Chad Rigetti, the founder of Quantum Computing company Rigetti has officially left the business. The business, named after Chad Rigetti, lost the person who gave the company its name. Does it matter? We look at some of the events around the departure of its founder, whether it matters and what the future might look like for Rigetti.
Who is Chad Rigetti?
Chad Rigetti is an American physicist and computer scientist and is the founder and CEO of Rigetti Computing, a startup company that produces quantum computing systems and software. Before founding Rigetti Computing, he was a research scientist at IBM, where he worked on developing quantum computing systems and algorithms. He is known for his work in quantum computing and has published several papers in leading scientific journals.
Rigetti Computing Inc.
Rigetti Computing is a public American quantum computing company founded in 2013 by Chad Rigetti. The company was based in Berkeley, California, and has developed a full-stack quantum computing platform, including everything a company needs to create a complete end-to-end quantum computer. This includes superconducting qubits, control electronics, and a cloud-based software stack that allows developers to remotely access the quantum device and run their circuits. Rigetti has been working on developing a general-purpose or “GP” quantum computer and has received funding from notable venture capital firms as well as government funding. The company has also developed Forest, which allows developers to write and run quantum algorithms on their platform. It also includes the language pyQuil which allows users to access quantum commands from python. There are many quantum languages out there competing for attention, and Quantum Zeitgeist has surveyed the popularity of these quantum languages. Like all quantum computing companies, Rigetti put a great deal of emphasis on Rigetti quantum cloud services, which meant that users could access their devices from any point on the globe.
Rigetti focused on building a robust quantum computing hardware infrastructure and later added software services, such as a cloud-based quantum computing platform and a quantum development kit. In 2016 Rigetti developed “Aspen-1”. This qubit has a coherence time of over 100 microseconds, which is considered a significant improvement over the industry standard.
In 2018, the company announced the launch of the first fully-connected quantum computer, Aspen-8. the device sported 8 qubits and can perform quantum error correction, a crucial step towards building a general-purpose quantum computer.
In 2020, Rigetti also announced a $119 million funding round, led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and also featuring participation from existing investors such as Andreessen Horowitz to accelerate its efforts in developing a general-purpose quantum computer.
Recent developments to the Aspen line-up see an 80-qubit device. The Rigetti Aspen-M-3 Quantum Processor is built to allow developers to optimize and minimize circuit depth. Using similar technology with superconducting qubits, IBM has pushed the envelope to 433 qubits and aims to deliver over 1000 in 2023. Clearly, there is direct competition from Big Blue and the challenge for Rigetti. More generally, Chad has extolled the virtues of superconducting qubits (used by Rigetti and IBM).
Rigetti was one the bell weathers of the technology trend for a SPAC merger, which presented an easier way for technology companies to become listed on public stock markets. Rigetti agreed to a SPAC merger with Supernova Partners Acquisition Co II (SNII). Rigetti, at the time, was one of the most established pure-play quantum start-ups. After the merger, Supernova‘s name changed to “Rigetti Computing, Inc.”. Rigetti Computing Inc.’s shares trade on the Nasdaq Capital Market under the ticker symbol “RGTI”. The company went public in March 2022.
The same year that Rigetti “floated” on the public markets, Rigetti Computing Founder and CEO left on Dec. 15 2022. The news was announced back in October of the same year. There was no reason for the departure but some chatter on reddit points to the differences between Xanadu and Rigetti and the failure to deliver. Much is rumour and speculation and should only be taken at face value, for I suspect many will never know the exact reasons surrounding his departure.
Head to Head with IBM
Both companies have their differences, and typically, specialists will use devices for different purposes, but it does rather feel as if a David and Goliath battle is going on. IBM will be able to absorb cost for the cost of quantum developments as it continues to make money elsewhere. To a certain degree Quantum can be a loss leader for IBM and can act as a Halo for the brand. However, a pure-play quantum company such as IonQ, Rigetti, or Xandu has no such backup source of funds and, therefore must make quantum computing a commercially viable business.
Rigetti: The Technology
Superconducting quantum circuits are a type of quantum computing technology that uses superconducting materials to create qubits, the basic building blocks of a quantum computer. These materials have zero electrical resistance and can carry electrical current with 100% efficiency, making them well-suited for quantum computing.
Superconducting qubits are made by creating a loop of superconducting material, such as aluminium or niobium, and introducing a weak link in the loop, such as a thin oxide barrier, that an external magnetic field can control. This weak link can create a qubit, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously, unlike classical bits, which can only exist in two states.
Superconducting quantum circuits are used in various quantum computing platforms such as D-Wave, IBM, Google, and Rigetti Computing. They are known for their relatively high coherence time, which allows them to maintain their quantum state for a relatively long time, and for their scalability, which allows them to operate with many qubits.
Where now for Rigetti?
Other businesses lost their namesake founder, but we suspect few as quickly as Rigetti. Below are a few. Whether or not the impact of Chad leaving will affect the business remains to be seen, but it cannot be such a great thing to lose a technical founder who has intimate knowledge of the products and developments he created. The name doesn’t matter much after all companies like McDonald’s remained the same name despite losing their founders which gave it their name. We don’t foresee Rigetti changing its name anytime soon, and it will continue to deliver its products and services and will now most likely double down on finding a niche. It has to, it is competing so brazenly with the likes of IBM on qubit technology but also on services, and IBM has a habit of excelling at services.
Rigetti has its own software stack and even language (pyQuil), but we think Forest will struggle against the critical mass of the Qiskit ecosystem, which is supported by IBM. We have enjoyed using pyQuil, but we think that winners in the platform game go to those who can achieve a certain level of critical mass. Strangeworks is hardware agnostic and focused on applications with a great user interface that truly makes programming quantum circuits fun. Perhaps some of the early work that Rigetti achieved in understanding the market might be focused on early wins and gaining customers who want the personal and dedicated service that Rigetti could offer. The company could turn itself into the champion of the “Quantum User” and offer choice and diversity against big blue (IBM). In fact, perhaps it could partner with a more applications-focused business that can also deliver end-to-end solutions and run on its quantum circuits.
Whilst Rigetti has customers like NASA, it needs to be attracting businesses like VW or Ford to deliver practical use cases just as D-wave has. It cannot rely solely on large government-backed firms and must do more to enter the marketplace. A quick look at the website touts the performance of its devices – all well and good, but we think for most potential customers are looking to explore quantum and are focused on solving business challenges and not “train spotting” the latest parameters. Rigetti can always take a two-pronged approach (hardware and software division) that creates the best it can produce and a separate service division dedicated to customers. The market needs competition.
Choice is good, and for the moment, superconducting qubits are getting the qubit count “headlines” and look to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So the technology base is likely strong, and like IBM, Rigetti should be able better to improve the characteristics of their chips and qubit counts. If regulators approve, we could see IBM buying Rigetti as an “acquihire”. Rigetti stock is trading at approximately less than 10% of its value before the SPAC merger.