This post is part of a series profiling companies’ journeys from concept to reality, and is presented by FedEx. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity.
As the only brother of five sisters growing up in Honduras, Mario Facusse — founder of revolutionary server cooling company Xyber Technologies — couldn’t imagine one day becoming an entrepreneur. On one hand, his family assumed that he would follow in his father’s footsteps in the construction and real estate business. On the other, he wasn’t even sure he’d live that long.
Sick from a very young age, Facusse was eventually diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a condition in which antibodies attack blood platelets. As a result, he spent the bulk of his childhood in hospital beds, while his friends played outside. Little did he know that this would help him discover one of his greatest strengths.
“I discovered computers and technology because it was something I could do in the hospital,” says Facusse. “Math and numbers always made a lot of sense to me from then on.”
His health improved enough for him to go away to high school and then to college in the U.S. His love for math and science manifested in a deep passion for theoretical physics. But he still found himself majoring in civil and materials engineering as preparation for taking over the family business. Believe it or not, Facusse pursued physics as a hobby on the side.
When one of his friends at the Florida Institute of Technology needed his help with the physics of a unique launching platform for NASA MAGLEV, he jumped at the chance. He became obsessed with the details of the endeavor — especially the temperature requirements for launching satellites. This was his first introduction to using heat pipes to balance temperatures.
Heat pipes are essentially heat transfer devices that leverage thermal conductivity to move heat from solid surface to solid surface. But Facusse didn’t think of other applications for these technology until he went home for the summer and inspiration struck — as it so often does at 3 a.m. in the morning.
Having always assembled his own computers, Facusse had massive gaming system set up in his room, complete with dozens of blinking lights and loud whirling cooling fans. Both were keeping him awake late into the night — and he decided to do something about it.
“The first thing I did was bust out the electrical tape and cover all the lights, but then when I went back to bed, all I could hear was the fans — they were driving me crazy,” he says. “Basically, I took the computer apart. There had to be a better solution than these fans. For the next two weeks all I did was try to find one.”
When he started out, he could only think of two alternatives: liquid cooling and liquid nitrogen cooling. But as you can imagine, liquid nitrogen is hard to come by in Honduras. And the trouble with liquid cooling is you still need a reservoir with fans. So you’re not solving the problem — you’re simply moving it.
“That’s when all the random points in my head clicked together,” Facusse says. “I started buying as much aluminum and copper piping as I could get my hands on. My family looked at me like I was crazy, but a couple weeks later I had something that looked like a prototype.”
This prototype engaged heat pipes to move heat away from the gaming system in a closed loop.
He remembers the moment it all came together very well. Out at a restaurant with friends, the idea hit him so hard that he literally grabbed a cheese covered napkin and started to map out the structure of what Facusse says he believed to be “the passive cooling system to rule them all.” Within 10 minutes, the ideas for the name Xyber Technologies and the logo came to him too. Moments like this are too rare to ignore.
So Facusse started doing his homework, and discovered there was indeed a niche in the market for cooling gaming systems efficiently and silently.
“I felt like if I didn’t do it, someone else would, so I jumped in,” he says. “I knew I needed to explore this opportunity fast, and that I needed all my time to do it.”
To his surprise, his family supported his new mission — rallying behind him while his health remained stable. And before he knew it, he had dropped out of school to make Xyber a reality. Priority one was to produce workable prototypes and he started shopping around for engineering firms that could help.
“All of the companies I found didn’t want to waste their time with a kid and a napkin,” Facusse recalls. “It was disheartening at first, but then my father told me, ‘If you’re looking for precision engineering, you have to go to Germany.’ So that’s what I did and found a small shop that engineered aluminum components for Porsche and Volkswagen.”
With initial prototypes in the bag, Facusse’s next step was to get Xyber noticed. He chose the trade show route, linked up with a New York public relations firm, and landed a booth at one of the biggest consumer electronics shows in the country. Working with what he had, he recruited every cousin he could convince to staff his booth; his sisters were the models. Everything seemed to be going great — until it wasn’t.
“When we got to the show, two things happened that almost broke me down,” he says. “We had the tiniest booth in the farthest corner, hidden behind these massive booths for Dell and Sony. And then we turned around and all the prototypes we had shipped — the boxes looked like they had been through a hurricane. All of it was broken apart — even the plasma screen TVs for the booth.”
He and his family worked through the night to put the prototypes back together and set everything up. It was a long slog that left him with no sleep and two hours to take a shower and get back to the convention center. Facusse has never been more thankful for adrenaline.
“We got a great round of interviews at that show — a ton of exposure,” he says. “But then, nothing happened. The only good lead we got was the Consumer Electronics Association invited us to another show in Orlando.”
But even after that show and more good demos, the phone still didn’t ring.
“At that point, I was really thinking okay, it’s time for me to pack this up and go home,” he says. “But then, out of the blue, I get a call from an analyst at Goldman Sachs. They just wanted to talk — but it was still something.”
This kicked off several months of back and forth, meeting and dinners. But Facusse was still close to throwing in the towel. It was only when Goldman offered to introduce him to a few venture capitalists that he started feeling more hopeful. That’s when he met Scott Kosch of Kosch Capital — a seed funder who Facusse says “really understood me and what I was trying to do.”
“At the beginning, I felt like he was humoring me, but I was going to take this as far as I could,” says Facusse of Kosch. “I showed him the prototypes and a week later he came back to me and said ‘I think you have a great idea, but you’re trying to solve the wrong problem. His first question was whether I could bring the same cooling system to a server, and I was like ‘Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?’”
In a fast eight weeks, Facusse has completely reimagined Xyber’s technology for use in data centers. He then spent the rest of 2009 working with an engineering lab in Florida to test and redesign until he had honed the product into something marketable.
That’s when his health took a turn for the worse. In 2010, the ITP came back more aggressive than ever, and the treatment that had been effective for years stopped working. As a desperate measure, his doctors tried chemotherapy but nothing made a difference.
“Through it all, my biggest regret was that I wanted to see Xyber get off the ground,” Facusse says. “I felt like we had moved too slow because of my health, and now I wasn’t going to make it.”
As a last ditch effort, he tried an experimental procedure in Germany to correct the flaw in his DNA that had caused the condition. And, almost miraculously, it worked. He suddenly started to get better and better, as if nothing had happened.
“It was shocking and weird at the same time,” he says. “I had been so sure I was going to die young that all my decisions throughout my life were simpler. I wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences — but suddenly I did. One one hand, I had to start taking better care of myself physically. On the other, I didn’t have to be as brash with my risk taking in my business. I could finally take longer to make decisions and make sure Xyber was on the right track.”
Today, Xyber’s cooling systems are poised to take on the market. With data centers eating up 2 percent of the world’s energy, there’s a huge opportunity looming. Xyber’s system has no moving parts, is completely silent, and reduces energy consumption of the server by up to 30 percent and cooling requirements by up to 40 percent — which in turn saves a whole lot of money, especially with energy costs on the rise. According to Facusse, clients can save up to 30 to 40 percent on their electricity bills, depending on their implementation of the technology.
Xyber’s systems can be flexibly adapted to small and large data centers, and 65 percent of all the aluminum it uses is recycled.
“Every company does anything for one of three reasons: to make money, to save money, or to comply with government regulations. We’re hitting all three of those triggers,” Facusse says. “Little to no maintenance, greater server densities, better power efficiencies, and less environmental impact. This is the future.”
We’ll be profiling one more company in the coming weeks. Want your company to be next? Enter the Concept to Reality contest below: