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Spotlight: Paul Coccovillo ’00
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
When Facebook acquires a company like Instagram or WhatsApp, the fit of technology seems natural. Not so in 2014, when the social media colossus bought Oculus VR and its virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift.
“This software-based giant had no idea how to lay the basis for a consumer hardware company,” says Paul Coccovillo ’00, whom Facebook tapped for help. His credentials: helping to launch the Xbox One and Surface tablet at Microsoft, as well as reviving Verifone after its 2013 crash.
As controller for Oculus and Building 8, Facebook’s research innovation lab, Coccovillo built a leadership team that could give Oculus the best practices to operate efficiently at super speed. The 40-person startup grew into a multinational corporation, shipping its product to 60 retailers in the first year.
“We’re democratizing VR.”
“You have engineers and researchers with great ideas and drive,” he says, “but not knowing what’s required to get a product to market, to bridge the cost of production in China, shipment to the U.S., and put this vision into the hands of every man, woman and child in an economical way.”
The Rift, he adds, “broke a lot of preconceptions” about how quickly an innovative product could be put within reach of the average consumer. In 2014, the standard price for a high-end headset and PC was around $2,000. Just four years later, the cost has come down 90 percent. As Coccovillo puts it: “We’re democratizing VR.”
Defying expectations is nothing new for the kid who grew up down the runway from Boston’s Logan Airport. The first in his family and one of very few in the neighborhood to attend college, Coccovillo earned an ac- counting degree and developed a knack for joining companies on the cusp of a transformative acquisition or VC investment, like Nantucket Nectars and Annie’s Homegrown.
In May 2018, a top-secret project lured Coccovillo away from Facebook. But he calls his work on the Rift the most rewarding of his career.
“Disabled vets can put on a headset and experience having a working body again; they can relearn how to use their motor skills. It’s peace and escape from their reality, just for a little while.”
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