AR Is Not Dead: How A Few Scrappy Entrepreneurs Aren't Just Surviving, But Thriving

AR Is Not Dead: How A Few Scrappy Entrepreneurs Aren't Just Surviving, But Thriving

A few years ago, I visited Dubai in the summer. As the thermometer crept above 43 degrees, I took shelter in the air-conditioned wonderland that’s the Dubai Mall. One of the world’s largest and most excessive shopping centers, the Dubai Mall also acts as a proving ground for new consumer experiences and technology.

In the mall’s center court, a new attraction was set up: an augmented reality (AR) experience putting you in control of an A380, the world’s largest airplane. Immersive in sight, sound, touch and even smell, I felt like I was a mile high.

AR was exploding; Pokémon Go was causing traffic jams in the middle of Los Angeles. A revolution was upon us, and this was “it.”

Years later, we’re still talking about a revolution. Yet, as initial capital investment dries up in the United States and consumer novelty wears off, many promising AR startups have closed, causing a general cooling in a once-extraordinary space. As a technology executive, you may have been considering this technology, but now find yourself worried about making the investment.

As a tech leader who previously conducted diligence on the AR and VR space as a venture partner for BCG Digital Ventures, I’ve noticed that some of the most resourceful entrepreneurs in the world don’t believe AR is dead at all. In fact, they’re creating a thriving ecosystem that offers real value to consumers and businesses.

Why The Doom And Gloom For AR?

AR’s inability to achieve ubiquitous distribution — fast — across mobile applications and desktop networking is the primary contributor to its stalled growth. Nascent applications that easily fit into existing distribution models on mobile or desktop have a much easier time. Additionally, the hardware required for AR is not only expensive, but it’s also bulky and heavy, creating an extremely challenging user experience that very few AR startups were able to overcome.

Rather than focus on what you hope you can create with the technology, focus more on solving immediate consumer needs. AR will only become a great platform if it achieves scale, which, in turn, is created by network effects in audience and fan growth. That itself is powered by solving real-world problems.

Focus On The Use Case

Let’s look at Atheer Air, an AR startup focused on applications for medicine, insurance, automotive, mining, aviation, industrial plants and oil and gas exploration. These aren’t “sexy” industries, but they represent a significant number of potential customers. In turn, Atheer is laser-focused on use cases, continually benchmarking its approach to real-world adoption data.

For example, Atheer prices its enterprise AR solutions low enough to create value for its target market. Examples include pre-visualizing an oil and gas field in Alaska, which can save millions for the end user. In the insurance industry, adjusters can use Atheer’s AR device to do remote expert calls with senior adjusters or claim specialists, keeping claims moving through the pipeline.

Similarly, Dreamscape VR, founded by Walter Parkes (former vice president of DreamWorks) and Bruce Vaughn (former head of Walt Disney Imagineering), leverages AR and VR as part of a storytelling experience including light, sound, smell, and motion. The immediate use case — immersive and in-depth storytelling, similar to a film or TV show — is what matters. More so, Dreamscape is solving the distribution equation by bringing it where consumers are: in vacant mall spaces around the country.

Then, there’s Skyrocket. Initially a games studio for AR, the company merged with VRSE to develop immersive gaming content for brand and publishing partners. By working with partners like the New York Times, it’s established strong channel partnerships to lower the risks surrounding distribution.

Know When to Hold ‘Em And When To Fold ‘Em

While these examples demonstrate how entrepreneurs solved the challenges inherent in the AR space, the question remains: How do other tech startups decide when to listen to the apocalyptic messages about a technology and when to stay the course? What steps can they follow to build a sustainable business?

Companies should pivot if, after multiple attempts at changing positioning, pricing and even overall product orientation, things don’t catch on. Many virtual reality (VR) and AR companies are predicated on the idea that just because their solution is the best, most advanced, or most novel, it will win. However, the history of technology adoption and failure (Google Glass, anyone?) demonstrates that often isn’t the case. Entrepreneurs need to constantly adjust their product to changing market conditions and serve customers where they are today.

An extremely easy and oft-overlooked strategy is to simply interview and listen to prospective customers. By asking questions, you’ll understand not necessarily what people want, but what they may be willing to adopt.

Tech startups, especially in the AR space, should seek product-market fit first through small product iterations. Rather than build a scalable product without user testing or interviews, build the MVP (also known as the minimum viable product). Essentially, this represents the smallest product you can create to test your value proposition before scaling it. This approach enables fundamental product iterations and changes before allocating a significant investment.

As Y Combinator advises, it’s often better to have a core group of users early on who love your product than several users who are indifferent and using it casually. Continue building and iterating as you solve a core issue or provide a key value for your subset.

Finally, know the unit economics of how your business works at scale. This information can help you continually adjust and refine your value proposition. In doing so, you create a pathway for a business that will continue to be relevant and in demand. In this way, it doesn’t matter if a specific feature or technology is set for the chopping block — you’ve continued to evolve beyond that one component.

AR may seem passé, but many working in the field can verify that it’s not. By learning from the real-world experiences current entrepreneurs have endured, the rest of us can make the most of the technology — and impact the world around us.

Read the full article on
AR Is Not Dead: How A Few Scrappy Entrepreneurs Aren’t Just Surviving, But Thriving

Source: By Alex Gold

Why 'Now' May Well Be the Right Time to Start a Blockchain Company

Why 'Now' May Well Be the Right Time to Start a Blockchain Company

With the crypto market growing again, here are the three main factors to watch out for if you're starting, or investing, in a company in the space.

A little over two years ago, I was at my company’s holiday dinner, and the only topic of conversation was the stratospheric rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and those others that were lesser known but certainly more amusingly named (like Putincoin).

