Ep 16 Transcript – Connor Firmender and Ocean Builders

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Ep. 16 Transcript – Connor Firmender and Ocean Builders

Carly Jackson: Hello seasteaders! Today, I am happy to welcome Connor Firmender, the Director of Business Development for Ocean Builders. He’s also a three-time startup founder, ocean tech enthusiast, aspiring free diver, and Ambassador Laureate. Welcome Connor.

Connor Firmender: Thank you. Thank you. Very happy to be here, Carly.

Carly Jackson: Well Connor. So, we did an interview with Grant from Ocean Builders a few years ago, but a lot has changed. One thing is that you’ve joined the team and you have some startup experience. So, tell us a little bit about your experience and how you came to work for Ocean Builders.

Connor Firmender: Yeah, no good question. I love this one, so I’ll keep the background story as concise, as brief as I can, and we can dig into different parts of it if you want. But I think it starts around my, I don’t know, sometime when I was going to Florida Gulf coast university, when I was living in south Florida in the south Fort Myers area, and they had just started working on an entrepreneur program. And at the time it was very coincidental. I had actually joined up with one of my, one of my good friends who wanted to start a clothing line.

It’s funny how many startups start out with something as simple and just, you wanna start like a merch brand or something like that. And so, we did ours actually around the, at the time, like we’re talking 2015, 2016. And the cannabis industry was just seeing a lot of regulation at scale, at least here in the US and in some other parts of the world.

And so, we were doing a clothing line that was revolved around elegant, nice merchandise that we could really tie it to medical cannabis. And we were gonna give back a lot of the revenue to research. And it was a very interesting project that eventually turned into working on an event and talent management company.

Cause we sponsored an event, fell in love with event management that then evolved into managing some artists, hosting ’em in concert. We open a recording studio. We started an independent record label. So, it was a lot of the merchandise then led into a lot of the entertainment world. And its funny cause when we started talking about Ocean Builders, you’ll hear how that plays a role seven, eight years later.

But yeah, so we started that in school and then around the same time, there was a small business that was looking for an intern from Florida Gulf Coast University. There were a t-shirt and screen print and embroidery, but what I really liked about their business model was they gave back 3-5% on every order to a nonprofit.

And so, it was this social enterprise model you could say, and I really fell in love with it. And so out of everyone in our class at FGCU in the business program, this one professor that I had, Professor Stout, recommended myself to, his name is Sam, the founder and CEO. We’re a good friend to this day. Long story short with that is I joined the company as an intern.

By the time I left, I had taken on the sales manager role and client manager role, and we scaled down the team a little bit. We were a little oversized. We gotta scale down the team, be a little bit more lean and mean. I think we were doing like $350,000 in revenue when I joined. And when I left, we were doing $750, $800,000 in revenue, brought ’em to their first profitable year, a little over $2 million in total sales.

What came out of that was I think, a big catalyst or launchpad, wherever you wanna call it, to where I am now. Because another thing that we did was we doubled the nonprofit portfolio from 45 to about 80, 85 nonprofit partners. Again, these are the ones that were receiving the kickback on every order. And in that I fell in love with the education nonprofit sector.

Just, being a mentor, working with students, seeing students build their own businesses. And in hindsight, in an interesting way, it, I think it helped me because it was an opportunity to frequently talk about what I was working on and explain it to young students in a way that they understood it real quick without being overly technical. And I think that then played a role with pitching to investors, explaining it to friends and family and just the general audience.

Carly Jackson: So, I wanted to ask you, what about the startup phase? What about starting a new venture is attractive to you?

Connor Firmender: Oh man. It being new. It being an opportunity to create. It being an opportunity to solve a problem, speak to new people, more people. It’s, without a doubt, it’s a love for the game.

It’s a journey, not the destination. It’s one of those cliches and there’s a thorough satisfaction in going from zero to one, one to two, and then just seeing something formulate, helping people. Yeah. That’s what definitely drives me to build businesses. Well, one of the many things, at least there are a few things.

Carly Jackson: Sure. And then you’re working on building these relationships. How do you learn about seasteading?

Connor Firmender: Yeah. So. That was, yeah, I started digressing out my story there before. So, I guess the end to that story is I built a few businesses. I helped build the entrepreneur program at FGCU. They had now have an accelerator program, and that was just a lot of my incubation phase, if you would, as an entrepreneur. And I got to do it at my university. So that was the moral of my story. I was trying to get at built a couple businesses, helped scale a couple small businesses during time. So, end of that story.

Now moving into the recent years, last year, 2021, I wanted to move out of the education technology space as my full-time thing. And I wanted to completely immerse myself into something that was true to heart for me ever since I was a kid. And that was the ocean environment. That was the environment in general, but more specifically the aquatic and ocean environment. And I just dove into a lot of research in some new ocean technology, tried to understanding what the status of the industry was with the projection of it looked like who was involved in it, who were the major players in it, who were the early startups and engineers and scientists behind what was going.

And it was in the midst of all that research and documentary watching, I came across The Seasteading Institute, first, actually, and I just started doing a lot of digging into you all before I reached out. And I’m pretty sure I read and watched everything on the website, everything on YouTube. I really appreciated and saw the vision for what was being built within The Seasteading Institute and all of those that are around it.

And in that digging of course is when I found Ocean Builders. And at a time, I thought they were the same thing. I think it was maybe after a conversation with one of you that it came to realize, no, they’re two separate things. And then after that, I, of course, then I dove into some, searching into Ocean Builders specifically and came across as incubator.

And this is where now it starts getting all interesting and full circle, like help build the incubator and was part of incubator at the school. It’s like, I’ve been through five or six accelerators in my time, including Y Combinator, startup school, and a lot of different other localized ones and regional one.

