down the hills with heavy loaded backpack and then drive and shoot and do all the training with the guys.
[00:07:52] I'm like, yeah, absolutely. He said, what do you want to do that? And I said, well, two reasons. One, because it's fun. Uh, but two, because if I don't do that, the guys are never going to talk to me. I mean, sure, they might answer questions if forced, but it'll be yes, no answers. They don't care. They're just doing it because they're being forced to, I want them to trust me.
[00:08:13] And I want them to understand that I'm not trying to just exploit anything. I want to understand what they're doing and the only way to do that. I mean, yes, there's a little bit of chest thumping, alpha bullshit that happens, but that's necessary. So, so that means that I'd go off and run with them. And if I'm running up a pack of former special forces guys, and I'm not in the end of it, I'm in the middle of it.
[00:08:35] And I start bitching them out to say, guys, I'm a journalist, what are you doing? Go faster. That's fun because, because they're all, we're all trying to get in this together. So from that perspective, I think that was a very, very sensible decision because by the end, I'm not saying we were best friends, but at least they knew me.
[00:08:53] They knew what kind of person I was, they knew that I was either dumb enough or committed enough to go through the punishing schedule with them. So that meant that I got a lot more, shall we say honesty and sincerity out of them because they understood that I, that I gave a shit about this stuff and that worked out very well.
[00:09:08] Plus I ended up becoming very close friends with Alan as a, as a result. Cause he, he's, he's just, I can imagine he thought, who is this idiot who wants to put, put himself through this punishing course? But by day three or four, he was like, okay, fine and we became, we've become friends since, we spoken quite a bit.
[00:09:24] Um, and uh, you know, I've been over to stay with him. He's um, he's a solid guy. He's uh, he's obviously it's been a long time since, since he's been on the ground and active, but let's just say that if push came to shove in most scenarios, uh, I, I was still very much trust Alan because, uh, he's, he's seen and done pretty much everything.
Travis Bader: [00:09:45] Yeah. It's kind of hard to, uh, lose that once you've been through that. Um, so it went on, I mean, you go on rotten tomatoes. I think it's got an 85% approval rating, which is phenomenal.
Nick Bicanic: [00:09:59] Dammnit, it was higher before. Yeah. I mean, the story, the story of the movie, like to give you a bit more, so that, that was the very genesis of the beginning. Uh, as a result of that, you see the bulk of the. The early initial cadre of deployments to satisfy the job requirements that came up in, uh, in Iraq and Afghanistan to a greater or lesser degree in those days, was filled with what was euphemistically referred to as tier one operators.
[00:10:28] In other words, ex SAS, ex SBS, uh, seals just unite, like pick a pick a group, and you could pretty much guarantee that the top tier guys were going to go and do a rotation there because the money was just too good. And some cases, sadly, it was actually eroding the ability of some high-end special forces unit to keep their stuff, because guys were looking at this going, hang on a second. I could stay on for another two years and make X, or I could make triple that with the same risk level if I just quit now because hey, look, I've got my seal badge.
[00:11:04] I might as well leave the teams. I don't need to stick around. I'll go work for Blackwater for X rotations and that's me done. Then I can buy my house and retire. So, so there was definitely lots of lots of stuff going on, but in what happened is after the initial conversations with Alan, those that world is quite tough to break into in term, as, from a media perspective, nobody trusts anybody.
[00:11:29] Um, uh, certainly not members of the media, unless they've actually worked with people before, it ain't gonna happen. But one, it's like a, like a set of dominoes. One thing led to another, uh, knowing Alan and having a seal of approval, stamp of approval from him, certainly opened some doors. Um, I was able to reach out to a guy called Cobas Clawson's.
[00:11:51] Cobas is a, uh, former executive outcomes, uh, fire force leader and the former officer in the parachute regiment in the south African defense force. And he became, uh, a very good friend of mine over the course of a number of years. But in those days I started talking to him initially, um, remotely of course then eventually met him in person in London.
[00:12:15] And finally, I spent a couple of weeks with him in Sierra Leone. And that was fascinating because the, um, what happened in Sierra Leone in the, in the early nineties, I mean, Sierra Leone, like sadly, a bunch of west Africa hasn't had, shall we say the most peaceful couple of decades. But in particular, in the, in the early nineties, a group of, well, a mix of different librarian and foreign interests decided to ferment unrest inside, uh, inside the country and lots of problems and suits chief amongst them being, um, a guerrilla army that was funded, rebels shall we say, so-called revolutionary united front.
[00:12:59] Uh, that simultaneously took over the diamond mines, thereby cutting off one of the biggest revenue streams for the country. The country ran out to the ability to pay its own troops. The troops didn't have food. The troops then revolted and specifically went and joined the rebel groups. So the whole country is in disarray. They've got no ability to keep the peace whatsoever.
[00:13:21] Into the vray a group of, uh, private contractors who, in those days they openly call the cells mercenaries because as far as they were concerned, that's what they were. They were soldiers for hire. They came in to stabilize the country. Ultimately they ended up preventing a genocide and they certainly did it in, in a, in a, in a very explicit, aggressive, uh, precise use of force way.
[00:13:46] There was no, no question about it. They came in there and if people were causing problems, they killed them. Unfortunately, those are complicated environments to be, to be operating in under international law. So even though they were able to stabilize the scenario in ways in which the United Nations, not only likely couldn't have done, but quite explicitly failed to do when something similar happened, both in Sierra Leone and in Rwanda.
[00:14:13] Roundabout the same decade executive outcomes did do this, uh, in a way that whether you argue from an ethical perspective, whether it was correct or not, it saved hundreds of thousands of lives and stop the bloodshed cold. And Cobas was a key part of that. And I was fascinated by that story. And, and again, it wasn't, I wasn't there to make comment on whether or not this was the right thing to do. I was mostly trying to understand the human angle. I was trying to understand what kind of people do this, uh, what are they doing and why they're doing it?
[00:14:47] So, um, the, the movie ended up running the gamut of looking at aspects of, uh, shall we say, north American contractors. So that would be companies like, uh, Blackwater and triple canopy, uh, south African focus companies like airiness. And so this was present day stuff in the middle east, and then some of the historical stuff, including Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
[00:15:09] And the initial thing that I made was the feature length doc. The feature length doc ran remember exactly, but roundabout 90 minutes. And it was incredibly well recieved. I ended up testifying in front of the us Senate as a subject subject matter expert on the usage of contractors and warfare. And I ended up, um, you know, a number of different channels asked to license the documentary.
[00:15:36] I said no to a lot of the initial deals. And one of the reasons I said no to a lot of the initial deals was ironically similar to why I had a bit of a falling out with a CBC. I don't know if you remember the story, but I was living in Vancouver at the time. And early on, when I put together the package for the documentary with some initial interview material, uh, I came to the CBC and I thought, well, you know, I don't really know how these things are made, but presumably you guys fund documentaries like this, hey, let's, let's see if we can work together.
[00:16:05] And they immediately said, this is amazing. Let's do this. This is amazing access and it's really timely and we like the style. Uh, we'd love to be involved. We'll fund the whole documentary and the one condition. And I said, what's that? And they said, you need to make sure the tone of the documentary is anti security contractor.
[00:16:27] And you need, you need to show them running rough shot over a Rocky civilians. And I said, hang on a second. Am I suggesting for a second that this stuff never happens. Absolutely not. It does happen. And it certainly happens because when you're a, because people make mistakes be because there's bad apples around, some people are stupid.
[00:16:47] And moreover, as I mentioned earlier in the talk in the early stages of the recruitment cycle, the first jobs were always filled by very, very qualified people. But so many thousands of individuals were needed. The criteria ended up becoming relaxed. So you ended up paying guys who didn't have the right level of experience going over and screwing things up and getting some cases themselves.
[00:17:09] In some cases, others killed in the process point being with a CBC, as I said, my aim is not to verify, vilify or to glorify. Um, but the, the whole idea is that this is neither anti, nor pro security contractor. And they said, no, this is pro security contractor by virtue of the fact that it's not auntie.
[00:17:32] And I said, screw this, this is bullshit. I'm not doing it right. So, sorry, refuse to work with the CBC for that reason alone. And it's, it's kind of sad because the, the year after the movie was completed, que que a couple of years worth of traveling around war zones, doing lots of interviews, securing the right people, talking to some politicians and lobbyists in Washington, DC, the usual stuff that you would need to put together, a story like this.
[00:17:57] And I was very proud of what we achieved and finally we submitted it to, at the time it was the Leo awards. I'm trying to remember the name of the awards for British Columbia film and TV awards. So it was, it was a nice little, uh, I guess, bittersweet victory against the CBC because there were seven documentaries I believe, submitted that year for the best documentary, best directing, best writing and best editing prize. All other six, other than ours were funded purely by the CBC. We won in all categories. So.
Travis Bader: [00:18:34] That's fantastic.
Nick Bicanic: [00:18:34] It's like, you know, it's, it's sad because the CBC really didn't need to take this position. Uh, they just did for, I guess, ideological reasons, but ultimately what, you know, the, the, the, the, I guess the quality of the storytelling and the fact that we did not take sides, uh, prevailed because people really liked it. And I definitely enjoyed showing the documentary and I enjoyed the Q and A's that went alongside it.
[00:19:01] For example, I um, when we did our theatrical premiere in New York, I did a Q and A afterwards, and I put on stage, uh, um, a guy who worked for Blackwater and a representative of the United Nations. Now these are not traditionally the kind of people you would see on stage together at any panel. But I did that deliberately because I wanted to see what kind of discussion we could have, because I think both, both entities, not only have a voice, but deserve to have a voice.
[00:19:35] And the, there, there are discussions that need to be had with, with, with, uh, with both elements of that ecosystem. So, and I did that quite a lot, and I thought that was, that was fascinating. In fact, at the world premier, which was at the south by Southwest film festival, I flew out, uh co-vice I think it was his, his first high profile interview. And I flew out Alan Bell. And that was really interesting. There was all the recordings of that somewhere, just doing, doing a kind of, after you see this whole movie. So in the end for I'm sure that we'll be able to include a link here.
Travis Bader: [00:20:11] Absolutely.
Nick Bicanic: [00:20:12] But while I, while initially this is a little while ago, obviously this movie came out while initially the bulk of people were seeing this on DVDs. And I don't know, many of us probably don't even have a DVD player anymore, but, uh, I got. Just to give you an idea of the enduring popularity of, of the, of the, of not just the theme and the subject, but also this particular story. Uh, after, I'd say maybe four years of this being out on DVD and steadily being viewed, including many, many academic educational institutions who would buy the license to be able to use this as part of their teaching material.
[00:20:53] Um, I got sick of seeing and taking down on YouTube people who had illegally uploaded versions of the movie in its entirety. And they'd racked up to 3 million views in some cases with ads. And I thought, okay, goodness, I'm not going to fight these guys. I'm just going to do my own. So I put the official version up and of course, Google being Google.
[00:21:17] Uh, I never got the money back for the revenue that those guys got from the ads. They just struck them down. And the movie still, I think my official version is now at 2 million something views.
Travis Bader: [00:21:29] Nice.
Nick Bicanic: [00:21:29] But the other ones all between them, if you add up all the illegal ones over the years, it's probably 10 million plus, and that's on top of that a couple of years. I did sign a foreign sales deal with a company called Journeymen and Journeyman's entire back catalog got put on Amazon Prime. So I was surprised about a year ago, this friend of mine was watching The Kingdom. I don't know if you remember the movie, Jamie Fox and a bunch of other people go to investigate a bombing in, uh, uh, in Saudi Arabia.
