Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show, coming to you from Seattle where my guest is the Co-founder of Studio 216 Boaz Ashkenazy; Boaz, welcome to The BusinessMakers.
Boaz: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Studio 216.
Boaz: Studio 216 is a digital agency that focuses on showing the future to our clients through XR, VR – virtual reality, AR – augmented reality, and MR – mixed reality, and we’re primarily focused showing people the unbuilt environment.
Russ: Really cool. So you know this, you got on my radar because I looked at a lot of virtual reality, augmented reality companies and they’re really cool but it always looks like they’re struggling with being viable businesses; seems like you guys have figured that out.
Boaz: Well we’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve been in business for 11 years, we’ve been focused on commercial development, commercial real estate and architecture and when we started incorporating our product into headsets around 2010, 2011 it was a natural flow for us to take all the experiences that we were creating before and put them into head-mounted displays. And so now we’re seeing a lot of the early traction in the commercial real estate and the commercial development space.
Russ: So tell us how you do that. How do you take the unbuilt and turn it into a visualization that a client or that a customer of a client can actually appreciate?
Boaz: A lot of times we’re working directly with architects and they’re already modelling files to show their clients. They give us those files and we take them and bring them into gaming engines – it’s very, very similar to the way that video games get made but ours is a purely enterprise play – and we take them and we texture them, we render them, we light them and we allow people to experience them via headset, via mobile and via PC.
Russ: Well as I told you before we know a client of yours in Nashville, Tony Giarratana building The 505 right now, and he raves about the value of clients being able to just sit down and visualize a building that’s just now coming out of the ground.
Boaz: That’s a great project. Historically if you were going to set up an experience center or sales center you would build out a huge space, you would let people come in and walk through the existing spaces and it was very expensive; a lot of square footage that you had to rent and it was difficult if any changes got made. So the brilliance of what he signed up for was that he was able to turn all of that hard asset into digital assets. And now people go in, they sit on the couch, they put on a headset and they can experience those condos without ever having to walk through anything in real life.
Russ: Have you guys ever looked at outside of your architecture background too?
Boaz: Yeah, we’re starting to see a lot of traction in manufacturing, industrial, retail and aerospace and a lot of it has to do with some of the mixed reality work that we’re doing so maybe I should define the difference between virtual reality and mixed reality. So in virtual reality you put a headset on and you are completely immersed in a space. You get lost in a space and you can really see anybody around you. If you do see anybody you’re seeing their avatar. In mixed reality it’s taking the exact real world and mixing it with the digital world. So when I put a mixed reality headset on you like a HoloLens I’m able to see you, you’re able to see me and we together can share a digital experience via holograms. And so a lot of the traction that we’re seeing is businesses wanting to be able to communicate and collaborate via holographic data with people together in their real space.
Russ: I first got exposed to the Oculus Rift and thought this is pretty cool but you’ve got to be careful what you’re doing because you’re not in the real world at all. But the Microsoft product that you’re talking about was really cool because you’re in the room, you see the room and you see these other things come to you. So would you ever use that even in the architecture world for showing people buildings?
Boaz: Our first big project was with Skanska and part of the criteria was an experience center, it was a sales and marketing experience. They wanted to bring people through, show them models, show them the experience of walking through the building but they wanted eye contact to remain between sales person and the person that was in the room versus putting somebody in a headset and then just talking to them, whispering in their ear. And so that was the brilliance of it is the salesperson had a Surface in their hands, they were powering the experience, you had a headset on but when you got done looking at the digital representation and wanted to look at me we could look at each other and we could continue to talk about the project and that’s the power of mixed reality.
Russ: Well it’s obvious that particularly in the real estate world it would be a helpful asset for sure. Has anybody done any statistics on that? Have you guys done that and said wow, people that are exposed to the new site based on our product close 25% faster or more often?
Boaz: I don’t have statistics for it but I can tell you that from the data that I’m getting from brokers that are taking people on these experiences that it’s just a much more personal experience.
Russ: So how long does it take? I’ve already mentioned The 505 in Nashville; that’s a 50 story kind of upper end I believe apartment complex.