And so, I was like, incubator, I’m all about it. Let’s see what they got going on. And what I submitted was not something to what they had listed, what Ocean Builders had listed on their incubator catalog, if you would. But I submitted idea that I wanted to work on, which was essentially an underwater mapping drone that would never have to return to shore or really be interhuman interface with much, cause it would have an underwater recharging station offshore.

Low and behold, a lot of this technology is in the very early stages, not the UUVs, the drones, the subsea mapping drones are nothing novel, but the underwater recharging is something that some new companies are starting to work on or at least commercialized. And so, a lot of opportunity for it. And as I think a lot of people know the, we hardly know much about the ocean environment about the ocean at scale.

I should say we understand quite a bit about the ocean environment, which is a very general statement to say, but at scale, no. And so, massive opportunity. And so, massive problem to solve. And so, submitted that to Ocean Builders, got a response from Grant. And then, I know we’re gonna wanna save that for more of a question related to how I got it with involved with Ocean Builders specifically. So, I’ll pause that there, but this is then when I started conversating with you and Alex and then Joe, and it was amazing. I think one of the first things too is I was on one of the calls, a conference call, I think is when you kicked off a campaign or… You announced something… And…

Carly Jackson: The Incubator Scholarship campaign maybe? Last year?

Connor Firmender: No, I think I came after that. I think it was the flagging. It was announcing that… Yes, the flagging certification. And so, you all then sent an email saying we’re open to feedback on the presentation deck. And I was like, I’ve pitched a lot of VCs, a lot of investors before. If they’re open to feedback, I’ll share it.

I think I sent like an essay of an email, which was in complete, good intention of saying, look, at the end of the day, I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. I also took it as an opportunity for myself to get involved in this world and got a response from Joe. And that just then has led to a lot of cool opportunity with collaborating on the fundraising and getting them money together for the flagging and then some other things. But yeah, that’s, I guess the long-winded answer how I got involved and how the whole entrepreneurial background has led up to this.

Carly Jackson: Yeah, just to be clear, you don’t have to do a lot of work to get involved with us. Especially when you come with project ideas of your own. But we really appreciated you bringing your knowledge.

And of course, it helps when you get the vision. And I think your research having looked at all our videos and understanding our purpose and our vision, and then being able to bring that constructive criticism. That’s so helpful, but that’s a pretty high standard for volunteers. Just for anyone out there who’s thinking about volunteering. That’s a high standard. Just email us , and we’ll definitely welcome you as a volunteer.

Okay, great. So, you’re helping at The Seasteading Institute. I know Joe was very appreciative of your feedback on his presentation and on a couple presentations since then, too. And so, then you see Ocean Builders, you’re already acknowledgeable about what they’re doing. But you were like, Ocean Builders needs me! You were like, I gotta focus my time on Ocean Builders and step back from volunteering for The Seasteading Institute. So, what happened to inspire that?

Connor Firmender: So, yeah, that’s where life just became completely surreal in the dreams. So, I definitely appreciate the comment of Ocean Builders needs me, but I humbly think it was the other way around. I needed Ocean Builders and it… So, I don’t wanna get too much into the background of the story of the decision, but it was one of the toughest decisions of my life to take on the role with Ocean Builders.

It was not because I didn’t believe in what it was going on. It was just the position of my personal life at the time.

Carly Jackson: It was a commitment.

Connor Firmender: It was, yeah, it was. I had in front of me, three options, four fit, full time, my own startup, because at the time I had to go raise some funds in order to keep moving and keep paying for myself and some of our team members. And I firmly believe you should not, not, fundraise when it’s a matter of needing and begging for it. That’s the absolute worst time. And so that’s the position we were in, and I was not comfortable fundraising. I said, you know what? We need to reel it in. Scale up how many hours you’re working on your other jobs that are giving you some income.

I need to do the same. Cause at the time I was strictly my ed tech startup. And so, I said, okay. And at the time there was a research and international research company. I think I can say, cause I don’t think there’s any problem saying it. It was Robbins Research International, Tony Robbins. I had been communicating with them for a couple years and was just waiting for the right time to work out a couple roles they wanted to get me into I was interested in.

And long story short with that is there was a very beautiful, nice multi-figure salary contract, ready for my signature. And then, of course I have this opportunity with Ocean Builders. What I did, so, I hopped on a call with Grant and he says, you gotta come down, check out what we got going on. I’m like, all right. I had just left Triton, Caicos. I spun right back around. I went down to Panama and I stayed there. He let me stay at the incubator house for a few days. And the first morning I was there, I was woken up by grant at 8:00 AM being introduced to Rudy, the co-founder and president. And he’s like, here’s Rudy, they’re going on a boat to scout a potential location for the pod. Wanna go scuba diving?

I’m like, I’m just waking up. And so let, I cannot begin to describe how much of a literal dream come true and goal of mine. I’ve always, so, I went to school originally from marine biology. It didn’t work out. I ended up graduating with an entrepreneur degree. I was first student in it, but I always loved marine science. I just, I guess I wasn’t academic said you’re not a scientist kid, so I didn’t do well on the test. And it’s just whatever here I am now. And I always wanted to go into the field out on the boat, go collect some data, go do some research, take film. And I was like, it’s like, fuck yeah, I’ll go with you.

So, we get out on the boat. I’m standing on the side. I grew up on the lake. So, I grew up, I had my license driving a boat since I was a kid. I’ve been a scuba diver for a long time. So, some time this is, none of this was new to me. Again, this is all a dream come true, cause this is just a grouping of everything of my life that I’ve done as a kid and getting to this part.