With Bitcoin at that time topping $20,000 and Crypto Kitties also hitting the world by storm, something momentous was afoot; and we all wanted in. Yet, my company’s CTO called a halt to our excitement, cautioning that a deep decline was coming. The reason he gave: The potential of the blockchain — the platform through which cryptocurrencies are built — to create real-world applications with strong customer use cases had yet to be realized.

“Raising $10 million from retail investors on a two-page paper is not enough,” our CTO said.

Boy, was he ever right. What came next was that massive slump, in which Bitcoin lost over 80 percent of its value, and the swiftness with which the SEC put an end to initial coin offering scams.

Yet, a few weeks ago, as I was attending a demo day for Binance Labs — a kind of accelerator program but for blockchain startups — I saw that some of our initial energy had returned.

In particular, I was struck at the focus and discipline of these entrepreneurs from Binance Labs, the venture arm of Binance. Rather than releasing a white paper and trying to raise money on ideas and theory alone, these people had already fully built their product, conceived of applicable real-world use cases and secured strong early customer traction.

More important: They were focusing, as has startup fund-raising has traditionally done, on getting skilled investors on board, the kind of investors who contribute so much more than just capital.

This got me thinking: Is now the time to invest in or start a blockchain-focused company?  What are the factors that entrepreneurs and investors should be looking for in this space?

To quote the words of Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly, now (yes, right now) is the best time to start something (never mind that he wrote those words in 2014). This mindset, in my opintion, is extraordinarily applicable to the blockchain which, as it matures, presents more and more opportunities to create new solutions. To take advantage of this trend, entrepreneurs and investors should seek opportunities that present an immediate real-world application as well as customer traction.

And these investors should be ones whose value-add is more than just capital; the colleagues they bring in, meanwhile, should be the type interested in the long-term impact of the technology.

Real-world traction matters.

At Binance’s demo day, nearly all presenting companies had some early customer buy-in and traction.  Whether it was a brand signing up for a test run on a new decentralized loyalty platform or a marketplace touting the growth of its supply-side volume, customer-use cases won the day. Many entrepreneurs commented that with blockchain solutions slowly gaining acceptance among everyday consumers, it was only appropriate to demonstrate real-world adoption

A case in point: Cerebellum Network, a decentralized version of Salesforce’s famed CRM.  Rather than publish a white paper, the founders built a product and tested it, to positive feedback, with early customers like Benefit Cosmetics. Because of this, Cerebellum’s founders were able to secure significant early investment from the likes of Arrington XRP Capital and others.

Are you starting or investing in a blockchain company? If so, the first question to ask yourself is: What real-world problem are you solving for consumers? For instance, an entrepreneur friend of mine is planning to start a next-generation nomadic home-sharing platform that will allow members to hop from house to house at exciting locations around the world.

While the entirety of the database, billing and identity components of the product will be built on the blockchain, that’s not what the founder is excited about. Rather, he’s psyched about bringing to market a product  that people have expressed a desire for. In this instance, blockchain technology is just acting as the enabler.

Seek investors who add more than just capital.

During the height of “Crypto Mania,” it was not uncommon to see new ICOs floated to retail investors, and see coin prices shoot skywards in a matter of hours, if not minutes. These cryptocurrencies were an incredibly efficient way to acquire capital to scale a business.

Yet, this process misses the most important point: Advice and help from investors is often more important than money in early-stage companies. Yes, this includes blockchain companies, as well.

Early-stage investors offer so much more than just capital.  They offer connections to talent, first-mover customers and additional investors.  Some, like co-founder Will Bunker, use help as a form of due diligence.  Even if he does not invest in a prospective company, Bunker goes out of his way to offer help and guidance because he knows that that’s what matters to early-stage companies.

So, if you’re launching a business, seek investors who offer resources help and guidance, even if this route it costs you a bit more than other fund-raising channels do. While you may be paying a little more now, you will be able to maximize your valuation down the road.

Seek out long-term colleagues who “get it.”

Sitting down on my friend’s couch one night, talking crypto with others, I was struck by how short-term many of those attendeess’ thinking seemed. Rather than building a sustainable, real-world application, my friends were more interested in releasing a hot new coin and pumping value out of it, rather than in the long-term transformative nature of their product.

Of course I understand that any new field will generate a lot of buzz, excitement and FOMO, or fear of missing out. Like moths to a flame, people often flock to what’s “hot” rather than what’s sustainable.

Yet this instinct of theirs misses the foundational point of cryptocurrencies and blockchain: their long-term revolution and transformation. The potential of cryptocurrencies to fundamentally alter our global economy, trade pathways, financial system and supply networks cannot be understated.  According to investor Lou Kerner, blockchain is “the biggest thing to happen in the history of humanity.” Okay, maybe that’s over the top, but Kerner follows up that phrase by cautioning that this revolution will be a long time in the making.

Naturally, founders should seek out colleagues, partners and even investors that understand the long-term nature of the space and are willing to invest the time, capital and, yes, the patience needed in order to make something happen.

Right now is the best time to start something.

With crypto prices recovering, albeit slightly, and the market opening up to new entrants and applications, now may be the best time to start a blockchain-powered company.  While the technology offers unlimited opportunities, when starting a new business, founders should not ignore the key points. Namely: Build a product that people want; seek out investors who are true advisors and partners; and hire colleagues who are in it for long-term gain.

Read the full article on
Why ‘Now’ May Well Be the Right Time to Start a Blockchain Company

With the crypto market growing again, here are the three main factors to watch out for if you’re starting, or investing, in a company in the space.
Source: By Alex Gold