Andrew Kouri

Co-Founder & CEO of lvl5, Inc. · San Francisco, CA

Building computer vision systems and maps for self-driving cars at lvl5, Inc.

About

I’ve always loved technology. Growing up the local newspaper, The Boston Globe, would include circulars from (now-defunct) CompUSA and CircuitCity hawking the latest gadgets of the generation. Right around my 14th birthday Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) had their own page. In a pre-iPhone world, I wanted nothing more than to strap one of these suckers onto my belt and saunter around the middle-school hallways. I would be so cool, and all my tech club friends would be jealous.

Unfortunately I had no money, but on the day I turned 14 and no longer subjected corporations to child labor lawsuits, I begged my mom to drive me around to find a job. I started serving coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and made minimum wage, but after a few weeks was the proud new owner of a Compaq iPAQ PocketPC.

Although I love cycling now, biking to work every day in the hot summer sun wore on me, so I built a solar-powered electric scooter. That I could stand on a board and let the power of the sun take me from A to B with no emissions was pure magic. It had to be what led to my fascination with alternative energy and later pursuit of engineering in college.

I received a full academic scholarship to the University of Virginia, where I studied robotics and computer science. The passion for alternative energy never ceased; I led the solar car team, and decided that I wanted to apply my degree to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by working at Tesla.

I was rejected by the company eight times before they finally gave up and let me work on a service team that helped build tools for technicians. While on the service team at Tesla, I learned almost everything about how the car worked and how to fix systemic issues.

Soon after joining I found out that the company was building a small team internally to work on making the Model S drive itself. After going through the battery of coding exams to join the elite team, I found myself fixing bugs and learning from the senior engineers. After a couple years, I was in charge of my own features and meeting weekly with the CEO.

I became obsessed (even more than I was with my solar powered electric scooter) with making self-driving cars a reality. I went to industry meetups, hackathons, and talked with engineers high-up at other companies pursuing the same endeavor as me. What I learned is that autonomous vehicles crucially depend on having access to a very detailed map of the environment — an HD map. No existing mapping companies had a viable HD mapping product.

This is why I started lvl5 in 2016 — we are now developing the best computer vision and mapping technology -- technology that can automatically create and update these highly-detailed maps from dashcam video. The company went through Y Combinator, and I now lead the team as CEO, but still get to write code. If you’re similarly fanatic about self-driving cars, please get in touch… we’re hiring.