And so, I guess what I’m trying to say is, from the very beginning of being in Panama, it was a dream come true from being a kid. And so, we ended that trip, me and Grant spoke and he’s like, look, maybe we can make something happen. I’ll never forget his words. He said: I have a tendency to make budgets happen, even if there is not one where it needs to be.

I’m like, okay, all right there. So, I left, and this is a Saturday I left. I get back. Monday. I have to have the signature to the Robbins. I have to get it back to them. And I’m like, okay, what am I doing? Am I not doing full time for my startup? Am I gonna take this very stable for the first time in my startup life? After five years, it was like financial stability. And I was like, that doesn’t sound too bad. I can work on a startup on this side and have this stability for some time. I’m getting older. And so, I was like, okay, there’s security. But then I left Panama. And then again, I get back on a Saturday, gotta sign by Monday.

Now it’s Sunday afternoon. I get an email from Grant, and he is like, all right, kid. So, we just started talking, we go back and forth. We jump on a call on Monday morning, Monday afternoon. We talked numbers, we talked this and that. We talked details and I hadn’t on my notes, written down what it would’ve taken for me to take it.

Cause it was, it’s probably one of the biggest risks of my life. It was giving up my own startup. It was giving up massive security, but it was, the reward was the biggest. And it’s living out a dream that you’ve had since you were a kid. And I think serving a greater purpose. And so, I told ’em, let’s do it, FaceTimed the other company. And I’m like, I’m so sorry. And luckily, we’ve been able to maintain that relationship. I still have my ed tech going in the way background our engineers is working at it at a very slow pace.

And as you already know, Carly, I’m full steam ahead, 110%, a hundred miles an hour with Ocean Builders. And I guess the long story here I’m trying to say is it was like I said, one of the hardest issues in my life, because there was so much happening in such a different route I had to take that now impacted where my life trajectory has gone. But it being a massive risk has led to one of the most fulfilling… It is not one of, it’s the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had in my entire life.

Carly Jackson: Wow. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s very useful for folks because we do have a vision. Seasteading is the future.

 Connor Firmender: Next phase of humanity.

Carly Jackson: Absolutely. And, but, at this stage, each individual has to understand the personal risks and tradeoffs of doing that. So, I think it’s helpful to hear stories about like how people come to those decisions and-

Connor Firmender: Oh! It’s farthest thing from easy, hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Carly Jackson: Yeah.

Connor Firmender: Yeah. It’s been hardest to think I’ve ever done.

And what I also love about the position I am in, and I don’t say that by like, yo your role, but like, the atmosphere, the scenario that that I’m in is, and this is. I love Grant. I never had to take off the startup founder, entrepreneur hat. No, I’m not a co-founder of Ocean Builders, nonetheless, though, I’m now being, and we can dig into more of the details, but I’ll just say going from applicant to the incubator, to now the director of the incubator and managing all the partnerships globally, managing, I’m leading our whole launch event for the entire company.

And we’ll talk about all those details, but he and the company has given me an opportunity to not forfeit my love and my ability to be an entrepreneur, to be a startup founder, because I get to still wear those hats, just now within the Ocean Builder’s brand within the name. And I’m a kid in the candy shop with our incubator of technology.

We’re building coral reefs. We’re building drones. We’re, it’s insane. And I guess that’s another thing I should mention too, cause a lot of, so I, I get the question sometimes they’re like, wait, what happened to your startup? What happened to being a startup founder? What happened to being into this world of entrepreneurship?

And I’m like, that’s a fair question. That’s a fair statement to say, because I’ve gone from owning my own business and building it full time to now helping build somebody else’s business. But again, with what you pointed out. And I think everyone is pretty well aware of the long-term game that needs to be played here with seasteading and offshore infrastructure and in ocean innovation in general.

I mean, it’s a very challenging climate and environment to innovate in. So, it’s a long game and a lot of what you do and think at the end of the day, what’s been amazing with Ocean Builders is also with what needs to happen in order to make what we’re doing happen at a commercial level. And globally is there needs to be a lot of innovation, daily innovation, and be a lot of new technology, built new technology innovated on, and there needs to be a lot of problems solved and a lot of challenges overcome.

And so that’s an entrepreneur’s heaven. That’s just an entrepreneur’s frontier. And so, it’s just endless opportunity for me to still be an entrepreneur and a start a founder room within Ocean Builders.

Carly Jackson: Wonderful. So, when you signed on with Ocean Builders, about how long ago was that? Less than a year?

Connor Firmender: November. Very started November. Okay. Very started November. So, it’s been almost a year, 8, 10 months, something like that, right?

Carly Jackson: Sure. We’ll go with that. Eight months, nine months, That first day in Panama until now. Okay. That first day in Panama until now. How has Ocean Builders changed? I’m thinking in terms of the team that you’re working with and the atmosphere in Panama. How much time do you spend in Panama face to face with those folks? Tell me a little bit about what’s happened since you signed on.

Connor Firmender: Wow. A lot. Oh my god. It evolves every day and every week, but to give both ends of the spectrum and then we can work in. So, November 1st, end of October, is when I got there. First time, actually. Started with them beginning of November, I went right back after, and factory was just the size of the actual factory building.

And for those who have any imagery or have been to the headquarters, you’ll know what I mean. Like where just exactly where the building infrastructure is. Not anything that we’ve surrounded in that with. So, it was just a single bay garage with the offices. Wasn’t painted. We didn’t have the solar on. Only the, like molding, was in production, I think. One of the first seal spars was starting to go into the water and was being finished, which that took, I think they said like 11 months, or I forget. I think it was about a year. Long time to get the first spar done. Long time. Like the first one at Panama.

Now I wanna respectively say I saw this, but I also more so heard it from those that were there before me, where there was some challenges at the factory and also with some, I think of the overall team members in overall communication and getting everyone I think on the same page, because just everything was evolving so quickly.

