Russ: Hi there, I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, coming to you today from Seattle, Washington, and I’m very pleased to have as my guest Jamie Fleming, Co-founder and CEO of Studio 216; Jamie, welcome to the show.
Jamie: Thanks; thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Studio 216.
Jamie: So Studio 216 is a visualization company that’s focused on immersing people primarily in environments that don’t yet exist and we focus on the real estate industry.
Russ: So you almost lost me there when you said that don’t exist; I was going wait a minute, this is different than I thought. But real estate, you’re talking about buildings like this before they build them.
Jamie: Exactly, exactly. So a lot of our work is involved on projects where people need to understand what these environments are going to look like or feel like or what the scale is going to be like, but they don’t have the benefit of being able to walk through an existing space and point at it, so we need to show them the future. So we like to kind of think of ourselves as fortune tellers or story tellers because we’re involved in things that don’t yet exist but will hopefully exist in the future.
Russ: Okay and you use technology I assume to do this.
Jamie: We do. We use a lot of interesting toys and pieces of technology now. The latest that sort of is consuming our firm is virtual reality and what is referred to as mixed reality, which is the blending of physical environment with overlaying it with digital content.
Russ: Wow, I went to your site, it was an incredible experience, but when I first went there I thought is this an architecture firm – and it’s not, is it?
Jamie: It is not. We really try to stay out of design although we’re super passionate about design. My background and my founder’s background is in architecture, we all met in graduate school, so we bring that sort of ethos to the work that we do; we’re looking at things through a designer’s lens. But really we work with designers and others to help visualize their space using this technology, but we don’t actually do the design.
Russ: And you do it before anything comes out of the ground?
Jamie: We do it at every stage along the way, sometimes there may not even be a site located yet but a developer has an idea for a project. More than likely we are working on a project that an architect or a designer is involved and they’re able to provide plans to us but really at any stage along the way. The benefit of what we’re doing is we can help clients pre-sell or pre-lease a space before it’s built or out of the ground.
Russ: So the client gives you a set of maybe sketches or computer-aided design 3D type images, do they tell you – if they gave you that do they tell you what they’re going to plan to put on the walls, what they’re going to look like and that sort of thing as well?
Jamie: That’s an interesting question. We get people that kind of fall into two general camps. You’ll have the camp of people who – let me twist your question just slightly. Let’s say there is an existing building that a tenant has vacated and you need to lease up this floor plate but it’s been demolished and there’s just floor cables hanging from the ground, it looks ratty and nasty in there and the broker needs a tool to help a potential tenant come and understand what this space could be like because right now it doesn’t look very attractive or appealing.
Jamie: In that case they don’t know yet if they’re going to have a tech tenant or a professional service tenant, so they may say show us, visualize for us; help us immerse a potential client in a variety of environments that might appeal to whoever I might be talking to. So if it’s a technology person I’m going to show this space to I can load up the technology suite. And in that case we’ll use furnishings and fixtures that are appealing to this client versus if you have a banker coming in, swap it and you can show them something else of what the space would look like. In that case they are not providing say the curtains and all that, they just need something representative.
The other end of the spectrum is going to be a developer or a broker that has a specific thing that they’re trying to sell and visualize and so they care about the pile of the rug and they care about the size and the texture of the wallpaper, that sort of thing. So in that case we’ll work with them to really coordinate it so it can be as forensically accurate as possible.
Russ: Wow, and so then you can actually take a walk through the facility and look at kind of every angle from every other angle.
Jamie: Yep, absolutely. So now with virtual reality it really frees the user to – empowers them to make the decisions and tell their own story as they’re moving through the space. As opposed to something like a virtual walk through or animation where we’re going to script very carefully the cameras and reveal to you in exact sequence of how we want you to see a space, virtual reality really empowers the user to make their own choices and spend time in areas that are significant to them or that they want to have more information about.
Russ: Okay, so does Studio 216 also do animation services?
Jamie: We do. So we both provide the content and then we also develop the shells or the ways that we interface with this content be it a mobile device, say a phone or a tablet or virtual reality headset; so we work both sides of the equation.
Russ: I’m interested Jamie, how old is the company?
Jamie: We founded the company in 2006 so we’re on our 10th year in business.
Russ: Wow, so back in 2006 there was no virtual reality that you could do this with right?
Jamie: Well so that is very interesting. I mentioned that our background is architecture and after working in an architecture firm for a number of years we understood this need to visualize space that doesn’t exist. Back then it was primarily we would immerse people in these environments primarily with 2D images in what’s called a rendering. Back in 2007 and 2008 we – you could actually build – virtual reality has been around for a long time, it’s probably been around for 20+ years – we built a series of spaces out for architects in virtual reality where it enabled – very similar to what we’re doing today – enabled a user to move around the space and freely make decisions on where they wanted to go.
What was fascinating is that because it was a desktop experience it didn’t really go very far. People looked at it and said yeah this is kind of interesting, but what do you do with it? I have to mouse around and use these arrow keys. Well back when Oculus did their Kickstarter campaign, which I believe was in 2012, for 2.5 million Palmer Luckey figured out leveraging the hardware in a mobile device that you could use that to create a virtual experience; when the moment that Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion the race started.
And suddenly all these new tools became available to us where we could take that same virtual experience that we had built 7 years ago and put it into a new device, a new way to consume it, then suddenly lights went on in everybody’s head and they said now this is fantastic. I really am immersed in this space; really feel like I’m there. But it’s fascinating that it kind of flopped many years ago when it was just a desktop experience.
Russ: So would it be accurate to say that your business then took off and your success was far above what it was before there was virtual reality?
Jamie: You know I wish that it could have all been authored at my hand but yeah, we really kind of were in the right place at the right time. So our business has really transitioned. I think in the beginning we worked primarily with architects as a way for them to visualize their space. More recently we do more work directly with the end user of a broker or a developer who is visualizing the space. So our client – kind of the substance of what we do is very similar over the past 10 years, but our client is kind of shifted.
Russ: So interesting. I can relate to it significantly. I built a home 20 years ago and I was really involved with the architect. I would always look at floor plans and have those down and facades and have those down, but then it dawned on me the further we got into the project that what you really wanted to do is to see every cubic inch from every other cubic inch and there was just no way to do that until it was over.
Jamie: Exactly, exactly.
Russ: And that’s what you guys do.
Jamie: Yeah, the brilliance there too is we used to always joke could my mother understand what I’m showing you? Like put a floor plan there and people look at that and they see these 2D lines and it’s hard for them to figure out the floor plan versus the section and the elevation and the reflected ceiling plan. Virtual reality and mixed reality take all that off the table; you just dump people into this environment and they feel like they’re at home. And so they can walk around and explore whatever they want to do and they understand it; they get it.
Russ: So cool. So before I let you go I have to know, what’s the deal with the company name?
Jamie: So Studio 216 is born out of a actual physical studio space where my two co-founding partners and I, we were at the University of Washington and in the summer in graduate school they let us use a studio space to work projects. And so they gave us the space – I don’t think the universities will let you do that anymore, but they gave us essentially a free studio to work in and it was studio 216 and that’s the birth of the company name.
Russ: What a story. Jamie, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Jamie: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Jamie Fleming, Co-founder and CEO of Studio 216 and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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