Boaz: Apartments on one side, condos on the other.
Russ: And how long did it take you guys to construct the virtual part of their experience?
Boaz: The whole process took about 3 months and it involved lots of different headsets; everything from Google Cardboard to Gear VR to Oculus. There was an element there where we went into a planetarium and took that digital experience and mapped it onto the ceiling of the planetarium so that you could sit in the planetarium with a large group of people and experience some of the same things and there was a website. It was really across lots of different media, which we love to do, so we’re pretty agnostic about the kind of devices and media that we’re using and we try to take that content and we let it go a lot of places.
Russ: Because that was what the developer in Nashville wanted you to do, to be able to show it in all these different categories of hardware.
Boaz: Yeah, if there was somebody that came into the experience center they wanted a robust experience. They wanted to leave them with a cardboard headset so that they could take it home and show their friends. And they wanted it to be distributed really easily via the web. And that’s another really interesting thing about VR, AR, MR is the ability to distribute it because right now we’re at the very, very early stages of this technology and distribution can be challenging.
Russ: Because you deliver it to them on a remote hard drive or do you Dropbox downloadable?
Boaz: Yeah today it’s downloadable. You’re executing a file kind of like in the early days of video games before everything went online or video before video went online; the files are big, it takes a lot of computing power and most of it’s downloaded.
Russ: So what are you guys doing to address that challenge?
Boaz: So we’re looking at some different platforms that we can create that puts all this content in the Cloud – VR, AR, MR – and you can stream that content, access it no matter what headset you’re wearing.
Russ: So does that mean that like your customers might access it like that? They wouldn’t even have it on their host computers?
Boaz: Yeah, we’re getting a lot of people that are interested in pushing VR content for example, going into a meeting where there’s a live experience with 10 people in the space and people remotely, interested in that content and being able to stream that to all headsets in the room versus containing it to just one headset having it to be local to all those devices, it’s streaming now. Just like any other kind of video that you might put onto the Cloud or document, it’s kind of like Box for VR, Box for AR.
Russ: So I’m curious what percentage of your work hours in your company these days are devoted to applications outside of this very successful real estate application?
Boaz: We’re starting to see a lot more traction outside of real estate and architecture and I’d say right now maybe 15% is in spaces like retail and manufacturing and aerospace and the majority right now is in real estate and architecture. And like you said at the beginning one of the things that’s interesting about our business is compared with other VR businesses is that it’s a viable business, people are paying and clients are willing to step up and pay for these experiences because there’s a return on investment.
Russ: Well I think both you and your partner are architects by education, is that right?
Boaz: Yeah, we met in architecture school.
Russ: So are your employees often architects as well?
Boaz: Sometimes. We have a combination of software developers, digital artists and project managers. And a lot of times the project managers who are interfacing directly with clients and architects have an architecture background, but sometimes the software developers are coming at it purely from computers.
Russ: How big is your team now?
Boaz: So we’ve got 40 people split up in a couple of different offices.
Russ: Like all in Seattle?
Boaz: Seattle, San Francisco and Shanghai.
Russ: And Shanghai – so China being a real high popular development market, is that what’s happening?
Boaz: And a market that’s really, really interested in virtual reality and augmented reality; passionate about virtual reality and augmented reality.
Russ: I’m real curious, with the success you’re having – and there are a lot of other VR and AR people out here – are any of them trying to migrate to your market and become a competitor?
Boaz: Yeah, everyday there’s lots of competition and I like to see that competition because it means the whole industry is growing. I’ve got lots of friends in the space that are doing things, not just direct competition with me but looking at the plumbing of VR, AR and XR and understanding what it’s going to be like in the future.
Russ: Well it’s a fascinating story, I want to come back to Seattle again soon and get an update with you guys, it’s really cool.
Boaz: Yeah, it’s changing fast; next time you’re here it’ll be wonderful.
Russ: Thanks a lot Boaz.
Boaz: All right, take care.
Russ: And that wraps up my discussion with Boaz Ashkenazy and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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