There needed to be, I think, some more, little more, uh, I, you know, say structure, but just communication across the board. We’re a very remote team, but also then the idea of launch, I think was supposed to be April. It was just an idea at the time. And that was one of the reasons he brought me on was to build some of the technology and the incubator or build teams around the technology and, uh, lead us to the event, lead us to the launch event.

And so, these were just all ideas. These were very early vision. What should this look like? Who are we gonna work with for the event? Who are we gonna invite? Just started thinking about, okay, we need to start launching. What do we, how do we do it? What do we do? All the questions. Some of the technology. I think only a couple projects I think were at the time, were in development.

And there were a few partners. Some of them like some true partners, but it, I think it was still very much like true R&D. It was still very much still R&D and it was a long time coming. Cause what we’re building is, has never been built before. So that’s where, I think, around the time I had came on.

Carly Jackson: So, let’s hear about what the factory is like now.

Connor Firmender: Yes. Now. So, factory size has about doubled. We’ve brought it. I guess it’s hard to describe this cause it’s audio only, but, more horizontal and more vertical, like forward and sideways. We’ve expanded. We have a whole massive seal department, now. Couple spars in production. The EcoPod is nearly done. It’s ready to go in the water here very soon.

That’s gonna be shown at our launch. The SeaPod is almost done as well. That’s gonna be shown at our launch. So, two models in very late stage of development. Spars as well. When I say the spars, it’s how they’re installed, like the lower piping. If anyone sees our renders, our images, the pod is essentially the capsule that, that sits on top. And then the spar is essentially that pipe or that piling it sits on. And have certainly locked down, I think, a lot of efficiency and communication and structure across the board. We got people all over the world in different marketing team sales team tech team, etc team, just all gears are turning full steam ahead, heading to launch all working in sync.

It’s very beautiful. We have people in the marketing team now, so we’re back to marketing on social media. Blogs are going out all the time. Blogs we were always consistent. We have a creative director now working on such high-level content, cinematic level content. We’ve been doing sessions all over Panama filming.

We have a documentary crew down there now. Incubator, we’ve gotten shoot like 30 projects into development, and it’s a lot of ’em in late stage development. A lot of ’em gonna be shown at our launch demo showcased 20 to 25 more partnerships, global partnerships, some academic institutions, engineering, manufacturing, partnerships, NGOs, nonprofit.

It’s like there’s I think a clear switch has been flipped from R&D to commercially ready, like, ready for a, a major like global network to pick us back up, because I think we’re ready to flip the script from, what’s been posted about us in the past.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. That sounds like when you’re talking about the sort of communication hiccups and then needing to grow the team, that sounds like normal startup growing pains.

Connor Firmender: For sure. Oh yeah. We still have them. We still have growing pains.

Carly Jackson: So, what’s the shift, as far as like the life cycle of a startup? We’ll talk about the launch event, but so this transition, what does it mean for Ocean Builders to be transitioning from the stage of R&D and now being able to have these units in the water that they can show people and start selling? What does that mean?

Connor Firmender: Confident enough in our product to take people’s money. (Laughter) No, I’m. No. You can look at it that way, you can definitely look at it that way. No, but the, I just said that as a funny answer, but the depth behind that answer is that we are beyond a point of testing out, even the prototypes, the very first versions of it and having the pods to a point of where we’re happy and proud of deploying it to some of our first customers. And so that’s the big switch that we’re making now, is that okay, here we have these battle tested prototypes guys, gonna continue to battle, test them and test new technology. And then we’re gonna very much incubate them in a way, and they’re gonna be very close to us in Panama.

But we’ve also gotten to a point to is having a fairly good understanding of how are we going to execute scale, production at scale, when we have resorts or whoever, whatever. I don’t wanna maybe start calling out names. Maybe I shouldn’t say any names right now, but clients resort chains, hotel chains, whoever it be development agencies, corporations that will they wanna buy 5, 10, 20 of these for their resort, for their whatever installation, their community. We’ve gotten to a point of, okay, we know how we can fulfill an order like this. It’s gonna take time. It certainly is not gonna be a flip of a switch either. I’ll use examples like the Ford F-150 Lightning truck, or even the Tesla, when a lot of these companies launch such a highly innovative product.

And what we’re doing is ready to take deposits, ready to flip that, switch to commercial product. That’s just what we’re gonna have to do is now move to commercial production and then fulfill on the volume orders, which again will take some time, but it’ll be a very transparent experience for all clients understanding that when installation’s gonna happen, when this is being built, okay, when the capsule’s being built, exterior, interior, et cetera. But I guess to sum it up is its R&D to commercial because we’re deposit ready. Because we are, a lot of our technology around what we need to accommodate is ready from our drones, drone delivery to the coral gardens. It’s like the whole ecosystem.

I don’t really like using that word much anymore, cause it’s just such a buzzword at this point, but that’s a good way to describe it. It is an ecosystem of technology services and products that support this new offshore ocean front style of living.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. So, you’ve mentioned the incubator. It it’s been interesting for me to watch. I’d look at the blog and anyone who’s curious about what is happening in Panama. The blog has a lot of information about all of the, the sort of sub-projects that go into creating the pod. And when I think about that first prototype back in Thailand in 2019, how basic it was. And now considering bringing a product where your lay person can be comfortable on a floating vessel and safe on a floating vessel.

And you see some of those technologies like AI Lifeguard is one of the things that’s posted on the blog. How do you help to support those kinds of? … Basically, you wanna be cruise ship ready. Think of your average cruise ship tourist. You wanna be able to provide an experience for someone with no level of maritime safety or how to sail a boat.

Like it’s all it has to be consumer ready and all of those little sub-products all of those little, like, pieces of technology that go into this huge puzzle of just a floating home. It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for me.

