Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA Live, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Coming to you today in Seattle in front of an audience of Seattle innovators and business people; welcome audience to the show. And we’re very pleased to have as our guest today the Co-founder and CEO of Studio 216 Jamie Fleming; Jamie welcome to the show.
Jamie: Thank you. Thanks Russ, thanks for having me.
Russ: Tell us about Studio 216.
Jamie: Studio 216 is a technology that also provides services around the un-built environment. So we like to think of ourselves as future tellers because we are able to show people the future and dump them into immersive spaces where they can see what these built spaces are going to be like long before they exist.
Russ: So what you’re talking about usually is – I think your sweet spot – are these skyscrapers, often residential skyscrapers, that need help making sales; is that right?
Jamie: That is certainly one use case but it’s not limited to that. It’s really anything that doesn’t yet exist, that has physicality to it that people need to understand spatially. And so multifamily residential or a tower could be an example, but it could also be an airport, it could be a museum. We’ve done sports stadiums, we’ve done basically any building type out there – warehouses – we have built digitally before they actually exist and then have opened it up for people to experience then.
Russ: And so the technologies you use I know includes virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and maybe more too, right?
Jamie: More realities, right. So we’re fortunate to live in a time when there has really been a boom in all of this interesting technology that’s now available to us. It’s not all perfectly new, virtual reality as a concept has been – and even a practice – has been around for many years, but really with this advent of Facebook acquiring Oculus that’s what really got things off to the races and brought enough money into this market that attracted a lot of players and so it’s really rapidly developing, lots of new people entering all the time with this technology. So now we have, as Russ stated, we have augmented reality, we’ve got virtual reality, we’ve got mixed reality, all kind of under this rubric of XR is kind of a generic term for that.
Russ: We’ve had probably 4 or 5 guests on the show that do XR but you guys are in a league of your own in my opinion because all of the others I always question whether these business models are viable and they’re going to work; there’s a lot of training stuff, there’s a lot of gaming stuff, but you seem to have really hit the sweet spot too. Is your business growing or are you faking it?
Jamie: That’s a tough question. We’re super fortunate that this technology perfectly aligns with the problems that we’re trying to solve where we need to immerse people in these spaces. And the technology is perfectly aligned for allowing different ways to engage either with headsets or even with all this mobile – tablets, phones – that now exist, there are lots of ways that we can engage with this content and engage people.
Russ: So how many employees do you have today?
Jamie: We’ve got about 50 employees who are spread between 3 offices. We’re headquarters here in Seattle, Washington, we have an office down in San Francisco and then we have a larger office in Shanghai, China.
Russ: So tell us a little bit about China. What stimulated that and what’s it like?
Jamie: It seems like if the technology here seems like it’s moving quickly things in China seem to be on an accelerated pace. There’s been so much building in China over the last decade, decade and a half, that we were really drawn to that as a place to have a presence. Because literally cities were being born seemingly overnight and so we were able to tap into that growth and also the talent that exists in China, we were able to get some really talented folks on our team that are aligned with that industry.
Russ: So tell us a little bit more about the specific products that you actually make.
Jamie: So our company is split between two main categories; we are a service business. From the beginning we’ve offered a service of working directly with architects or a building developer who need to visualize the space. We also, in service to those projects, we have developed software products that we offer that are really the containers or the ways that we can engage with this content that we’re creating. So for example Boaz I believe has some interesting things to show us after where you can use an iPad and just leveraging the camera in the iPad and passing it across a 2D marker it’s going to pop up and augment that marker and turn it into a 3 dimensional object. So we’re really split between these two things and we are excited that we have this service business that really informs the products that we make. Because we’ve got real clients coming with real problems that we’re solving and it’s our job also to think deeply about those problems and figure out how to make those repeatable and turn that into a product that we can sell over and over again.
Russ: So when you said there’s two categories, is there really just a category that’s shown on a flat screen like an iPad or something that gives you a good idea but it’s different, it’s upgraded, if you actually are wearing a mask like I believe you brought here too today; is that true?
Jamie: Absolutely that’s true. You can interact with the content as a 2D object, you can interact with it via an iPad which is also a 2D object but allows you a third dimension; you can also put on a headset and interact with the same content. So there are lots of different ways to interact with it.
Russ: The headset thing I really related to it, I built a home 25 years ago and I was really into it. I worked with the architect and I understood real well the floor plan and the facades and I had them all figured out, but when it started taking real shape I realized wow, there was a lot of surprises. And ultimately it made me think that what you really want to do is be able to look at every cubic foot from every other cubic foot, which is essentially what you do right?
Jamie: Right and whether you’re an individual thinking about buying a home or you’re a real estate developer thinking about developing a massive project likely that’s the single largest investment you will ever make in your life; you’re buying a home. And many people buy that home or make a remodel – you spend more time trying on tennis shoes in the store than sometimes you do when you’re buying a house. You go, you see a house in a day and you decide whether or not it’s going to be a good fit so there’s a lot of risk there. And where there’s a lot of risk there’s a lot of opportunity. And our opportunity is that ability to mitigate that risk by putting you in these environments before they exist and obviously you make better informed decisions in doing so.
Russ: I always focus on the creations you make that are just coming out of the ground but you also get involved in kind of a remodeling opportunity at times as well?