[00:22:02] So he sends me a photograph that he quickly took with his phone at the end of The kingdom. They put up, if you like this movie, you should check out Shadow Company cause it's on Amazon Prime. And so I was like, wow, that's awesome. And surprise, surprise, that was when they were just promoting it. And ever since then, let's just say that for a movie that's 10 years old at this point, if not longer, the there's a continuous monthly revenue stream just from people who are watching this thing on Amazon Prime.
[00:22:32] So there's still an audience for this and I'm still as fascinated by the subject as I was. In fact, there's a segue here. If we want to into executive outcomes, because the company that Cobas worked for, that he was one of the, one of the, um, one of the key players in, uh, they, they occupy a special place in history as far as on the security contractor side.
[00:22:56] And I thought it was interesting enough to explore essentially a story of bad guys doing good things that I ended up, uh, writing a screenplay about this. Screenplays called Executive Outcomes. And there's been lots of interest from various different Hollywood players in the screenplay, but Hollywood being Hollywood, they want this for Ridley Scott to direct or pick another famous director.
[00:23:24] In this case, Ridley Scott, it was because of Black Hawk Down. And lots of people have asked to buy the screenplay, but I don't want to do that because I want to direct it. So.
Travis Bader: [00:23:32] Good for you.
Nick Bicanic: [00:23:33] That's the plan. And in the process, one of the things I made is, this little thing, which is a graphic novel of the entire screenplay, which was actually two reasons to do that. One was that from a director perspective, it was a fascinating exercise because the whole thing is sort of like doing a storyboard for every shot.
Travis Bader: [00:23:52] Right.
Nick Bicanic: [00:23:52] So if I can feel the movie visually, if I can visualize it, I can do the graphic novel. But second of all, because I'm fascinated by discovering new things and figuring out new ways to work in different environments. So understanding, understanding storytelling in a, in a comic book is fascinating. I'll give you an example of something. So I don't know, let's pick one, just one panel and trying to make this, so the reflections aren't there.
Travis Bader: [00:24:19] Yeah.
Nick Bicanic: [00:24:20] It's obvious if you think about the story that takes place in the panel, because you're looking at something, looks like a movie frame, some of these speaking, you see composition there's stuff going on in the background. The interesting thing is the story that happens in the gap because you're asking the reader to imagine the transition from this visual, to this visual. And it's those kinds of things in a movie, this happens in a cut. So it happens very rapidly. It's just a brief second and you're already guiding the viewer, but in the comic book, the story that happens in the gap is kind of interesting to conceptualize.
[00:24:54] And it was for me, a fascinating challenge to took much longer than I expected to make the graphic novel. But yeah, the first printing sold out lots of great reviews. Um, the process of making the actual movie. Yeah. Let's just say it's taken awhile. And I believe that it'll get there, especially nowadays with, with the likes of Amazon and apple and, um, and Netflix, very hungry to, to fill that.
[00:25:24] Databases with material that people find compelling and the performance of movies like, uh, Triple frontier or extraction, uh, neither of which I thought were particularly great, but, uh, they they're extremely popular and they indicate that people want thoughtful action. We're not talking about one guy Rambo style coming in and fighting an entire army single-handed with two rocket launches.
[00:25:49] Yeah. That's stuff worked in the eighties, but now nowadays there's no reason why we can't have an action movie, which is, which is, um, a thinking man's movie. But at the same time, when violence is necessary, it should be authentic for I'm talking about something. That's I don't know if you remember the movie Syriana but for example, Sierra is a very, it's a, it's a very complicated movie to watch.
[00:26:14] It's not a lot of fun to watch, even though it's important subject matter. And I think that there's an unnecessary distinction. Like somehow if you're serious, you're supposed to be serious. You're not allowed to be fun. But if you're a fun movie, then you were only really allowed to be fun. If you're a superhero movie, you can't be a fun movie about war.
[00:26:33] So I think there's scope here to make something that's a hybrid that there's no, there's no reason why you can't have black humor inside a serious narrative about a dysfunctional foreign policy. So that's my plan. My plan is to stay true to the style that I established from the narrative dynamic of the documentary and make a drama around that.
[00:26:56] But we'll see, Hollywood takes a lot of convincing one step at a time.
Travis Bader: [00:27:00] That's good, incredibly exciting. And I like the way that you look at it from those, from those different perspectives, I've never actually thought about. A graphic novel and the story that's being told in between frames that's uh, what was your background in filmmaking?
[00:27:16] You're basically self-taught aren't you
Nick Bicanic: [00:27:18] pretty much. Yeah, I'm I, um, so from the filmmaking perspective, what happened was, I obviously like, like, you know, millions of people in the world, I like consuming movies. And I started dabbling in, in recording my own stuff. When I was spending a lot of time doing outdoor activities, primarily focused on wind surfing and skiing, uh, in particular, the first, slightly longer format thing I did was when I sold my first startup and I moved to Hawaii.
[00:27:50] So I was living on the north shore of Maui and I recorded lots of different interviews with people and lots of different ways. This was, this is a long time ago, I'm old, but, uh, this was, this was pre GoPro. Believe it or not. So you couldn't just slap a GoPro on a helmet. We were making custom waterproof housings with remote triggers for cameras that would stick on a nose of the board or somewhere on the sale of the mast in order to be able to record different water sports activities.
[00:28:18] But from. You know, I don't know how many surfing or snowboarding movies you've watched, but there's only a certain number. Yeah. There's only so many times that I can see a guy doing bottom turn and a cutback with some cool thrashing rock track in the background. It gets a little boring to me. I wanted more it's the human angle that I was interested.
[00:28:37] So the particular piece I made was called stuck. And it was because specifically the Hawaiian islands for a European, I mean, I was born and raised in, in what was then Yugoslavia eventually became Croatia. So very much European, every aspect of my upbringing and Maui is really far it's halfway around the world.
[00:28:58] But I found that there was a lot of people there who come there for one reason and then they ended up, you know, one thing leads to another and suddenly five years has gone by and they're still there. So that's why I called the project stuck because people get stuck there for a variety of different reasons.
[00:29:15] So I made this 15 minute short film called stuck, which I really liked. And I wasn't sure exactly whether I didn't for me, this wasn't the career. This was just, it was a fun thing to do on the side. And when I, uh, round towards the tail end of my time, living in Hawaii, I had just, I had. The I was lucky and the timing was right.
[00:29:37] And obviously some element of scale, et cetera, came into play, but there's a lot of luck involved, but I sold a startup successfully when I was 20, just, just before my 24th birthday. And so I was lucky to be able to have lots of freedom. I spent somewhere in the order of a year and a half on the north shore of Hawaii, trying to figure out what to do next in the process, fell in love with where the girl that I'm still with still in love with, and which is good thing, because if I wasn't in love with her, it'd be a bit of a problem together for a very long time.
[00:30:10] And she became, you know, she's used a soulmate as well as a creative partner, as well as a professional partner. And actually she was the one who challenged me to transition into film because she saw some stuff that I'd made and she thought it was pretty good, but she, herself as a professional, she was an actress and a writer.
[00:30:26] And she'd worked on a number of different shows as a lead, uh, and or guest star, uh, in, in Vancouver. And she, she started into movies. And so at some point, I think after, if you listened to me a bitch about, you know, the third project in a row saying this was bad, it should be done like this, this, this is not interesting.
[00:30:47] Here's how it would be better. She said, you know what, why don't you stop criticizing other people's work and make your own? And I went, oh, that's right. I don't actually have a comeback to that. So. So, I didn't know. I mean, you said self-taught, I mean, behind every, as the joke goes, you know, behind every great man, there's a, something behind every filmmaker.
[00:31:09] There's a team of creative collaborators and some of them are people who. Perhaps gave you input along the way, but weren't actively involved. Some of them are people who give you feedback during the edits and help tighten everything up. But in some cases, whether it's the sound guy or the DP or, or someone who's just advising as the project's being made, no, there's no such thing as a one man show on the filmmaking side.
[00:31:33] So yes, I carry the credit of director and writer and producer and editor, but let's just say that there was a lot of people involved to help make that documentary as good as it was. Uh, but yes, the, it was, it was definitely a baptism by fire. So whether it was from the equipment perspective or from the scope, cause it was very ambitious.
[00:31:58] Shall we say? I mean, just to give you an idea, uh, I was when I edit, I often edit to music. So I put music in to help drive the rhythm of the piece. So by the time the documentary was finished, there were 14 commercial music tracks in there. Now, normally what people do is, is if you're, if you're a normal, low budget, independent filmmakers, you go, okay, well, I've got these commercial music tracks, but I can't just go out and get the rolling stones because that's too expensive.
[00:32:26] So I'm going to swap it with something that kind of sort of sounds like it. Yeah, well, I was stupid enough to not do that. So, so I took my that's not strictly true. Some, two of them we swapped out, but because we couldn't get the rights, but what we ended up doing is I ended up learning. Let's just say more than I expected to about, about rights and negotiations and likeness rights and dealing with lawyers to get releases.
[00:32:51] But in the end, You know, we ended up, I mean, we interviewed Stephen J Cannell, who was the creator of the, a team. And we had a sequence in there with, which had the ATM opening theme tune and the opening titles. Right. And I didn't want to drop it because I thought it was important. This particular sequence of the, of the film discusses, how the concept of mercenaries is treated by the media and what, what role that plays in the way they're perceived.
[00:33:16] So I thought it was fundamental to the structure of it. But, you know, phoning up the studio and saying, Hey, can we have the license to the 18 theme tune was met with a resounding no, right. Slowly but surely we wore them down. And that ended up, I had to talk to, um, Mr. T's manager. I had to talk to, um, Dwight Schultz who played howling, Matt Murdoch.
[00:33:40] Uh, I talked to Dirk Benedict himself. He's he played face, man. Uh, and I can't remember who played Hannibal George per part. Yes. Uh, George for part, unfortunately is no longer with us, but, uh, but yes, his, his state willingly licensed all this stuff, so it took a while, but, but we got there. So, yeah, that was definitely a very interesting couple of years of my life.
[00:34:00] Trying to, um, understand the hard way shall we say how to tell compelling stories, but however much effort it was then, as I mentioned with the Amazon stuff, that's happening to this day, uh, it goes to show you that if you, I think if you make something, if you're, if you're a discerning judge of your material, if you make something that satisfies your standards, then you can hold your head high.
[00:34:28] And even though, uh, it's possible that I could have met a lot more money if I had. Plates to one side of the political equation and made, for example, I don't know either an extremely right-leaning who Rob pro war gun movie, or the other way around and made extremely left-leaning a war is hell. And these companies were all evil.
[00:34:50] Perhaps it could have made more money, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to make something that I felt was honest and sincere. And th and I'm glad I did that.
[00:35:00] Uh, one thing I've always kind of wondered you get a pretty famous person narrating this video, you had Dre Butler doing the, uh, the narration on that one.
[00:35:10] so there is a backstory here, and since I don't, since I don't want to embarrass her, uh, there's a, there's a girl involved in this mix. Let's just say a long time ago. Um, someone who I knew fairly well as one might when one is young and single, um, happened to know Jerry, um, and she just said, oh, you should meet Jerry.