Connor Firmender: Yeah. When you look at it, a lot of what the incubator has produced are potential subsidiaries or their own standalone entities, our 3D reefs project, 3D coral project, using a 3D printer that, that prints with clay.

And then using that as a substrate or the skeleton to then outplant actual coral on top of it. It’s one of the, if not the most natural substrate to an artificial reef that can be used. There’s a lot of incredibly talented people that we’ve been blessed with getting ourselves involved in this project, academic institutions, NGOs, marine scientists, you name it from around the world. And this alone, who knows what service opportunities, product opportunities are just in general beach to new markets, creator, a product as a creator of a new market.

There’s just so much innovation to be had in the maritime sector, in ocean technology. I firmly believe that in the next couple years, more closer to maybe three, maybe closer to four, five years, three years, we’re gonna be seeing so many headlines nonstop about ocean tech, blue tech. We’ll see if the word blue tech sticks.

I’ve seen that quite a bit, blue accelerators, this and that, blue frontier. But we’ll see if that sticks. I think so. But ocean technology, just to be clear, I think it’s gonna see a similar attention that climate tech has. Over the past year and carbon tech is now seeing a lot of.

Carly Jackson: Yeah. Tell me about this launch event. There’s an event on August 22nd and that’s an online product launch. And then in September, there’s an event in Panama. So, what’s happening with the online product launch?

Connor Firmender: Yes, August 22nd online product launch. We were originally going to do our Panama launch. Then we pushed that to later in September, we’ll talk about that.

But we said it was like, you know what? We should still do like an online product launch, something that lets us announce to people that, hey, our pods, going back to this conversation before that, hey, we’re now a commercial company. Like we’re ready to accept the pauses is we’ve gotten to this point of being commercial ready.

That’s really what this event is meant to communicate. It’s going to be released as far as Eastern time zone goes, probably like extremely early, like before 6:00 AM probably, cause we do wanna make it a possibility for people globally to see it on August 22nd. And so, if we released it in the morning, or super early Eastern, like it’ll be early afternoon for like people like Asia.

And then the rest of the day, the rest of the world will start waking up. See it. Our world will start waking up and eventually see it. So anyway, August 22nd, it’ll be available for everyone around the world to be able to watch it. So, whoever you are in the world from Singapore to French Polynesia, to Mexico, to Canada, you’ll be able to see it that day.

I dunno if I should give too much information, It’s gonna be good 30 minutes. So be prepared cause when this podcast is being released, you all are gonna have an opportunity to still go sign up and go watch it. So, when you head to our website and just put your email in, also just put it on your calendar market as August 22nd.

And so, I just, I want everybody to be prepared though. Hey, you’re gonna be able to see it in your respective time zone at some point, whether it’s morning, midday, or evening…

Carly Jackson: And we’ll put a link to the signup in our show notes.

Connor Firmender: Oh, sweet. Sweet. Yeah. Yeah. So anyway, I guess going back to the context of it it’s again, yes, we are going to be teasing a lot of the making of process of our pods, like behind the scenes, like what it all looked like to make the pods.

It’s gonna be very beautiful. We’re gonna tease a lot of this lifestyle in Panama. Not just Panama, but this tropical offshore lifestyle. We’re gonna tease a little bit about that. It’s gonna be a lot of really cool content. We’re gonna, of course, a lot of our executives are gonna be featured in it and we’re going to do a good job of not just showcasing enough of the pods and sharing a lot of the work that’s been done, but we’re also then going to package it in a way and service it. I don’t wanna give away the number yet, cause I’m not sure when we’re gonna release it in the campaign, but we’re going to be accepting deposits at a very affordable amount.

Refundable deposits at a very affordable amount, because we want you to lower the barrier for as many people to get on the waitlist and to secure their spot in line for these as much as possible. Of course, we’re accepting full. There’s gonna be a lot of clients that we’re moving immediately into the payment plan with and on the payment plan, like I mentioned earlier in this podcast is a very engaging, very transparent one where it’s broken up into multiple payments into escrow and money has only pulled at certain times to then build upon something.

And it’s very, we invite you down to experience the build process. It’s gonna be a very VIP like experience for people ready to move right into a payment plan. But those that just wanna get on the waitlist. Even whether you wanna be someone who I’m buying one to turn into my own rental property so I can run my own Airbnb out of this thing.

That’s gonna be a lot of people wanna do that. And so again, lowering the barrier with low refundable deposits and that’s what’s gonna be accepted at that August 22nd. We’re gonna give all the info you need throughout that product launch. It’s gonna have all of the packed with needed info, super clear, super concise, but super packed of it.

And a lot of beautiful video. And what I’m super excited about is we’re finally transitioning away from mostly renders, photorealistic animated renders, that are god damn gorgeous and sexy. Shout out to Sayyid, our 3D render artist. And Grant, whose usually is the mastermind behind him. But at the end of the day, it’s like finally, like we are now at a point where we have so much stuff happening and moving into late stage production and showcase and demo ready that, it’s like, people like Jared are leading a content creation and creative direction on real life footage now. Like it’s the real-life pod. It’s the real-life drone. It’s all happening, but it’s all coming to fruition. So that’s also what this online launch is gonna do is be a lot of that of just, hey, here we are in Panama and here, everything is that you’ve been waiting for the past three years. We’re ready to move.

Carly Jackson: Yeah, people are definitely impatient and want to know. They wanna know what it really looks like in real life. They wanna know how much it costs. So, this is, it’s a huge moment for seasteading as well as Ocean Builders.

Connor Firmender: Yeah. Pricing. I’m glad you brought that up because I should also clarify, not just deposits, but pricing on what things are gonna cost in each optional upgrade and all the smart technology, pricing will be released.

