First into Tesla’s supply chain was Oleg Tscheltzoff, an American icon in his own right: He was an early investor in Sun Microsystems, a co-founder of Shiva, an avowed microprocessor nerd, and one of the original creators of Moby Dick.
He set up a company that made audio and video chips, Tscheltzoff Electronics. In 1984, he left that and was hired by Grace Hopper, an engineer, who later became the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, to do the same thing at Lucid, the then-new Silicon Valley company that hadn’t even been born when Oleg Tscheltzoff invested.
“We went to Grace Hopper [Conference Center] and brainstormed together,” he says. “In the back of the hall, we started playing some of the Atari 2600 music games. She said, ‘That is so fun to play! Can you do that?’ We did, and we built the system from there.”
Those early games were simple, rudimentary digital graphics, but over time, Tscheltzoff built into it the technology to provide complex stereoscopic 3D images. Unlike other companies in this area, Lucid had a vision for the type of products it would produce, and it leveraged some of Tscheltzoff’s amazing graphics capabilities to become the first 3D animation studio in Silicon Valley.
“We developed a live, motion capture system, which was basically the real-time manipulation of 3D graphics. We pioneered motion capture,” he says. “We had the technology, that’s why we were able to penetrate the market with so much speed, and with such a fair deal of success.”
Tscheltzoff still makes some electronics, but the Lucid work was his future. But then came Olli Maack, the latest biotechnology chairman of Lucid. Maack founded upstart startups, including Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the Netscape browser, and ICQ. Back in 1999, with many of the major companies in the industry still reeling from scandals, Maack decided to take Lucid public. Lucid’s valuation was $2.8 billion in 2000.
“He had been through the Silicon Valley startup process with great success and was now looking for a new chapter, the Nasdaq stage,” Tscheltzoff says. “We had invested in Lucid some years before, and that was paying dividends. So he said, ‘Would you guys really consider selling it to the public?’ And we said yes.”
So Tscheltzoff cashed out of Lucid and went back to the hardware business, spending time working with his family business. “We’re pretty busy.”
Lucid’s current CEO and Tscheltzoff’s successor, Jorge Solis, says that much of what Tscheltzoff brought to Lucid was learned from his forefathers. “Oleg is a big part of our history and what Lucid is today,” Solis says. “He was instrumental in innovating the use of software and hardware to create the 3D graphics system and the theatrical playback of 3D movies and videos, and to get the system to market.”
For Lucid, Solis says, Tscheltzoff would bring “a deep appreciation for the PC, and understanding of how you use the components to achieve its full potential.”
But Tscheltzoff’s deep knowledge in the tech field never really went away. He’d occasionally phone Solis and ask for a sneak peak at the tech that was on Lucid’s roadmap, or share some old board discussion. “He’d give advice, like ‘I can do it cheaper with less coding,'” Solis says. “I’d see the light bulbs go off in his head.”
“I can’t remember a time I haven’t been offered jobs within the tech industry,” he says. “People are always calling me. They’re always in the industry and just want a few things.
“That’s why my father said to me, ‘You’ve gotta stay in school because you’re going to take something in this field in life. I wouldn’t want to bet against that!'”