Some Things I’ve Learned From Running A Virtual Reality Startup

Philipp SteuerMarketing, Virtual Reality0 Comments

It’s been 1 year since I started VIRE together with my two co-founders Max and Nils and it’s been the most exciting time of my life. Why? Because there is so much unknown territory that’s waiting to be discovered and shaped by creative minds. Today I want so share some things that I’ve learned during this extraordinary first year of VIRE.

The current VR Market

If you are trying to make your living out of Virtual or Augmented Reality you need to figure out a business model that actually delivers money. A close look at the existing VR market unveils three main categories of companies that already established their revenue stream:

Hardware Suppliers like HTC or Oculus — the guys who are building and selling those fancy Virtual Reality Headsets.
Software Developers / Publishers like Owlchemy Labs (Job Simulator) or Cherry Pop Games (Sportsbar VR).
Development Studios that create immersive experiences for brands or industry-clients like Visualise and other dev (even gaming) studios that do it as well to secure their cash flow.

Of course there are also companies like Unity (running the Unity Game Engine with a huge 85% market share) but they are not restricted to VR only, that’s why I exclude them from the previous listing.

Then there’s also a smaller fourth group : Companies which are creating software / platforms to solve problems that occur in those new immersive worlds, like tracking, advertising, 3D asset stores etc.

My startup VIRE belongs to the fourth group: We have build and are constantly improving the first native advertising platform for VR & AR. Our mission is to help developers to monetize their content and support advertisers to place their brand in a new immersively digital world.

There’s no RIGHT or WRONG

The first thing I had to learn is that there’s no right and no wrong — everything is try, error, learn and try again. If you want to set up / create some business based on Virtual Reality you have to do pioneering work. You’ll face tough problems and the chances are genuinely very low that anyone else has faced the same issue before, so you’d have to figure out your own solution. And even if you find a solution you don’t know if that one works out for all gears, platforms or game-engines. So mock up it, build it, test it and start again. Iteration is king, so stay lean and create!

Our biggest challenge while creating advertising for Virtual Reality is to design ad formats that are attractive for advertisers, publishers and — most importantly — the consumer. Of course we could place some pop-up ads into VR easily, but they would scare the shit out of you if they jump straight into your face. Even more challenging is not to interrupt the immersion, as it is the crucial component that makes VR so fascinating and exceptional.

We solve those challenges by mocking up our idea on paper, discussing it, building first prototypes and trying them out in VR, sometimes it works, sometimes not. But the whole creative process is simply exciting :D!

You have to be a VR educator

We own almost every VR and AR headset available until now. To be more specific, we have the following gears on the table:

  • 2x Samsung Gear VR (1st & 2nd generation)
  • 1x Oculus Rift (CV1)
  • 1x HTC Vive
  • 1x Sony Playstation VR
  • 1x Microsoft HoloLens (Dev Kit)
  • 1x Plastic Google Cardboard Copy
  • 4x Cardboard VR Headsets
  • +2 gaming computers, 1 Samsung Galaxy S6 & 1 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge for the Samsung Gear VR.

That’s quite a lot of stuff and we always invite friends and families to test each new HMD. These sessions are crucial because non-tech-people are the ones who have to use the new technology to make it become a mainstream medium. Observing them while trying out the gears helps us to realize even more challenges which we wouldn’t detect on our own. We are inside a “VR-bubble” and dealing with HMDs so much and often that we disregard the “conventional user issues”. Not knowing how to use a gamepad while not seeing it is just one example of many.

But only through this assisted trials we can show our friends how awesome this new technology is and explain what we are doing (most of them think we just play around all day). So here’s another thing I’ve learned — if you want to work in the VR environment, you’d need to be a VR educator. It’s our mission to excite the people around us about VR, so they’ll spread the word and lose the fear of using the technology.

Be prepared / other things I like

When I recap the last 12 months there were a couple of situations and experiences that got stuck in my head:

  • the excitement of everyone who tries VR for the first time.
  • the shock when someone starts moving physically through the room and you have to shout STOP -BEFORE- they hit the wall.
  • the anger when a team-member hit the back of my head with a controller because they forgot that they were standing right next to me when they’d punched something in VR.
  • the sweet joy of revenge when I snapped with my fingers against the VR tracking lasers to make them feel dizzy.
  • the excitement when you play a new VR game and the Devs integrated a new feature / function that no one even thought of before.
  • the discussions if 360 degree videos are VR or not (NO THEY AREN’T).
  • the red imprints on your face everytime you put on the VR headset to tight (or your head is too big..).
  • the strange feeling everytime VR tricks your brain (having the fear of falling down although you know that you are safe and standing in the middle of the office).

The VR & AR community is awesome

I never met such ambitious and outstanding people before and I really enjoy visiting VR meetups to see what these guys are inventing lately. Right now it’s easy to find like-minded VR & AR people in the web or in your country or even in your city. Most VR-Evangelists are very open-minded and helping each other or even working together to create the best VR worlds.

Some VR sites / newsletters I can recommend are:

tl:dr

Running a Virtual Reality startup is truly exciting. You have to face a lot of challenges and be brave enough to do the pioneering work of making a mostly undiscovered new medium accessible for everyone. I love it!

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