So that’s been a long time coming. I know a lot of people. Shout out to Beth who’s super patient, our customer support. Who’s always responding usually with, sorry, like this is the current price, but it’s, it’s just a ballpark. And we always have to say we’re subject to change up to 20%, but we’re, it’s just about locked down.

And I know Grant and I, and a lot of our team were very excited to finally announce the world with the true pricing is and release it publicly. And once again, just like deposits both amount rental per night on the pod. At least, just let me clarify. Disclaimer. This is when we announced the rental night per pod. That’s gonna be for the first couple pods that we’re operating rentals.

When people buy from, let’s just say, Wyndham buys 20 of these things and they put ’em out in their new resort out in Poquette, Thailand. There’s only so much we can say about how much they charge per night for them. So, but the rental operations that we’ll be doing initially in Panama for the first handful of months, for the first phase of where we’re servicing our market will be announcing that number.

And it’s gonna be a very affordable amount. And then for the per unit, And then the optional upgrades. They’re affordable luxuries. So, I will say that I can say that in much that they are meant to be affordable luxuries. When I usually tell people the ballpark numbers, even though they know they’re subject to change, they’re jaws drop and I’m like, Mike, don’t tell me like that.

What do you think that’s expensive? And then they’re like, no, like you need to charge more. They’re like, why are you servicing so low? And we’re like, it’s just not low in the grand scheme of things because we still wanna do attract a global audience and we need to be acceptable. Yeah, accessible to a global audience and recognize that look at the end of the day, not everyone has X, Y, and Z money.

And maybe a lot of people have, are in this range of expendable travel expenses, whatever bucket you wanna call that, that they can put towards these kind of rental things. But then even those who wanna purchase them as timeshares as vacation homes, or again, enterprise level clients who wanna buy ’em in volume, affordable luxury was a lot of the motive.

Carly Jackson: It came up when you’re talking about how the prices are subject to change, like moving into manufacturing phase. Do you expect to see, there might be some changes made as you learn through the manufacturing. If we do something slightly different, it’s more efficient or maybe even just like being on the pods and experiencing. I would imagine that there are probably gonna be some changes as you gain experience and information.

So, I think that’s a really hard concept for people to understand. I think that’s for most of us who have not been part of a startup or have not been part of a manufacturing startup. A startup that’s actually building physical items in the world or who have not been part of like a maritime environment.

Like that’s a whole other set of challenges, like building things that are gonna float on the ocean. That’s a very different environment. So, you need to take in information and experience and build and see what works. And sometimes that changes things. You know, I know some of the feedback I get. People get frustrated with having to wait or not being able to know. I wonder if you have anything to say about just, this is the nature of creating a new thing in the world.

Connor Firmender: Yeah. Oh my god. I could talk about this forever. Yeah. You know what, when we say we’re moving from R&D to commercial, it’s like that doesn’t mean R&D doesn’t stop it. Iteration is forever. If you’re not iterating. I think iteration is a very comparable word to innovation. You can look at iteration in a way of saying, okay, at one point you should stop iterating on something because the product or service is so routinely functional. It’s a well-oiled machine. It doesn’t need continuous iteration. Maybe innovation is then the word that steps in beyond that.

But look, there’s a lot of iteration to get to that point and yeah, just because we’re moving from R&D to commercial doesn’t mean R&D will stop and iteration will continue. We’re just at a point where we’ve iterated enough, where we’re like, all right, if you wait till launch, when you think you’re perfect, you waited or launched way too late.

If there’s anything I learned from Y Combinator, that’s one of the things that I’ve learned is you don’t wait till launch till you think you’re perfect. That’s not how things work in startups. And most often, if not nearly always, I’m not gonna say always, but nearly always a lot of times, certainly the majority, the initial product or serviced that a company launches, a startup launches, is not what scales them. Is not what becomes the mainstream product or service that the general consumer comes to know on a mainstream adoptive level. And keep in mind. And we’re talking like these are days where hardly anyone in the world, not hardly anyone knows about them. Companies will launch like when only their local community knows about them.

And so that’s when I say, like, their very first product service that they launched when they’re in that very early phase. It’s no, that’s not what eventually gets them to when, like, a U.S. market or a Latin American market or a north American market now is a consumer of theirs. It’s no, I can almost guarantee you, there is a, there’s a difference, a massive difference in the product and service from when it was mom’s garage or apartment office to your North American market.

Massive difference in your products and service since anyway. Yeah, I think it’s as a business owner, it’s inevitable, but I think then from the consumer’s perspective, it’s just also recognizing that, look, it’s for you. It’s for the consumer. It’s like, we’re not stopping because we just continuously get such good feedback.

And the more feedback we get, the more accurate it becomes on what we iterate on. And so just continuous iteration for us, just results in a better product end user experience, service and user experience for the general. That little bit of patience. And that little bit of understanding up front, I think is gonna go a long way.

And in the case of our pods, I guess I have two other answers to that is, it’s a hundred percent. The pods are gonna be iterated on after we release them. As people actually start renting them and living in them, the amount of feedback we’re gonna get when we have people that are continuously renting them.

And we’re gonna have the advanced version of the guest log where guests will write notes and stuff. When you say like an Airbnb. No, we’re gonna have a fine-tuned, precise feedback system where we can constantly get, because we’re gonna. The day, the night is gonna come where we’re getting the message on WhatsApp or email.

Like tablet’s not working because it’s all smart technology and technology sometimes will break. And we have a lot of fail safes in place. But at the end of the day, it’s technology will be technology. And so, we need to be prepared to support our customers and fix for whatever does break. And, and again, it’s-

Carly Jackson: If the lack of Wi-Fi is the worst problem you have staying on the seat pod, then that’s pretty good. Cause you can get that on a hotel of land.