[00:35:34] He'd be kind of a, he's a cool guy. This is way before the movie was being made. So, so I'm, you know, I met Jerry in a strange context at a nightclub in London. He was very friendly. I think he was, he was up there shooting some movie about dragons. I can't for the life of me, remember what it's called, but, uh, Um, I'm sure I will, but anyway, so he students move about dragons and he, he's very, very friendly to me and we stayed in touch.
[00:35:59] And so when I'm thinking about who would be a great guy to narrate this, I thought, you know, I need this kind of Husky weather, the voice, and it would be kind of cool if it was an accent in it. And what about if we got someone Scottish and I didn't think, oh, Jerry, and then randomly, I can't remember why it popped into my head.
[00:36:16] I think, I think I remember Dominique was invited to some gifting lounge, a gifting lounges of these things they do for four actresses and actors where they were companies give them products in a, in an attempt to promote and spread the message. She invited to gifting lounge. And Jerry was there. And as I started talking to him, I'm like that voice.
[00:36:34] That's what I need. So I said, Hey, do you want to do this thing? And he goes, how much money do you have? And I'm like, I don't have any money. You idiot. So he's like, it doesn't work that way. And I'm like, dude, it's going to take you like 40 minutes to do it. Just shut up and do it. And he's like, okay. And I'm like, I can't believe that worked.
[00:36:51] So, so we get them in the studio and uh, and of course there's a big sign that says. No smoking in the studio and, and the woman, who's the manager, uh, effectively producing the, the shoot, this particular recording session. She, she comes in and she goes, yeah, you're not allowed to smoke. And he just looks at her and lights up a cigarette and continues.
[00:37:16] So she just walks away. And as it happens, the, the kind of the tobacco rasp, I think, is helpful because as it ends up sounding more authentic in this case. So he did, he did a great job doing that. I mean, I, he didn't really need much direction at all, if any, if, if anything, what we needed, cause it was being done pretty quickly as he needed a little bit, a little bit of explanation of the terms and the context, but I mean, he's, uh, you know, the is a very, very experienced performer.
[00:37:47] So he understood from reading it what we were trying to do. And, uh, it's um, I think it was very happy with the final work. I mean, he, as I said, he, he didn't do this for money. He did it because he thought it was an interesting story and he wanted to contribute. And frankly, it wasn't that much effort for him to just read a bunch of stuff in character.
Travis Bader: [00:38:05] Yeah. It's amazing. It's, you know, when I, when I look at your life and I keep seeing things popping up, I was looking for that video. Cause at one point I saw a video of you actually you're testifying before Senate. I think it was that actually I couldn't find it again.
Nick Bicanic: [00:38:19] Yeah. That video does exist somewhere.
[00:38:22] So what happened. I, uh, I was trying to get as much awareness of the documentary as possible. So I went to the media liaison. I sent a copy of the documentary to the media liaison of every Senator, both democratic and Republican, uh, on the Senate armed subcommittee. And all of them got back to me essentially saying verses of the same thing, which is, this is great.
[00:38:52] Can we have another 20 copies of this? Because we want to use it as training material for our, for all of our interns and our other staff. But, uh, we can't give you an official statement because, and it depends on whether they were Democrat or Republican in the case of the Democrats. They said, because it isn't sufficiently on brand for what we're doing.
[00:39:12] And in the case of the Republicans, they said, well, you know, it takes slight digs of the current administration, so, and their handling of the conflict in Iraq. So therefore we don't really want to publicly support it, but it's amazing. Can we have some more? So I thought that was pretty funny. I'm in particular, the line they wanted taken out because there was a line and there were one of the characters says, um, George Bush creates a wild west scenario in Iraq.
[00:39:39] If you've got near for hire there's work for you. So I say to the guy, I'm talking to him on the phone, I go, but, but that's true. And he goes, yeah, I know that's true, but we just don't want to officially say that. And I'm like, oh, well, you know, it is what it is.
Travis Bader: Right?
Nick Bicanic: So, so in the end, what happened was the late Ted Kennedy, uh, was the exception.
[00:39:59] And he said, this is great. And I would like to officially, uh, hold a screening on Capitol hill with a Q and a, uh, and we did do that. They, we hired a private theater somewhere and we invited a bunch of staffers and a number while, while very few actual members of Congress came to that screening. Uh, they did send almost everybody sends a representative as there was a lot of media coverage of that event.
[00:40:26] Uh, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, I believe was the main person who was there at the Q and a, and then, uh, as a result of the response to that screening, there was an actual event. I forget what it's called, but I guess it's a testimony that was a testimony in front of, uh, in front of the U S Senate. And that was the, the so-called subject matter expert testimony on the usage of mercenaries in Iraq.
[00:40:54] But the funny part is that. For someone who's never done this before. Namely me, it's a really, really interesting introduction into how this stuff actually works. You see, I thought that the idea was, as you know, I come there, I make my five minute statement, which I'm being asked to prepare. And then I'm asked questions and I'm assuming that they want to know the answers to the questions.
[00:41:14] That's why I'm, that's why I'm there to ought to be, to answer those questions because I'm the expert because that's not what, that's not what actually happens. What actually happens is they want to get the questions on record. They care quite a bit less about the answer that I give than they do about getting their statement on record.
[00:41:34] And I mean this across the board, both on the Republican and the Democrat side, because when all is said and done what's necessary is for them to show that they're making an effort and thinking about a particular thing. So I was frankly, astounded. By how, how their questions demonstrated how little they knew about the subject.
[00:41:55] And I mean, I can understand if you just get plucked in the middle of nowhere at a barbecue, and somebody starts talking to you about a particular subject, that's very, very niche that you may not know about it. But if it's the usage of contractors in a major conflict that the country is involved in, and on top of that, it's a session that you're preparing for.
[00:42:16] And on top of that, somebody is preparing questions for you. It was baffling to me that the question seemed a bit inane. And that's why when I look at, for example, I don't know the testimony of people like mark Zuckerberg or, or when various different executives are called in front of Congress and the Senate to testify and look at some of the daft questions that are asked.
[00:42:39] I don't even roll my eyes anymore because I remember what it was like for me. And when I thought, wait a second, you're asking something that, that doesn't make any sense. That means you fundamentally misunderstood what your. What the problem is, I believe, I don't remember. It's been a long time, but I believe the opening line of my, of my five minute testimony testimony was that it's baffling to me that the highest level of law makers in this land are asking for expert testimony from a first time documentary filmmaker.
[00:43:13] Whereas, whereas it should be the other way around.
Travis Bader: Right.
Nick Bicanic: And I don't, I mean, let's just say, I, I didn't anticipate ever being invited back, put it that way. So I had nothing, I had nothing to lose. I just thought I'm just going to say my bit and answer the questions as best I can. And we'll see what happens.
[00:43:32] I don't know that I'd make a good politician, but that, wasn't why I was there. I was there because I thought I'm going to answer questions because that's what I believe I'm here for.
Travis Bader: [00:43:41] It's a whole different stage on the political level. Isn't it?
Nick Bicanic: Yeah.
Travis Bader: [00:43:49] Now you also did something with vice documentary, didn't you? That was on the, uh, the Boko Haram.
Nick Bicanic: [00:43:51] It was. Yeah. So what happened as a result of, uh, working in and around this space of contractors? I, as I mentioned, I'm, I became quite close to a couple of individuals, chief amongst them, Alan and cobras. And, uh, one day, a couple of years had gone by, and one day I received this call, um, from, from Cobas saying.
[00:44:17] Hey, listen, there's a, there's a contract coming up and, um, I need some media coverage for it. And I said, what, what does that mean? What's a contract. And he's like, well, and he, and he's, he's being evasive, but also careful, but he eventually does reveal that there is a, uh, there's a, the Nigerian government has contracted with a group, um, from South Africa to, to essentially stamp out the vocal Harambe problem, uh, PRI in the run-up to the elections.
[00:44:50] Now, as it happens, the president lost those elections, the president who had contracted with them, which created all kinds of problems for, for contracts and payments, but that's well beyond the scope of, of this conversation. From my perspective, what was fascinating for me is that, uh, is knowing ahead of time that there would be an, there would be activity, which would, which would be fascinating to explore from a storytelling perspective.
[00:45:17] So while between that initial conversation and the actual deployment of the crew on the ground, I think two or three months past that most, perhaps even less than that, but let's just say that I ended up having to rapidly put together a crew as well as structural story, as well as find a broadcast or in this case of ice was, was a really good fit.
[00:45:39] So, um, The hunt for book or Harambe, I believe is the, is the name of this piece. And it's, it's easily find-able. And I ended up for a variety of different reasons, primarily to do with my green card. For, for those who don't know when you're in your final steps of getting your green card, you can't leave the country.
[00:45:58] So, uh, and I was literally two or three weeks out. If I'd left the country, I would have, I either had to get it. In which case, if I got it, I could be involved, uh, on the ground in this project or I had to, or I had to wait because if I left prior to getting it, the whole cycle resets and I might have to wait for another year or two before I got it.
[00:46:18] So I had to quickly find someone who was dumb enough and brave enough to, to run point instead of me. And I found a guy called Carl Larson. So if you do look up this piece, a former Navy seal called cars Larson. Couple of stints advice news. Um, I, so I set up the entire project, talked everything up on the ground and control the whole thing.
[00:46:39] Creative would remotely. But if you do look up this piece, you, you won't find, you won't find me on the screen. Uh, you will find me as an executive producer of the project, but yeah, there was lots of conversations since about doing various different things with vice vice has changed quite a lot. The vice doesn't take into near as many risks as they used to in the material they've become too big.
[00:47:01] But, uh, but it was, it was certainly fun to get involved in that project, especially because I remember a couple of unusual things happening, for example, uh, um, college, a nine Cobas, and I would communicate quite regularly. And, uh, one day in, uh, in the middle of the night, like about 2:00 AM or something, phone rings and answer the phone.
[00:47:26] Cause I don't know what's going to happen. And there's an active project in an active war zone going on. So for all I know there's a satellite phone call coming in and ready to answer it. So I answered the phone as department of state and I go, Hey, what's up? And they go a unique business. Should I go?
[00:47:41] Yep. And they said, yeah, one of our assets is missing in Nigeria. And I go, I'm sorry, what? And they said, yeah, one of our assets will sort of come onto cause Larson is missing in Nigeria. And I'm like, what do you mean missing? Define missing. Cause my next check-in with them is in three hours and he goes, yeah, he missed his last check.
[00:47:59] And then I go, not with me here. As far, as far as I'm concerned, uh, he's not there on, on an active government mission, he's there on a vice project. And he said, yeah, that's right. Something, something, something, the point is they'd lost track of him turns out that the reason this happened is because some girl that caused was semi involved with, at that time, he told her he was going to call her at a certain point.
[00:48:24] He didn't call her. She didn't answer the phone. She went bananas. She thought something happened. She pushed the panic button, happened to know someone at department of state. All of a sudden one plus one equals a thousand. So I thought it was a fun. It was, it was pretty funny that, uh, let's just say that domino effects are, or butterfly effects are quite a real thing in this scenario.
[00:48:43] So yeah, lots of, lots of interesting side stories. The tail end, you know, vices, vices, a lovely place to be if they're willing to take certain risks, but it's also nasty place to be. Um, because it's very easy to get screwed over as an independent filmmaker by price. And sadly that happened in this case because they wanted to do another piece about vocal Harum and they did it using some contexts that were mine.
