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Lytro CEO channels Elon Musk, promises ‘breakthrough’ products akin to a Tesla S

As a startup builds up its business, it will most likely go through a few rounds of growing pains. Lytro, the company behind the breakthrough light-field camera, is exhibiting some of those teething issues. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the company has laid off “a ‘small’ number of employees in areas like operations and shipping” earlier this year. No employees in product and engineering were affected. Despite the news, Lytro is promising new “breakthrough” products in 2014.

The Chronicle learned of the layoffs when it spoke with new CEO Jason Rosenthal, who took over the seven-year-old company from founder and Executive Chairman Ren Ng, who stepped down as CEO this past June to work on product development. The company hasn’t grown its staff considerably (it has 85 employees) and there haven’t been any major product announcements since the Lytro camera started shipping last year, aside from a few firmware updates. Despite securing a $50 million investment from venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz, industry sources say the camera isn’t selling well, either, according to the Chronicle.

But Rosenthal says the company is working on new “breakthrough” products that will debut in 2014. Rosenthal, who has worked at Netscape, AOL, Ning, and investment firm Silver Lake, is bringing his business expertise to spearhead the company. “Rosenthal batted away any suggestions of broader financial issues at Lytro and stressed that the company’s upcoming products have better odds of whetting consumer appetites,” according to the Chronicle. Rosenthal said the long-term vision is to become “the new software and hardware stack for everything with a lens and sensor. That’s still cameras, video cameras, medical and industrial imaging, smartphones, the entire imaging ecosystem.”

“We’re working on what we think will be our Model S,” Rosenthal told the Chronicle, in reference to the all-electric vehicle. Rosenthal compared the first-gen Lytro camera to the Tesla Roadster, which had limited production in order to have its kinks worked out before building a full-production model.  “We have a packed product roadmap for next year, we’ll introduce multiple what I think are just breakthrough products. I’m super excited and the world will be as well.”

But exactly what those products are remains a secret, although it will be imaging related and beyond consumer-oriented products, at various price points. A partner at Andreessen Horowitz hinted that the product would include pro-level features. “Rosenthal said they’ll be able to deliver their advances relatively cheaply, because they’re making strides in software that were once only possible with expensive hardware,” the Chronicle wrote. 

As we recently said, despite the accolades the Lytro has garnered – including our “camera of the year” – we also thought the camera has become somewhat of a one-trick pony, leading us to wonder what Lytro could deliver next. Technologies similar to Lytro’s are purportedly making their way into smartphones soon, which is a potential problem as Lytro’s camera is too expensive for the general consumer, making cheaper smartphones more attractive. If Lytro is to become a success – whether in the consumer or enterprise space – it’d need to deliver some gangbuster products soon, but 2014 could prove too late.

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