Connor Firmender: Yeah. If I could just build on the first part too, like getting feedback from the personnel that rent and buy. It goes back to what I said in the beginning of this conversation. We’ve built these to be very modular. We want to hear, we wanna get enough feedback so we can start making a role that we’re gonna soon be hiring for. A Pod Personalizer, where you can sit with one on one and, almost like an account manager, but to our tailored approach.

Whereas you sit down, and you discuss: What smart technology do you want? Do you want the gesture control? Where in the room? Where in the house do you want it? What lighting or what coral garden do you want it to look like the walls or your interior finishing? Do you want this wood finishing or this boutique, whatever it is, it’s gonna be such a high-end experience.

And gosh, I hope for that say customers are okay with us or iterating, because again, it’s just all in the means of making it more personalized each and every person that is in these. So, it’s, you don’t feel like you’re in like a cookie cutter experience that it’s a unique experience, through and through.

And then my other answer to this is more of a longer-term answer and it’s not long answer, just longer term in the company sense of, look, our pods, I truly believe they’re gonna be extraordinarily successful. I truly believe they’re going to be, gosh, I don’t even, I’m not even try to put a cap to the potential, to these things.

But I will say this: We’re gonna build other offshore infrastructure. We’re going to build a lot of other ocean technology. I would not be surprised if it’s not the SeaPod or the EcoPod that takes us Ocean Builders to the global market scenario. Like I was describing before from the garage to the North American department, it might not be a pod.

It might be this amazing offshore recreational infrastructure or viable infrastructure for the offshore airport that people in San Diego have wanted to build for a long time now. Who knows? I have some idea and I think we all have some idea, but it’s at the end of the day, what goes mainstream and what goes, what reaches such a level of adaption at scale is definitely gonna be an iteration on, of, on what is released on August 22nd.

Carly Jackson: All right. So, do you wanna say anything more generally about being a leader as an entrepreneur? And what’s important for people who wanna enter into this business, this brand-new industry, what’s important to know now, and what’s important to know you can’t know yet.

Connor Firmender: Wow. Good questions. Amazing questions. All right. If we have time, I’ll come back to the leadership one, because that is something that is very close to heart with me. And I can definitely dig into some things with that, but I, I guess I wanna go off the end of your question. And it it’s the first thing that came into my mind when you just asked that, was, my experience with getting involved in the maritime industry, whether it’s on a startup level or just me as someone who is experiencing, who is a part of this industry.

And it’s that, I think I mentioned this earlier, like I went into Florida Gulf Coast University, into college, for marine biology. My whole life, I was gonna be a marine biologist. It was my goal. I always wanted to be a marine biologist and tests and academia proved otherwise. That I did not belong. But it’s seven years later, whatever that yes, seven, eight years later. I think something like that here I am now. And sure. You can go off on the path of saying, I can turn, talk all day long about grit, how grit was a massive component in getting here now. Seven years later when academia said I didn’t belong, but what I wanna dig into about this response is, there is we keep saying it there’s so much opportunity, so much innovation, so much challenge in the ocean environment, in ocean technology, in, in marine science.

There’s room for you. Whatever it is you wanna build. Whatever you’re interested in getting involved in. Wherever in the world you wanna do it. And I think in whatever role you wanna try to play. There’s room for you. I am no true engineer. I am no true scientist. I don’t have that background. But here I am leading teams of engineers, of marine, architects, of marine scientists. Very grateful. I’m when I’m sitting around the table and in the rooms and on the calls with them, I’m like, I probably don’t belong here. But it’s like, oh, everyone does, everyone plays their massive role. And maybe for leaders, for me, it’s helping us navigate to this vision that we all share in helping execute on it and bringing all the brains together into one functioning product or service.

But at the end of the day, it just justifies, I think that, you don’t have to be a scientist, or ocean engineer, to help build and help contribute to this next blue frontier. This next phase for you, for humanity, like you’re talking about, and as an entrepreneur, as someone who is just, I’m not gonna say just, but as someone who focuses or is the business side or on the engineering side or on the creative design side. But you’re still very much an entrepreneur. You’re a creator. You’re a builder.

There’s so much that needs to be built. Like what we’re saying, call it, starting a business, call it, creating a project, call it whatever you want to call it. Things need to be created. Built, started formed, forged, pioneered. All of the above and it’s gonna take a village. It’s gonna take the whole world to succeed on the potential that’s there with the ocean environment.

So, yes, I think that’s the main thing that came to my mind that I wanted to say. And the leadership I’ll just briefly follow it on with. Cause I love leadership and I do believe leadership can be learned. I believe that there are natural characteristics that may supplement one to be a bit of a natural born leader. Nonetheless, though, I think nurturing, without a doubt, plays a massive and critical role in the longevity of that and where that leadership is applied to. Cause you can, I think have strong leadership skills, but those be channeled into the completely wrong direction and for the wrong purposes. But-

Carly Jackson: So, I wanna be clear cause in thinking about leadership, because I, you’ve made some comments about that before our conversation today. Now there’s leadership in terms of being an entrepreneur, you’re starting something new, it’s your vision. And you have to get people to, to work with you and give them something in return for their trust in you. And so, I hear what you’re saying about nurturing and having a role in that. I also was wondering as far as entrepreneurs being leaders worldwide, like being a leader, showing them. Yeah, go ahead. What do you, yeah, what do you think about that?

Connor Firmender: Oh yeah. Well, I, that, yeah, I gotta reference, I wanna, oh, let me make sure I say it right. It’s called Startup Communities and it’s Brad Feld. And Brad Feld is one of the very first, I think he might have been the founder or just was one of the first pioneers of Techstard. Techstars, like Y Combinator?