[00:49:12] Um, but without any, without asking you about this, I didn't even know it was happening until my guys called me and said, what's going on? Why is vise doing a follow-up piece? So it's a shitty thing to do, but it's the prerogative of big broadcasters. So you gotta be careful because you're playing with fire when you play with companies.
Travis Bader: [00:49:29] No kidding. Well, it's a hell of a good documentary. I'm going to put a link to it in the, uh, in the podcast on YouTube as well. Uh, very interesting. Same with the executive outcomes. I mean, that was what 120 550 professional soldiers that stabilized an entire country.
Nick Bicanic: [00:49:46] Yeah, it was 150 versus 15,000. So, so a little bit magnificent seven ask.
[00:49:53] But, uh, but obviously, you know, one side just had a case and they were kids and the other side were highly trained soldiers with gunships, but nonetheless, it's still, it's not, it's not a normal scenario by any means. And it's, it's that very thing that makes it a fascinating story to explore. So I'm definitely looking forward to telling that story at, uh, on a larger dramatic scale.
[00:50:17] So, um, if there's anyone here who knows people at Amazon tell them they should make a movie version of this because they should it's ready.
Travis Bader: [00:50:24] Absolutely. So then I watched echo echo, and that was a neat adventure that you started working on. But I think an Apple's find me kind of a mess with that one a little bit, but it seemed like it was completely, completely different from all of the other things that you've been doing.
[00:50:44] You seem to be able to pivot really, really well.
Nick Bicanic: [00:50:47] They, um, I mean, there's a term, a Renaissance, man. It sounds a little bit sort of lofty, but what it really means is that I like to skip between the left and right side of my brain. One side is quite technical. The other side is quite creative. So the creative side is constantly looking for stories, stories that I find interesting to read about, to be a part of, to create, or I want to essentially when I read something or watch something that I'm curious about, I like the way that makes me feel the curiosity is vital to driving me, to making me want to wake up every morning.
[00:51:26] I constantly want to learn. And when I do that, I want to share that with other people. Sometimes it's as simple as going, oh look, here's an interesting story. He's interesting medium post an instinct podcast. I'm going to share it with my friends, but sometimes it's a lot more complicated and that's sometimes it's my particular way of looking at the story.
[00:51:44] And I connect this fact with this fact and in the middle, I add a little bit of a spin to it. So that often meant that sometimes I would write about stuff I did write on medium for, for a fair while. And sometimes it would require more than that, whether it was making a documentary or creating a product or creating a company, or in this case, writing a screenplay for executive outcomes.
[00:52:08] But there were, there were all very similar things. So in the case that you mentioned, which is echo echo, this was, this was a couple of different things. One was that I was frustrated with Hollywood because Hollywood, there's a bit of a catch 22 inside a catch 22 in Hollywood, whereby it doesn't matter how good your material is.
[00:52:33] There's gotta be a reason why somebody will give you the money to make a project. And usually the reason is because you made a project before and it was really successful. Yeah. That's great. But how you make the first project because it's all well, and good. If you've just directed, I don't know. Iron man three and they go, Hey, we're doing Ironman for you.
[00:52:54] Want to do it again? We'll surprise. Surprise that it's easy, but how do you get the first one? And it's always an interesting problem because either you have a shit ton of money, so you do it yourself or your, the son or daughter or husband or boyfriend of somebody super famous and you effectively get them to be in it.
[00:53:13] They do it for you or you, or, you know, a famous director or, you know, a famous producer. It's very, very rare that you can just brute force to use a sort of, um, a computer security term. You can brute force your way to, to getting a project greenlit. So I was slowly but steadily learning the ropes of how to make things happen in Hollywood.
[00:53:38] And, uh, ultimately I got frustrated waiting and I decided, well, hang on a second. Perhaps Silicon valley is a little more meritocratic because of Silicon valley. If you come with a good idea, you really only have one level of gatekeeper. If you can cook, if you need money for the project, if you can convince a venture capital firm.
[00:53:59] And usually it's a, either a junior partner or senior partner, depending on the size of the firm, but it's usually only one or two levels of pitch meeting that you have to go through and you can get. A seed round funded, whether it's depends on what you need, $250,000, $1 million, but up to $1 million worth of initial funding rounds are not uncommon.
[00:54:20] If you know what you're talking about. If you have a compelling enough product that you can articulate correctly to investors. So that's exactly what happened with echo echo. Uh, I was, this was prior to the days of find my phone. And prior to the days of being able to send, send your location very easily, I was frustrated because I had just moved to Los Angeles and I found it hard to meet up with my girlfriend because I would constantly go, okay, it's a giant city.
[00:54:49] I'm driving everywhere. There's no, there's no real core that you can walk around. Like there isn't in many other cities, including Vancouver or wherever where we'd be living up until then. So my most common text message I was sent to my girlfriend was where are you? And, um, she'd go, oh, I'm at the corner of, I dunno, Melrose and third.
[00:55:10] Well, that's great, but I have no idea where that is because I don't know LA, so I would type into my phone to Google Melrose and third, an upward pop-up a blue dot. With where Melrose, sorry, not a blue dot up, but pop up a dot of Melrose. And third, the problem is I now know where she is, but she doesn't know where I am.
[00:55:28] So that's annoying. So I thought this is ridiculous. There's got to be a better way of doing this has gotta be a simple way that I can ping that's the echo. And if she responds, pops up on her phone saying Nick was through where you are. Yes or no. And if she says, no, nothing happens. If she says, yes, we see each other immediately and we can find each other.
[00:55:44] And we even have the ability to click and suggest a meeting point. It would suggest a meeting point like you could say hit, okay, I want this Starbucks. Then we would both get a ping saying, Hey, meeting at the Starbucks, go and we'd find each other super simple, super elegant surprise, surprise, Google ventures back this because it's an easy and obvious addition to Google maps and for a variety of different reasons, lots of lessons learned along the way.
[00:56:07] It didn't quite work out as a startup, but it was a fascinating, um, accelerated learning experience of how to structure a startups. How does venture capital work in Silicon valley, um, how to make cross-platform applications? Because ultimately we ended up doing this on Android and iPhone and Blackberry and Nokia was well for, for a hot second there, it looked like Nokia might actually be a platform, which for all intents purposes, they should have been, but they dropped the ball.
[00:56:36] So yeah, that was a. That was my first, certainly not my first technology startup. Cause my first technology startup was the one back in the UK that I sold successfully, but this was my first mobile application. And also my first Silicon valley rodeo, not the last by any means. So it was, uh, an interesting time because w what, what I ended up realizing fairly rapidly was that where I'm happiest and also most valuable to, to, to accompany, because essentially it's fine to go to myself, but ultimately when you're part of the company, the company is greater than you.
[00:57:16] Not, not just because of the fact that there are other employees involved in as a team, but also because you are ultimately responsible to your investors. It's not just about you, even though you might be an interesting part of the company's, uh, fame and growth, potential, and PR it's about return on investment, because ultimately if you can do that bit successfully, then investible Bacchae for other things, because you've given them success.
[00:57:41] Once I realized that where I add the most value is in being able to, shall we say. Uh, see into the future a little bit further than other people can see. There's a, there's an old phrase, which is, which is, which is a funny one, which is that, um, uh, the difference between talent and genius. I don't know if you've ever heard that one before, but so-so talent hits a target that other people contact.
[00:58:11] Right. That makes sense. Right. You know, there's a target there and people are trying to hit it and they can see it. They can hit it to keep missing a talent can go bang and hit it. Um, genius hits a target that no one else can see. So it means that you're looking slightly ahead and slightly around the corner.
[00:58:28] Cause if you can't see the target, well, you can't hit the thing that doesn't make any sense. Right. Except that's the point is that you need to be aiming at something that other people can't see. Now, I, without at the risk of, I say this, obviously at the risk of sounding, Hey, I'm a genius. But what I mean is the flip side of that is madness.
[00:58:47] Right? Because you could also say madness hits a target. No one else can see. Well, yeah, because if there's no target, why the hell are you aiming at it? That's nothing. What if there's nothing there? And that's a problem, but, but that's exactly the line that I live in on a daily basis is I I'm slightly ahead of the curve constantly.
[00:59:05] Which means that if I'm right, then that's an phenomenal success, but if I'm wrong, then I'm just some idiot. Who's doing something that no one else is doing. So all I've got to do is just keep on the right side of that line. And a, and I'll be fine. So in weather now, if I'm a little bit. That's okay. So long as I can convince the right people to back me, I'll align things up correctly.
[00:59:29] But when you're ahead of the curve like that, the, the ability to articulate and define the vocabulary, uh, explain, um, motivate and convince people to join you on your journey. Um, understand how to communicate to, to a technical audience, a commercial audience, a financial audience, and kind of sit in the middle of all those things.
[00:59:54] That's where the value add lies. Um, so, or if you wish the genius slash madness coin, depending on how you flip it. So, so that's where I constantly live. It's um, that's, that's how I invent. So if I, if I look at, for example, um, People sometimes ask me, you know, how do you come up with ideas? Well, it's easy to come up with ideas because fun for me, because fundamentally things out there are often broken.
[01:00:24] Um, I'll give you a ridiculously simple example that I never actioned. Uh, for example, I'll go into, I don't know. I go into a restaurant and I'll pick up a salt shaker. That's clearly full of salt and I shake it and nothing comes out and I look at it again and I shake it and nothing comes up. Then I on screw it.
[01:00:40] And I realized that because of condensation, a bunch of salt, we've all seen this in our lives before a bunch of salt is kind of coagulated near the top and it won't come out and you scrape it out and then you shake it. And then it works perfectly. And I look at that and I go, how annoying there's a better way to solve this, but I don't care enough.
[01:00:56] So I put the salt chicken down, I eat my food and I carry on with my life. But that's a simplistic example of an idea because if in the middle of that idea or sorry, a simplistic idea, generally. Process if in the middle of that process, I go, Hmm, I do care about this. I want to solve this because I really care about soul check again.
[01:01:17] I'm giving a ridiculous example. That's where the ideas come in. So one example, if you'll permit me to segue. Absolutely. Nobody going to talk about this? Yeah. This, this little camera over here. So this is called, this is the Z Cam E2. And there are multiple different versions of this, but the key thing to remember, forget about the lens and forget about the battery.
[01:01:38] In fact, let's pop the battery off. In fact, why don't we just pop the lens off also? So the camera body itself is pretty small. You know, it's like, it's essentially a sensor of some compute unit in there and then there, and then everything else is just the bare minimum. It's, it's giant heat sink. It's a blob of metal because the chip gets quite hot, but that's really all you have.
[01:02:00] So, Z Cam isn't the only company that has a camera in this kind of form factor. Black magic definitely led the idea of making small form factor cinematic cameras, but nowadays, even red with the red Komodo has a camera in this kind of form factor. It's the problem with this is you try to use this kind of PR in a real world context, the economics are insane.
[01:02:22] I mean, look, there's one button here. There's four buttons here. And this formal buttons here, you want to change the aperture or change the shutter speed. Need to click one button twice, another button twice, and then the first button again. So it's five clicks to make something that should really be a click of a dial.
[01:02:39] So I remember getting sent this to evaluate it because I was working a lot in, uh, in virtual reality and augmented reality, making various different projects. And these small cameras are quite useful for reasons that are boring to explain, but let's just assume they were. So I remember I was evaluating this, the first thing I thought it was, I'm like, there's gotta be a better way.