Jamie: Yes, that is true. Oftentimes the finances that make our – in order to use our services require a substantial project budget, so that’s often ground up development that we do, but certainly large DI projects we get involved in as well.
Russ: Ok, well in the discussion I had with you in the past you talked about there can be an open space in a building and it could serve as an IT company or maybe a restaurant and you have the ability to just change the view for whatever the owner of the building wanted to lease it to.
Jamie: Exactly, so you can look at various use cases and you can figure out what’s your highest, best use case where you’re going to have the best return by laying it out as a restaurant or laying it out as an IT company for example.
Russ: Okay, as a little bit deeper step into your world is that we found one of your customers.
Jamie: Uh oh
Russ: And he had a list of complaints that he wanted me to go through.
Jamie: Right, right.
Russ: I’m talking about Tony Giarratana in Nashville. And we spent time, we actually interviewed him and he told a great story when he went through the demo with you he just said he’d buy everything. And I think we have some examples of the piece of work that you built on the 505.
Jamie: Exactly. So that’s some of this that’s right here. Tony is fantastic, really a visionary and he has been inspiring for us to work with as well because he is very interested and embracive of this new technology. And he is constantly looking for ways to think outside of the box for his development projects, and he’s trying things that have never been tried before, and so he was very drawn to this technology as a way to pre-sell his project. And he is going like gangbusters; his project was realized in Nashville a week or two ago, it’s just topping out now; tons of interest in this. And the VR experiences that we’ve built have been really transformative for him to engage people and give them the confidence of what this project is going to be so they will put down their hard-earned money to reserve a space in this building.
Russ: Looks like there’s real people waving at you when you go by that thing too. Well it’s really impressive, your background though; if I walked into your office would I think I was in an architect’s office?
Jamie: We are probably an interesting split that way between the architecture design world and the tech world. I have two partners that are with me and we all met in graduate school in the architecture department so we all come from that background and that idea of how we engage problems. We think a lot like architects do of kind of methodically thinking through a problem and finding solutions. We’re also really passionate about design and aesthetics and so that has been an important part of our company as well and it’s something that we try to imbue of all of our employees; we really care about design, design matters to us.
Russ: Could somebody actually come to you and say we bought this new piece of property and we have this vision for a 60 story skyscraper, start from scratch and design it instead of looking at their drawings?
Jamie: In the early days we actually did do design work and over the years we decided we’re better visualizing spaces and letting designers design, but inevitably with our work we always need to fill in missing pieces. So we still tap into parts of our design background but we would not take a project from ground up and issue the floor plans and the technical drawings and do the construction administration. We’re more focused on the technology.
Russ: When I see some of the samples too I’m always wondering sometimes do you go into great detail like the pile on the carpet and the doorknobs.
Jamie: Oh yes. Depending on the client but often people from the design world that we interact with, architects, they care about that ¼” Snap Cap on the mullion and that shade of grey is 3.2% too dark or too light. Oftentimes the building developers will have a broader view and they have kind of a different vision of ultimately what they’re trying to achieve, but yes we have to be prepared to work at a very granular level with our work for sure.
Russ: This has always been in the back of my mind, Studio 216 – where did that come from?
Jamie: So many years ago when we were in graduate school at the University of Washington back then the university allowed us to use studio 216, which was one of the rooms, to set up an office for summer work. And so between the course work of the school year Boaz and Charlie and myself set up a little office in room 216 and did design work. And so years later when we started this company together we harkened back to the days of working in room 216 and that became the moniker – Studio 216 – that we’ve used ever since.
Russ: Are you sure you didn’t actually start it there and you don’t want the university to know?
Jamie: Right, they’re still trying to get a cut.
Russ: So last question, we live in this age of disruption – you’re kind of a disruptor although I think nobody was doing what you’re doing. I assume though right now you probably are developing competitors, right?
Jamie: That’s true. This is a vertical that companies like Microsoft developing for HoloLens are very, very interested in because the applicability of this technology for the design world, the construction world, commercial real estate world is huge; there’s a lot of potential there. And so there will be a lot of new players on the block in the coming months and years.
Russ: Is that the kind of thing that causes you to lose sleep at night?
Jamie: Yes and no; there are no – maybe if there are blue oceans left I don’t know of them. There are very few things that haven’t been done before in some way or another and I’d like to think of it more as a validation that we’re in a really great market that a lot of people are drawn to, so I try not to lose too much sleep over that.
Russ: Okay, so now you’re really zooming; you’re really doing well. Has it just been a smooth ride the whole way?
Jamie: I would love to paint that picture that we pre-thought everything and it’s been a perfectly smooth ride. Of course I think with any business and any entrepreneur you are presented with challenges every single day and many throughout the day. And so for us and I think our work leading the company is trying to overcome those challenges. And those challenges can become road blocks if you have a certain mindset, but I really actually credit our training in architecture because the whole idea of architecture is solving problems; you’ve got a problem to solve and how are you going to attack that problem? And it’s very much aligned with what entrepreneurs do; you solve problems all day long and it’s one problem after another. So if you were hoping to get into a situation where you weren’t having to solve problems you’re probably not set up well for being an entrepreneur.
Russ: Great. Jamie, I really appreciate it.
Jamie: Thanks Russ, thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Jamie Fleming and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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