Founders of Lanikai Labs Join Verkada’s Engineering Team

Since Verkada’s founding, the company has grown up significantly (VC has noticed)! The Engineering team has grown from a dozen engineers to over sixty in the last twelve months, and we now have close to 100,000 Verkada cameras in the wild: That’s a lot of video and streams to manage.

Verkada continues to grow and is looking for exceptional engineers that care deeply about the problems that we work on every day: live video streaming, image quality, distributed systems, ML and Computer Vision. That is why we were so excited to meet Chris Hiszpanski and Jordan Carlson, founders of Lanikai Labs. After hearing their vision for streaming, we realized that by partnering with Verkada, they’d be able to make a much bigger impact; today, we’re thrilled to announce that Chris and Jordan have decided to join Verkada Engineering.

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Chris’s and Jordan’s streaming expertise will help ensure that Verkada’s platform will continue to evolve and assist us in achieving our goal of being the world’s best streaming security platform.

In 2018 Chris and Jordan saw exceptional potential in WebRTC and decided to found Lanikai Labs. WebRTC out performs other live-video streaming technologies in almost every way. When compared to MJPEG, broadway.js, HLS, and MSE, WebRTC is as good or better in security, bandwidth, latency, compatibility, codecs, and decoding. Chris and Jordan had the persistence and grit to pour over and implement the dozens of protocols to get WebRTC running on IoT devices. Their vision is to enable secure, peer-to-peer, high quality video for connected devices, a vision that aligns squarely with Verkada’s.

Shortly after Chris joined Verkada, we had an opportunity to sit down (over zoom) to discuss his background, Lanikai, and why they decided to join Verkada.

When did the Lanikai team meet each other and how?

Jordan and I met in 2002, during our freshman year at Caltech. Caltech is unique in that all students live in one of eight houses, which are a mix between a dormitory and fraternity/sorority — you really get to know the people in your house and become life-long friends with many. I was working on building a Linux-based multicolor disco lighting system for my room. Jordan, having built his own Linux distribution from scratch, walked into my room spinning a basketball and offered to help. We’ve been good friends ever since. Over the years, Jordan, driven to understand the world at a fundamental level, has taught me a lot about physics and cosmology, while I’ve shared my excitement about various technologies, such as SIP/VoIP phones, a precursor to WebRTC.

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Jordan, Chris, and Tyson Mao at a graduation event at the Caltech president’s house.

Nicole Gear, the third member of Lanikai, and I met in 2015 at Kuna, a smart camera startup. She had an eye for detecting product issues early and a drive to help solve them. Combined with her previous experience at two other video-focused startups, when she decided to pursue her MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Business, I asked if she would like to be the business side of Lanikai Labs. While she pursues her next adventure, she was instrumental in helping to get us to where we are today.

Have you worked together previously? If so when/where?

While I worked at the Department of Defense and Jordan pursued a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, and later while I worked at a camera startup and Jordan worked at Google as part of the Firebase team, we would share stories and compare our experiences, between government and academia, a large company and a small startup. Throughout this time, we discovered that while we’ve taken different paths, we both enjoyed building quality software that solves complex technical problems in simple ways. So when the timing finally worked out, we jumped on the chance to work together.

When did you start Lanikai Labs? What inspired you to start it?

While working on the AI aspects of vision systems at Tesla and smart cameras at Kuna, I discovered that streaming low-latency video to any web browser, from an embedded device such as an IoT camera, securely over long distances and lossy networks, was actually far more challenging than expected. Web browsers and mobile apps are able to leverage rich native video frameworks and APIs, such as WebRTC, but these frameworks are complex and not available on most other devices. Nevertheless, devices must be compatible with the frameworks that browsers support. Noticing industry trends converging around ARM/Linux and all browsers supporting common device video codecs as of 2018, we saw an opportunity to develop a solution that makes it easy to add the same rich video experiences consumers are familiar with (e.g. FaceTime, Zoom) to any IoT product.

What excites you about streaming/WebRTC?

Doing video streaming well is difficult, with real-world importance as we have all discovered amidst this pandemic, but where we feel confident that optimal solutions are achievable. It’s the tetris-like quest for those optimal solutions that we like. WebRTC in particular is interesting as it is the first real technology that enables web browsers to communicate directly in a peer-to-peer manner, whereas since the dawn of the web, browsers have used a client-server model. This opens up a whole new set of possibilities for architecting more efficient and robust streaming systems which account for the majority of web traffic today.

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Chris and Jordan enjoying the San Diego sunset after a rigorous day of coding.

How did you hear about Verkada?

I think when you work in an area of technology, you tend to pay closer attention to it than most. So in a bit of Silicon Valley serendipity, also being in San Mateo and in the video space, Verkada popped onto our radars fairly early, when we noticed an unusual number of cameras pointing out the window onto 4th Avenue, not far from our own workspace. Watching the company and product line grow since, we’ve been thoroughly impressed with how well the Verkada team has executed on its vision — every once in a while you run across a company that really has these three things together, and Verkada is it.

What most excites you about joining Verkada?

Everyone we’ve interacted with at Verkada thus far has had a very strong technical background, appreciated the intricacies of real-time video streaming, and valued the domain expertise we bring to the team — we’re extremely impressed with Verkada’s vision and roadmap. Given the uncertain times in which we live, Verkada’s enterprise cloud video security model is uniquely positioned to not only enable order-of-magnitude improvements in threat mitigation but also to perhaps enable social distancing and lower carbon footprints through remote operations. We’re thrilled to be a part of the Verkada team and eager to be helping build a platform for a safer world.

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