David Holz became an overnight household name in tech as Midjourney rode a tsunami of interest in generative AI to become the world’s most popular image generation app.
Midjourney is not his first startup. He first came to prominence as the founder and CEO of Leap Motion, which created a new paradigm of user interfaces based on video capture and hand gestures. Here’s an old Youtube video of him talking about Leap Motion. He sold Leap Motion to Ultrahaptics in 2019.
David Holz grew up in south Florida, Fort Lauderdale. His dad was a dentist who had a dental office on a sailboat, and would sail around to Caribbean to get to his patients.
He cites his early interest in computers stemming from the fact his dad had one for work. In addition, his neighborhood was mostly old people, so he spent a lot of time alone.
He started coding in Scheme, but wasn’t truly motivated until he realized he could hack the game Star Wars Jedi Knight Dark Forces II to “shoot rockets out of his hands”.
Holtz attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating with a dual degree in math and physics.
He wanted to continue to study both in grad school however was forced to pick one, so he chose applied math, which he thought of as a middle ground.
He found himself stuck between Physics and Math, as Math favors truth over reality. Whereas, Physics is quite the opposite.
While working on his PhD in applied math, he also worked at the nearby NASA Langley and the Max Planck Institute. He became overwhelmed by the amount of projects he had taken on and decided to focus on one thing he really cared about.
He decided that thing would be his first startup, Leap Motion.
The idea for Leap Motion came to Holz when he was in middle school. He attempted 3D modeling, and was surprised at how difficult it was to do on computers. He thought the problem was in the human-computer interface.
At the end of high school, he started designing algorithms to track hands, as a method of 3D modeling.
Holz came up with the idea during a typing class, where he was told he could do whatever he wanted if he could write 60 words per second with a sheet of paper over his hands. He succeeded. And thus, began learning how to 3D model.
Leap motion was developed before touchscreen computing became popularized by Apple, and later with Windows tablets.
Holz thought of Leap Motion as the right product at the wrong time. He realized he should have released it after the smartphone (touchscreen computing) revolution.
In essence, he thinks that Leap Motion should have been the successor of touchscreen, or an addition to it.
Leap Motion didn’t work very well with Windows applications, which also played a role its in failure as a business.
With all the tech giants out there, Holz believes we’re quite limited as to the potential of hand-motion computing and VR. Rather than 10 companies competing to build the best VR headset, we have 1-2 companies building generic models.
After Leap Motion, Holz started wondering about what the future would look like, and what people would need in this uncertain future.
He came up for 3 pillars for what he thought would be the most important: reflection, imagination, and coordination.
“You have to reflect about who you are, what you want. You have to imagine what could be. And you have to coordinate to get there. And so I was actually working on projects for all three with a team.”
He began to create Midjourney in early 2022. It helped that he was living in San Francisco – the world’s biggest AI hub.
Holz attended regular parties with AI enthusiasts, where they’d discuss the latest paper on the diffusion model and how different it feels.
The intent behind Midjourney wasn’t to create a typical chat bot experience, but rather a shared space where people get creative with its prompt.
At first, Holz didn’t know exactly who his target audience was, or the main use of his model.
Holz’s vision is to give 1 billion people access to Midjourney, but at the same time, he doesn’t focus on marketing.
He didn’t do any press releases, but instead announced every new version and major update in the Midjourney Discord server.
At the same time, Midjourney is intended for a specific audience. Although, they’re not Discord’s typical demographic.
Unlike Discord’s general demographic, Midjourney users tend to be non-gamers, truckers, children, writers, among others.
The idea of Midjourney is to create an environment where people can inspire each other to create beautiful prompts.
Midway through your journey
One of Holz’s team members suggested branding the model with a robot symbol. Holz—ever the humanist, said “No, way”, and went with a simple boat design instead.
The implication: you’re midway through a journey. The bot is a vehicle between users and the world they want to see. It’s not surprising then, that Holz decided the way people would begins prompt was by typing
Midjourney V1 was in the works for 9 months before it’s official release.
It was developed by a remote team, using Discord as a means of communication & as a testing ground.
They still use Discord as a parameter for training the model, and for development.
The team used Discord to drove the development of the algorithm in a remote setting. Then, they said to themselves, “Oh, this is pretty fun. Maybe we should let somebody else use this”.
After doing a user test of their AI with Discord, they discovered everybody was engaging with Midjourney in a positive way. While seeing people sharing ideas with each other, Holz said to himself, “Okay, we have to go all on in this. let me build a Discord bot team collectively”.
Holz and his remote team saw a variety of people using his AI – sharing ideas for prompts with each other as a community. They were inspiring one another, and offering help and tips to others when requested.
Before the user test with Discord, people asked him if he was crazy for doing everything on Discord. His usual response was “People like it, and nothing else matters”.
Midjourney’s language functionality was developed using Open AI’s Clip. Katherine Crowson was one of the pioneers of the model – according to David Holz.
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- Article Title: David Holz Biography
- Author: Yubin Ma, Joe Alexander
- Website Name: aituts.com
- Url: https://aituts.com/david-holz
- Access Date:
- Publisher: AiTuts
- Last Updated: March 21, 2023
- Original Published Date: March 1, 2023
David Holz Quotes
- I don’t think I really motivated to use computers until I learned that if I programmed the right sort of series of incantations, I could hack Jedi Knight Dark Forces to give me special force powers where I could shoot rockets out of my hands. So it actually came from reprogramming video games, which weirdly was the first time I became motivated to actually use the skills that I had.
- [on growing up]: I was probably more of a scientist than I was an engineer or programmer. I was much more interested in science and doing experiments and exploring.
- I want to focus on one thing that I care about.