[01:02:59] There's gotta be some kind of a handle that we can connect to camera like this and, uh, and make it so that you have these dials right at your fingertips. And I looked around and I thought, Hmm, nobody's made one. So I thought, well, maybe I'll just make one. See if it works. I made one. I don't know exactly where the first prototype is, but it looked a little bit like this.
[01:03:22] Uh, this is actually a retail model. Uh, there's a, there's a, there's a metal chassis and the metal chassis mounts on the camera. And then there's two dials. It's hard to tell, but these dials rotate and click in words as well. And then there's a main record start, stop button. And then there's a wooden CNC doubter body.
[01:03:40] And there was no real reason to make this in wood other than I like the touch of woods. So I thought, screw it. I'm going to use wood. So in the process, I had to learn a lot about 3d printing and machining and CAD cam design as well as electronics design. So, uh, when, when I made this, I made an initial prototype and I figured, I didn't think, oh, this is a product.
[01:04:01] I thought this is a problem. And this is how I would solve it. And I showed it off to a couple of people in the industry and they all said, give me this immediately. I want this because this is I can't, the camera can't function without it. So I thought, okay, fine. It's a product. Um, made the first batch of a hundred.
[01:04:22] Put up a pre-sale they sold out within two hours and I thought, oh, okay, wow. Really is a product. So then we did a batch of 200. Then we did a batch of 300 and slowly but surely it becomes essentially the main camera handle for, for the entire Zicam range. This, I believe this is all of woods. So there's different flavors of wood.
[01:04:43] This has bamboo, uh, there's a zebra lying around somewhere, but this is, this is multijet. So this is 3d printed, but on a much more expensive 3d printer has a bit of a texture to it. So the idea was that, uh, you could connect this thing to the camera using this port right there, and then you could program it using the USBC.
[01:05:03] And we made it as simple as possible because there's a. That's an important thing in product design. It's not just about identifying the problem set and it's not just about having a bunch of features. It's for me, at least it's knowing what features to say no to, because it's very easy to. To just add crap to things.
[01:05:28] It doesn't matter whether it's a car dashboard or whether it's a, whether it's a weapon system. The point is you can always add crap onto it. What's difficult by, you can always add features by adding more crap. What's difficult is how do you add features by removing crap? How do you make things that are streamlined and simple to control?
[01:05:47] And I don't mean, oh, let's make everything controllable by one button. Then if you click the button for two seconds, then it does one thing. If you click it for three seconds, it does another thing, because then you're just shooting yourself in the face and things need to need to be usable. As, as the rule goes, there are multiple different quote-unquote rules of thumb in user experience design.
[01:06:06] But when you're making something for humans to use, they've got to be able to rapidly know three things. One is where are they? And I mean, I don't mean physically located. I mean, in, in the product cycle and whether it's a menu system or whether it's a particular lever selection switch, where are they?
[01:06:22] What are the options and how do they get to them at the end? If you can, if you can intuitively understand all three of those things, then you can optimize and design a system to make, to make things streamlined while they're being used. And I apply that principle to product design, to storytelling, to software design, to architecture design, and.
[01:06:43] And this was so for me, as I said, this whole thing started because Nick got a pepper shaker, except it wasn't a pepper shaker. It was a camera that didn't work. Like I wanted it to, and I thought this is a solvable problem. But in this particular case, I cared about solving the problem enough to make a prototype.
[01:06:59] And the market told me the rest, namely, we want this thing to exist. And, uh, that's, that's how that product came into being. But the main, the main overall through line here is the one about invention and product design, namely, uh, invent things that you actually care about. Even if somebody presented to me, I don't know, you know, Hey, look, here's the greatest way in which you might be able to change car tires more efficiently.
[01:07:29] You'll, there'll be 20% faster than changing a car tire with your jack. I would just go, I don't care enough about the problem. So if from, from my perspective, if, in terms of words, to impart to people who are curious about solving, cause a lot of people out there who are practically oriented, solve problems in different ways, if you care enough about something for me, when something happens, once it's an accident, when a problem happens, once it happens more than once, that's not just a coincidence.
[01:08:00] That probably means that this is a problem that needs to be solved. And then it's a question of, so A, something happens more than once B I care enough to solve it. Now, somewhere in there, if you're actually trying to be a good businessman, C would be other people also care enough about this because it's all well and good.
[01:08:18] If you have all the money in the time in the world, you can build a custom product for just yourself to use. But a lot of people don't have that including me. So even though this was a fairly simple product to prototype nowadays, between between 3d printers, that you can get on your desktop and perhaps some 3d printing studios and people you can find online to outsource some CAD cam design, you can make an initial prototype pretty quickly, but making something at scale is quite a lot more common.
Travis Bader: [01:08:46] It looks like you leaned on your firearms background on that design as well. Did you copy any pistol grip for that one?
Nick Bicanic: [01:08:52] Um, as it happens, no, there was not, not a pistol grip, but firearms demonstrate the necessity to have a very, very acute, uh, focus on, on design efficiency. There should be no random bits hanging off your firearm that are not necessary when you see the guys at the range and then have like six different flashlights and infrared pointers and all kinds of slings.
[01:09:20] Chances are, they're not actually an operator because people who are operators tend to have something extremely streamlined. If there's no, uh, if there's no specific reason for something to be on your firearm, a very, very specific reason. It shouldn't be there because it's just going to snag, or catch, or break.
[01:09:38] So there are, while we may not have used any specific firearm pistol grip in the design of this, I would certainly say that the, the efficiency of design of the way in which some firearms and firearms related products work was an influence in, in my approach to simplicity of design.
Travis Bader: [01:10:06] So I gotta wonder, riding that knife sedge between. Genius and insanity. That's gotta be stressful at times. I mean, if you care about what other people think, I guess, and if you're in the process of trying to sell your ideas or sell your concepts, there's going to be a certain level of caring what other people think. Is that stressful for you and how do you deal with it?
Nick Bicanic: [01:10:25] Uh, so that's a big, big question in general, because there is definitely people who I'm friends with, who say, how do you handle the rollercoaster ride of not having money than having money? So, so for example, if you want to play games in the startup world, you either have a crap ton of money and you don't care, which is definitely not the case for me, or you accept the fact that you're going to be doing this.
[01:10:56] And what I mean by that is that there will be times when, for example, Um, on a given day, um, a couple of years ago, I might've said, Hey, this is awesome. We got Google ventures involved. We just closed $1.5 million worth of venture capital and to the untrained person or inexperienced person, they might go, wow, you just made a million and a half dollars.
[01:11:17] Uh, you're done well, no, I didn't make anything. The company raised a million and a half dollars that million and a half has to be used in order to rapidly, try to gain market traction, develop the product, pay a bunch of salaries for people. And guess what happens when you're the CEO of a company? How much of a salary do you draw?
[01:11:36] The answer is not that much because yeah, sure. You can draw a little bit, but not only is it a, is it something that's, that's a little bit tough to justify because if you're trying to make your company succeed and you've got a small amount of money to do it with putting money in your pocket, isn't necessarily going to help your company succeed.
[01:11:56] Of course you need to be able to survive, but in addition to you. To you as a, as an ethical individual, finding it difficult to do that. It's also frowned upon to do that. If you, if you line your own pockets and the company tanks investors are going to look down on you and go, buddy, that's not really how this supposed to be done, you're you, or be less likely to pull investment again.
[01:12:17] So what I'm trying to say is if you, if you want to play in this space, you've got to be prepared for the fact that, um, you know, you, your, your personal net worth is kind of a yo-yo. So on paper, you might be worth a lot of money because the stock you have is very valuable, but you can't sell that stock until there's an acquisition event or, or an IPO or somebody else wants to become involved in some way.
[01:12:42] So the first and foremost, the most important thing from a stress perspective is to, to, to be able to uncouple, in my opinion, your stress from your financial net. Now that is a very easy thing to say, but a much harder thing to do. And it's certainly a lot harder to do if you have dependence. So for example, if you have a wife and two kids and you've got to put a roof over everybody's heads and you've got to pay for all their food and you're concerned about what's going to happen, and what if you get injured, who's going to pay for medical, et cetera, et cetera.
[01:13:20] These are all real stressors that people deal with in various different ways. So there's a reason why they say that start-up is a young man's game, a tech startups, at least that young doesn't necessarily mean young in age. It means, I mean, I was born in 74, so. What does that? 47 48. I don't even know anymore.
[01:13:40] I stopped counting at 40. I just figured 40 I'm older than 40. So, so the, uh, the, what they mean is not necessarily young in age. They mean young and attitude because when you're traditionally, when you're in your mid twenties, you're, you're more carefree. You don't, you know, you go skiing and you don't go, oh shit.
[01:13:59] If I turn left here too aggressively, I could hit the rock. I could blow out my knee. I could do this. You just go.
Travis Bader: You just do it.
Nick Bicanic: And most of the time, the just do it bit is what gets you through it. Because if you sit and hesitate, well, guess what? You won't make that turn. I'm talking about skiing specifically, but it applies to any, any risk taking activity.
[01:14:19] And it's a little bit similar again, when you're in your twenties, you're trying to do business decisions. You might go, Hmm. Uh, wait, I've got to gamble my entire net worth on this idea. And if I screw up, I'm screwed and you might go fuck it. Let's do it because I can always get another job. But you make yourself older.
[01:14:40] You add a wife and kids and mortgage payments is difficult to make those kinds of risk-taking decisions. Same way. As oftentimes, as you get older, you start questioning your own physical abilities, go back to the skiing analogy and you go, Hmm. I better be careful because you know, my back and my knees and my hips, I might not be able to do that.
[01:15:00] So I've been lucky in this, I mean, either lucky or stupid, or going back to the whole genius and madness thing that we've been talking about, where I'm still willing to take significant amounts of risks. Now, while I have a very happy, long relationship, which is not, it's not a, it's not officially labeled under the standards of, of a marriage because we we'd never been married, but for all intents and purposes, you know, we've lived together for better part of 16, 17 years now.
[01:15:33] The while there's obviously a level of, of, of respect. And shall we say responsibility that's mutual in that equation? There are no kids. So perhaps that allows me to think about things in a slightly different way, but frankly, I don't think it's that. I don't think it's as simple as that one thing. I think it's a mental attitude.
[01:15:56] I think it's just deciding that. I want to trying to think about it. Parts of the way in which I live my life is to stay, uh, to, to, to hold on to the ability to make tea for the, to make these creative free choices. If I'm not able to make them, I'm, I'm not going to be happy. And if I'm not happy, I'm not creative.
[01:16:20] So it's like a vicious circle in a sense. I force myself to take the leap in order to be happy about it, which then helps me succeed in making the leap. I know it might, it might sound like a little bit like mumbo-jumbo, but to, to loop that back to your question about how do you handle the stresses? Uh, I choose to ignore it.
[01:16:43] Uh, I don't know if that's, I know it's, it's easier said than done. I mean, if you go to someone who is suffering from extreme anxiety, I don't know something simple, like they're really nervous about public speaking and you're, they're about to go and talk to present a big group of people who are their peers and they're shitting themselves.
[01:17:00] Because even though they've rehearsed absolutely everything, they know their material, they're still nervous because you know what, if it doesn't work, what if the suffering from imposter syndrome, I'm not suggesting that these are things that people shouldn't feel that it's complete natural. Having the butterflies being nervous when you're being tested, when there's a magnifying glass in front of you and you have to perform, everybody's nervous.
