The Rise and Fall of Magic Leap:

Talent Flow Impact on the Miami Tech Ecosystem

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

Remember Magic Leap? The self-proclaimed eclectic group of visionaries, rocket scientists, wizards, and gurus from the fields of film, robotics, visualization, software, computing, and user experience? Founded in 2011 by Rony Abovitz in Plantation, Florida, the company teased futurists and investors with alluring wearable augmented reality technology for the masses. At the time, people harkened to popular science fiction pieces like The Matrix or Ready Player One when describing the company’s technology and mission. It even boasted an impressive lineup of iconic board members—at one point including the author of Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson.

After raising an impressive $2.3 billion of venture funding by July of 2018 with no tangible results to date, Magic Leap finally unveiled their flagship product—the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. By this time, the development community was already on edge due to the lack of detail released by the secretive company. The augmented or “mixed” reality headset was met with excitement, followed quickly by disappointment. Unfortunately, the device did not live up to the magic. Not only was it expensive for the consumer market ($2,295), but it also suffered from the same fundamental flaws as competition from Microsoft (HoloLens), Facebook (Oculus), or Google (Google Glass). By 2019, reports were coming in that sales numbers were abysmal, dashing hopes for updated models in the flagship line any time soon. Fast forward to April of 2020. Shortly after the start of the global pandemic, Magic Leap announced plans for a broad restructuring that involved trimming its ambitious consumer business. These layoffs affected nearly half of its employees and marked a shift in focus for the company complete with a new Microsoft veteran, Peggy Johnson, as CEO by August of the same year.

With this staggering outflow of talent from one of Miami’s most successful startups and several prominent figures in the tech community promoting Miami, it would make sense that a sizable part of the now ex-Leapers should have plenty of demand for their skills. However, our analysis shows otherwise.

While 61% of the ex-Leapers stayed in the area, 24% opted to change locations to other Tech hubs like San Francisco, New York, or Seattle. Only 5% of the ex-Leapers migrated to nearby towns, which is a surprisingly low figure given the prevalence of work-from-home during the pandemic. The remaining 12% scattered around North America or went abroad.

These are surprising results given the continual buzz about Miami’s attractiveness during the pandemic. While 61% retention does not seem very low on the surface, imagine if four out of ten neighbors put their houses up for sale at the same time. Relocation under normal circumstances is costly and stressful, let alone during a pandemic. Relatively speaking, this raises questions about the overall draw of talent into the area.

Looking at the data, there are very clear lines drawn. Despite the trend of workers moving out of city limits to enjoy the cost-of-living advantages while working remotely, this population of ex-Leapers either stayed put or made a concerted effort to leave the state for other hubs. Taking a pure tech view of these ex-Leapers, 65% were either hardware or software engineers.

Only 59% of this population decided to stay in Miami, with a slightly higher 28% of this sub-group opting for other tech hubs. Other ex-Leapers in finance, marketing, or other business roles reveal a divergence. Of this sub-group, 68% remained in Miami and 75% in Florida at large. However, only 14% of the sub-group opted to relocate further afield to other tech hubs.

These figures further cement the narrative that the tech ecosystem in Miami is underdeveloped. Typically large, successful, startups like Magic Leap’s with a 10-year residence lead to the development of related ecosystems, but this was not the case. Magic Leap’s highly secretive nature may be to blame for this. Regardless, without these ecosystems, it appears ex-Leapers would rather leave the Fort Lauderdale area to apply their talents elsewhere. The near-term repercussions resulting from the loss of so many niche skills may further damage Miami’s ability to cultivate a strong tech ecosystem.

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