Oculus co-founder Luckey says, 'It wasn't my choice to leave' Facebook

Key Points
  • Luckey said his exit from Facebook was not his choice.
  • The Oculus co-founder added that he thinks most people in Silicon Valley are supportive of the U.S. military, except for "a small, radical, vocal minority."
Palmer Luckey
Ramin Talaie | Corbis | Getty Images

Palmer Luckey's exit from Facebook was not of his own choosing, the Oculus co-founder said on Wednesday.

"I can't talk about it too much, but I'll say that it wasn't my choice to leave," Luckey told CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles.

Facebook acquired Oculus, which makes virtual-reality headsets, for $2 billion in 2014, when the start-up was just two years old. Luckey left Facebook in 2016 amid controversy surrounding his political contributions and financial support of far-right groups and internet trolls.

"Selling Oculus to Facebook was the best thing that ever happened to the VR industry even if it wasn't super great for me," he said.

Luckey's comments come at a sensitive time for Facebook. In addition to the controversies surrounding abuse of Facebook's platform before and after the 2016 presidential election, the company has been rocked by other high-profile departures, most notably Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as well as WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum earlier this year.

Brian Acton, the other co-founder of WhatsApp, told Forbes last month that he left $850 million on the table by exiting Facebook last year, a decision he said he made after clashing with Mark Zuckerberg over plans to monetize the messaging service.

"I think there's a lot of people at Facebook who have been leaving that were very happy to work at Facebook in 2012 that don't want to work at Facebook in 2018," Luckey said. "There's a big difference between those two things."

On the product side, Oculus has been slow to develop for Facebook. The company recently announced the Oculus Quest, its most promising portable VR headset, but there's still plenty of skepticism about whether it will ever be a mainstream technology.

Facebook announces new Oculus Quest VR headset
Facebook announces new Oculus Quest VR headset

Still, Luckey said Oculus remains the leader in the virtual reality sector.

"It's going to stay that way for a long time," he said.

Asked about the Future of Facebook, Luckey said "I don't know that all of these problems are going to be fixed, but they absolutely are fixable."

Luckey also spoke about the current political environment in Silicon Valley, where employees at companies including Google, Salesforce and Microsoft have lobbied their employers to end government contracts. Luckey said that most of the tech industry actually wants the government to use its products.

"The people you have speaking out are a small radical vocal minority that control the public discourse and make everyone think that all of Silicon Valley are as crazy as they are," said Luckey. "Most of these guys agree with what their companies are doing, they agree with the military having better tech and they're gonna spend most of their time sitting and working, not getting angry and going to the public about it."

Luckey now runs a new company called Anduril Industries, which has created a system called Lattice to help clients monitor sensitive locations, such as a military base, an oil pipeline or the U.S. border.

"When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, I wanted to do something that I felt wasn't going to be done if I didn't do it," he said. "I felt like there were not nearly enough high-tech companies working on defense problems in a way that was more similar to the Silicon Valley model of innovation rather than a traditional defense contract."