[01:17:23] Anybody who doesn't tell you who tells you that they're not nervous. They don't care. They're they're lying. I don't care if you're LeBron, James, uh, or, or anybody else, professional race, car driver, professional athlete, very experienced politician. Everybody's always nervous when they're being examined.
[01:17:40] The question is, can you harness that energy and just go, okay, I'm going to take this and I'm going to work with it and use it, use that, use that anger and use that adrenaline to focus. You have to learn to enjoy it because if, if you are nervous about it and you're scared of it, it's just going to make it worse.
[01:18:02] This is a, this is a slight aside to, to a story which, which I know you didn't ask about, but I'll, but I'll tell you anyway, cause I think it pertains. Yeah. And it's, and it's to do with, um, it's to do with my dad, um, and how my dad passed away. So I was, um, my dad died of a heart attack and I was fortunate because I was, we didn't know what was going to happen.
[01:18:26] It was sudden, but although we knew that he had a weak heart, so it wasn't at the same time as being sudden. It also wasn't a total surprise. Um, he'd had mild heart attacks before and a mild stroke. Um, he'd had, he was a diabetic, he had two stents installed, so it's not like it came out of nowhere and he got hit by a truck, but nonetheless, it was a surprise.
[01:18:44] And fortunately for me, I was able to spend two weeks with both my parents. I was on holiday at the time. And this happened at the very last day. So we'd had a really great time. We'd spend a bunch of time together and, and the reason I bring up the story is because. Uh, I remember in the weeks and months afterwards, um, both my friends and my mother would frequently ask me, uh, how do you, how are you handling this?
[01:19:13] How are you not freaking out about this? How are you not freaking out about, uh, about what happened? And I said, what do you mean? And mum would say that she finds herself, you know, waking up in the middle of the night and suddenly remembering the last few moments. And then she tries to hide it and stop thinking about it.
[01:19:32] But she can't and it bubbles up again. And then it takes over and she gets completely consumed by it. And she gets really sad and upset and she can't handle normal life. And I said, and I said, that's interesting mum, because the thing I think you're doing wrong, or at least wrong is the wrong word. I think, I think you're doing different, which is a key thing is you're trying to not feel it.
[01:19:55] And she said, what do you mean? And I said, the story you just told me, you said that you start thinking about it and then you try and force yourself to stop. And I said that she, she goes, what do you mean? I said, don't do that. Just think about it fully, every detail. And, and she says, I don't understand, but that's horrible.
[01:20:15] And I said, no, no, no, no. It's not think about it. If, if I, cause what happened to me is of course I would think about it. I was there when it happened. I gave him CPR, um, waiting for the paramedics to arrive and I was unable to restart his heart. And, when I start thinking about it, I, I do the opposite of trying to stop.
[01:20:34] I think about every detail, I think about the noise and the rasping of the breathing, the, the rhythm of the, of the chest compressions, the cracking of the ribs, as you'll hear under the pressure of the chest compression. And the reason I think about it is because then it's mine and I control it. Whereas what mum was doing is she was, she was trying to hide it, which meant that it controlled her because it would constantly keep coming up.
[01:21:00] And I, and I bring that up as a story, because I think it's, it's similar to how you end up handling stress, where when stress can easily be overwhelming and it can easily control every aspect of what you're doing, whether it's, whether it's lack of confidence or anxiety, or many other aspects of, of nerves when you're, when you're putting yourself into emotional roller coasters.
[01:21:22] And if you try to push it away, ultimately, unless you're, unless you're some kind of sociopath, you, you will fail because you can't hide these things, they're stronger than you. So instead, I think you have to just accept it. And if anything, you have to run towards it, because if you run towards it, then you're in control of it.
[01:21:43] And then ultimately that's the way you get through it. Sorry, this went a little bit serious, perhaps more serious than
Travis Bader:[01:21:50] I, I quite like that, honestly, it's funny because. That attitude towards stress. I've never actually thought of that correlation. When my kids are afraid of something, I sit them down and I say, are you afraid of it?
[01:22:08] Or are you excited? And they say, well, what do you mean? And I do my best to help them reframe whatever that nervous energy is or whatever that fear is into something that's positive. It's positive because it's exciting. You're doing something you haven't done before. Not I'm afraid because I'm doing something I haven't done before, but you take the exact same approach with stress.
[01:22:29] You're essentially reframing what, what you're feeling into something that's more positive and something that you have control over.
Nick Bicanic: [01:22:37] Yeah, a hundred percent. And in many instances, as I think we both know the most important thing is the first step. Because once you, once you get out onto that stage, once you start the pitch meeting, once you start the phone call, whatever it might be at that point, you can't back out.
[01:22:55] I mean, obviously you still can, but, but the balls are rolling. So, so the idea is that so long as you get the reframing, it's a mental, the whole thing is a mental game. Stress always is. And it's a game you play with yourself to see if you can make that first step. And once you do that, then you're okay.
[01:23:13] And obviously the more times you do it, the easier it ends up being. And yes, of course, a past history is extremely helpful. For example, it's much easier that the 15th pitch to investors is a hell of a lot easier than the first one. And once you've, once you've run out of money once before and bounced back to do something else it's much.
[01:23:35] If you feel less worried about running out of money again, because you go, Hey, you know what, uh, easy come easy, go. I'll figure out the I'll figure out a solution, but this is not, this is not a path for everybody there are. And I, and I should, I should stress forgiving the pun. I should stress that. Uh, I, in no way, look down on people who.
[01:23:59] Who decide that this is not for them, that they would rather have the safe job, the nine to five that guarantees them a certain amount of income. And then they have their weekends that are completely carefree to spend time with their families. In fact, while my opinion towards that kind of life is actually kind of funny because it's very conflicted because on the one hand I looked down on it, cause I go, oh, how boring?
[01:24:23] But on the other hand, I'm also jealous of it because I can't do that. My work has never been nine to five, which guess what? That means. That means there's no distance or no, no separation between work and non-work right. Which means that if I'm the last thing I think about most times before I go to bed is the particular project that I've been working on, the problem that I'm trying to solve and what I'll be solving in the future.
[01:24:49] And the same thing I think about when I'm on weekends or when I'm on holidays, I can't switch off. Yeah. So that's what I mean by I'm jealous of the ability of people who have that attitude of, Hey, it's just nine to five and hard separation between work and play. I'm jealous of their ability to switch off.
[01:25:07] But at the same time, I also kind of looked down on it. Cause I think, uh, you're just taking the easy road. So, so it's a, it's a funny, funny approach to things. I'm trying to, I'm trying to be as, as open as possible. I hope I agree. Okay, cool.
Travis Bader: [01:25:23] Yeah, no, absolutely. That's exactly what I want. I mean, when I, sometimes I bemoan the fact that the last thing I think about is the first thing I think about and that there is no actual time off from work, if you are entrepreneurial minded, because you're always thinking about the next thing and what you could do with what you currently have.
[01:25:44] And I'll look at friends who, um, you know, I good friend of mine, he's a firefighter. And I look, and I say, man, you know, four on four off that ain't too bad. I could probably, I could probably run a business on the side, on my four off. And my wife says, yeah, but you'd hate those four on. You wouldn't fit in that mold on that four on when you're in there, because you'd be constantly thinking about new things or trying to do things differently.
[01:26:10] And that's not what, that's not what the fire fighter group mentality is like, you wouldn't fit in there. So for sure, you mentioned imposter syndrome and that's something that a lot of people who are trying to break new ground or do something that's sort of revolutionary either in general or within their realm will feel.
[01:26:31] Is that something that you have to deal with often?
Nick Bicanic: [01:26:35] As it happens, I've never had to deal with imposter syndrome and I find it hard to, uh, to. To kind of understand exactly what people are going through, who I have worked with in the past, who I feel are quite talented, who tell me they suffer from it. And I think that's, that comes down to some of the reframing of stress that you had talked about.
[01:27:00] I think I just instinctively ended up if, if I do feel it, I reframe it so quickly that I don't even notice meaning there are certainly, there are certainly environments that I've been in. For example, when I made the documentary film, it's the first documentary I've ever made and I'm sitting there in a room, uh, doing a talk or winning an award, surrounded by people who are on their eighth or ninth documentary.
[01:27:30] And it's, uh, by, by all accounts, I should be going like, who the hell am I? I don't really deserve to be here except I'm comfortable with the product that I've made or, and, or invention and or whatever it is. I'm just using one story to turn on for another. So from that perspective, I, as I said, I either don't feel it or if I do feel it, I reframe it so quickly that it doesn't really, it doesn't really affect me.
[01:27:57] I mean, there's a, there's a nasty part to this that hopefully doesn't happen, but I've seen it happen to some people and that's it. You need to be very self-aware for this stuff, not to come off as sociopathic ego, because if you're, if you're on the wrong side of that, in other words, if you don't, if you take the view that I'm the best thing in the world, and I don't listen to criticism, so screw you you're either with me or against me, that's a problem.
[01:28:28] And the reason that's a problem is number one, because you'll never improve because you have to be able to take input from other people very quickly and pivot as it were building before. I know you meant it a slightly different way, but I think, I think by definition, we're constantly pivoting as people.
[01:28:45] And certainly from a product perspective, you constantly have to keep accepting tweaks from others. But there are definitely people out there who, who can mask, uh, deep insecurities with copious quantities of arrogance and bluster, and sometimes the idea of, oh, it's okay. I'll just reframe all my fear and nerves and stress and anxiety as confidence.
[01:29:15] It's not really, that's not a reframe. That's a false confidence. Yeah. Yeah. What you're really doing is you're just hiding it and you're masking it and the problem and that that'll trick some people. But as the saying goes, you know, you can trick some of the people. Some of the time, but you contract all, how does it go?
[01:29:30] Wait, you can trick all of them all the time. Some of them all the time or all of them, some of the time you can't track all of them all the time. So eventually that facade breaks down. So yeah, it's an, it's a, there's a dance in here and it's definitely, as I said, the more self-aware you are the better, because if you, in my case, I, whatever it is that I do, whatever, whatever mental games I play with myself to be able to handle this stuff, as long as I can go to sleep at night comfortable, that I'm being honest to myself and the people around me, I'm fine with it.
[01:30:05] So, so yeah, I think from the imposter syndrome side, certainly something, as I said, that I've seen and the people I know suffer from and people choose to mask it in various different ways. But yeah, not something that I feel I've always, I'm sorry, just to just the thing. I think it's also very important to be honest.
[01:30:22] And it's important to be honest with yourself as well as with others. And I mean that not just in a, in a personal, emotional context, I also mean it in a professional context. So for instance, 'cause you never know when the person who's sitting across from you, whether they're a potential collaborator or an employee or a potential investor, you never know whether they're actually a subject matter expert in what you're doing.
[01:30:46] And if you choose to lie, uh, yeah, sure. You can get lucky and you can spin something. And if someone calls you on it, you, you might be quick enough or, or agile enough with your wordplay to be able to work around the problem. But you do that shit to me. I'll remember. So when I notice, when people make mistakes, I noticed when they define things incorrectly, I notice when they gloss over something, when I've asked them a difficult question.
[01:31:13] And I assume always when I'm that I'm talking to people who notice things the same way that I do, which is why, if I don't know something, I'll be the first one to admit it. 'cause, I don't want to give you as a quote-unquote adversary, whether it's an adversary in a friendly way or in an, or in an aggressive way, I don't want to give you the power of thinking that you saw me make a mistake.
