Jordi Munoz’s empire got its unlikely start while he was waiting for his green card. In 2007, after moving from Tijuana and awaiting the all-clear to legally work, Munoz hacked the sensors on the controller of his Nintendo Wii, wrote some code and gave birth to the first auto piloted drone.
Two years later he and his partner, Chris Anderson, former editor in chief of Wired, launched 3D Robotics, despite never having met face to face. (Their previous business dealings were all done online.) Munoz left the company in 2015 in the first of a series of consolidations. As recently as last March, 3DR went through another round of layoffs, reducing its staff to less than 100.
The company’s still attracting investors, though. To date, 3D Robotics has raised $159 million in venture capital, including a $53 million Series D round earlier this year. Munoz, while he has left, is still a shareholder.
In 2007, when Jordi Munoz was 20, he moved from Tijuana, Mexico, to Riverside, California, with his new and pregnant wife to get a green card and start a new life. While waiting eight months for his green card and with nothing better to do, Munoz sunk himself into his passions: planes and computers.
“It was a nightmare; I was disconnected with my family in Tijuana, I couldn’t work because I didn’t have a green card or go to college, “I started using my computer like a drug. I felt desperate and stupid. But I realized microcomputers had great potential for phones, cars, and planes.” – said Munoz
Munoz hacked the sensors from a Nintendo Wii controller, wrote his own code, and equipped a remote helicopter with microcomputer boards to build the first-ever auto piloted drone. He started to put up posts about his progress on a website for other DIY drone enthusiasts.
In addition to the advice and encouragement he got from fellow hobbyists, one man was so impressed that he sent Mr Munoz $500 to help carry on his work.
The person who provided the money was influential journalist and author Chris Anderson, who at the time was editor in chief of technology magazine Wired, which is based in San Francisco.
The two men started a regular email and telephone correspondence, and Munoz eventually built and sold several dozen prototype drones.
Then in 2009, Munoz and Anderson decided to go into business together, and co-founded their own drone-making company.
So despite not actually having met in person at that point, they started 3D Robotics.
Munoz, as chief technology officer, would be the engineering brains while Anderson, as chief executive, would focus on the business and investment side of things.
The co-founders eventually met, their partnership worked, and the company started to quickly grow rather quickly – as global demand for drones has risen strongly over the past five or so years.
Today, the drone startup that grew out of his apartment is the largest commercial drone manufacturer in North America and the second largest in the world, boasting more than 200 employees, a manufacturing plant in Tijuana, and two other offices in San Diego and Berkeley, California, the sky appears to be the limit for 3D Robotics and Munoz.
“He’s of the native Web generation,” says Anderson, who did end up meeting his co-founder after all. “Jordi doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He has access to Google, the greatest information resource the world has ever seen. He didn’t know teenagers aren’t supposed to build factories; he just did it.” He adds: “Munoz has animal instincts about where technology is going and the courage and time to just do it.”
Munoz stated: “Not bad for an autodidact who got his start in aeronautical engineering in a Mexican high school.”