ANN ARBOR, Mich. — University of Michigan alum Marvin Ammori returned to campus on Friday afternoon to discuss net neutrality, Hyperloop One and his experience as a student. His talk was part of the university’s College of Engineering Entrepreneurship Speaker Series.
“I feel like I needed to take risks,” he told students inside the U-M Stamps Auditorium. “I wanted to go out and live my life and be judged by my actions.”
Ammori is a Chaldean American who was born in Southfield, Mich. His parents were Iraqi immigrants who came to America for a better life. Marvin graduated from Brother Rice High School and then went on to study at the University of Michigan.
“I went to the University of Michigan…The greatest place in the world,” Ammori said. “It was like the scene in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I learned a lot of really interesting skills. I was a literature major. Most of my assignments were writing persuasive papers. I graduated in three years. You guys are my people.”
Then, he took a year off and went to Paris. He returned to the states to study at Harvard Law School under communications scholar Yochai Benkler.
“I found my passion for the internet and new technology,” Ammori said. “Life before the internet was awful in many ways. Six or seven companies owned the media companies. There were just a few newspapers. You had to write a letter to the editor. I wanted to have an impact on the world. Making sure the internet is decentralized and free for the little guy. I had lots of different jobs.”
He discussed three of his biggest cases as a First Amendment lawyer:
- Comcast was blocking peer to peer websites and applications. Ammori argued that the controversial copyright bills SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act would violate the First Amendment. He convinced the President Bush-era Federal Communications Commission to rule in their favor. (2007)
- A copyright law case that would have hurt websites with user generated content such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter.
- The Net Neutrality fight where 150 companies signed on. He collaborated with President Obama and The John Oliver Show. On June 15, 2016, the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Title II network neutrality rules. “It was great for the country in my view. This victory was essential.” (2016)
In 2016, Ammori was named General Counsel for Hyperloop One. At the time, several executives had stepped down from the company. Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd pleaded for Ammori’s help and said “I’ll need you by my side as we save the company.”
“I had to figure out how to develop and recruit a team,” the general counsel explained. “Often unconventional ideas get you results. It’s about how to allocate your time. That’s more important than doing things fast. I value capability over experience and teamwork.”
Hyperloop One is a transportation company headquartered in Los Angeles. They are working to commercialize the movement of passengers and/or cargo at airline speeds at the fraction of the cost. Electromagnetically levitated pods will glide silently for miles at speeds up to 670 mph with no turbulence. Elon Musk came up with the original idea back in August 2013.
“The goal of the company is to start super fast transportation,” Ammori said. “I was hired after we raised $115 million. One core strategy is from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but we just needed to build a Hyperloop somewhere. All of these governments applied. Where would our first Hyperloop be?”
Hyperloop One has raised over $245 million to date. The company held a demonstration of its technology in May 2017 at its 500-meter Development Loop in North Las Vegas. Right now, Hyperloop One is developing passenger and cargo system routes in the United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates
“I didn’t micromanage anyone. You learn by making mistakes. Being conscious about culture is really important. In one room you had engineers and PhDs. In the other room you had feedback testers. Failure is the greatest teacher. For hardware, you’ve got to build the thing and make sure it works.”
On October 12, 2017, Hyperloop One and Virgin Group announced a strategic partnership. The new company is called Virgin Hyperloop One. On that day, Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson became the chairman of the new company’s board of directors.
“Richard Branson has been great for the company,” Ammori said. “The threshold is to convince the government to support them and to back them. I have a lot of faith in them.”
To wrap up, he offered advice to U-M students in the audience: “Don’t take a job you’re qualified for. Have fun. Pick the people you want to work with. A lot of great companies move from one idea to another. If you love what you’re doing you never work a day in your life.”
Follow Marvin Ammori online at https://ammori.org/, or view his Twitter profile at https://twitter.com/ammori.