Carly Jackson: Oh, I do you know Y Combinator. Yes.

Connor Firmender: Yes. They came before Y Combinator, actually. So, they have pioneered, one of the pioneers in what an accelerator structure is. And Brad Feld, wrote a book called startup communities. And what this book explains is the role that entrepreneurs play in the world on a grand scheme, I think to what your context to your question was, and he uses a word. That we are leaders, and then you have the feeders, and the feeders are academic institutions, governments, communities, regional communities, and really, essentially what this is describing is entrepreneurs have a very unique position and role and responsibility, let me say, to help push humanity forward.

Entrepreneurship of course, is made up of a lot of diversity. Maybe whatever meets the VC statistics. And I understand that things like the white male gets maybe funded VC more, gets more VC funding opportunities. I understand those statistics are very true, but the underlying of what I’m trying to say is entrepreneurship as diverse. It’s present in every country, in every community of, of every gender and whatever demographic you might wanna say, entrepreneurship is present. Creation is present.

And so, that poses such a unique opportunity to help innovate on every area of life. Everything that needs to be done, built, the food that goes into your mouth, the bed you sleep on. At one point all started with someone creating, building, starting that product, that service, even in between it, the transit companies, the freight guys who are running the trucking companies, entrepreneurship is everywhere.

Products and services are everywhere, and they’re created by someone. And again, it’s such a unique opportunity and responsibility to be the backbone of humanity, being pushed forward and never staying stagnant. That’s not just a country and an individual, but it’s just a species. And we procreate. And that’s the unique opportunity we have.

And in order to, I think, execute on that, it’s important that entrepreneurs be leaders. And so, in then steps in this concept of the government and academic institution and communities, neighborhoods being the feeders, whereas out of academic institutions need to be talent fed into these entrepreneurs. Into these companies. Processes, research, and development through academic institutions fed through, into these unique roles of entrepreneurs. Governments, tax incentives. Economic development zones. Fed into the opportunity and the chance of an entrepreneur succeeding and giving them back to that local economy.

And then of course, just the community in the neighborhood doing what it can to keep, I think, it’s people safe and putting itself in a position of opportunity of being exposed to entrepreneurship, to creation to business. So, it gives opportunities for maybe even under resourced communities where there may sometimes be a very clear end to what a career path or what that local community may be able to take you to. But it’s entrepreneurship that helps these people get outta that community and go truly put what they’re capable of to a much larger impact on a global scale.

Carly Jackson: I think that’s our time. I think that is a very nice thought to end our conversation on today. Is there anything that our audience needs to know about how to find Ocean Builders, find you, and sign up for the product launch?

Connor Firmender: Yes. So. OceanBuilders.com. We’ve spent a lot of time building that website and adding nice detail in there. So, it tells a story. So, and when I do send you to the website, I do promise it’s not me just trying to send you off onto a landing page and you figure it out. It truly does, I think, give a beautiful story to what we’re building and gives a lot of the specs to what it is. Answers a lot of questions on there that this podcast may have brought. Like, how does it work? How does it float? What about hurricanes? What about sharks? We answer a lot of that on our website and it tells a nice story visually. So, I do recommend.

Now I also recommend checking out the incubator again, there’s room for everyone and what we’re doing.And a lot of our approach we take is very open source. We recognize that a community needs to be built around this industry. And so, check out our incubator because you’ll see the catalog of different projects that are either in development already or. A lot of ’em are early stage. Haven’t even entered development just in research. And we could use project managers, scientists, architects, engineers, chemists, on and on.

Carly Jackson: And let me add there, for open-source projects, The Seasteading Institute has a scholarship to help cover costs. If you, to travel to Panama, to stay in Panama, or if you’re working remotely, it can, we can help with some income there. So yes, if you’re working on an open-source project with the incubator, there is some funding available to help.

Connor Firmender: Amazing. And I encourage anyone to take advantage of that if it fits, because I know a few of students and young professionals who are involved in some of our projects, I know are sponsored through that. And it’s definitely helped them out of time. So yeah. So, check out the incubator apply to it. You choose a project or multiple projects that you’re interested in that ties to your background or your pursuits. We set up the application very nice. So you can select exactly which ones you wanna apply to.

And then it’ll be me receiving that email and we’ll have a nice conversation, and we’ll go from there. And otherwise, you can reach me at . So, I’m cool with taking emails. And then August 22nd. So basically. You can go to a website and just add your email to the newsletter. You can either just wait for the popup to come up, or much quicker, and in my suggestion, is just to go to the hamburger menu pop up on the side and you’ll see newsletter, and you can just navigate directly to it and just add your email. And so, while it’s the newsletter pop up, and while it’ll say newsletter, that is gonna register you in our subscriber list, that’s gonna then receive the online launch campaign notifications.

And then of course receive access to it on August 22nd. And you know what, by the time this is all even happening in, in August, we may have probably just changed the wording on the website where maybe it doesn’t even say in newsletter, it may just say actually sign it for online product launch. So, if it says that, look for that too. Look for just sign up for online product launch.

It’ll be very clear on our website. You will make sure you receive all the information. And then again, wherever you are in the world from Singapore to the Gold Coast, to us in Panama and Hawaii, you’re gonna be able to see it on the date of August 22nd. And I think I also would just wanna say watch every minute of it, you don’t wanna miss a second of that video, of that launch event.

It’s gonna be something special from the very beginning. Like you don’t wanna miss the start and you wanna stay to the very end until we log off. It’s gonna be incredible. So, we look forward to seeing you there and definitely reach out to me if you have any questions.

Carly Jackson: All right. Thank you so much, Connor.

Connor Firmender: Awesome. It’s my pleasure. I appreciate you having me on. 

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