[01:31:37] And now, you know, that I made a mistake and I'm trying to hide it. If I catch myself making a mistake, I'll call it out right away. And the reason I'll do that is because, as I said, that that honesty is I think an important part of my continuous improvement process, but it also, as it happens, deep powers, the other person, cause I don't want to give him a leg to stand on in terms of going ha ha.
[01:31:59] I caught that guy and now I know that he's lying. So anyway, I love it.
Travis Bader: [01:32:04] I love it. So I remember when he started getting into VR and I'm watching this, I'm like, I don't know, is VR going to be the wave of the future? Is, is this really going to be such a big thing? And then you're talking about storytelling through virtual reality and saying like, you know, it's one thing to have this whole virtual environment around us that we can all kind of look at, but how do you direct somebody's attention through storytelling?
[01:32:31] I'm like, okay, I can, I'm starting to see kind of what you're trying to do here. And then next thing you know, you've got red six, which is. Piggybacking on the virtual reality background that you have in the filmmaking background and the left and right. Brain kind of thing. And you've got something and you're using it to train fighter pilots.
[01:32:57] Can you, can you talk about this s little bit?
Nick Bicanic: [01:32:58] Yeah, for sure. I can't go into too much detail on the core of the technology, but obviously a fair amount of it has been, has been written about so we can certainly address it. So first things first I'd been interested in, in, as you mentioned in virtual reality and by association augmented reality for a number of years.
[01:33:17] And the biggest reason I was interested initially, even though the headsets were cumbersome, a bit of a bane to wear, and it was complicated to get the tech to work correctly, you needed to have a powerful computer. You couldn't really do it on your mobile phone. And so on. Uh, the reason I was particularly interested was because of the intensity of emotion and, uh, let me describe what I mean by that.
[01:33:42] Uh, when, it'll sound like a bit, a very base comparison, but I think it's apt a long time ago. One of the first VR experiences I tried, I mean, sure. You know, there's the old story of, you know, you, you, you feel vertigo cause you look down and you're on the edge of a, of a building, but you're not actually on the edge of a building and that's fine.
[01:34:04] Um, but I'm talking about something else, which is that somebody asked me to try some sort of a pornography experience in VR and it was very simple, meaning nothing wasn't interactive in any way whatsoever. It was just, just some just, just nudity. But I remember. As, as I was looking at the video that was happening, I remember noticing my hands came up and I thought, wow, that's really bizarre because I know I'm watching a video.
[01:34:36] I know exactly how the technology works. That's tricking my brain into thinking that this person is actually right in front of me yet. My hands instinctively start to come up anyway. I can leave it up to the viewer to think about why that's a conversation for another time. Anyway. So I stopped the thing right away and I take the headset off and I go, okay, this is really bizarre because if within, we're talking about within two seconds, this happened, if within two seconds, I can short circuit my brain with this technology to think that I'm actually somewhere that I'm not to the point that my hands will move.
[01:35:09] There's something here, because that means that if I'm telling you a story and I want you to feel a certain way, whether it's because of, I dunno, refugees in a refugee camp or, or some sort of a love story or some sort of an action movie, it doesn't matter. The point is. Something about the idea of being able to immerse you into an environment, to the point that you feel like you're actually there, which means you will, you will, because filmmaking and storytelling is all about manipulating the emotions of the viewer.
[01:35:41] Making you feel as though you are the hero or you are in danger, you are saving the world. Whatever the case might be. It's sometimes not as simple as sometimes it could be just a jump scare with zombies jumping out of the ground and need to scare you. But nonetheless, we're trying to elicit emotional responses.
[01:35:56] So I was fascinated by the idea of how emotional responses could be manipulated in using this technology. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what does this mean for editing? What does this mean for filmmaking? What does this mean for interactivity? Because as, as obviously, people, either who are listening to podcasts or, or watching movies nowadays know you have, what's referred to you have no agency, you can't control the narrative.
[01:36:24] In other words, somebody listening to this podcast can change the next question. They can certainly pause it, rewind it fast forward it, but they can't change the answer that I'm about to give or the questions you're going to ask. Now, there are certain environments that you can do this in. And one common one is video games in a video game.
[01:36:41] If you're playing, I don't know, call of duty or you're playing, um, playing pub G uh, you can, or Fortnite, you can move your character whichever way you. And so can anybody else who's playing the game with you at the same time, but guess what suffers story, because sure. You can make an environment. I can have you for the sake of argument, be playing, I don't know, let's pick star wars, so I can, you can be playing on the death star and you're running around doing whatever you want, but how can you at the same time have the narration happen that happens in the star wars movies that we all grew up loving most of us, uh, while I'm letting you do whatever you want, because if you want to run around and blow stuff up, well, guess what, you're going to miss the story.
[01:37:25] So I was fascinated by, by the kind of conflicting forces of the immersion and the, the emotional immersion and what that does to my brain, uh, by short-circuiting certain aspects of it. And then understanding the technology involved and the interactivity that was possible. And the transition to read six happened, uh, roughly around having spent a number of years in this space, looking for a challenge to build, to solve an interesting problem.
[01:37:56] And the reason why it happened. Missed a lot of the pro the technology was so young that a lot of the stuff that we were doing was as I like to call it a solution in search of a problem. In other words, we'd be like, Hey, look, we can do a headset. We can track your hands. So look, cause you can track your hands.
[01:38:15] And then the competition would kind of tail away there because if you go, well, why would you do that? You go, well, I don't know, but look, isn't it cool. You can track your homes. So what would happen is, uh, we, it wasn't clear because it was so many things that we're building and it wasn't just me. It was a number of people in the industry who were building solutions in search of a problem.
[01:38:35] I just thought, wouldn't it be cool if we found a real problem so we can apply all this knowledge to, and all this technology to solve something real. So I got together with, with three other guys, um, Glenn Snyder, Adam Amarillo, and Dan Robinson, uh, Glenn and Adam were very experienced in the VR world.
[01:38:54] They've done a lot of different VR solutions and a lot of digital software and hardware development. While Adam, myself and Glenn were all technologists and spent a number of years in the VR and AR space on both software, hardware, and content then was not a technologist, but as a fighter pilot, he had some unique understanding of the problem set, specifically the danger and the complexity of training with other physical aircraft as often.
[01:39:26] People have seen at the very least in Hollywood versus of this stuff. For example, in Topcon, when in those days they had the F14s as the good guys, and then I believe F4s and 5s playing the part of mics. And when they're trying to fly against each other, yeah, it looks cool filmmaking wise, but it's also quite dangerous even though the training quality is quite high.
[01:39:48] So the idea was, was it possible to do this kind of training using augmented reality? So for the sake of argument, if, if it was going to be possible, you would need to take off in an aircraft as a fighter pilot, and then look out the window and see an enemy aircraft that wasn't there, that you could maneuver against that would be driven by AI in order to be a pretend bad guy for you to train against, but it would have to be realistic because this wasn't a game.
[01:40:16] If this wasn't going to be realistic, if it wasn't going to give you so-called positive training value, then it would at best create a false sense of security. And at worst, it would be worse than that. It would give you negative training value. So the only way this was going to work is if it would be sufficiently realistic, it's a fairly high.
[01:40:36] So the physics are correct. And the so-called, uh, range, aspect and angle are correct, so that the pilot can judge the position of the enemy aircraft and maneuver accordingly. And we, we didn't know this was possible. Absolutely. No, it never been tried before. I mean, certainly head up displays of various different kinds had existed in certainly in the military.
[01:40:58] And in some cases, in some high-end cars, they have the ability to project your Speedo or some additional information onto your dash in front of you. But no one had ever tried wide field of view, high resolution, full color, low latency visuals, essentially we're building a video game in the sky. And, um, so I was one of the co-founders of the business as well as, uh, the CTO for the, I can't remember exactly when I transitioned to being the chief strategy and science officer, but I was CTO for a good two years and a bit of the business and the, uh, the, the key task here was first and foremost, establish whether this is possible and to prove this out in an aircraft.
[01:41:41] But when, when I started to broaden the stack was when it became really interesting because it wasn't just about solving a key problem for the military. That was certainly the reason why the company got a lot of attention and got an initial and then a follow up contract with the us air force. But it was also because you see the broader training ecosystem is obviously not just one aircraft. There's an aircraft there's tanks, there's infantry, there's combined joint force multi-domain operations. And the idea is that could you build a training ecosystem so that any one of these people, whatever vehicle they're in or whether they're a dismounted or mounted infantry, uh, could they see an enemy threat in the same place at the same time, even though the enemy threat wasn't there.
[01:42:32] So the whole now obviously fancy things can be accomplished with screens. So lots of you sensor fuse, a bunch of data. You look at your screen, you can see on your radar, certain things are happening, but that's not what we were interested in. What we were interested in is what happens at close range is what happens when you have to look up and look around and engage with an enemy that isn't actually physically there because the traditional training in traditional synthetic training, that's where things break down.
[01:42:57] That's where the simulation ends and you just go "yeah, okay". If, and when that happens in reality, you'll figure it out. You know, the problem is if the only time that you're seeing a, for the sake of argument, Chinese, J 20 is when you actually see a Chinese J 20, uh, that's a problem because if up until then, the only time you've flown against the J 20 is in an actual simulation of a simulator, not in your actual physical aircraft.
[01:43:21] And again, I know it started with fighter pilots, but it doesn't matter whether you replace aircraft with helicopter or with Breguet or with armored personnel carrier. It's the same problem. The problem is how do you train against actual physical assets if they're not available for you to train against gone are the days of the early Warsaw pact when the US enjoyed such military dominance.
[01:43:44] So they could use their older vehicles as a SIM physical simulator with the same kind of capability as a modern Warsaw pact or Chinese vehicle nowadays, the Chinese and the Russian forces are so significantly advanced that it's impossible to do that. You have to commit. If you want to do that, if you want to train the physical asset against the physical asset, you have to commit your most expensive assets into playing dummy enemy and that's expensive.
[01:44:13] And also not a good idea. Uh, in general, there was a, there was a lot of money riding on being able to solve this problem correctly. So we spent a lot of time proving out that this was possible. We had an experimental aircraft that we, that we did this in, but the key thing, as I was mentioning was the transition from purely making this a fighter pilot focused solution into being a multi-domain solution.
[01:44:40] I came up with, um, with a concept that I named carbon carbon stands for combined augmented reality battlespace operational network. And the idea is that carbon is a, is a multi-domain environment where multiple entities see the same augmented reality assets at the same time and in the same place. And the idea is of course, for this to grow into becoming a, a, a, shall we say, platform agnostic.
[01:45:07] So it works with every single interoperates with every single system that's out there, but allows an unprecedented level of fidelity and, uh, accuracy in the training. And I can't unfortunately go into details of exactly what the technology does and how it works, but suffice to say that, uh, there are a number of high profile entities that have either have direct relationships with the company or contracts with it.
[01:45:35] Or are in some cases, actual investors. If you did a little bit of Googling, you could find out some of this information because some of it has been publicly released, but it's certainly been exciting working at the highest end of, as I say, not solutions in search of a problem, but applying my many years of technical acumen into being able to articulate the vision and fine tune it, to be able to use the technology, to solve a real problem, but make no mistake the, to touch on the storytelling aspects.
[01:46:10] Uh, the transition from, shall we say the abstraction going back to UX again, of a keyboard and a mouse and a screen. Into something that you touch, like a touch screen phone into the, uh, an iWatch or a smart watch that you use to interact with information. And then you go in, there's a, if you think about it information or sorry, the devices by which we consume information of a networked variety are shrinking at the same time as they're shrinking, they're becoming more intimate.
[01:46:43] So the mechanism by which we interact with them becomes more intuitive. And the augmented reality headsets are just the natural evolution of that. And for me, this is fascinating because this is. This is, I would argue possibly the largest inflection point in the way in which humans interact with each other and humans interact with information since the very first iPhone.
[01:47:09] So augmented reality is a massive leap and it is still not fully understood exactly what this means in the same way that, you know, when the iPhone one first came out or people had an idea that Google maps would be a thing, but nobody knew Instagram would be a thing. Nobody knew Snapchat would be a thing.
[01:47:27] Nobody knew Pokemon go or, or NFTs or crypto would be a thing that people would do on mobile phones. They just kind of thought let's build it and see what happens. So the augmented reality world is, is a little bit similar. It's, it's massive. And the idea, there are many fantastical dystopian views of what this could look like.
[01:47:49] For example, if you're, if people want to really Google for things, you can look for something called a reality. It's, uh, a guy who made, uh, a mock-up video of what augmented reality run a muck would look like. Every single thing is an ad. So you're walking down the road and instead of seeing a wall of a house that would be a personal ad.
[01:48:09] That's done precisely for you because companies like Facebook or whatever, the future versions of Facebook would look like, capture a significant amount of data. They know who you are, they know your demographic, they know what you last bought. They know what webpages you browsed. And because of that, they conserve your personalized ads and you can't stop it because you're just walking around and you've got your multimillion dollar mentored reality had said, which, by the way, you didn't pay for it.
[01:48:32] It's entirely advertising subsidized, or because of that, you're, you are forced to have a constant barrage of advertising invading every aspect of your life. So, as I said, there are tons of dystopian versions of what AR could look like. And I'm very aware that I, and many other people who are in the key parts of this industry are on the cutting edge of defining what this looks like.
[01:48:56] But the way I see it, I have two choices. I ignore it in which case it's going to happen anyway, uh, or I take an active role in shaping what this stuff looks like, and hopefully I can make it less dystopian and more practical and efficient, just like I've done with many other things. So the biggest reason for me, the fascination with the Red6 is twofold.
[01:49:19] One, is this an incredibly challenging problem to try and solve? Because it's very fast moving aircraft, complicated physics split-second, decision-making required extremely low latencies and high speeds and high fidelity required. But also it's for me scratching the surface of what the what's now being referred to as the metaverse could look like, what does it look like when you're fusing real and digital information in various different ways?
[01:49:50] And I feel that it's, it's an inevitable future, as I said. And it's extremely interesting for me to, to understand which parts of it are critical problems to solve that I feel like could that I'm the right person to shape.
Travis Bader: [01:50:05] Holy crow. Honestly, if we had a few more hours to talk, and I know we don't, you just, there's so many points in what you just brought out that I would love to delve into, into further.
Nick Bicanic: [01:50:18] I mean, we can, you know, we can always do another one at some point. Once I pick up another project, there's all kinds of stuff that we can talk about. But yeah, look, I mean the, there, there's no question that there are, if you start digging, uh, you can very quickly find out that somewhere between AI and AR and crypto and robotics is this weird future that, that some people have looked at in episodes of black mirror and gone, whoa, hang on a second.
[01:50:53] This is horrible. Robot dogs are going to kill us all. What's going to happen next. Uh, and then there's other fascinating things that might be positive, but there's, there's certainly a lot of negativity out there because yes, of course it's possible. You take a look at AI and you just fast forward the clock and you get some version of the terminator.
[01:51:10] So that's going to kill us all. And there are some people out there who are building things so that if you say to them, hey, you're building Skynet. They might go. Yeah. In fact, one of our projects is called Skynet. So they don't quite realize the joke that you're making, but there is, there's an inevitability to technological progress.
[01:51:30] That's kind of what I was alluding to, um, digging our heads in the sand, unless we're all gonna destroy everything. And send us back into the stone ages with some giant sequence of electromagnetic pulses, which is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely technological progress is inevitable. The question is, what do we do with it?
[01:51:50] Uh, do we, do we do something that makes things better or do we, do we do something that just makes things more profitable? And there's an interesting line there because as, as, uh, as, as woke as some venture capital investors might claim, they are ultimately their investors, they're seeking a return on investments.
[01:52:09] So they're trying to make money. It's up to us as the inventors to, to use that money, to create things that are obviously provide a healthy return on investment. Otherwise you're not going to get the money again, but also steer the, the objects in such a way that they are both useful and usable. And all of this ties back to, to some of the UX stuff we talked about with pepper shakers, and these handles, it's all about trying to understand what's the problem we're trying to solve.
[01:52:37] Why are we trying to solve it? How do we make it something that's interesting and valuable that people want? And from the perspective of people like myself, people who are the creators, how do we continue to challenge ourselves? To, to make things I guess, interesting and valuable. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to do this thing that I'm going to continue to do these kinds of things forever.
[01:52:59] I don't see any reason to stop so long as I continue to remain interested. And of course, as long as I continue to find the kind of people that I want to work with to, to, to go along for the journey, as I mentioned in connection with the documentary, it's all well and good me having interesting ideas, but first and foremost requirement, before you even.
[01:53:22] Try to convince an investor to part with their dollars is you've got to find people who are going to join you for the journey, which means your first problem is to convince someone else that your idea is something that they can risk X amount of months or years of their life on. Because if you can't do that, then maybe you should reconsider maybe the idea that if you, if you're not able to articulate the idea, to describe it, to have the requisite passion, to use the kind of vocabulary that people understand, there's a lot of names of very important the way in which you talk about things, the way in which things are structured.
[01:53:59] That's, that's what I spend a lot of time doing is defining and articulating product lines. So there's a, there's a thing called Elif. I don't know if you've heard the term elephant, L E L I F stands for explain like I'm five, uh, because, because here's the thing, there are a lot of, there's a lot of smart people around and in some cases, those smart people, whether they're suffering from, as you talked about before, uh, imposter syndrome or not, there's a lot of people who, when you ask them to explain a complicated concept, they'll can quick look quickly dastardly with a bunch of scientific terminology.
[01:54:36] But if you ask them to explain like I'm five, hence the term, if they can't do it. It probably means they don't understand it. Not really, if they can't break it down into fundamentals, I'm not suggesting that you need to be able to, I don't know, explain microbiology, using simple block diagrams and people are supposed to understand every aspect of it.
[01:54:57] That's not, it, it's not, it's not reductive in that way. I'm saying that if you are not able to articulate your vision in a simplified way so that it can be compelling to both technologists and business people who you might need along for the ride, then you should reconsider whether you truly understand what you're talking about.
[01:55:17] So I spent a lot of the time, I often advise startups and investment. A lot of times the startups that I'm involved in doing exactly that is trying to take nuggets of technological information and structure them in such a way that they're more clearly understandable because I think that's important because ultimately.
[01:55:35] As, as leaders of companies, we often do end up being storytellers. Yes. In the early days you were extremely hands-on when you're, when you're needing to actually mold the clay and figure out how to make it into something. But afterwards, as the team starts to grow, uh, it ends up oftentimes being just explanation, story, passion, investing, pitching it's, uh, your role changes your role as a leader, definitely changes.
[01:56:03] And I, I enjoy, always have done. I definitely enjoyed the zero to 60 miles an hour, a lot more than 60 to 70, and certainly a lot more than 73 to 74 miles an hour at some point. Yes. If the company gets big enough, a small change in efficiency ends up meaning millions of dollars. And that's extremely valuable, but I like to live in the crazy land, those zero to 60, they, Hey, here's a bunch of Lego bricks.
[01:56:31] Can you make something in the next six months? How do you do that? I don't know, but let's wait. Oh, that doesn't work. Try this. Okay. Good. It worked. So that's the bit that I enjoy. That's fantastic. And hopefully I'll continue to have, I know there's a, there's a little bit of childlike. Um, shall we say, uh, And ambition is the wrong word, a childlike stubbornness in this adherence to wanting to solve the problem from zero.
[01:56:59] But I think, I think for me, it's really necessary because it keeps me focused and motivated. Um, the more things become slow and incremental progress. I'm not suggesting that I don't see the value in that. I absolutely do. It's just not where I Excel, which means that for me, is a sign that there needs to be someone else brought in.
[01:57:20] And some people really love that. Some people love pushing a thing that's 90% efficient to being 92% efficient. They live for those kinds of breakthroughs I live for, as I mentioned for the, for the target that no one else can see. That's where I, that's my sweet spot.
Travis Bader: [01:57:38] I am so glad that you agreed to come on this Silvercore Podcast. Is there anything else that we should chat about before we wrap things up here?
Nick Bicanic: [01:57:47] Uh, I'm sure there are a lot of things, but I don't know them all because I like, I mean, I don't, I know we haven't talked about this that much, but I rarely tend to prepare for these kinds of things. And I find, I find it more natural that way.
[01:58:02] So I don't really know where the conversation's going to go. I've done a number of different keynotes, uh, for conferences where people asked me to talk about, I don't know, invention or what I see. This is the future of media as a recent one that I did. And it's interesting cause I know some people who.
[01:58:18] Viewed as, uh, as, as, as good speakers and sure. On the surface of it, you know, you go, okay, this sounds like the sounds kind of compelling and passionate. But then you realize that the entire thing is pre-rehearsed down to every single inflection. And again, it works right. If the audience has happy, it works, but I can't do that.
[01:58:41] And the reason I can't do that is because I get bored of my own voice. If I have to say the same thing over and over again, I can't stand it. So I tend to just, I have bullet points. I have a vague outline of what I want to say, but I guess I know if there's one thing that I wanted people to walk away from this.
[01:58:59] I did a, when we took a quick break, I did a bit of thinking, thinking if I'm watching this or listening to this the first time, and I think, I don't want to say anything, trite like, oh, just follow your dreams. Everything will always be fine. No, that's nonsense because it depends on the person. It depends on what you really want.
[01:59:18] What I would like to say though, is that like with most things in life, the most important thing is the first step as you and I talked about before, when we were talking about stress and in particular, we were talking about the idea of coming into this pitch meeting or an interview or a presentation or something that you're nervous about.
[01:59:36] Uh, opening the door. Isn't usually the problem because in many cases, the doors already open. You just have to take the first step, but taking the first, the problem isn't the presentation. The presentation will happen, whether you like it or not, if you're able to step through the door. So it's the taking the first step bit that I think is the, is the thing that I would like to encourage people to try to reframe as you put it from is something that's that's.
[02:00:03] If you can, if you can constantly keep yourself excited about exploring and learning something new, then it really doesn't matter. In some cases what happens afterwards, because as the saying goes, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. So obviously yes, don't do stuff like this with knives or with poisons.
[02:00:21] And certainly if someone tells you that horse dewormers, a good idea, maybe think twice about that. But, um, at the risk of going into rabbit hole that we won't get out of four, then, uh, we'll we'll perhaps leave it at that. So be sensible. But if you want to stay youthful and energetic, don't be afraid to take risks.
[02:00:43] That's all.
Travis Bader: [02:00:44] Nick you've led an extraordinary life. And I know for a fact the best is yet to come. Thank you for that.
Nick Bicanic: [02:00:49] I really appreciate being invited on this. And I apologize if I went slightly deep into some rabbit holes. If I did, it was only because I enjoyed talking.
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